Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

In today's Epistle from Ephesians 4:17- 32, St. Paul continues to show how commitment to the basic truth of the Gospel influences Christian behavior.

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that yet henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (4:17-19)

By these words, the Apostle bluntly states the truth as he sees it. Non-Christian Gentiles have serious problems. The first basic issue is mental or intellectual. Their understanding is darkened and they are alienated from God. Secondly, such spiritual ignorance and blindness has moral consequences. Like many biblical references to sin, from the Hebrew prophets onward, immorality is described in terms that have a sexual connotation. And certainly in contemporary society, we can see all sorts of sexual sin and corruption. Yet, such corruption is only one obvious and dangerous manifestation of the self-centered greediness of fallen human nature.

In Ephesians 4: 20-24, the Apostle continues: But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Here we see the contrasting situation of Christian believers. They have learned the truth embodied in Jesus Christ. Believers are not by nature better than other fallen human beings. They share the corrupt desires and behavior of "the old man." However, through Christ, believers have had their minds renewed, and they have "put on the new man." This spiritual and mental transformation is the source of any true holiness in human life.

In 4:25-32, the verses show the concrete results that are to be found in the Christian life: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Of course, Scripture teaches the general importance of honesty and the undesirability of falsehood, but here we have an exhortation to honesty in relationships within the Church. Such honesty can naturally include some anger. But anger must be strictly controlled lest it lead into sin. Afterwards, there is a catalogue of some Christian virtues such as hard work, charitable giving, guarded speech, peace and kindness. Finally, among believers, there must be mutual forgiveness. And the need for forgiveness brings us full circle because mutual forgiveness among Christians is based upon the heart of the Gospel: God has forgiven believers for Christ's sake.

In summary, today's Epistle from Ephesians 4 shows us that sin and redemption have both mental-spiritual and ethical dimensions. The basic corruption of humanity is based on ignoring spiritual truth. This wilful spiritual ignorance leads to various types of immoral behavior. To overcome such a fallen state, believers must have their minds renewed by God's gracious truth in Christ. This mental and spiritual renewal can then lead to ethical behavior among Christians, behavior that is especially characterized by mutual forgiveness for Christ's sake.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

In the brief Epistle selection from 1 Corinthians 1:4-8, St. Paul brings up some key themes about issues in the church at Corinth and in doing so refers to key issues of the Christian life. The overriding theme is "the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ" (1:4). Without the general grace of God, there is no human life; without the specific redeeming grace of God in Christ, there is no Christian life, no gift of eternal life.

This grace through Christ is a rich treasure. It is the the power source for two aspects of the Christian life that were highly prized by the Corinthians: utterance or prophetic speaking and spiritual knowledge (1:5). Unfortunately, some people at Corinth distorted these gifts. They used speaking and knowledge in an egotistical and divisive manner. They approached these gifts in exaggerated ways and tended to separate them from the general Christian message- from "the testimony of Christ" (1:6) The saving grace of Christ is the heart of the Christian message, and any meaningful speaking and knowledge must relate to Christ's Gospel.

Furthermore, grace is the source of other gifts of the Christian life. The Greek word translated here as "gifts" is charismata, related to the word grace itself, charis. Throughout his letters, St. Paul refers to many gifts of the Christian life. Later in I Corinthians, he stresses the three greatest gifts: faith, hope and love. Without such gifts, especially love or charity, other gifts lack true significance. A believer must not "come behind" (1:7) or be lacking in such key gifts of Christ's grace.

Finally, grace is related to Christian perseverance. Grace enables believers to wait for Christ's final coming, and grace strengthens believers to the end. Only through the grace of God in Christ can fallible human beings hope to "be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

In today's Epistle from Ephesians 4:1-6, the Apostle continues the discussion from last week about the interplay of Christian doctrine and ethics. In 4:1, the Ephesians are exhorted "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." The Christian walk or way of life is based on vocation or the divine call to believe in and follow Jesus Christ. In verses 2-3, this way of life is presented both as an individual embodiment of virtues such as humility, patience and loving forbearance and as a communal way of life which holds on to the unity given by the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 4:4-6 develop the theme of true Christian unity. Such unity is not some human achievement of organizational recognition. While greater cooperation among Christian organizations is often desirable, the unity presented in this portion of Scripture is of a different nature. This unity already exists as a gift of God to believers. It is rooted in the unity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christians are already members of "one body" empowered by "one Spirit." They share "one hope..., one Lord, one faith." They have been grafted into the Body of Christ by "one baptism." And above all these aspects of oneness, there is "one God and Father of all." He is the ultimate source of any good kind of unity.

In contemporary society, there is much talk about unity of all sorts. While many kinds of unity can be relatively good, not all unity is good. Some unity can be based upon acceptance of sin. Criminals and dictators may achieve certain superficial types of unity. And even the unity of social clubs, teams, businesses and political entities still remains superficial. Indeed, certain kinds of unity among Christians may just be of uncertain or superficial political value. However, the true unity among believers presented in our Epistle is much deeper. It is truly a spiritual recognition of a common faith in Christ which already exists despite external human differences of race, language, culture or church affiliation. May we always endeavour to keep this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this Sunday from Ephesians 3:13-21 weaves together several themes of St. Paul's understanding of the Gospel. First, there is a Trinitarian aspect: worshipping the Father, being strengthened by the Spirit and having Christ dwell in one's heart. These things take place in the family of God through faith which leads to an awareness of divine love in Christ. Such love surpasses knowledge (gnosis), and it leads to a fullness of blessing and a glorification of God in the Church of Jesus Christ.

In language that is both highly theological and poetic, the Apostle provides a short summary of the Christian life. The Christian life begins and ends in the worship of God. It depends upon faith and finds its highest expression in Christ-like love. The Christian life is both highly individual and deeply corporate. It is rooted in the the individual heart but expressed in the community of faith which is God's family and Christ's Church.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

This Sunday's Gospel from St. Matthew 6: 24-34 is a rich passage with an important main theme and several meaningful sub-points. The main theme is "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (6:24). We must choose: either we serve God or we serve material wealth or possessions. We can not have two top priorities, and if we try, life is filled with irreconcilable conflicts. This is an on-going issue in human life. When they are prospering, people tend to become greedy to increase profits or comforts. When they are facing economic uncertainty, people tend to become anxious or grasping just to maintain minimal standards. In either case, materialism tends to push loyalty to God and His eternal values aside.

Among the sub-points of this passage, there are also beautiful images of what life can be like when human beings put God first and trust in Him. Christ points us to examples from nature. Even birds and wildflowers which live briefly are cared for under divine providence. So believers should find comfort and joy in life. Earthly life may be fleeting, but God cares for us and gives us what we need. And as believers, we trust that when our allotted time here is complete, God will grant us even greater spiritual solace.