35 Years of Holy Comfort

The Rt. Rev. William C. Wiygul (retired)

Today (Sunday, 14 October 2018) we are privileged and blessed to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the founding of our parish.  The Altar is red; we are celebrating a Mass to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit.  I should say to continue to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit, for He has truly blessed us for the past 35 years, and we pray that He will continue to bless and guide us in the future.  Of course, our parish is named for the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate or the Paraclete.

In the Gospel lesson this morning, we find the promise that Jesus made to His disciples:

“and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.  These things have I spoken unto you, being present with you.  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my Name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary for Him to leave them: that is, to ascend into heaven so that the Father would send the Comforter to them.  Our Lord told the disciples in St. John’s gospel, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”  We all know that the working and power of the Holy Ghost was made manifest on that first Pentecost, when Our Lord’s promise was fulfilled, and the Holy Ghost was sent upon the disciples and the young Christian Church.  I wore the Bishop’s miter for the service today.  It is symbolic of the tongues of fire descending on the apostles on that first Pentecost.  The Church, the true Church, has been filled with the Holy Ghost ever since.

I want to talk this morning about the need for prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our parish.  We prayed in the Collect this morning: “O God, for as much as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”  We acknowledge that we are completely dependent on God and ask that His Holy Spirit may direct and rule our hearts.  We must accept the fact that we cannot do anything that is pleasing to God without God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit.  We are completely dependent on His Grace to guide us.  We must be willing to ask for His guidance, to be patient to wait for His guidance and then to have the discipline to do what He wants us to do.  And we all know that we are weak and will not always follow His guidance.

We are assured by Holy Scripture that the Holy Spirit will guide us.  In the gospel of St. Mark, 13:11, we read, “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought before hand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it be not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”

And in St. John’s Gospel 14:22, “But when the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Romans that the Spirit not only helps our infirmities but also makes intercession for us: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered.”

And so, we are comforted knowing that the Holy Spirit is making intercession for us.  But there is more comfort and assurance for us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is also making intercession for us.  As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “But this man (that is Jesus Christ) because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.  Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (8:24,25)

If it had not been for the guidance and intercession of the Holy Spirit, I am sure that we would not be here today.  When the church abandoned us, the Holy Spirit came to our rescue and brought us to what was then the Diocese of Christ the King under the leadership of Bishop Morse and the founding of this parish.

The journey to this point has not been easy.  Many have given and sacrificed so much of time and talents to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through them.  And along the journey, the old adversary, Satan, has thrown up numerous road-blocks to hinder the work we have been chosen to do.  And my dear friends, since we have survived for 35 years, Satan is not going to stop now.  But much more important, the Holy Spirit will not stop either.  This is similar to what St. Paul wrote to the Romans.  St. Paul says that no matter how much sin abounds, God’s grace is always greater.  The Holy Spirit is always greater that the temptations of Satan.

We can hold our heads high as we continue the work God has given us to do.  We have this beautiful facility dedicated and consecrated to the Glory of God to use in our continuing journey.

We are singing wonderful hymns today about the Church and the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit, and I want to close with the words of two hymns that are very appropriate for this occasion.  The first hymn is number 256 and is a prayer for the Holy Spirit:

“O Spirit of the living God, In all thy plenitude of grace,

Where’er the foot of man hath trod, Descend on our apostate race.

Give tongues of fire and hearts of love, To preach the reconciling word;

Give power and unction from above, Whene’er the joyful sound is heard.

Be darkness at thy coming, light; Confusion, order in thy path;

Souls without strength inspire with might, Bid mercy triumph over        wrath.

Convert the nations! far and nigh, The triumphs of the cross record;

The Name of Jesus glorify, till every people call him Lord.”

And the second is hymn number 380, and is another prayer for the Holy Spirit.

“Put forth, O God, thy Spirit’s might

And bid thy Church increase,

In breadth and length, in depth and height,

Her unity and peace.

Let works of darkness disappear

Before thy conquering light;

Let hatred and tormenting fear

Pass with the passing light.

Let what the apostles learned of thee

Be ours from age to age;

Their steadfast faith our unity,

Their peace our heritage.

O judge divine of human strife!

O vanquisher of pain!

To know thee is eternal life,

To serve thee is to reign.”

Let us continue to pray to God for His guidance by the Holy Spirit and for the continued intercession of the Holy Spirit and for the intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior for continued blessings and guidance for the Parish of the Holy Comforter.

Note:  The editor is most grateful to Bishop Wiygul for permission to post this special sermon, and to the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write and deliver it.  Bishop Wiygul is a founding member of Holy Comforter who has served as layreader, then rector and finally diocesan bishop.

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

2 September 2018

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon Clark

From its very beginning the Church, and Jesus Christ himself, used militant language to describe the way that Christian live should be conducted here on earth.  Jesus says, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.”

He also demands absolute fidelity and obedience from his followers when he says that if anyone loves mother or father or sister or brother more than me, then he cannot be my disciple.  The apostles pick up this way of understanding the Christian life, especially St. Paul with his well-known description of the Christian’s warfare in 2 Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6.

Surely in this world, if we live according to the Spirit and desire to live godly lives, we will suffer persecution.  We will be misunderstood.  We will be the butt of many jokes.  Or perhaps, what is worst of all, we will simply be ignored.

But what does all this have to do with the lessons this morning?  What does this idea of Christian warfare have to do with a leper, who is on his face at the feet of Jesus?  Well, in short, it has everything to do with it because Christian warfare is of a totally different nature than what we usually understand by the term “warfare.”  The enemies are different.  The weapons are different.  The goals and objectives are as different as night and day.

The collect for this morning makes mention of what has come to be known as the theological virtues.  They are theological because their source is in God the Holy Ghost.  They are virtues, or dispositions of the soul, that are essential to our lives here in this world in which we work out our salvation moment by moment.

A Christian is to be faithful to God.  A Christian is to be hopeful in God.  And a Christian is to be full of charity, or love, toward God and neighbor.

So we ask for God to assist us in obtaining his promises by asking him to make us love what he commands – and does that not tell us something about ourselves?  We have a notoriously hard time as fallen human beings trying to figure out what we are to do and what we are to love.  We need God’s assistance, God’s help, to create in us new hearts that love his commands.

And that brings us to the Epistle.  You see, the last two weeks the Epistles have been telling us what the Law can do and what it cannot do.  Listen to what one writer has said:

“In the Epistles for the last two Sundays, it has been pointed out that the Law was powerless to make man righteous.  Though obedience to the Law could preserve [us] from committing [some of the] grosser sins, it could not produce in and of itself those interior ‘fruits of the spirit,’ such as love and joy and peace, and so forth.  Law cannot deal with such things.  They are spiritual.  The law may prevent me from murdering my neighbor, but it cannot make me love my neighbor.  Only the Spirit of Christ [can bring this about].”

The strange thing about Christian warfare is that the soldiers do not look like what we normally expect.  The greatest Christian soldiers of all time were filled with the love, joy, and peace of God.  They despised the world, the flesh, and the devil, not by any kind of active hostility and violence, but by ignoring them for something greater.  For when we set our minds on one thing it cannot be distracted by another.  This is one of the great psychological and spiritual insights of St. Paul.  How do you overcome sin?  Is it by focusing all our attention on “not committing sin?”

I’m not going to get angry at the kids anymore.

            I’m not going to waste my time on that anymore.

No, he tells us in the second lesson from Morning Prayer “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things, and the God of peace shall be with you.”

The Christian fights to keep nothing before his mind except those things which are true, honest, pure, lovely, and virtuous.  You see, we become like what we think about.  This is similar to that chilling passage in Psalm 115 where it speaks about those who make idols and worship them actually become like them.  We become like what we worship.  For better or for worse.  And this brings us to the Gospel lesson.

There are many historical and spiritual lessons to be learned from this account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he is passing through Samaria and Galilee.  He enters a village of meets 10 lepers who are standing far away.  They ask Jesus to have mercy on them, from a long distance.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, which is in accordance with Mosaic Law and is there to ensure the healing so that they may officially be restored to relationship within the community.  So they go on their way to the priests, and while they are walking they notice that they have been cleansed from the disease of leprosy.

The rest go on their way – where, we do not know, to the priest, maybe, to their family, maybe, we do not know – however, there was one who when he saw that he was healed turned back, gave glory to God, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.  He understood.  He remembered.  His mind was enlightened in a way that the others were not.

The nine lepers were glad that they were healed and totally focused their attention on the physical healing that they had received.  Now, new opportunities would open up for them.  They could be restored to normal life.  They could work, eat, drink, and have special gatherings and parties.  Oh, the things that they could do now!  But that newly healed skin certainly would rot off their bones one day, so what would be the point?

The point is to remember Jesus.  Remember his blessings, his healings, his miracles in your life.  Remember, and give thanks to Him.  Thank Him.  The word that the leper used for thanking Jesus is eucharistone, the word from which we get “Eucharist.” The primary service and sacrament of the Church itself.  The word means “to give thanks” or “thanksgiving.”  Therefore, this issue of thanking Jesus is essential to the Christian faith.

In light of this, I want you to do the following devotion this week:

First, get a stop watch, find a quiet place, and get a prayer book.

Second, read the general thanksgiving (p. 19, BCP) very slowly and ponder its meaning for 10 minutes.

Third, ask the Holy Spirit to show you personally how he has worked in your life.  Sit quietly for 10 minutes.  And listen.

It does not matter what time you do this.  The main thing is that you do it.  This is a vast part of our spiritual training as Christian soldiers.  Be disciplined.  Let us pick a time and do it.  Let us bring those things that the Spirit will show us to worship next week.  And offer them as spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  As we begin to think more about the things of God we will grow more and more into his likeness the same way that a son has the same looks and mannerisms as his father.  This way of spiritual discipline and grace is the only way to heaven.  The fight is very real.

Therefore, especially men, our response to the battle must be real.  Our Christianity will not be flashy.  It will not be pleasing to physical senses.  It cannot be sold, advertised, or peddled out at the lowest cost.  It will not lose itself in the heresy of activism.  In fact, it will appear very boring and useless to those who are not filled with faith, hope, and love toward God.  Our Christianity is one that is prayerful, sacramental, faithful to Christ.

I leave you with the words of the gradual hymn (No. 560, 1940 Hymnal):

Fight the good fight with all thy might, Christ is thy strength and Christ is thy right; Lay hold on life and it shall be Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace, Life up thine eyes and seek his face; Life with its way before us lies, Christ is the path and Christ the prize.

From the pulpit

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

And when he came to himself, he said, ‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worth to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”

The gospel lesson this morning comes to us from the 15th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke and contains within it the moving Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Many of us know this story very well.  The selfish son scandalously asks to receive his inheritance.  He leaves home and squanders his father’s wealth with parties and prostitutes.  Once the money runs out, he falls on hard times and finds himself in a pig sty, starving.  Humiliated.  Lost.

And it is in the pig sty that Jesus says, “He came to himself.” He woke up.  He finally sees for himself the utter wretchedness of his own heart.  He sees the absolute offense that he has caused God, for he says to himself, “I have sinned against Heaven.”  He notices for the first time the misery and desolation he has caused his father.  How he has defiled his father’s name with his own perversity.

His conclusion is that he will return home and beg his father to receive him back, not as a son, but as a slave, a hired servant.

Luke 15:1-2 tells us that publicans, sinners, scribes, and Pharisees were listening to Jesus.  How would they have heard this parable up to this point?

The sinners:  “What’s it going to cost me?” “Am I willing to do it?” “I know I am evil.” “I want to get out of this, but I don’t know how.”  “I hope it doesn’t turn out too bad.”  “I hate myself and where my choices have led me.”  “What is going to happen to the Prodigal Son?”

The Pharisees:  “Oh, yes! The sinful son is going to return home, how quaint!”  “The boy is about to get what he deserves.  Preach it, Jesus!  Let the sinner get what is coming to him.”  “Make him suffer according to his deeds!  Let all these sinners know, once and for all, that there are consequences!”  “You’ve got them right where you want them, Jesus.  Let all these tax collectors and sinners know, once and for all, that God is not to be mocked!”

So Jesus proceeds with the story, “and [the son] arose, and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.'” 

The father does not hear him.  He does not care.  He has already turned to the servants and said, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring for the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”  And they began to be merry.

This is a very moving parable, indeed.  The absolute grace of the Father!  Jesus reveals to us that this is how God the Father Almighty is toward penitent sinners.  And this is how we must become, for we are prodigals.  Let us pray the Holy Ghost to reveal unto us how prodigal we really are.  Holy Spirit, reveal to us our secret sins and hidden faults.  Show us how confused and backward we really are.

The epistle for this morning [1 Corinthians x.1] shows us how easy it is for the Church to become like the prodigal son.  St. Paul uses examples from the history of Israel and teaches the Church to be on our guard.  The children of Israel had received an inheritance, and they squandered it all away in the wilderness.  They ate the bread from heaven, the manna in the wilderness.  They drank from the rock, the miraculous water of God.  Nevertheless, they lusted after evil things, and only two of them — Joshua and Caleb — were allowed to enter into the promised land.  The rest died in the wilderness — died in the pig sty of their own pride.  They did not return unto the Father.  Even so, St. Paul uses this as a warning to the Church.  In a sense, he says, “Christians (you and me), you have received an inheritance.  The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  Do not think that these will save you in your pride.  Do not squander the unsearchable riches of your Father.  Do not take them for granted.  Rejoice in them.  Let them be your strength, your comfort, your all.” For through them, we are enabled to return to the Father.

Let me illustrate it like this — I hope it helps, but if not, then forget what I am about to say.  The sacraments are like the road that led from the pig sty to the Father’s house.  The sacraments are the way that the Father’s forgiveness and grace come to us.  It is especially through Baptism and the Eucharist that our Father sees us from afar, has compassion on us, runs to us, embraces us in his arms, and kisses us.  It is through the sacraments that he throws his best robe, the robe of Christ’s righteousness, upon our sore shoulders.  He puts the family ring upon our hand to let everyone know that we belong to Him.  He puts the shoes of the gospel of peace on our aching feet.  And He welcomes us home.

Our liturgy captures this perfectly.  Before the communion, there is always the confession.  Pay special attention this morning as we say it together.  Let us truly examine our hearts to see how we have offended our Father this past week.  Did we love God above all else?  How many thoughts have we had that soiled the Name of our God?  What words have we spoken that have more in common with Satan than with our Saviour?  What evil deeds have we committed?  Let us face up to them and have them in remembrance during our confession.  Otherwise, we cut ourselves off from the grace of God — the grace of the Father who is watching and waiting for his son to return home.

But rest assured that He is right there, waiting, and as we come to him He will come to us and pour upon us all that He has, all that He is.  And when that miraculous bread from Heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ, touches your tongue, the son of God touches your soul and removes all of your sins, all of your wickedness, cleanses us from all sin and replaces our humble confession with a song of praise.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits who forgiveth all thy sins and healeth all thine infirmities, who saveth thy life from destruction; and crowneth thee with mercy and loving kindness.

For look how high the heaven is in comparison to the earth.  So great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  Look how wide also the East is from the West.  So far has he set our sins from us.  Yea, like a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him.

From the pulpit

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

8 July 2018

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

The gospel lesson this morning comes to us from what has come to be known as Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  Our Lord ascends a hill and begins to teach men how he has come to fulfill the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.  He teaches the true meaning of these sacred writings and calls men to a higher righteousness, a stricter obedience.  It falls upon the ears of the first disciples and the crowds gathered there, in a way that made them wonder and marvel at his authority.  But, if we are honest, it hardly sounds like Good News.  Jesus is always doing things like this in the gospel.  Always contradicting our normal ways of thinking and challenging our simplistic, prideful ways of living in this world.  Take the opening verse of today’s gospel lesson, for instance:

“Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

How could this sound like good news to the people of the First Century?  In their minds, there was no one more holy, no one more devout than the religious scribes and Pharisees.  And yet Jesus tells them that unless they become more righteous than these religious teachers then the kingdom of Heaven is locked and bolted against them.  It must have made their heads swim . . . and yet it also compelled them to want to know more about this new way — which was really the only way — to understand the religious life.  The Lord does not let up one bit, for he is not after men’s outward conformity to a moral standard.  He is not looking to improve their conduct.  He does not want more of their time.  More of their money.  Or more of their work.  For instance, he doesn’t want us merely to abstain from murdering someone.  He wants you and me not even to be spitefully angry.  He wants our entire person, body, and soul wholly devoted to Himself.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  That is what he came to do, and he will stop at nothing to create for himself a people who will, in the end, love God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves.

Massey Shepherd sheds light on the lesson in these words:

In this lesson our Lord interprets the Sixth Commandment, [Thou shalt do no murder].  As always His concern was not like that of the scribes and Pharisees.  For they were concerned about applying specific punishments that would fit the outward crime.  Instead of the evil attitudes and motive from which the outward acts of wrongdoing spring.  Anger, hatred, malice, an unforgiving and unreconciling spirit — these sins are just as deadly in the sight of God as murder and slander, and will receive from Him as severe a judgment.  Righteousness must come from the heart; it is not merely an outward compliance with the law.

It is this righteousness that comes from the heart that we all need.  And yet we all lack it.  So how are we to become a people who live such truly righteous lives?

First, men must repent and be baptized into Christ.  This is what the epistle this morning is teaching us.  Men, women, and children must give up on their own efforts and throw all their life and hope upon Jesus.  This is what the act of baptism does in a very radical way.  St. Paul is teaching the Church, all of the members of the Body of Christ, what baptism means.  In a sense, he is saying, we have all tried to live our lives under our own authority and we have royally failed.  We deserve nothing but hell for our thoughts, words, and deeds — nothing but God’s judgment.  We must die, for the wages of sin is death.  But through the gospel, the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus, God has made a way for us to live.  And it comes to us through baptism.

Listen once again to Massey Shepherd:

Paul sums up the meaning of the Easter experience when Christian believers have through Baptism been incorporated into the body of Christ and with him have won the victory over sin and death, and newness of life in their fellowship with their risen Lord.  That which had been lost by the sin of the first Adam has been regained for them through the work of the second Adam who is the Lord from heaven.  This experience of death unto sin and new life unto righteousness is dramatically and vividly shown through the rite of baptism.

During the time of St. Paul, baptism was by immersion — plunging the person under the water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  This act of immersion was a very clear picture of what was happening to the christian.  The minister stands as Christ in the waters holding the new christian in his arms.  The christian has ceased to fight.  The christian allows himself to be buried under the water, symbolizing the death which all his sins deserve.  The life of the old man is at an end.  It is gone.  It is dead.  It is buried with Christ in baptism.  The minster then pulls the man up from the water, out of sin and death, and he is given new life in Christ.  You could say that the man went into the water a Son of Adam and came up as a Son of God.  And just as surely as the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ like a dove at his baptism, so also the new christian receives the Holy Ghost who is the Lord and Giver of Life.  This is what happened at our baptism.  Through faith in the gospel, our old natural life ended, with all its sins and wickedness, with all of its violations of God’s law in thought, word, and deed, and a new one, the very life of Christ himself, began in us.  From this time forth, this is the way in which we must understand our life.  We are no longer wretched sinners at war with God.  We are his beloved children, and we relate to him in the way that Christ our brother relates to our Father in Heaven.

The catechism in our prayer-book teaches us that in our baptism, three glorious things happened to us.  First, we were made members of Christ.  We were joined so closely to Him that we are said to be his Body.  Where Christ is, there we are also.  Where we are, by God’s grace, so is Christ.  Second, we are made children of God.  No longer Sons of Adam who are characterized by pride, sin, and death, but true children of our Father.  Third, we are made inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven.  By sheer, unmerited favor, God has prepared for those who love him such good things as pass all our understanding and exceed all that we desire.  Our life has been taken from us in baptism and given back to us in a way that will take eternity to understand.

In light of this, let your heart be glad.  Let your glory rejoice.  Let your flesh rest in hope, because Christ has not left our souls in hell but has shown unto us the path of life.  He has shown us that in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand there is pleasure forevermore.  Devote yourself to one who is so devoted to you.  Love the one who loved you first.  And in the end, your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and we together with all the faithful will be with God, world without end.  Amen.


From the pulpit

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

1 July 2018 A.D.

the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and reverence.” I Peter 3:15

This morning, the choir sang the patriotic hymn “My Country Tis of Thee.”  The last verse of that hymn is key.  It says:

“Our Father’s God, to thee, Author of liberty, To thee we sing; Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; Protect us by thy might, Great God our King.”

All this is right and good.  This week the people of our country will celebrate Independence Day.  But more importantly, we should notice that we have been placed in this country, at this time, as Christians by the providence of Almighty God.  For he “hath made of one blood all the nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord.”  We are not here by accident but according to the precise plan and foreknowledge of God.  He has purpose for us, and it is that purpose that I would like to consider this morning.

In the epistle for this morning, Peter is writing to churches scattered throughout the ancient world.  And he gives the church throughout all ages a pattern of teaching, a way of life.  This way of life is how all Christians should live, regardless of what type of government they find themselves under.  It shows that our duty to God and to our fellow men never changes no matter how “good” or “bad” the external situation is.  Let us consider closely what St. Peter has to say through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Please, listen carefully.  Listen closely.

St. Peter says:  “Finally be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [have pity on those who are lost, on those who are hurting and do not know it], be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing.” Remember the words of Jesus “but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Why ought we to behave this way?  St. Peter tells us “knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

Furthermore, St. Peter quotes Psalm 34 as the reason for his admonition to live this way — why we should live this way — for or because “he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile.”  Guile means crafty and deceitful ways of speaking.  Christians must be men, women, and children who are frank, upright, and straightforward in their speech.  Their “yes” must be “yes” and their “no” must be “no.”

St. Peter continues, “Let (the Christian) eschew (reject, shun) evil and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”  And then St. Peter asks a question:  “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?”  Who is going to punish you for being compassionate?  Who is going to condemn you for being peaceful?  Reason should tell us that no one should condemn others for these things, however, we are in a spiritual war and we know that Jesus was the absolute perfection of all these things and that he suffered unjustly to an infinite degree.  St. Peter knows this, so he goes on to address it.  He says, “But and if he suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [blessed] are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.”  He echoes, once again, the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  Our Lord says, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.”

The epistle ends this morning with another command:  When this happens, when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”  Hallow — set aside as holy — the Lord God in your heart.  Seek his face and follow Him.

This epistle shows us a few things about being good citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and also how to live as good citizens of the United States of America.

First, the gospel calls us to act like Jesus, to follow in his steps, at all times and in all places.  We have received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, at Holy Baptism.  The strengthening gifts were given to us when we owned the Christian faith for ourselves at Confirmation.  This precious gift was given to us so that we may speak and show the love of Christ to those who do not know him in a way that is eminently real and genuine.  Know this, brothers and sisters, those who do not know Christ do not know what they are doing.  They cannot see the consequences of their actions.  They cannot see the damage that selfishness can cause.  By God’s grace, you and I do.  We have known the bitter fruit of our own selfishness and ignorance.  And we have found peace with God through his Son.  That is why we are led to repentance and confession.  This is why we trust Jesus’s words “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  In a sense, we are no better than they.  We have just come to know it, by God’s unbounded grace.

We come this morning to renew our allegiance to Jesus.  To commune with him.  To give ourselves to him and receive all of his benefits.  Have you ever wondered why the Church is called the Body of Christ and why the bread from heaven that we will receive is also called the Body of Christ?  It is so that you and I can receive him, and be indwelt by him.  He comes to us in Holy Communion to transform us into the Body of Christ that will go out into the world and show his love to a lost and dying world.

Finally, I would like to ask you to pay close attention to the words of the post-communion hymn (No. 201, in the 1940 Hymnal)*.  It is an ancient Eastern hymn that highlights perfectly what I am trying to say.  Our Lord gives himself to us so that we may become his hands, his ears, his mouth, his eyes, his feet, his Body to be used by him for the salvation of the world.  If we first become good citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we cannot help but be good citizens of America.  Let us just keep first things first.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

“Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark, deacon in charge

*Hymn 201

Strengthen for service Lord, the hands That holy things have taken; Let ears that now have heard thy songs To clamor never waken. Lord, may the tongues which “Holy” sang, Keep free from all deceiving; The eyes which saw they love be bright they blessed hope perceiving.  The feet that tread thy allowed courts From light do thou not banish; The bodies by thy Body fed With thy new life replenish.  Amen

from the Syriac liturgy of Malabar