Monday, February 12, 1996

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany - Year A - 1996

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee:
Mercifully accept our prayers; and because, through the
weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing
without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping
thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Preface of the Epiphany, or of the Lord's Day

A reading from the book Ecclesiasticus Ecclesiasticus 15:11-20
11 Do not say, "Because of the Lord I left the right way";
for he will not do what he hates.
12 Do not say, "It was he who lead me astray";
for he has no need of a sinful man.
13 The Lord hates all abominations,
and they are not loved by those who fear him.
14 It was he who created man in the beginning,
and he left him in the power of his own inclination.
15 If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
16 He has placed before you fire and water:
stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
17 Before a man are life and death,
and whichever he chooses will be given to him.
18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power and sees everything;
19 his eyes are on those who fear him,
and he knows every deed of man.
20 He has not commanded any one to be ungodly,
and he has not given anyone permission to sin.
The Word of the Lord.


Aleph Beati immaculati page 763 (verses 1-16)

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!
3 Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.
4 You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
6 Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
8 I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.

Beth In quo corrigit? page 764 (verses 9-16)

9 How shall a young man cleanse his way? *
By keeping to your words.
10 With my whole heart I seek you; *
let me not stray from your commandments.
11 I treasure your promise in my heart, *
that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O LORD; *
instruct me in your statutes.
13 With my lips will I recite *
all the judgments of your mouth.
14 I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees *
than in all manner of riches.
15 I will meditate on your commandments *
and give attention to your ways.
16 My delight is in your statutes; *
I will not forget your word.

A reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? 4 For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely men? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel is written in the 5th chapter of Matthew
beginning at the 21st verse.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
Matthew 5:21-24,27-30,33-37
21 "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
33 "Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Year A

[God] has not commanded any one to be ungodly,
and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Sin causes the Church quite a bit of problems. Sin, of course, presents each of us more than a few problems, but it is problematic for the Church in a different way.

Just what exactly is the Church supposed to do about sin? How does the Church respond to it? How should the Church talk about it?

It is a difficult problem to solve. I remember my very first sermon I ever preached. I had not even been ordained at that time, and I was a nervous wreck. Just before the processional hymn, a well intentioned woman took my arm and said, "You will do just fine, don't worry. Just don't mention anything about sin." My carefully typed, well rehearsed and printed sermon was sitting in the pulpit at the time.

As the music began, and we processed in, I started trying to count the number of times of I had used the "sin" word in the sermon I was about to preach. Seven. I counted later that afternoon. Seven times I had used the "S" word.

From what I can tell, there are a variety of opinions on this matter, but I have noted two extremes that I consider of interest. The first of these extremes is to ignore sin. The Church tells you that you don't have any sins, that you are just great, and 'Thanks be to God!, we are Christians, now, all we have to do is convince everyone else to be a Christian so that there won't be anymore sin.' This is the "warm-fuzzy" Church, where we are all just great and wonderful people, and nothing ever is supposed to go wrong in our lives, or any of our friends lives, because we are Christians.

I remember a time when I was in college and was watching a tele-evangelist in front of thousands of people packed into an auditorium. I have been trying to remember his name all week, and could not recall it. But last night when I told the story at the 6PM Mass, several people nodded their head and someone said his name loud enough for me to hear. I'll let you see if you can recognize the story for yourself.

This television preacher was explaining how baptism takes away all our sins, and how once we were baptized we could not be re-baptized. All of this is true. However, he then said, that if we sinned even one more time after we were baptized, the only hope we had was the fires of Hell. There was no forgiveness, he said, after we had confessed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

I thought, where is the message of repentance?, where is the Gospel message of forgiveness? Where is the salvific work of Christ on the Cross? And then, I thought, here is a man who is not able to face his own sin. Here is a man who is scared of the Truth, and so is handing out warm-fuzzies in hopes that he might one day believe it himself.

Several years later this poor man did have to face his own sins. In fact we all had to face them with him as they were on the front page of the newspapers and the lead stories on the evening news. His warm fuzzies had suddenly become a source of horrible pain.

A few weeks later, he was shown on television crying. In anguish, he sobbed out the words, "I have sinned before God and man!". Some said it was an act, but I didn't think so, and I want to believe I was right. I want to believe he meant it.

I saw this man about a month ago on television again. I was channel surfing, and there he was. But he was different. He was preaching another Gospel, because this time, he was preaching the True Gospel. He was talking about how Jesus died on the Cross so that we could have our sins forgiven if only we would turn to Him. He was preaching how we are all sinners, and how we cannot have any hope except through Christ. He was preaching repentance. He was preaching the Gospel.

What is perhaps most startlingly beautiful about this story is when we realize that God used this man's abrupt and unwanted confrontation with his sins to draw him into the True Church, and to preach the True Gospel. God used this man's sins to bring about something wonderful and holy.

But the tale is bitter-sweet. I noticed that despite some really clever camera angles designed to cover the fact, it was obvious that there were no more than a couple of dozen people sitting in the audience. Thousands desired to hear him tell them that they were perfect, but only a few would come to hear the Truth--even a Truth that saves.

There is another extreme that I want to mention. Rather than trying to ignore sins, the Church could focus only upon sin. The preacher stands in the pulpit and points at you and begins to list off sins that he is sure that you have committed. I remember hearing about a Church in Oklahoma which had taken to the practice of finding out who, in their congregation, was living a less than perfect life, and then barring them at the door.

This, of course, required that when the Church "spies" learned of a transgression, this transgression was immediately shared with the rest of the "perfect" people, so that they could snub the poor sinner and block their passage into Church.

But the impetus for such behavior is the same as the other extreme. That is, it stems from a desire not to look at ones own sins. These self-righteous people would not shy away from sin as long is wasn't their own.

But sin is ugly, and sin is nasty, and it is very hard for us to admit that we sin. Until Jesus sharpened the law, one might be able to feel pretty good about being able to keep the Ten Commandments. I haven't killed anyone, so I must be holy. But Jesus not only fulfilled the law, he made it impossible for us to take any hope from the law by putting a finer edge on it. He says, if you are even angry with your neighbor, you are liable to judgement.

No one can claim never to have been angry--that is with an unholy anger. Therefore, no one can claim to have been saved by the law. We are all under judgement. The writer of Ecclesiasticus says,
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

But the problem is that we cannot will to keep the commandments. Our wills are usually self-serving. We cannot help ourselves, it is our nature. But God can help us, and God does help us, because that is His nature.

He became one of us for that very purpose.

It is painful for us to look at our sins, but it is what we are called to do. If we look at our sins, and we find that pain, there is some comfort in knowing that Jesus experienced pain for our sins--upon the Cross. But that knowledge does not remove our own pain. Yet pain, when it is physical, tells us something is wrong--it is therefore useful to us. I like to use the analogy of touching a hot stove. We feel pain, and immediately know to pull our hand back--to stop doing what we were doing.

When we experience a spiritual pain, such as that of confronting our own sins, we should react in the same way, we should turn back--that is, we should repent.

If we turn back from our sins, then we turn towards God. And if we begin to see God, however distant, it is there that we can see what we are really like. We can see how He sees us, and we may even find that in His light, we are far worse than we had feared. For a while, we may feel an even greater pain.

But there is another part of the Truth in facing God. When we begin to catch of glimpse of Him, it isn't just what we really are that we can see, but what He wants us to be.

Sharing with God the pain of our sins through Christ on the Cross is only half of the story. The Cross is how God shared with us what we are now. But the other half of the story is what God wants us to be, and that we can have through Christ as well.

Because it is the glory of Christ that He wants for us, not just Christ on the Cross, but Christ, seated at the right hand of The Father in Glory everlasting. That is what He wants for us, and that is why we must turn back from ourselves and turn towards Him.

We must seek His glory, even if it is at the expense of our own, because True Glory, is only God's. Our own glory is a myth, it is a lie, it is dishonest, and it offers no hope. But God's Glory, is Truth-- and this, He offers to us.

The reason there is such difficulty in dealing with sin in the Church is because the Church is made up of sinners, and sinners do not like to think about sins. But we are the Church, and we are sinners, and we are God's, and we have the promise of His Glory.

The solution to the Church's dilemma, therefore, is to be found in the Body of the Church, in the individual members--that is, in each of us. If each of us is a sinner, then each of us is in jeopardy of being cut off.

Jesus said, if one member causes you to sin, it is better to cut it off than for the whole body to go into hell. The body that Christ speaks of is not our flesh and blood bodies, but the Church; and the member of the body to be cut off is not a hand, but rather it is any of us who sin without repentance. We are the members who are threatened with being removed if we continue in our ways, and believe that we have no sin within us.

Despite the pain of admitting sin, and despite the pain in turning away from sin, when we turn to God we are no longer in danger of being cut off. And when we turn to God we can begin to see His Glory. And if we can really begin to behold His Glory, then we will know that this gift is something far beyond what we can achieve going our own way. And, like the tele-evangelist who faced his sins, God will use even our mistakes to draw us closer to Him--not just drawing us to His pain of the Cross--but drawing us to His glory in Heaven.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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