Sunday, March 17, 1996

Fourth Sunday in Lent - Year A - 1996

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down
from heaven to be the true bread which giveth life to the
world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us,
and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Preface of Lent

A reading from the First Book of Samuel. 1 Samuel 16:1-13
1 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." 2 And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you." 4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" 5 And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him." 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." 11 And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here." 12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
The Word of the Lord.

23 Dominus regit me Page 612

1 The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. Ephesians 5:1-14
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not associate with them, 8 for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; 13 but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. 14 Therefore it is said, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. John 9:1-38
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man." 10 They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. 17 So they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age, ask him." 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." 25 He answered, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?" 28 And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him.
The Gospel of the Lord.

"Do you believe in the Son of man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him.

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

There are two phrases that I want to draw your attention to in this morning's Gospel reading. The first is Jesus' question, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" and the reply of the healed man, "Lord, I believe".

This is an Incarnational exchange, in that Jesus refers to his complete and utter humanity, by his self-discription, "Son of Man", while the man responds to Jesus' complete and utter Divinity, by addressing Him as "Lord" as in "My Lord and my God!".

Last week we hear Jesus tell the Samarian woman that, "God is Spirit, and that those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." But there is more to than that, and that more to it-ness can be seen in the Incarnation.

While Christmas is now more than two months past, the Incarnation is also a critical aspect of the Season of Lent. If we do recognize the complete humanity of Christ as well as the complete Divinity, that is: That Jesus was fully man and fully God, then we cannot understand that he was tempted in every way as we were.

It is important for us to know that the Son of God faced real temptations, and that as a complete human man, He knew not just temptations to sin, but pain, suffering and loss. He knew all that we knew, suffered as we suffer, and lived as we live--except that He did not sin. He was and is the perfect man.

Very often, I think, we may be tempted to view our beliefs as Christian as something merely of the Spiritual realm, but something that is apart from the flesh. However, Christianity differs from all other religions that I know of in that it is both spiritual and physical.

If Christianity was merely spiritual, then we can make no sense of God's Creation. We cannot pray for physical health, we cannot believe that what God has Created in the Universe is good and beautiful. But what God has Created is both Good and Beautiful--and that includes each and everyone of us. We are part of God's Creation and He not only calls us Good, but He calls us His.

And to show us how good we are to be, He became one of us--the first fruits of the New Creation. If God had not become man, then we would still be searching for, and waiting for, someone to come and show us the way to everlasting life. And if God had not died as one of us and for us, then we could not know what perfection He wants for us. But if God had not died and then been raised BODILY from the dead, then we would not know that the Body is important, or that the Creation is important, or that when He promises everlasting life--He does not mean a collective consciousness, or as ghosts or as disembodied souls.

God Created us to be alive, and part of our being alive is possessing a physical body which is to be at unity with the soul.

Consider the alternative:

A friend of mine recently told me of a video tape which he saw. A theologian of the academic variety put forth, as truth, these "facts". He said,
Jesus' true father was Joseph, not God.
Mary was not a Virgin.
Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.
Jesus did die on the Cross but was not raised from the dead.
And finally, that:
The story of the Resurrection is to be taken only figuratively, and really means that He lives on in our hearts, but is not truly alive.

If that theologian is right, than what have we? What hope have we? What purpose have we? The answer to those questions is that we have nothing but this life. We have no hope, and there is no purpose at all to our lives. We cannot believe the Bible. There has been no Messiah, and never will be one. There has been no sacrifice for our sins, and death reigns supreme, even over Jesus, but especially over us.

Fortunately, I can assure you that the theologian was wrong. I have no proof that would stand up in court, but neither does he. However, I have faith, as I trust you have faith. The faith we share often presents itself to us a passion for truth, and a passion for righteousness.

In fact, my friend who called and told me about the video tape was so unsettled about the contents, that he said that he thought that he might leave the Church, and go and find a simple Bible Church, where he could at least here the Bible read and preached and believed. There may be several here today who have changed churches in an attempt to find that "perfect Church" where there is no heresy, that the Word of God contained in Scripture is viewed as the ultimate authority, and where interpretations of His Holy Word do not change to fit our desires, but remain loyal to what we were taught as children.

If you have been, or perhaps are looking for such a Church, then I have some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is that anyone who is searching for the perfect Church may be assured that their desire is a Holy one, that it is an indication of faith, and that faith is alive and passionate. The bad news is that you will not find that church by taking a passive role.

When God became man, he showed us that the material world, including are bodies, are important to Him. He showed us that what we believe is not enough. Our souls alone cannot save us because our bodies are also in need of salvation. It is, after all, our bodies which die as a result of sin. Therefore God does not allow us to become content with our belief and passively wait out our time to die and then wait for His coming again in glory.

Rather, God gives a passionate faith. It causes us to want to act and react. Not in any passive way, but pro-actively, so that we work out our faith with our souls and bodies.

Our passions are the cause of much turmoil in our lives. Passion, by definition, suggests that we are not unchanging, and that we do react, and adapt, and have effect as well as being, ourselves effected by the outside. The devil knows that we will react to stimulus and he uses stimulus to tempt us to react in unholy, unnatural ways. But God also knows that we are passionate, and he will use our passions to his purpose.

I fear that very often our God given passions are interpreted by us as frustrations. And that the only passions we feel comfortable about acting upon are those which are used by the devil. Those are the easy passions to follow. But God wants us to change as well, and His change for us is to turn away from the passions of the world, the flesh, and the devil and heed the Holy Passions he gives us. A Passion for truth, a passion for righteousness, a passion for right thinking about God, a passion for unity in the Church, a passion for the forgiveness of sins, a passion for live beyond death, and a passion for perfection.

We cannot, as individuals, bring righteousness in to the world. We cannot, by ourselves, bring about only true teachings. We cannot, alone, bring about unity in the Church, and we cannot, alone, bring about our eternal, and perfected bodies. But these are our Holy Passions which are a result of our nature as God's Creatures, and a result of our faith.

Therefore, we are to act on these passions, not mope about in frustration--but to actually do something about it. We are to live our faith, defend our faith, teach our faith, learn our faith, and believe our faith--and to do these things it requires a body with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear, a mouth ready to speak, and hands ready to help, or make, or soothe, or whatever God is calling us to do.

Consider another indication of the importance that God has shown us in Creation as well as in His Church. We acknowledge seven sacraments which God has given us for our spiritual as well as physical welfare. The collect for the day tells us that Jesus is the True bread from heaven. This is a Eucharistic teaching, based upon Jesus' own words in John's Gospel when he tells us that unless we eat his Body and Drink His Blood, we have no life in us.

SO God gives His Body in the Consecrated Bread, and His Blood in the Consecrated Wine. These are material things which contain a spiritual grace. Baptism, for which Lent is, in part a preparation for many, uses that matter of water to cleans us of spiritual and physical sins. Again, we have the material used by God to bring about the spiritual. Even our own flesh is used as the material agent for bringing about the spiritual grace of reconciliation, of confirmation and of ordination by the outstretched hand of the priest of bishop.

That God's grace is imparted through the use of matter is the story of Creation, and the story of the Incarnation where Grace personified took on our flesh. But perhaps the most obvious, yet most overlooked, grace filled matter in the universe is the Christian. All of us are precious material beings in God's eyes, and yet we are spiritual beings as well. He created us that way, because that is how he would become.

Consider that in 1996, God the Son remains both flesh and spirit, both God and Man (albeit, perfected man). His body was indeed raised from the dead, and His body indeed ascended into heaven where it remains--living and reigning at the Right hand of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

We are part of his Body, now, as we are each individual members of the Church of which He is the Head. But then, after the final Resurrection, we shall be united to God, through the Son who is one of us, and who was, and is, and ever shall be God.

The Passion of Christ made a difference. By being one of us he could be tempted and yet not sin. By being one of us, He could die, although He did not deserve to die. By being one of us he could be Raised, and Ascend to the Father so that we could follow Him as he has asked, and as He has called to each of us.

Our Passions for righteousness and Truth and Unity, and Holiness are all Holy Passions, wrought of God, and yet we cannot achieve them by going from Church to Church, or by changing denominations, or by any other passive means. Righteousness, Truth, Purity, Unity, and Holiness are to be found in the Church, but only in His Church where grace filled people do not just know the Holy Passion, but where grace filled people act on these passions and fight for righteousness, truth, unity and holiness by beginning with themselves. After this, the faithful will be raised in the next life to that perfection to which we are driven my God and by the Holy Passions he gives us.

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

Sacraments. Empty Tomb. Follow me. God now, in 1996, is still in the flesh (Ascension).

Copyright © 1996 W. Crews Giles

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