Monday, October 23, 2017

prayer diary Monday 23 Oct 2017 (St James)

And looking at those who sat around him, he said ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.' 
Mark 3.34. 35

Reflection
All may be in a relationship with Christ as loving and close as with your dearest family member. But it requires that you not only hear his word but obey it also

Sunday, October 22, 2017

render unto God that which is God's

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our gospel reading today concerns one of the many occasions on which the religious authorities of our Lord's time attempt to lay a snare for him. And I imagine you know all too well the explanation for what they are trying to do, learned from your days in the schoolroom, sermons heard over the years, and hopefully even your own reading, what the trap is that they think they are setting. Should Jesus answer that that people should not pay taxes to the Emperor, then they will denounce him as a rebel to the Roman authorities – who will then, they hope, arrest him and at least imprison him and perhaps even execute him. But if he says that they should pay taxes – well, what sort of a Messiah is he, one that publicly declares that the Jewish people should meekly bow before the demands of the hated Roman oppressors? That answer, they hope, would finish him as a teacher of the people and remove him as a threat to their own authority. Whichever way he answer, Jesus is finished; something that will make them very happy.

Our Lord, of course, sees through their plan. 'Why are you putting me to the test?' he asks them. And he knows also that they are not asking him this out of a spirit of honest enquiry, but rather, as St Matthew puts it, out of malice; for he finishes his question by saying to them 'you hypocrites.' He then he takes a coin and asks them whose image and title is upon it; and when they say the Emperor's, he gives them his justly famous response of 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s' , as the old translation so beautifully puts it.

Our Lord, of course, does more than give a clever answer to his enemies with this reply. He also gives us two commands. The the first is that we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. This means that Christians must be good citizens of the state. We must pay our taxes, obey the laws of the land, provided that they are just laws that do not conflict with our moral duties as children of God, and uphold the state in the lawful exercise of its authority.

The state, as St Paul tells us, has the sword to compel us. And that is true. The state, at the end of the day, has the ability to use force in order to make us obey its commands. But the faithful Christian should not fear that ability, because he complies with all the just laws of the state willingly and cheerfully, not only in public but also in private. The consideration as to whether or not we will be caught in any wrong-doing ought not be a factor when it comes to how law-abiding we are.

The other command of our Lord's that lies within his response that day is that we must render unto God that which is God's. And we know, or should know, what that is, for Christ has told us. He has told us what the first and greatest of all the commandments is – to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and heart. And he has also told us what it means to love God – those who love him will keep his commandments. And, as St John the Apostle tells us in his letters, those who say they love God and yet do not keep his commandments are liars. There are doubtless many who present themselves to the world, and perhaps even to themselves, as faithful Christians; but if they deliberately reject any part of God's law and refuse to obey it, then they are lying to both themselves and the world. It is such as they of whom Jesus Christ spoke when he said that there were many who call him Lord Lord to whom he will say depart from me, ye evildoers; I tell you that I never knew you. And they will be sent from him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There is one final message in the twin commands from our Lord in our gospel today. And that comes, of course, from the fact that sometimes our duty of obedience to the state will sometimes come into conflict with our duty of obedience to God. What do we do should such a situation arise? The answer is obvious. Obedience to God must always comes first. It is, after all, from God that authority on heaven and earth comes – as our Constitution acknowledges. 

And you will have noticed, I hope, that when I spoke of obedience to the laws I also said that those must be just laws. A law that, for example, tried to outlaw going to church on a Sunday would be just such an unjust law – it outside the authority of the state to interfere with a person's practice of religion - and therefore such a law must neither be tolerated or obeyed. Another would be if the state were to declare that a certain class of human beings could be arbitrarily killed. Justice requires the protection of innocent human life; and any law that suggests otherwise must be rejected and resisted. God and religion are not something that Caesar permits as long as they do not interfere with how he exercises power in any manner he sees fit; but rather God allows Caesar to have power in order that the societies in which his children live may be well ordered … and they can only be so if they are governed in a manner that is in accordance with the laws he has given us out of love, and which must lovingly obey in return … something that I pray all here will remember always, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 21 Oct 2017

‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.' 
Luke 11. 42

Reflection
It avails nothing to follow all the rules and regulations of Church teaching without love of God and neighbour in your heart. The Christian must obey God's holy laws joyfully and with love.

Friday, October 20, 2017

prayer diary Friday 20 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.' 
Luke 12.4,5

Reflection
To fear for your life is natural. But take courage from your faith and consider rather what is more important and fear instead for your immortal soul.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wear the wedding garment!

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are three categories of people in our Gospel reading today. The first are those ungrateful subjects who refuse their king’s lawful command that they should attend the wedding banquet. Some simply ignore his invitation and go about their daily business, treating his command with wilful disrespect; others go further and treat the king’s messengers with violence. And terrible is the fate that they bring down upon their heads because of their wickedness – they are destroyed and their city is burned.

The Holy Tradition of our Church has always been clear as to the interpretation as to who these people stand for. In the context of our Lord’s time, they stand for those who reject him and his teachings, and therefore reject both the Father who sent him and his will for the children he created. And Holy Scripture, as we well know, speaks to all ages; so we must consider as well the context of the age in which we ourselves live and what it means for us. This means we must consider the words of our Lord as being a prophetic warning to those who reject him, the Truth of his Gospel, and the Church which he established. No one should desire to be counted among those of this first category. For the destruction of which he speaks in his parable is, of course, eternal.

Moving to the next category, the king in the parable sends his servants into the streets to invite new guests. And so they do. And they are not discriminating. Good and bad alike are invited to the wedding banquet. And so the hall is filled. But it is not enough to simply accept the invitation, as what happens next shows when the king challenges the man who has come not wearing a wedding garment. This man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What does all this mean? Again, the interpretation has always been clear. God invites all into his Church. But it is not enough to simply enter in and pay lip service when it comes to following his commandments. For as Christ says elsewhere there will be many who say 'Lord, Lord', claiming that they have been faithful followers of his, who will be told that he never knew them and they must depart into that outer darkness. They may never have formally rejected the Truth of the Gospel, but they have done so in the manner of their living. They may have come to the feast; but they never put upon themselves the wedding garment of obedience. It is not enough to say you believe, or even to actually believe, if that belief is not followed by action. A Christian is not someone who makes a formal intellectual acceptance of God's Truth; a Christian is someone who puts that truth into practice, whatever the cost.

For what is the point of belief if it is not backed up with practice? Let us consider some of the commandments. We say we believe that the Lord is God and we will worship nothing and no one other than him – and yet we will give work, sporting activities, and social events priority above the practice of our faith. We say that we believe that we must keep the Lord’s Day holy – and yet churches are near empty while the day that is his is treated as if it were simply another Saturday. We say that we believe in prayer – yet how many will actually pray even once during the course of a day, much less attempt to engage in the ceaseless prayer that we are called to by Scripture? We say the words ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ - but how many will then follow that commandment by practising the sexual purity, both in mind and in body, that have always been part of the teaching that Christ gave to the Church he founded? And so on.

These practices are the wedding garment spoken of in the parable – the humble obedience to God’s law and the good deeds that follow from that obedience. Failure to clothe yourself in it leads, as we have noted, to being cast out. And it is not a category that any should wish to find themselves among.

But humbling oneself and putting the wedding garment on, and wearing it always, leads to the eternal life that is represented by the wedding banquet. Those who are invited in and allowed to remain are those who have clad themselves thusly, the practice of their faith bringing them to the everlasting wedding feast of the Lamb that takes place in heaven. These are the third and final category of the three I spoke of as being mentioned in the parable. And it is this last category that I hope and pray all here will numbered among on the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord when all shall be judged. Even as I hope that all here will pray likewise for me, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.





Saturday, October 14, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 14 Oct 2017

'Give us each day our daily bread.' 
Luke 11. 3

Reflection
Christ told us to pray for what we need for each day. How many of us labour for a future that is months, years, or decades away, a future we may never see? If you have enough for today be content; and labour instead for the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, October 13, 2017

prayer diary Friday 13 Oct 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘When the unclean spirit … returns … it finds (the house) swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and ... and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ 
Luke 11. 24-26

Reflection 
Beware when you think you have made some spiritual progress. That may be the time of greatest spiritual danger as a sense of pride may make you more vulnerable than before. Remember that no achievement is yours but a gift from God; and with deep humility give thanks to Him.