”Continue in the Apostles’ Teaching and Fellowship”

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24th Diocesan Convention

Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17 & 18, 2006
at St. Peter & St. Paul Episcopal Church, Arlington

 
Convention Eucharist Sermon
delivered by
The Rev. Canon Daryl Fenton
Canon for Operations
Anglican Communion Nework

   
November 17, 2006
 

         Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee, be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Fenton

It was, I believe, All Hallows Eve 1992.  A business colleague and I were making our way by car across rolling hills from Ljubljana in Slovenia to Pec’, in southwest Hungary.  We traveled by way of a Communist era two lane highway ... slowly.  The night was crystal clear, moonlit.  We wound our way into the first village ... a strange mixture of 19th century ginger bread and gray socialist concrete buildings down the long, single main street.  Then...as we reached the village edge ... a rolling sea of red light rose up from the darkness ... carpeting the hillside...undulating...now bright, now dim ... hundreds upon hundreds of lights ... flowing and flickering lapping against the yard of the village church.

I saw this scene again...in country after country of Central Europe...but never with the force of that All Hallows eve.  Those lights were simply votive candles in red chimneys.  They burn day and night, year after year during the season of All Saints...the physical witness of saints now departed. I later learned that hardly anyone really understood the custom...it was just what one did for one’s dead relatives. 

The witness of the saints ... Saints like Hugh of Lincoln, whose feast we celebrate today.  Sometimes it seems, like those Hungarians, we forget what it means to be a saint.  Our reading from St. Paul’s letter to Titus should help to refresh our understanding.  He describes the shape and purpose of the life of a saint.

In a time less prejudiced against Jesus, that shape would have been called holiness.  But now...well let me illustrate...the word holiness, what images flit into your head.  Judgmental ... narrow ... fussy and prudish...too formal ... humorless ... pinched...am I far off?
That is not what holiness meant to St Paul...the saints he knew were bloodied warriors...half of the apostles had been executed when he wrote this letter.  For St Paul, holiness had a clear purpose...to use his own phrase...the purpose of Holy lives is to adorn the Gospel.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s take a look at some of the details.  He’s writing to Titus, his protégé, whom he has left behind to organize and manage the new-ish churches on the island of Crete ... a sizable piece of real estate in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of North Africa.   He starts by telling Titus ... Chapter 2, vs 1, teach what accords with sound doctrine.  Then, he goes on in one of those very extended paragraphs...for 10 verses...to list those behaviors. The clear implication ... faith in Christ Jesus, must be reflected in one’s life.

Just a note...we catholics rightly see this passage and 1 Timothy as the earliest evidence of the orders of the church.  St. Paul assumes those orders, but we overlook at our peril that his main concern is the shape of the lives of those orders.

We don’t have time to look at the whole list, but we can take a sampling... He start with his instructions to what we call the lay order, dividing them into four categories, men and women, older and younger:

  • The shape of an older man’s life...keep in mind that most 1st century men were dead by 50...a Christian man of that age should characteristically be:
    • Sober-mindedness—an eternal perspective on life will not wasting his time on activities, acquisitions, or habits that have no lasting value.
    • Self-controlled ... he says it again and again.  Not a popular contemporary idea ....  We know from the rest of his teaching that St Paul assumes a baptized Christian (who for him meant someone who intended to be Jesus’ disciple), had the Holy Spirit living within him ... guiding his thought, warning him against sin, and giving him the power to life a life like his Saviour’s.  A life governed by that Holy Spirit could not possibly be a life characterized the rage or drunkenness or unchastity or greed or gluttony ... it was unthinkable.
    • Dignified... ah, ah, ah, ah ... you’re thinking stuffy...some fat old guy with a big belly, a vest, and a gold watch chain.  No ... noble ... high minded ... not cynical or coarse.

He goes on to older women...

  • Older women
    • Reverent demeanor (internal)... my but this is hard to get our modern minds around.  Reverent ... there you go again... not it’s a stuffy old woman who goes around looking religious but a woman whose relationship with Jesus can be intuitively sense even by those who just met her.
    • Not slanderer—that is, a person overhearing a conversation between older, Christian women would never hear unfavorable comparisons designed to make the speaker look good.
    • Teach what is good to younger women.  This one’s easy...we just use a different word, and pretend it a new idea.  Older Christian women are to mentor younger Christian women ... reducing trial and error in Christian growth
 
 

The Apostle transitions seamlessly into a description of the character of a younger Christian woman.

  • Younger women—
    • They know how to love their children and their husbands...that is,
    • manage their homes well...and the implication is that other people know it.
    • They are self-controlled...they do not, in fact, shop till they drop.
    • They are pure...the implication is sexual, not flirts, not adulterous.
Canon Fenton

Young men? St. Paul says just one thing... they are to be ... you guessed it ... self-control.  The apostle understood human nature—according to a study done in England and reported in the Independent on Sunday (a London newspaper), men under 30 think about sex every six seconds, their testosterone driven ego’s often tempt them to compete violently, and their inclination to dominate (witness a 21 year old driver) is a commonplace—so St. Paul is a realist.

There is a list for slaves as well...keep in mind, half of all the population were slaves, so we do well to read employees.  We don’t have time for that list.

There are similar lists for the other orders of the church... for priests—above reproach, humble, not quick-tempered nor violent nor taken to drink ... hospitable, yes—self-controlled.
And for bishops... Titus role in Crete... he was to be a model of good behavior, integrity, and sound speech. The list is actually longer, but, the clock races.

So, what’s the point?  Do you think this I important to the apostle?  Should it be important to us? And why?

He tells us why it is important in verse 8... so that opponents will have nothing evil to say about us, that is the Christian church ... and verse  10, so that our behavior may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior ....  Bluntly, our behavior is the evidence of our faith, and it, more that anything else, determines what the people we know think about Jesus.

You see, people whose character look like this are beautiful ... and the people around them know it.  Their lives are like a glistening, diamond...and when people see it, they want i t... lives that adorn the gospel draw people who are perishing to ask why ... and the answer, of course, is Jesus.

 
 

I have to ask, you know .... Does your life adorn the gospel?

I am 57 ... a grandfather ... I have consciously know Jesus, and described my self as his disciple for fifty years.  I confess to you ... despite that fact ... much of my life has not adorned the gospel, it has sought only to adorn my reputation.

When I read this list, it jars me .... Most of these words, in their common American use ... reverent, sober, self-controlled ... have all taken on a pinched, negative tone. Who do you suppose is responsible for that?  Could it be Jesus’ Enemy ... that liar and deceiver whose name it seems so unsophisticated to speak.

Canon Fenton

And who speaks his message...the message of the world around us? Could it be the marketers and media ... those we criticize, but whose message we often believe ... unconsciously feeling what we publicly condemn . No, you protest.

The I must ask why, in the church, do we admire career achievement more than high-mindedness—we hold up older men as examples of what Christians can accomplish in the world, not as people of such noble character that goodness surrounds them.  We actually admire conspicuous consumption more than self-control ... the Christian with the biggest house is the most admired, we pretend that shop till we drop is just a cute phrase, rather than a lethal spiritual distraction.  How can it be that Christian families, families in which both father and mother claim to have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, are as broken by divorce as the families of all the worldlings around us.  How does this behavior adorn the reputation of Jesus ... how does it offer any hope to our perishing neighbors, our relatives who may spend eternity regretting their rejection of Jesus’ love.

I am deeply concerned about this issue ... and not because I am interested in making you, or me for that matter, feel guilty. At the moment, however, we are denying a spiritual reality at our great peril. I live every day in the cross current of the invective and verbal battle that is the Episcopal Church today. It is so much easier to be concerned with another’s sin ....

The historic truth, however, is that time after time ... even in our own American history... when Jesus reforms and revives his church it never starts with his people identifying the wrong behavior of those who don’t believe in him.  It starts in the household of faith.  The believers repent.  When we are clear-minded ... ignoring the messages around siren call of the culture ... it is abundantly clear that our lives, on the whole, do not look anything like this list ... whether lay or clergy, father, grandmother, or priest, we are not living our lives primarily to honor the Savior, but to please ourselves.

 
 

And what is the consequence...we live our lives in fear.  Fear that our children will not be the people we hope.  Fearing that others think our house is not large enough, our face is not pretty enough, or our career achievements not great enough.  We have become a superficial and fearful people...our faith has produced no results in our lives.

Don’t you long for that clean, bright, noble life St. Paul describes?  Don’t you want the fragrance of your life to be so sweet with the aroma of God’s goodness that other people ask you why?  Did you listen to the Psalm today, its description of the confidence and peace of the righteous ... they don’t even fear bad news.  Can you imagine a life so rooted in God that bad news does not turn your stomach.

That is what St. Paul tells us can be ours. But how? The answer is in the next paragraph, verse 11, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled (there it is again) and godly lives.”

Grace... the Father loved us despite our prejudice against him... he sent Jesus to die for us, to make good our sin and rejection of him...if we believe and become his disciples. When we did that... listen carefully... we received the Holy Spirit, that powerhouse personality who not only instructs our conscience, but when invited, gives us the resources to live lives that looks like Jesus’.  Because of that grace, says St. Paul, our lives are a kind of gratitude in action.  We see, we experience the love of Jesus ... and day by day, our lives become an adornment to his gospel.

In just a few minutes we will celebrate that grace at his table...we will receive the broken body and split blood ... the sacrifice required for us to become his holy people. Please stop before you go ... consider where it is you stand today.  Only if we, his church, confess the error of our ways can we hope to change the mortal illness of our church, our families, and our world.  His offer is rich ... and beautiful ... and costly.  He desires our love and allegiance ... as we shall hear, the offering of our souls and bodies. And then his Spirit can that grace to gratitude in our lives.

 
 

St. Paul concludes by reminding his readers that the ultimate outcome of this grace is hope ... Jesus will return ... the holiness in our lives foreshadow the day of his coming ... hope for That Day ... when our Savior returns bringing with him a new heaven and a new earth ... and everything will be made right. This is good news. Sorrows will cease ... poverty banished ... the painful memory of sin and remorse removed ... and that terrible mortal weight each of us carry will be lifted. He will make us right forever.

But for now, we must choose. Will we continue in fear and failure ... fretting over those fragile illusions of achievement and wealth and status. Or will be take our stand with the saints of the ages. Will we become the witnesses of his grace, adorning his gospel with our holy lives.  Like that sea of red light that again last week rolled across the churchyards of Hungary and Croatia, and Poland. Our lives ... the life of the church in our towns and suburbs, in Pittsburgh or Fort Worth, can be a swelling Crimson Tide ... flowing around the dark and broken lives of those who have not yet met the Saviour. Filling that darkness with his loving light. A Crimson Tide of saintly witness, breaking with wonderful and terrible force against the evil and corruption of our world. A tide that will turn back the evil of our world by the power he promise to  a ‘holy people of his own possession.’