Saturday, February 11, 2012


II COR. 11:19-31 * LUKE 8:4-15

The Gospel and the Epistle appointed for this day blend well together when we consider the patience of St. Paul. He endured all things that could come on anyone, and so brought forth fruit an hundredfold. When he began his walk he turned away from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. In time of persecution he did not fall away; and in his case the time of persecution was lifelong until his death as a martyr. Instead of complaining that God was terribly unfair in leading him through fire and water, he gave thanks that he could suffer with Christ. Paul saw his own sufferings as leading to good, especially emphasizing how God used those very trials to further his evangelistic mission as an apostle. Through those sufferings Paul was able to reach people with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation.

He said as much in another epistle, writing to the Church in Philipi these words:

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14)

In today's epistle, he did not write the long list of things he endured in order to boast, but to establish credentials that his critics did not have, namely certain false apostles and teachers who were troubling the Church in Corinth. That is, he was not waxing rich or gaining status in the world, and was not living in luxury. That he chose to continue his life of persecution and danger, and great discomfort, instead of going back to Tarsus to profit from his family's tent-making business (no doubt as suppliers to the imperial army), was offered as proof that his service was genuine. For that reason, and that reason alone, he wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth, that they would hear him and turn away from the false teachers. The Apostle warned about them in the same chapter from which today's Epistle reading was taken:

"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." (II Corinthians 11:3,4) 

It really does matter who you allow to serve as your spiritual leader, teacher and guide, due to the very same problem: A false gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit which we did not receive (that is, not the Holy Spirit Who we received in our Confirmation). St. Paul actually came right out and told the Corinthian Christians that some ministers are called into their vocation by Satan, not by God.

"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (vs. 13-15)

Issues are of eternal consequence, not simply matters of liturgical taste. Furthermore, with eternity in mind, live your life as part of the Church, for that is where the true Gospel is taught, where the pure Word of God is preached and where the sacraments are duly administered. That is what matters, whether every detail is to our taste or not. It is not about satisfying our emotions (which satisfaction may come or not come) but about eternal life with Christ.

It is in this context, when St. Paul told those ancient Christians in the city of Corinth that they needed to follow him, and reject the false ministers of a false Gospel, that he reminded them of his own sufferings and persecutions. I have quoted a few parts of the same chapter that lead to the Epistle appointed for this day. Let me remind you of a little bit of it:

"Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not."

In light of that, once again I want to quote those words from another epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians:

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel."

"The furtherance of the gospel" means, of course, the mission of the Church, preaching the word of God to those who have not heard it. That is how the Apostles laid the foundation. They built the Church wherever they went by preaching the Gospel. And, the troubling reality is, we are much too capable of presenting something less than the Gospel.

We must never allow our Faith to become so complicated that we cannot easily and briefly articulate the essential message of salvation that everyone needs to hear. Nor can we afford to be distracted by many pressing matters that, in the end, simply prevent us from serving God. If Satan has beguiled any of our people through his subtilty, it has been by distorting the message or hiding it under a pile of stuff, maybe rubble, or maybe under a pile of beautiful ornate treasures that simply distract us from the real priorities. We must not allow anything to so complicate our beliefs that we forget the Gospel, how to preach it with power, with the right kind of simplicity, and with conviction.

Who is the sower, and what does he sow? The answer is in the Gospel reading we have heard today: "The seed is the word of God." So, after Mark's account (4:14) of the same parable, the Lord explains simply, "The sower soweth the word." To whom do we sow the Word? Now, that is also important to get right.

What kind of farmer would sow the seed everywhere, on all kinds of ground, the shallow ground of the path, the rocky ground, and among the thorns? The sower in this parable does not seem to be very careful with that seed. He appears to be less than frugal. He seems extravagant, like a spendthrift. But, recall the parable of the wheat and the tares. The landowner, representing God in the parable, did not send his servants to uproot the tares prematurely, lest they uproot the wheat as well.

Just as we cannot tell who will prove to be genuine wheat (that is who will actually hear the Gospel, and truly repent and believe the message), so we cannot really know into what kind of ground we are sowing. We cannot see who will receive the seed into the good ground of an honest heart, for we cannot see as God sees. It is our task to sow the seed everywhere, as wasteful as that may appear to be.

I have seen parishes and their clergy fall into the trap of looking for P.L.U.--"people like us." Over the years in various churches I have met clergy, and even a few self-appointed lay-sheriffs, who mistake their position for that of a "gatekeeper." They treat potential new members the way insurance underwriters treat new applicants, looking them over to see if they should be approved or not. It is especially troubling when these underwriters and sheriffs purposely drive away people based on churchmanship, whether in the name of Anglo-Catholic High churchmanship, or in the name of pietist Low churchmanship. In truth, there must be room for everyone who is looking for a valid church, just as there must be an effort also to reach people who are completely unchurched, and to introduce them first and foremost to Christ Himself. We have been commissioned to spread the word to "all sorts and conditions of men." It isnot a commission exclusively to "people like us," but to everyone.

The message is simple: "Repent and believe the Gospel." The sacramental life of the Church follows, and we are supposed to bring people into that life; but, before we can do that, we must be willing and able to present the Gospel of Christ. Listen to these words by William Temple, the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–44):

"“Evangelism is to so present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men might come to trust Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of His church.”

The sower presents Jesus Christ as the Gospel reveals Him. He is One with the Father in eternity, and Who also took human nature into His Divine person, born of a virgin as fully human (while remaining One with the Father as God the Son), Who died on the cross as the spotless Lamb of God to take away all our sins, Who rose again from the dead on the third day, Who appeared to witnesses after His resurrection, and Who will come again in glory. Those who believe in Christ are welcomed into the fellowship of His Body, the Church, to live the sacramental life of disciples.

Now, the purpose of false apostles, and deceitful workers, the ministers of Satan, is to take away this Faith from our minds. Failing that, their purpose is to get us so distracted by other things (even things that may seem good or religious), so as to get us "off message," so that we never sow the word to others. The tactics I have seen include:

1. To distort our priorities so that we "major on the minors."
2. To sow discord among brethren, so that we fight each other and squabble about all manner of things (oh, and it's always about something important, in fact so important that people must divide, and maybe even ignore the clear commandment of God- in I Corinthians 5-so as to take each other to court with lawsuits).
3. To simply make us lazy, so that we neglect the House of God.*
4. Or to lead us astray with false doctrines.

All of these things I have seen in my many years, and so have some of you. And, why should we be surprised? St. Paul warns that Satan has his own minsters-indeed, the Devil really does call some people into the "ministry." They are called and appointed, by Satan, to stop the Church so that sowers cannot sow the word.

But the good news is God calls His own servants to lead the way. God has given us the word to sow, just as we are to believe it ourselves and live by it. And, knowing that we are weak, God gives us the Holy Spirit Who reveals His own power within us by gifts of service in every member of the Body (and I do mean you), so that together we may do His will in this fallen world. And, if we have the Faith that He plants in us by the seed of His word, and if we remain steadfast, anything that may come our way, whether good or bad, will fall out for "the furtherance of the Gospel."
*Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. Haggai 1:9, 10

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