Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Romans 6:19-23 * Mark 8:1-9

The Epistle for this Sunday picks up a bit after the place where we left off just one week ago. This sixth chapter of Romans is all about baptism and what it is, what it means, and what it has done for us. Modern society has a secular version of documents that were part of old church records, two important certificates. We have death certificates and birth certificates; and when we think of baptism, we should think in that order.       

After all, what is a birth certificate but a secular version of the baptism certificates and the entries from Parish records? In the sacrament of baptism, Saint Paul tells us that our death certificates came first. We are dead with Christ, buried with him in baptism and then raised to new life. This is how we are born again of water and the Spirit, as the Lord taught Nicodemus. In the sixth chapter of Romans you will find your death certificate, and then your birth certificate right after it.  
The call we read about today is based on the fact that we are dead to sin, because we entered into Christ’s own death. In the mystery of salvation, Christ died for our sins, the just for the unjust, to reconcile us to God. And St. Paul makes it clear that we somehow, in a spiritual reality beyond our full comprehension, have entered into his death. So, in baptism we are also born to new life, risen from the dead with Christ, empowered by His resurrection to enter even now into “newness of life,” having even now a power from that new life in Christ that will be given to us fully on the day when He comes again in glory, and we rise to immortality never to die again.        
In the sacrament of baptism we are borrowing from our future, but borrowing without debt from a limitless inheritance that is ours in Christ. It is the opposite of owing interest; the more we borrow from this resurrection life in Christ, the more wealth we lay up and keep forever.

About this very same hope, St. John wrote:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (I John 3:1-3)

In a different way, St. John tells us the same thing as St. Paul: we have this hope and so purify ourselves- how? “Even as He (that is, the Lord) is pure.” The holiness St. Paul calls us to, and the purity that is motivated by hope, as St. John tells us, is Christ’s own holiness and Christ's own purity. We are dead with Him, and then are raised with Him, called to live by the hope placed in us already as people of the resurrection.       
This is much more than a Law of commandments. We have the commandments, yes, and we know they have come from God. And, they teach us how to live a righteous life. What the sacrament of baptism has done for us is to give us that other thing that the Law cannot give us, namely grace. The word “grace” is often mistaken simply for “mercy.” Grace is unmerited, yes, because the true meaning of “grace” is gift- from the New Testament Greek word χάρις (charis), that word from which we get “charisma” or “charismatic”, or “charism.” Charism means gift. “Our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life” are charisma; they are all gifts.
And, our new life in Christ is charisma, that is, a gift. The New Testament ties two things together consistently, and those two things that go hand in hand are charisma and dunamis. That is, grace and power; words that often tell us of the working of the Holy Spirit within the believer just as the Holy Spirit worked with our Lord Himself when He performed his miracles.        
This grace that is more than a Law, is more because added to the moral requirement of the Law is the power and grace of the Holy Spirit working within you to live a life worthy of your calling. Not a perfectly sinless life like our Lord lived, no, because although aided with this grace and power, we are yet in our mortal weakness.     
But, nonetheless this is a life in which we are called to be holy, and given grace and power to become holy; more than a law that tells you to live a holy life, you are lifted to a higher place in which you can “walk in newness of life.” You cannot attain perfection in this life; but you can still walk in the Spirit and experience His working within you, transforming you after the pattern of Christ’s own holiness, just as we look to be transformed after the pattern of His resurrection fully and completely when He comes again to raise the dead to everlasting life.    
Why are we called to a life of prayer and to the sacramental life within the Church? Because it is in such a sacramental life of prayer, and of hearing the word of the Lord in scripture, that we may be constantly cleansed and renewed in His resurrection life, and where we are aided by keeping the Lord Himself in focus. In baptism we died with Him, and were raised with Him, and therefore, we are in Christ. Your whole identity is established in baptism; no longer part of the dead race called Adam, but of the living Christ, having passed through His death into His life; given grace and power unto holiness. For that is your calling.          
The Epistles of Paul teach us that the calling of every Christian is the call to become a saint, a holy person. This is the calling of a life marked above all by the virtue of charity, by the holy character of God Himself. Even with the struggles of this world, and the inevitable occasions of failure and sin, the grace given to you empowers you to have this mark of knowing God even now, as we await the fulness of our salvation. The real question is, will you let Him change you and, will I let Him change me, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
In the Gospel for today, we see that the people in the wilderness could not feed themselves. In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, in which the Lord once again fulfills the prophecy from Deuteronomy of the prophet like unto Moses, we are taught that He meets our greatest need. The truth is, we all need the food of eternal life, because we cannot keep ourselves alive. The bread they ate that day was miraculous, like the manna in the wilderness that fed the children of Israel for forty years.      
How could we read of the food He gave them in the wilderness, the desert wilderness in fact, and not think of the food of eternal life that He gives us? Indeed, when St. John recalls the miracle, He lets us know that the Lord used this miracle to teach that He Himself is the Bread of Life, and that to live forever we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Such talk was a scandal to many of the people, and they never walked with Him again.
It may seem as if they turned from Him because the idea sounded crazy- and yet, they had to know that He spoke of a spiritual reality. He was telling them that their truest and deepest need is for Him, the One Who is God revealed in our own nature. He took our limited human nature into His unlimited Person, our finite nature into His infinite Being, our time into His eternity, our weakness into His strength, and our death into His life. Indeed, we must feed on Him in order to live. Christ Himself, as the Lord God Almighty - one with the Father and the Holy Spirit - tells us “I AM the provision that meets your greatest need. You must feed on Me and live forever.” So we have this Blessed Sacrament, the wonderful mystery of the food and drink of eternal life. We feed on Him in this sacrament; and we feed on Him by His word.
Today’s scriptures are about our salvation. What does our Catechism tell us? It tells us that two of the sacraments are “generally necessary for salvation.” Five sacraments appear in the Old Testament (as I can quite easily demonstrate), but the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion of our Lord’s Supper, are sacraments that impart life eternal and that have been established by Christ Himself when He walked this earth (“sacraments of the Gospel” –Art. XXV). We can speak of the Law of commandments, but St. Paul tells us that, as holy and good as the Law is, we need grace in order to live the life that is given in Christ.       
You were given the new birth from death into life by baptism, having become a new creation in Christ Jesus. And now you must feed on the Lord Jesus Christ who meets your greatest need in this our wilderness of sin and death, and by feeding on Him in faith live forever. In every way you have been given every gift you need to rise above sin and death, to be saved from sin and death, to enter into life, and to have life enter into you. You are in Christ, and you receive Him as the food and drink of eternal life. That is grace. That is power.         
As you hear His word feed on Him by believing. When you come forward this day toward the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, feed on Him by taking Him into your very mouth; and so also feed on Him in your hearts by faith and with thanksgiving.

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