Thursday, July 30, 2015

Do you find even your friends distancing themselves when you say "Jesus?"


And so I ask you not to lose heart over my tribulations on your behalf, which are for your glory. Ephesians 3:13

WHY did St. Paul make this unusual statement? Why did he tell the Christians in Ephesus that the things he suffered in his ministry were for their glory, and ask them not to lose heart? The answer is simple, dear Christians: because there can be no gain without pain. It is true in our present lives, and true regarding our eternal lives as well. When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison for preaching the gospel. His arrest was engineered by Jews who were angry about the things that he taught. He taught that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and that His death atoned for the sins of the world, including those of the Gentiles. He explained that salvation could not be obtained by observing the Jewish Law, but only by repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21).

While most people hope in their lifetime to win friends and influence people, Paul seemed to make enemies wherever he went because of the Gospel he preached without compromise. He knew as a result that only imprisonment and afflictions awaited him in every city. (
Acts 20:23) But even though this was the case, even though he had already suffered many things for the name of Christ, and even though he would eventually give his life for it, God’s good and gracious will was being advanced, and we are the beneficiaries of it still today.

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us that St. Paul spent 3 years (
Acts 20:31) in Ephesus and that he was very dear to these people, and they to him. So it was only natural that they might lose heart when they heard about the things he was experiencing.  It is easy to lose heart, always easier to become discouraged over our suffering than to remain courageous in the face of tribulation, so like a good father Paul soothes his children. He encourages them to be strong in the Lord, and he tells them that the things he is suffering are for their glory. Was he just being noble? Not in this case. Instead, he knew that when Christ’s people suffer for the faith that their struggles are never without meaning or purpose, but that they always must and always will accomplish the good of the church.

He is saying that there is no gain without pain, and that suffering is the price that must be paid for glory. The most important suffering was Christ’s. His suffering and death have eternal merit, and they give us eternal glory, not the temporary glory we seek through sin. Our sufferings, however distressing they might be, are not redemptive. They can provide us with many blessed benefits if we view them through the lens of Scripture, but they cannot redeem us. Only the sufferings borne by the Lamb of God take away the sins of the world. Only they can reconcile us to God, and give us peace in the face of tribulation, sorrow and death.

When Jesus said “it is finished,” the long night of sin ended, but the things men would suffer for his name did not. The message of new life in Christ was propagated by the Lord’s disciples at great personal cost. Though they did not suffer as intensely as our Lord but they paid a great price in order to bring the glory of forgiveness to sinners. Christian tradition tells us that ten of the Lord’s original disciples died in the line of duty, and that John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, where God gave him the most extraordinary visions; visions we still read today in the Revelation of St. John, and which still show us glimpses of glory in the midst of earth’s tragedy.

Nothing has changed throughout the ages by those who follow in the apostolic train. The great saints of church history – men like Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Cranmer, Gerhardt, Nicholai and Watts – who taught us theology, penned our prayers and wrote our hymns, all endured hardship to give us what we count as our glory and the beat goes on. Today men give their lives to do the difficult and thankless work of the ministry. They forego lucrative careers and come out of seminary with burdens of debt. They work, study, suffer and pray. They are misunderstood by most, despised by many and not very highly valued by the economic system of the world yet they are the ones who preach the word, teach the faith, administer the sacraments, hear the confessions, give the absolution and bring heavenly hope to people when every earthly prop gives way. Yet suffering to further the gospel is not only the domain of the clergy, but of all faithful Christians as well: those who erect the churches and build the organs, those who play the music, sing the anthems, count the money, attend the meetings, take the offerings, pay the bills, write the constitutions, sweep the floors and do the many thankless tasks necessary to keep the church doors open so that the glory of the Gospel might raise the sons of men from death to life. And let us not forget the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who wake up the children every Sunday, teach them how to dress for church and how to behave in God’s house; and who by their own living example teach them what it means to live a godly life as Christ’s holy people.

No good thing comes to sinners without Christ’s suffering, or without the tribulation, anguish, tears, frustration and sacrifice of His people, so St. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians and Christians ever after, that the tribulations men suffer for the sake of the Church, large or small, redound to their glory because it is through these troublesome tasks that sinners are gathered to hear the Gospel, to receive the sacraments and to offer right praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus unto all the generations, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, July 27, 2015

If we have forgotten to love, it may be that we have forgotten the promise


To the choirmaster.  A Psalm of David.  The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.  Psalm 19:1

WHEN man rebelled against God he lost his most precious possession.  He cut himself off from the source of his life, and from the only One capable of satisfying his deepest desires.  He was now a fish out of water, a bird without wings.  It was the biggest blunder of history, and unless the Lord had been on our side, we would be lost forever.  However, that was unacceptable to the One who loves His whole creation.  Our God came to the rescue!  He intervened with a promise that was sweeter than honey and more precious than gold; the promise of a Savior to make us whole again.

Adam and Eve who carried the seed of death, also became carriers of the promise that God, in Christ, would atone for our sins, and restore us to the fullness of joy, and though our first parents eventually died, the promise did not!  It was passed on from generation to generation, side by side with the curse, until in the fullness of time the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.

Though scripture does not give us all the details, it does enable us to trace the promise throughout history, from Adam to Immanuel, and by the blessings of church history from Immanuel to our altar on this holy day.

Noah was one of those carriers and God confirmed it for him with a rainbow.  So was Joseph, who also received the confirming rainbow, but now in the form of a coat of many colors.  Finally the promise was given to the One we call Lord who is the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold.  He, too, wore a coat of many colors; emblazoned onto his holy flesh with whip and thorns, and with a scarlet cloak that cruel men draped over him in undisguised mockery.

Yet it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things in order to fix history that Adam broke, to right what he made so wrong, and what we continue to make wrong by our own voracious appetite for forbidden fruit.  It was necessary, too, that He complete redemption's course by rising again from the dead so that by holy baptism we, too, might walk in newness of life.

Although the promise is fulfilled in the One Representative Man, it was not exhausted, nor will it ever be for as long as a single sinner stands in need of redemption.  It is still alive, still passed on from generation to generation as far as the curse is found, and you are now the bearer of it; not you in the singular, but you in the plural.  Remember that in a day like ours when the church seems to atomize before our very eyes, when every pastor is a little pope, every parish a little parliament, and every man does what is right in his own eyes with no regard for tradition, good order, the unity of the Spirit or the bond of peace.  The Body, of which Christ is the Head, is the carrier of the promise, and so is each Christian in as much as he partakes of the Body, for as the Lord says; apart from me you can do nothing.

In his day, David was a carrier of the promise.  As Israel's priest and king he was qualified to compose liturgies for God's perfect praise and to submit them to the choir so that human tongues might even here, even now learn to speak the language of heaven; not only as a matter of privilege, but also in rehearsal for the glorious inheritance which we possess by virtue of our baptismal connection to Christ.

What David did then, the church of the ages continues to do still, because on Pentecost, she became the carrier of the promise!  In keeping with her task she turned her best and mightiest efforts to developing sensible liturgies so that men might worship God as He wants to be worshiped; in spirit and in truth.  Through such worship experience we have true fellowship with God, and it is by these that prayer of David's Psalm is answered:  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Yet the promise is more than just talking points.  Salvation resides in the church's worship, in the mass we celebrate, for it IS the Word of God, mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.  In her worship the church proclaims the Gospel in its truth and purity, transmits salvation to sinners, and teaches all who believe it how to live a new life, for finally our faith must become incarnate by our works.

What works?  Based on today's Old Testament lesson we should call to mind the commandments with their Christian meaning, which we all learned in the catechism* once upon a time, and remembering let us diligently seek to do them, for they are joy to the heart, light to the eyes and in the keeping of them there is great reward!

Based on today's Gospel lesson, let us recall our duty to forgive those who sin against us:   as the Lord forgave those who crucified Him; as St. Paul admonishes God's people who come to the altar to, "forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you;" as St. Stephen and the whole company of martyrs pardoned those who did them such harm, even so let us whose debt has been paid to the last penny by Jesus, freely forgive those who owe a tiny debt to us.  Thus by our words, our worship and our works let us join the heavens above in declaring the glory of God.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, July 20, 2015

Who (or what) is your first love?


O God, who hast prepared for them that love Thee such good things as pass man's understanding, pour into our hearts such love toward Thee that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

ONE thing we know for sure is that people always act in their self-interest.  They always do what they perceive to be best for themselves.  This is natural.  The reason we come to God's house is because we believe that He has good things in store for us here; good things that in the words of our Collect, "surpass understanding and exceed all that we can desire."  If we did not believe that we would not be here today; but what are those things and how do we obtain them?  Today's Collect solves the riddle in terms of both Law and Gospel.  There is good news here, but also an implied threat, and we need to hear them both.  We need to hear the threat because Old Adam, if he is not soundly molested by the Law, would bring us to ruin.  We need to hear the promise because only it can defeat all of our enemies and make us strong to travel the road from here to eternity.  For many that journey is just beginning, for others it is nearly complete, so young and old, let us hear the word of the Lord together today.

The threat comes in the words:  so that loving you above all things we may obtain your promises.  Hearing those words strikes fear into our hearts because we know that we are like Elisha and Peter before the word of God enlightened them; that we love the things we can see better than the Lord we cannot; and that we desire present prospects more than God's future promises.

Both of these men had a good life.  Elisha owned land and the tools of production to make it prosper.  Peter owned boats and had customers who bought his fish.  As long as the land produced, and Lake Genessaret did what lakes do, both these men could nicely satisfy their desires.  The prospect of Christ crucified was the farthest thing from their minds, and would have ever remained so except for one thing:  God's call.

We received the same call.  Theirs came by preaching, ours by baptism, but it is the same call:  to receive healing from sin's disease, to leave the things of the world behind and to follow Jesus into death, burial and finally to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

When the word of God raised Elisha from spiritual death he did not only believe in his heart, but he also confessed with his lips and demonstrated his faith by his works.  He burned his bridges so that there was no going back.  He killed the twelve oxen that kept him tied to the land and became Elijah's disciple, but he did not just kill them; he sacrificed them and gave them to the people to eat.  He understood what all people must understand:  that if we want to commune with God we must approach Him with a sacrifice.  Sin precludes the possibility of the immediate holy communion that Adam enjoyed in the Garden before the Fall, but we come to God through Christ crucified, who is the wisdom and power of God.  The oxen that Elisha sacrificed and gave the people to eat were prophetic of the coming Christ.  His flesh too, was torn by thorns and whip, nails and spear.  It is impossible for men to grasp by their own wisdom that this death of the holy Son of God is the balancing of the cosmic books!  The righting of all that is wrong!  The undoing of the devil's stranglehold!  The death of death!  It is the promise of a new creation where all will be well for us.

As Elisha became a predictor of the coming Christ, Peter and his business associates, James and John, left all that they had and became preachers of the same Christ.  They too put their faith into action.  Let us do the same.

Now the lesson for us is that if we wish to gain things eternal, that we must give up the things temporal like Peter and Elisha did, not by selling all that we have and giving it to the poor - that command is no more to be taken literally than the Lord's word to cut off your right hand, or pluck out your eye.  No, it is not a matter of your possessions but a matter of what you love and who you serve.  Jesus says:  seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; all else is idolatry.

Our fist love must be the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for it is the power of God.  It is the single sacrifice that bridges the "Grand Canyon" that divides men from their God, from the source of their life and the satisfaction of their deepest desires.  Without the cross our religion is vain, our liturgy meaningless, our creeds a desperate hope, and our Eucharist the mere bread and wine that blind flesh believes it to be; but with Christ crucified empowering all of these things, and coming to us through them, they become for us the power of God unto salvation.

Yet the cross is not only God's power but also God's wisdom and His perfect justice.  Man's justice is lopsided on its best day, but God's is as perfect as it is poetic.  As humanity fell by a tree, it is saved by a tree.  As we died by eating, we are made alive again by eating the true body of the risen, ascended and glorified Lord.   As we die because of our connection to the First Adam, so we are made alive by our baptismal connection to the Second.  These are the good gifts we obtain from God's house that surpass human understanding and exceed all that we desire.  They are yours.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The all-stars of the Christian faith


Eric Kilby 
The All-star Game is fast approaching, and as part of that annual festivity, baseball fans are coming up with their “dream teams.” To have such a “dream team” means to draft a line-up and rotation from all the players who ever played in the majors even if they played at different times. Today we honor two of Christianity’s “all-time greats.” So bear with me as I put together a dream team for us. For the position of Bishop, I would pick Timothy, ordained by the Apostle Paul to shepherd the flock at Ephesus. He belonged to the second generation of Christians. The all-time Elder would be St. John, who endured everything short of martyrdom witnessing to his faith in Jesus. As a Deacon, I would take St. Stephen, first of the martyrs to Jesus’ holy Name. The all-time great Deaconess would be Phoebe who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans, and was commended for her work with the poor in Corinth. As teachers I would like to have Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla, who traveled to many ancient cities to strengthen churches which the Apostles had started. For Apostle there is a tie between the two men we honor today. Neither Peter nor Paul would have asked for any honor. If they were here today they would urge us to give the real honor to Jesus, which is only right. But we can still learn something from these all-time greats.

Our Lord asks the Twelve who He is. There are various answers. Some thought He was John the Baptist, who had been beheaded. They thought he had risen. Some said He was Elijah because of Malachi 4:5. But Jesus had already told them that John the Baptist was that Elijah, and Gabriel had told John’s father that the child would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” In a similar way, Paul found Christians in Corinth who did not agree. Some claimed to follow Paul, others Apollos, others Peter. Whoever said the ancient church was undivided does not know the New Testament. People all over the world believe in Jesus today, but disagree about many important things. The disagreement is so powerful as to make church fellowship impossible. Nor can we achieve genuine unity in this life. But let’s learn from the all-time greats how to react to it.

Peter didn’t let any of the other answers confuse him. He confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. Peter knew the Scriptures. He had been with Jesus long enough to know how the Lord fulfilled the Scriptures. He knew his faith was correct. Paul was not in Corinth when he heard of the divisions, but he wrote a letter to those people setting forth the basic facts – the foolishness of the Gospel, which He knew was the Word of God, and the scandal of the cross. So you and I must not become confused by the divisions among Christian people. Peter and Paul went right to the point. They proclaimed that Jesus is God Incarnate and the only Savior. The devil attacks this, because his kingdom always falls before the kingdom of Christ. Peter and Paul knew that, too. They taught the Gospel in no uncertain terms, even as they had learned it from the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus told Peter, Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but the Father in heaven. Then He went on to say, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The world hated them. The same world that hates us, hated the Apostles. They were just as counter-cultural as we are. In the parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus we heard Jesus speak of a “great gulf” between heaven and hell. That same great gulf exists between the world and the church. Jesus indicated this by giving Peter a new name. His name after the flesh had been Simon bar Jonah. The new name had to do with regeneration. The new temple would be built of living stones, and Peter would be one of them. Paul had originally been named Saul. As Saul he persecuted Christians. But after his baptism, when he had been born again of water and the spirit, he was called Paul. That comes from one of several Latin words for “little.” He thought he was small in the eyes of God, such was his humility. He wrote to the Ephesians that the Apostles are all rocks and stones, the foundation of the Christian faith, and that Jesus Himself is the Cornerstone. Jesus made the church righteous, meaning He made us righteous, by His death and resurrection. His love that forgives our sins, His victory over the world and its prince, His intercession for us at the right hand of the Father make the building firm and unshakeable. That’s good news for us, because we are also living stones in that same temple. When a stone is pried loose, it can be thrown away. When it is cemented into the Foundation, not even hell can remove it. We have not seen Jesus ourselves, but we have the Word of those who did. The Apostles were eye-witnesses of these things, and in the case of Paul, eye-witness to a vision. God dwells within this Zion of the Holy Spirit. We can say with the Psalmist, We will not fear though the earth be removed; though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.

Jesus said one more thing. He told Peter, I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The Lord was talking about the authority to forgive sins in His name. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had forgiven the sins of the paralytic. The Pharisees grumbled about that, but Jesus silenced them by having the man get up and walk. There is no doubt that Jesus had the Keys of the Kingdom, so if He gave them to His church, He has placed His authority in our midst. Jesus said, All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. That also includes the authority not to forgive, for without that the authority to forgive would be empty. It includes the authority to discipline and admonish, as indeed Paul admonished Peter himself in Antioch.  Finally, it includes the authority to teach. The Apostles’ teaching has authority over all other Christian teaching ever since their time. That is how we know we are standing on the foundation of the Apostles. And we have the Rule of Faith, by which we know whether or not we are interpreting the Bible properly. The Church has written down the rule of Faith in the Creeds and Confessions. Through these we know we are connected to the Lord who is the Cornerstone, to Him who won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. He won that for us. He gives us eternal life. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross 

Monday, July 6, 2015

When words fail us


To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only wise God be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen 1 Timothy 1:17

THE sentence we just heard is one of St. Paul's many doxologies.  Whenever the subject of God's mercy is more than he can express; whenever he is stumped and unable to explain the inexplicable, he resorts to doxology; to hymns of prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  Today's text is one of many:  To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen

In the year 625 AD, Pope Boniface could do no better.  He wrote a pastoral letter to King Edwin of England urging that he and his people should accept the same Christian faith his wife, the Queen, professed.  His letter begins like this:  "The words of man can never express the power of the supreme Divinity, abiding in His own greatness, invisible, inscrutable, eternal, such that no human intelligence can understand or define how great it is."

Like St. Paul, he was bewildered; and so are we all when it comes to comprehending the Almighty.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we are slow to understand the Scriptures, and so should ever remain, except that in cleansing water of baptism we are given two vital gifts: the Spirit of God and the Mind of that we can know God as He wants to be known and worship Him as He wants to be worshiped.

To be sure all men believe in God, even atheists, but blinded by His power and intimidated by His judgment, they know nothing of His love.  However when we know and believe that Jesus is the mediator that God gave to redeem fallen creation, given to spare us from an eternity of world history, to save us from the Lake of Fire prepared for the devil and his angels, then we can join St Paul in singing doxologies to the God who loves us and unites Himself to us in Christ.

What we need to understand is what a mediator is.  When God pledged to deliver the world from death and the devil He pledged to give us nothing less than Himself!  In the Old Testament animals were the mediators.  Though they were innocent of any wrong, their blood was drained, and they were put to death in the stead of sinful men, sacrificed in order to save men from the consequences of their scheming hearts, but animals could never forgive sin.  Instead, the Old Testament sacrificial system was a prophecy of the coming Christ and the Mass He would offer, once and for all, on Calvary's wooden altar.

In another of his great doxologies St. Paul says it like this, "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared He saved us, not because of righteous works done by us, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Now let us consider even more deeply what a Mediator is.  The rebellion that Adam initiated by his sin created a Great Chasm between God and man, one that seems to get wider and deeper with each passing day as men reject the Bible and burn with hatred against the faith and morality it teaches, as they show ever greater disdain for the sacred and lustily embrace the profane and the unnatural.  By sin men are disconnected from the source of life, cut off from all that is peaceable so that they cannot attain it.  That is why we live out our troubled years like we do, like a leaky boat adrift in a stormy sea with no stability, security or hope of survival, but Jesus closed the Great chasm, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with His own blood given on the cross to reconcile us to God and given for us Christians to eat and to drink for life and salvation.

Yet it is not only what Jesus did that calls forth our songs of praise today, but also Who He is.  He is, "true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary," which is the catechism's way of saying that Jesus is God and Man in One Person.

Mark that well, dear Christians!

Jesus is true God and true Man in One Person!  God and Man who were formerly divorced are re-united in Him, not just in theory, but in fact; in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ where humanity and divinity peacefully and blissfully coexist, and the gospel is this: that we who are made one with Christ by faith are also one with God, saved from death, saved from judgment and reconciled to the Immortal, Invisible only Wise God; and so  it is with good reason, with very good reason indeed, that we join the communion of saints in singing songs of thankfulness and praise to the King of Ages.

Yes, we are now one with Christ and one with God, and what began in the water of salvation is maintained in Christian worship, the very thing we are engaged in at this time, for it is the only channel by which God disburses His holiness to us, the only divinely chosen means by which He continues to pardon, strengthen and console us, for "we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment."

Only let us be vigilant so that the riches and the cares and the pleasures that the world offers us might never cause us to reject the grace of God, the grace that He distributes in this holy house.  Let no weekend retreat, or desire for sport or for money or for rest steal the treasure from us.  Instead let us be imitators of St Paul who was an imitator of Christ.  Let our lives be ordered around our God and His will for us, not only in holy worship, but in holy service to one another through the vocation each is given by God.  Let us love one another, not in word only, but in deed and in truth for this brings honor and praise to the Immortal, Invisible only Wise God, who makes Himself visible to us in Christ, and immortal like Himself.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Restrictive, Burdensome, Oppressing Laws, Yet I Choose to Live Free


Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16

WHEN God liberated our Lord Jesus Christ from death’s strong bands He emancipated us as well. Just as we were crucified and buried with Him in holy baptism, we were raised to new life with Him. Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36) and we are the recipients of that promise. In Christ we have been released from sin, its judgment, its curse and the death sentence it always incurs. Jesus took it all, felt it all, carried it all, suffered it all, was crushed by it all, ended it all and by His resurrection broke down every barrier that might keep us from God and His tender mercies. There is nothing more that can be done, nothing more that needs to be done. As Christians we are born anew into a living hope, and made heirs to an inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade away. (1 Peter 1:5)

But if all this is true, if we are indeed as free as all that, why must Peter urge us to: live as free men? Why does he tell us to be what we already are? There’s a good reason for that dear Christians and we’re going to hear it now: There is no one who is more free than we are, but the final deliverance has not yet occurred. Until that day comes the burden the world lays on the backs of its citizens can make us feel like anything but free. The law books of men are filled with intrusive regulations telling us what we can and cannot do. Is it any wonder we feel tied up six ways from Sunday? A few of them are salutary such as the laws that defend life, liberty and property, but most are intrusive: like where you can smoke a cigarette, how long you can let your lawn grow before you get a fine, or how much antihistamine you can buy without having a SWAT team surround your car in the CVS parking lot. Besides the endless pages of written codes there are the unwritten rules of political correctness, which is the enemy of liberty, and whose sole function is to control our thoughts and our speech. Under its oppressive rubrics we are expected to devote ourselves to foolish causes such as affirmative action; global warming; worship of nature; recycling; sex education taught by pagans and the praise of homosexuality. At the Cleveland Clinic tyrants decide what food McDonalds can serve and how much you are allowed to weigh if we want a job there. Smokers need not apply! At Parma Hospital other tyrants decide how fast you can walk through their revolving door. Go too slow and the door stops. Go too fast it stops and rebukes you like Balaam’s ass to, “step back from the door.” And you had better listen if you did not pack a lunch. Buy a Japanese car you are Benedict Arnold. Condemn the nation’s social policy you are heartless. Denounce its fiscal policy and you are a hopeless Luddite. So God says to us through His apostle: Live as free men! How many times we need to hear it, believe it, and let those words wash over our souls, oppressed as they are with sin, death and endless edicts which come from the bowels of hell itself.

But other things work against us as well, namely that Sinful Nature which will always interpret the Gospel’s liberty as license to sin! This is very bad and will rob us of liberty more quickly than anything. Those who do not fear God do not care if they violate His laws, but the sinful nature within us can be just as perverse. It reasons that, “if Christ paid for all my sins, and offers me ongoing remission, then I can do whatever I want, repent later, put a few extra dollars in the offering plate and everything be okay.” No it won’t! Not if you use your liberty as license. Every Christian sins, and no one knows if a person is using his liberty as license, except God, but it is to this person that St. Peter solemnly warns: do not use your liberty as a pretext for sin!

While Peter could take a harsher tone, and at times we all need it, he does not. This manic-depressive disciple knows only too well the weakness of the flesh so he takes a pastoral tone with his flock instead. Rather than threaten or chide he reminds us all that we are sojourners on the earth, temporary residents, citizens of heaven who are merely passing through, and therefore must abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. In addition he exhorts God’s people to maintain exemplary behavior among the Gentiles noting that some, by seeing our good works, might come to faith and join us in glorifying God on the Day of Visitation.

Because we are still in the world there are certain things we must do and tolerate, however distasteful, and we should do them as far as conscience allows. But to know, love and serve God by doing His will is to be truly free. As Christians we an
swer to a higher calling and march to the beat of a different drum. While man’s rules are often irrational, contradictory, un-realistic and un-pleasant, God’s ordinances are never onerous (1 John 5:3); but always logical, reasonable, sweeter than honey and more valuable than gold. (Psalm 19) As a way of life nothing is more pleasant or liberating than to control the appetites of the flesh and thereby know the liberty of the children of God.

Why does Peter say what he says? Why does he tell free men to be free? Because his word is God’s word and it always generates the thing that it states, so when Peter says: live as free people, we become free. When he says: don’t use your liberty as a cloak for evil, God’s Word turns us from great shame and vice. And when he says: live as servants of God, we are empowered to do so. And therein is our true liberty, to live as His servants in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

Rev. Dean Kavouras