THE PROOF IS IN THE MERCY
And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age, and to the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, sons of the resurrection." Luke 20:34-36
Almighty God, we beseech Thee, show Thy mercy unto Thy humble servants, that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with after the severity of Thy judgment, but according to Thy mercy; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen
THE best prayers are the ones where we first hear a word from God, and then pray that word back to Him. We did that in today's Collect. It is the proper order of Christian prayer for as Scripture says, "We love Him because He first loved us," and love us He does!
At first it may seem inelegant to begin a prayer the way our Collect does today, by calling out "Living God" without prologue or preamble, but what does the soul want more urgently than to be in league with its Redeemer and Creator? What more than to be finished with the culture of death that marks this age, and to know "the fullness of God's grace," so that we might "lay hold of His promises" and live forever in the warmth of His love? Those are the things the church prays for this day and the very things that God is granting us even now.
There is no question that God gives us His grace. We are living proof of it. We received the seed of immortality in baptism. We are instructed by His Word, taught to process all of life through the lens of God's clear wisdom. We are absolved of the sins that daily soil us and cling to us like barnacles, and we are given a new song to sing, the church's song, which is Christ.
Why does God do all this? Very simply because that is who He is and what He does! His chief attributes are mercy and pity as today's Collect states. The Word He spoke to Moses still obtains, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey..." Now as then God sees your affliction too, and sends His Holy Angel to deliver you daily. He rescues you from death and the devil by the cross of His Son and brings you into His church. It is a land flowing with milk and honey; milk to nourish your soul so that it is confident and glad, honey to sweeten every bitterness that sin and death inflict upon you in this present evil age. While others run about seeking ever greater thrills...stimulations and intoxicants to make the pain go away, to assuage the fear of death, the terror of judgment...we rest like newborn babes in the gentle arms of the Father who begat us by the word of truth.
By this same grace and kindness we are empowered to "lay hold of His promises," we seek in today's Collect. Now a promise by its very nature is something to be delivered in the future. It is a word spoken now about something yet to happen, and can only be accepted by faith. We know that men make all sorts of promises, and that desperate people easily believe them, suffering one disappointment after another until they are willing to believe nothing. A brief glance into the political arena or the nearest court room teaches us that men are untrue, but unlike men, God is faithful and never breaks His promises. He gives us good hope and fine promises that, with Christ, we will overcome the world and attain the age to come.
He assures us that we who were born spiritually dead, who inherited the sin of our parents, and who deserve to be condemned with the world because of our lineage and because of our own actual sins, are pardoned by the blood of Christ, and are in full possession of the gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He is the One who gives us salvation. He is the one who makes us worthy by the remission of our sins. He makes us immortal, equal to the angels, sons of God, sons of the resurrection. That is the Christian faith's hope, but not only a future one. It will be consummated in the future, true, but has already been inaugurated among us, and in two ways:
First, Christ is still factually present among us, not in human form any longer, but under the forms of bread and wine, in the water, in the Word, and in the holy office of the pastor who stands as His proxy, who acts as His ears in confession and as His tongue in absolution. In this present evil age we are filled to the full with grace, mercy and peace that God tenders through Christ.
Secondly, let us never forget that along with this blessed status comes a corresponding manner of life. St. Paul makes clear in today's epistle lesson that the heart established with grace must also be established in every good work and word. For the hope to which we are called is not only an understanding of the heart, not only a set of rituals and prayers, but also a new life in and with Christ that wishes to serve its one master; not mammon, not the vomit of sin that dogs must always lick up, not the devil who is pure evil, or any false god or false way of life, but whoever has this hope seeks to purify himself even as God is pure. We learn this better life from the law that once condemned us to death, but now that we are cleared from our every transgression by Christ, who kept the law for us, who died to pay its penalty, it becomes our guide to teach us godly living, a wholesome and blessed manner of life. May we give our full time and attention then to every good work and word, and to Christ Jesus who is the Living God, the Lord of Life. Amen
Rev. Dean Kavouras