repentance

The Flaw of Faith Alone: (Part one) Lack Of Evidence

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:26

Flight with Two Wings (© John Gresham)

This is the first of 3 sermons I will preach about our need for good works to show that we have faith in God.  My next sermon will come from Matthew 25:31-46 and the final from Acts 2:42-47.  I am grateful for the lectures on “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” from Father Andrew Stephen Damick for inspiring me to preach on this topic.  I pray that I  will correct myself by the grace of the Holy Spirit and lead others to correction as well.

THE FLAW OF FAITH ALONE:  (PART ONE) LACK OF EVIDENCE

James 2:14-26

(Introduction)  The Protestant Reformation leaders were right in pointing out the abuses of Medieval Catholicism, including the sale of indulgences and stressing works as a means to salvation.

(antithesis) In many of our doctrines, we ignore the point that good works are necessary as they are evidence that we have faith in Jesus Christ.  As a result of our lack of this sound evidence, we run around looking for false ones.

(thesis) We must commit ourselves to good works as well as having our faith secured by believing in the Gospel.

(relevant question)  Why are good works important?

(points)

  • evidence of compassion (vv. 15-17)
  • evidence of distinction (vv. 18-20)
  • evidence of awareness of God’s will (vv.21-26)

(conclusion)

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (First Friday): In & Walking

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1

Boat and Blade (© John Gresham)

There is a big difference between being in and out of a canoe.  In the boat, I am dry.  With my paddle, I am making progress to my destination.  Being out of the canoe means I am in the river soaking wet.  The paddle can do me little good until I get back in the boat.  There is a difference between walking on and off of the trail.  On the trail, I know my steps are secure.  Wild animals keep their distance knowing the regular human traffic.  When I am off of the trail, the ground is not as stable.  Venomous snakes build their homes where people don’t tread.  The canoeists who spends more time out of than in his boat cannot make an effective journey.  The hiker that spends more time off than on the trail puts herself at risk for getting lost and being bitten.  Anyone can capsize.  But, one must get back in the boat.  Anyone can stray from a trail.  But one must get back on it.

Here is where there is no condemnation; when we are in Christ Jesus and we walk according to the Spirit.  True faith is not “getting your praise on” for sporadic moments.  It is to constantly be mindful of the Lord who loves us so much that he gave his life for our salvation.  This is the boat that we progress in.  True faith is more than being a moral person.  It is to surrender one’s will to that of the Holy Spirit.  This is the trail we walk.  Be in and walk accordingly.

 

Each One An Icon

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, … .’   So God mad man. in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.

Genesis 1:26, 27

How foolish I am!  How can I venerate and give honor to the saints on the wall and not show like love to the person on the street?  How dare I honor the Holy Theotokos and harbor lust for the girl I did not marry? 

What is a holy icon but a window and portrait of God’s greater glory?  Was it not by the hand of the painter that we have these windows?  Perhaps by the skill of a wood-carver and other craftsmen that we possess such items as reminders of the love of our Lord?

And yet God made the perfect icon when he made men and women.  In his image and likeness we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With his breath of life we are all living souls.  Here is the icon I should honor and kiss in holiness.  Here is the image I should hold as evidence of God’s compassion and mercy.

Yet this is the icon that I hold in contempt.  I suspect it a thief and liar.  I condemn it for its flaws and imperfections.  I abuse it as a toy only fit for my pleasure and whims.  This icon which was not made by a man’s hands.  This image of God and made by God.  This likeness of which I am.  I am their brother and I have shown them fear, hate, and lust. 

Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  I am the chief of all sinners! 

Forgive my calloused thoughts and harsh words toward my fellow-man.  May the power of the Holy Spirit cleanse my heart and mind of wicked desires.  Let me hold high the value of each man, woman, boy, and girl.  We are the icons that you made.  Let us honor and love one another as such.

The Value of Relentless Prayer

Rev. Dr. Darrell K. White gave a mantra to Baptist Liberty Church decades ago that serves as a guide for my journey:

MUCH PRAYER, MUCH POWER

SOME PRAYER, SOME POWER

LITTLE PRAYER, LITTLE POWER

NO PRAYER, NO POWER

It is true that we can pray all we want to and some things will not change.  The prophet Habakkuk rejoiced in the midst of  his nation’s wicked society.  Paul preached with a thorn in his flesh.  Yes, there are moments when God does not alter situations based on our wishes.  So, what good is it for us to be ceaseless in prayer?

Of Waves and Stones (© John Gresham)

Prayer is our means of being in communion with God.  Prayer is not our means to make him a flunky beholden to our wishes and whims no matter how significant they may be.  This is a tragic mistake many people make when they pray.  A presumption that the Lord is supposed to do their bidding.  No, it is He that made us and not we ourselves.  Thus we come to God with humble hearts and souls seeking his overall will and not simply our own petitions.

With this communion established, our spirits are aligned with the Holy Spirit.  This is the portion of the Trinity that reminds us that we are children of the Father and have been saved through the Son.  Our value is re-affirmed and cleansing through repentance is confirmed.  An arrogant, or even lazy, heart and soul cannot have such a communion.  But, to the one who is humble, the Father elevates.  To the one who knocks, Jesus opens the door.  This process of divine elevation and revelation is the power we receive in prayer.

According to God’s will, prayer enables us to either change the situation or change for the situation.  In our complex and complicated lives, aren’t we in need of such power?  And if we need something, are we to slothfully expect someone to drop this power in our laps with little effort? Or are we to make the pursuit of this power a part of who we are?

The monastics of Orthodoxy hold to a practice of praying even under their breath, “Lord have mercy.”  Catholic monks and nuns do similar, if not the same.  We modern Protestants who can’t afford to abandon all to move to Mt. Athos or St. Catherine’s can still be relentless in prayer.  Just as we are passionate about a favorite television program, musician, or sports team; we must be as passionate about having communion with God.  Indeed, even more so as these other pursuits are temporal.  God is Spirit and eternal.  Let us be in relentless pursuit of Spirit so that we will have the power to live in the fullness of God’s will.    Make time for prayer as if all depends on it.

Selling Out Jesus

Happy Easter to all Orthodox Christians.

This weekend is the celebration of 40 years of Pastoral Service of Rev. Wilbert D. Talley at Third Union Baptist Church.  He has been a mentor to me since I was a child. Dr. Talley held high positions at Virginia Union University and other statewide organizations.  A man of his caliber and education could have easily sought the pulpit of the most lucrative churches in the nation.  And yet, for four decades he remained the pastor of a little country church.  His work has included major improvements on the building and aiding people in building their lives.  It is an honor to celebrate such a man and wish him many more years of service to God.

Dr. Wilbert D. Talley (© John Gresham)

SELLING OUT JESUS

Matthew 26:14-16

(Introduction) Now that we know him as the resurrected savior, no Christian would sell Jesus out the way Judas did.

(Antithesis) In Matthew’s Gospel, Judas is no more wicked than any other disciple.  But, he made a most horrible choice.

(Thesis) We must be on guard not to sell Jesus out the same way Judas did because we face the same temptations.

(Relevant Question) How do we sell Jesus out

(Points)

1.  We hold on to our preconceived ideas of what is right (v. 6-14)

2.  We go to those who truly seek to kill him (v. 14)

3.  We accept a cheap payment (v. 15)

(Conclusion)  True discipleship is too costly for us to sell out at any price.

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Saturday)

… “You see these great buildings?  Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.”  Mark 13:2

We are often awestruck by the things we make.  The disciples, some poor Galileans perhaps, couldn’t help but to note the enormity of Jerusalem’s skyline.  There is no crime in noting good craftsmanship or recognizing feats of labor and skill.  Yet, they tried to get someone greater than the city to be as awestruck as they were by it.  The “stone the builders refused” proclaimed an end to the ones that had been erected.

We make such fuss and fanfare over the things we build.  Skyscrapers to shopping malls are our landmarks.  Our homes are our castles.  Churches are being constructed as grandiose “worship centers” with every amenity we can think of.  Those who shepherd in such places can expect to be well housed themselves even as the one in whose name they preach had no place to lay his head.

Path to a Great Stone (© John Gresham)

We need buildings for everything.  Mega-churches are not inherently bad.  And pastors should receive compensation according to the church budget.  But, let us not be distracted by what we have made because it will all come down.  Even, dare I say especially, the things that we make for the sake of holy worship.  The disciples were raving about buildings while their master was about to be put in a grave.  So if Jesus was to be brought down, what is a temple?  The Hagia Sophia and Notre Dame are tourist attractions.  Other great churches of the east and west have fallen into rubble.  Likewise, our storefronts will be stores again while our “praise tabernacles” will one day meet the wrecking ball.

Only one that had been brought low was resurrected and done so with even more power than before the fall.  Only one was the temple that is the temple that makes us temples.  Only one can bring us to a city that can never be ruined by the will of man.  That city is built on the word of God.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

Seeking Thirst (Good Friday)

“I am thirsty.”  John 19:28

It would seem more reasonable that we seek refreshment than thirst.  Any trip to a convenience store or grocer will provide us with a wide range of beverages from upscale fine wines to bottled water.  Our consumption of high calorie sodas and juices is responsible for much of our diabetic and obesity issues.  In fact, often what we seek is not refreshment.  Rather we indulge in our taste which results in problematic consequences.

Living Water (© John Gresham)

Here we have hanging on a cross an innocent man who without proper clothing cannot enter 7-11 or Food Lion to buy a drink.  He has been unjustly condemned, brutally beaten, and assaulted with insults.  And now, after showing mercy to the woman who bore him, Jesus gives this one complaint of torment in John’s account of the Gospel.  “I am thirsty.”  I offer you tonight that the thirst of our Lord has nothing to do with not having change for a vending machine.  No, this thirst comes from completing the task God had for him and a desire to fulfill the word.  I challenge you that our true calling is not to over-indulge in this worlds offerings.  But, to seek Thirst.

Jesus knew that everything had now been completed.  He said all and done all he was called to do as the Messiah on earth.  He humbled himself to be baptized by one he could have baptized himself and kept wine at a wedding party.  His compassion went to a Pharisee and Samaritan woman who were willing to listen and learn.  Where there were ill and infirmed people, He gave healing.  Where some built walls with legalism, he tore them down with the word of love.  He proved that God gives life in resurrecting Lazarus, gave his disciples the example of faithful service, and has combined all of the lessons, love, and power into one simple sentence.  Jesus was thirsty.

The prophets declared his way would be made straight  by a voice crying out in the desert.  He offered living water so that no one would thirst again.  His food was to do the will of the one who sent him.  His very flesh became bread and blood became wine so that anyone who ate and drank of him would have eternal life.  Where as the religious authorities taught only from a handed down tradition, Jesus taught as he was the word, the word was with him, and the word was him.  And now the embodiment of the law, prophecy, and the pre-existing truth makes one last claim on the world that knew and received him not.  “I am Thirsty.

Thirst is the condition of completion and fulfillment of God’s will in our lives.  Too often we settle for foretaste of God’s glory in worship on Sundays, Wednesdays, or special conferences and concerts.  And yes, the foretaste is divine.  But, if we are to claim his name, we must aim for the same.  The true pursuit of Christ has nothing to do with our sporadic moments of “getting a praise on.”  We are called to complete his will in our lives.  That is to be done with the utmost diligence and persistence.  We are called to fulfill the word of God in how we live.  Not being moral fearing God’s wrath.  But, living in the Spirit because He is Spirit and gives his Spirit to dwell in us.

The point of thirst cannot be reached easily.  It requires us to be pierced with thorns and climb a difficult hill.  In spite of what we endure, we must still have compassion and seek the preservation of humanity even as ours has been shamefully mistreated.  And even still, the best the world can give us is sour wine.  Let us seek this thirst.  Those who are thirsty shall have a refreshment and restoration that the world cannot give and never take away.

John Robert Gresham, Jr.

Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

Moderator, Pamunkey Baptist Association

PBA Division of Clergy Good Friday Service 2012

Rock Spring Baptist Church in Manquin, Virginia

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Monday)

“And when you stand in prayer, forgive what you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failures too.”    Mark 11:25

The second and third entrances in Jerusalem had no parades nor fanfare.  We instead see a somewhat cruel use of power (the cursing of the fig tree), defiant rabble-rousing (the expulsion of the traders from the temple), and a logical defeat of the opposition (the authority of Jesus questioned).  Coupled with the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus, some Christians act as if we are thus granted to act as he had during the Jerusalem ministry.  No doubt that we must speak of holy displeasure and speak truth to power.  But, Jesus gives us a caveat to our no doubt in his hear, but believing that what he says will happen, and believe you have it already and it will be yours. 

Rev. Sylvester Bullock (© John Gresham)

The fig tree was a sign that the Jews should have had fruit of the Spirit ready for the Messiah at his very presence.  Cursed to all who are beholden to such law and tradition.  The point was made further as the worship was corrupted by money-changers in the temple and a clerical leadership that failed to acknowledge the Spirit of God among them.  These are the mountains that we must pray, in faith, will be cast into the sea.  But, we must also pray in forgiveness.  If we make such prayers with this element of mercy, mercy will be shown to us who also stand in need of it.  For we all fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit as we should in the presence of Christ.  We are all corrupted by the things of this world.  We all become complacent in faith and are dull to the movement of God even when we are faced with him.  If we command the mountain to throw its self without these considerations, it can and will fall on us!

There is great and divine power in prayer.  The heart of forgiveness prevents us from using the power foolishly.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Saturday)

“If anyone says to you, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘The Master needs it and will send it back here at once.'”  Mark 11:3

Jesus was only borrowing the donkey.  He would return it before nightfall.  All of those who followed Jesus to Jerusalem praised him loudly.  “Blessed in the coming kingdom of David our father!”  But, there would be no restoration of Davidic-Solomonic Israel.  Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die.  The crowds declared a human parentage and earthly nation.  How sadly shortsighted.  The purpose of the savior was not to maintain such earthly standards.  He would soon return that borrowed donkey.

Flowing on Rocks (© John Gresham)

The Gospel of salvation means more than “family values” or “God Bless America.”  We can shout these things all we wish.  But we are overlooking one main point.  Christ did not come to save anyone because of heritage nor nationality.  He died to rise again to save whomever would deny himself, take up his cross and follow him.  Jesus returned the donkey.  Had he kept it, he would be a thief.  If we keep Jesus on these donkeys, we are making him into a criminal.  He took care of the animal.  But, gave it back.  Let us act in ways to nurture our households and communities.  We should obey just laws and be good citizens.  But Christ has a greater purpose than riding on borrowed donkeys.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fifth Friday)

… “What were you arguing about on the road?”   Mark 9:33

Isn’t it funny when children are proven to be more mature than adults?  Please consider the text.  When Jesus teaches them about his coming Passion, the grown men are too scared to ask about what they don’t understand.  They are fearful to make a sincere inquiry of the one whose mercy and power exceeded that of anything they have ever experienced.  Instead, these who are ignorant and fearful debate among themselves.  This only maintains the state of ignorance and fear.  Service cannot be born in such  a condition.

Children know that they don’t know.  They also know that grown-ups seem to know everything.  Thus, they ask questions.  Sometimes it seems they ask too many questions or do so out of playfulness.  But, almost always, they do so realizing their significantly lower position.  The loving adult answers the child appropriately and trust grows.   Where there is trust, there is faithful service.

Baptism (© John Gresham)

Perhaps this is why we use boastful words and deadly weapons on each other in the name of religion.  We are to scared to humbly ask the God we profess to believe in the things we don’t understand.  Out of fear, we would rather try to make our case above others when none of us have a leg to stand on.  We do a disservice to God as we are unwilling to serve each other.  Small wonder we have atheism in the world.

Let’s stop being grown-ups and revert to spiritual childhood.  Never stop asking questions of God and our elder, knowledgeable saints.  Even in light-hearted moments, they who love us will reveal truth.  Truth makes us free to serve God and one another.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene