SERMON ON THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS FOR THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY
AFTER HOLY PENTECOST (II Cor. 6:1-10)
The Ministers of the Work of Salvation and our Duty
The ministers and collaborators in the work of reconciliation and of salvation are the divine Apostles, and after the Apostles come the pastors and teachers of the Church succeeding them and possessing knowledge of the work and performing it like the Apostles. Those, on the other hand, who boast of the Apostolic succession and do anything but the work of reconciliation, who traffic and trade in the sins of men, and chief and foremost among whom reigns the self-styled successor of Peter the Apostle, are the successors of the impostors and hypocrites stigmatized by blessed St. Paul. So it is possible to distinguish the true collaborators of God in the work of reconciliation and of salvation from the pretended collaborators. Indeed, a criterion for drawing such a distinction is St. Paul himself, a true and genuine collaborator of God, who, doing exactly as he ought to, distinguishes himself from pretended collaborators, from those who are deceiving hypocrites and God-trafficking rogues.
The genuine collaborator of God accordingly begs the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain. This is the duty of us believers. But what did he mean in saying this? Who are those who receive the grace of God in vain? Just as the earth which receives seed and causes it to grow receives it in vain if it withers or is blighted by thorns springing up before it bears fruit, so those who receive the word of reconciliation and believe in Christ receive the grace of God in vain, that is to say, uselessly and to no purpose, if they fail to do His commandments – if they fail to divest themselves of the “old” man in the present life and consequently also fail to put on the “new” man. It is for this reason that He says: “In an acceptable time have I listened unto thee, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee” (Isa. 49:8).
The work of reconciliation has to be done in the present life, and those who seek reconciliation here are listened to and are reconciled. But after death if they repent and seek reconciliation, even though they request it, they shall not be listened to. “Behold, now is an acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” says St. Paul by way of comment, though the Authorized Version has this confused with the quotation from Isaiah; in other words, the present life is that in relation to which grace prevails and takes effect.
By collaborating in the saving work of God and beseeching us not to receive the grace of God in vain, the Apostles showed themselves to be examples worthy of imitation for the purposes of bearing fruit and pleasing God, while giving offense to no one lest their ministry be blamed, but, on the contrary, recommending and demonstrating themselves in all their conduct to be in fact and in truth true and genuine ministers of God. The great patience they had in the midst of afflictions, in physical straits and hardships, in enduring corporal blows and imprisonments, in carrying on under adverse conditions of country and weather, since they were driven from pillar to post-their great patience afforded evidence and proof that those who endured these things with. patient fortitude and who were not dismayed by such great and formidable terrors really were ministers of God, being strengthened and saved by God.
Besides hardships suffered involuntarily from without, they also voluntarily toiled, lost sleep, fasted in chasity, not to be seen by men but to please God But they were proved to be ministers of God more as a result of their knowledge of God and of things divine, as a result of their virtues of beneficence and of forbearance towards those who did them injustice, as a result of their gift of the Holy Spirit, as a result of their unfeigned love, as a result of the word of truth which they uttered pure and unmixed with any error or delusion, as a result of the miracle-working power of God, and also through the effectiveness of the weapons of righteousness wielded by their right hands and by their left hands, through glory and dishonor, through defamation and good repute, since both when praised and when dispraised, and both when glorified and when dishonored, they nevertheless proved themselves to be ministers of God, for ministers of God are glorified and honored by sane and sober-minded men, while the wicked, being tools of the Devil, are dishonored and held in disrepute.
For this reason it was that the Apostles appeared to the eyes of the faithless and of the lost to be deceivers, while to the eves of the faithful saved they appeared truthful and true: the former denied them recognition, whereas the latter knew them for what they were and honored them accordingly. They would have been put to death by those who looked upon them as deceivers, but they were saved by the power of God. They were chastened, but were not delivered to death. Outwardly they were grieved, but inwardly they were always glad. They themselves were poor, but they enriched many of their fellow men in respect of wealth of everlasting spirit. Though possessing nothing of their own, they were possessors and masters of the properties of the faithful: they had everything, therefore, that God has. Such were the genuine ministers of the work of reconciliation and of salvation, whom it is our duty to imitate and to emulate to the best of our ability, in order that we may bear fruit leading to life everlasting to the glory of Christ, to whom be the glory and the honor for ever.
SERMON FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LUKE AFTER THE SUNDAY FOLLOWING THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS (Luke 7:11-16)
The Pity Shown by the Lord, and His Comforting Words to the Weeping Widowed Mother. – The Miracle Wrought in Nain. – The Judgment of the Eye-witnesses to the Miracle Concerning Jesus. – His Fearlessness in the Face of Death.
Jesus proceeded to a town in Galilee called Nain, and along with Him went many of His disciples and a great throng of people. His journey was not an accident, but had been determined upon beforehand and planned in advance. It was a journey of God become incarnate in man for the salvation of man, whom He loved to the extent that He sacrificed His life for him. A journey for the purpose of doing good and bestowing benefits, and for the further purpose of exhibiting His divine grandeur, since it is only God who confers such great benefactions as Jesus did.
“And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a town called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the town, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the town was with her” (Luke 7: 11-12).
Jesus was at the gates of the town when a dead man, the son of a widow whose sole support, help, and comfort he had been, was carried out; and a great many people followed, accompanying the funeral and condoling with the afflicted mother upon the loss of her only son. The mother was weeping inconsolably, and none of the people accompanying the funeral, nor all of them taken together, could comfort her effectively. She was weeping because as a widow she had been deprived of a very dearly beloved husband, and because as a mother she had been deprived of her only-begotten son.
It was not a case where there was also another son, who might comfort and devote his attention to her so as to solace her in this hour of agony. She knew, of course, that it was useless to weep under such circumstances, since tears are never able to restore the dead to life; yet she wept nevertheless, because nature demanded it, and her sorrow was greatly increased by the thought that the dead son was lost, that he no longer existed, that he did not continue living after death, and that she could have no hope of ever seeing him and meeting him again. But her sorrow was moderated to some extent by the idea that souls might exist and live after death – the idea, that is to say, involved in that of the resurrection of the dead and the conviction that death is nothing but a prolonged sleep, and not, on the contrary, a state of annihilation and consequent loss amounting to actual perdition.
The grief-stricken widow was weeping despondently and was laboring under the impression that she herself had been lost together with her lost son. This impression was not unreasonable, either; for how could she expect to pass through life without the protection and help of her husband and of her son? She was weeping in ignorance of the fact that there exists a remedy that is efficacious against death, for she had never seen before her eyes the sight of dead men returning from Hades, or, as we are wont to say in ordinary language, from the grave, though she did indeed see the other people dying every day of the year. She could see the sway of death over human beings, while, on the other hand, she could not see the law governing the revivification of the dead and their restoration of life. But Jesus, who happened to be standing at the gate of the city and who heard the sobbing and the lamentation of the mourning widow and mother, was emotionally affected and was moved to have pity on her; accordingly, He commanded her, “Weep not.“
“And when the Lord saw her, he had pity on her, and said to her, Weep not.” (Luke 7:13)
It is natural for a man to sympathize and be affected emotionally whenever he is confronted by the sight of another man’s evil plight, and a feeling of pity overcomes him and causes him to cast about in search of some means of affording comfort and consolation and relief to the suffering one. He too suffers, and in suffering he is led to take whatever measures he can by way of showing the chief sufferer some benefaction. Accordingly and in like manner Jesus too was emotionally affected, and in consequence He was inclined to sympathize with and to feel pity for the distressed woman in the present case. He accordingly proceeded to comfort the suffering mother practically while at the same time giving an exhibition and demonstration of His divinity and of the mastery and control which He had over death in conjunction with the power which He possessed to revivify the dead and to restore them to life.
“Woman, weep not!” But how can she help weeping, O Lord, seeing that she has lost her only-begotten son? Yea, Lord, she could help weeping if only she could see him returning to life, or if she could be led to believe that her son is still alive and is living even after his death; but it is by no means certain that that woman could have entertained such great faith or have held a belief so contrary to her own experience. In order, therefore, for her to be adequately consoled and comforted, she would have to see her son resurrected and brought back to life, and thus be convinced that God has the power to restore the dead to life. For this reason the Lord had to show pity for the woman in a practical manner, that is to say, by actually converting His pity into a deed that would be of practical effect; at the same time, of course, such an act would effectively demonstrate also His power against death to the surrounding multitude. In other words, He would have to show that He really was God.
“Coming nigh, he touched the bier; and they who were carrying it stood still. And be said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” (Luke 7:14-15).
Just after having ordered her not to weep, Jesus touched the bier after approaching the stretcher upon which the dead man lay and which served in lieu of a hearse. Those who were carrying it immediately stopped. “Weep not,” He told the woman, “because, O thou afflicted mother, thou art about to see thine only-begotten son alive again. Believe thou that I who am speaking to thee and giving thee orders not to weep am also able to banish thy tears and make thee happy and fill thee with joy. Other men can feel pity for thee, can console thee, and say, even as I do, ‘Weep not!’ but they are utterly unable to banish thy tears and to fill thee with joy and make thee happy, as I can, since their means of consolation are totally inadequate in the face of such a great calamity and such great sorrow. But I, being God upon earth, have assumed the appearance of a man in order that I might dry up the tears that flow from human eyes by confirming and certifying My authority against death, and in order, furthermore, to render men fearless of death so as to convince them that death is not an evil but simply the decomposition of a man into his constituent parts such as occurs in the case of everything else, and is nothing but a transition into a better and superior life; and that, on the other hand, moral death, which amounts to everlasting separation from God because of viciousness of character and the practice of vice, is indeed an evil everybody ought to fear. Yet, even as against bodily death God has a curative remedy in the resurrection of the dead. It is of this remedy that I am now going to furnish you a sample, in order that ye may believe that resurrection of the dead shall one day become a universal fact.”
Thus did the Lord tell the weeping mother not to weep, while, on the other hand, to the corpse He said, “Young man, l say unto thee, Arise!” Accordingly, in the twinkling of an eye the Lord’s word became the Lord’s work; for the words of God are executed by the divine power that resides in them. “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”
What amazement, what a great surprise, took hold of the surrounding onlookers when they saw the fact. A corpse resurrected by word alone! What rapture, what great joy, must have overcome the mother’s heart upon beholding the resurrection of her only-begotten son! Joy dried up the tears, and removed all sorrow from her heart. But the onlookers found themselves facing a paradox, a miracle, an inexplicable fact, and they were amazed, surprised beyond measure, and in consequence they were overcome by an ecstatic fear. Perhaps, as a result of their ecstasy, they were even slow to believe that they had actually witnessed a fact. Perhaps they even wondered whether it was a reality or a ghost when the corpse sat bolt upright and began speaking to his mother and was delivered to his mother safe and sound, thus dissolving any doubts or suspicions they may have entertained and convincing them that he really had arisen and that they were facing a miraculous event which only divine power could bring about.
“And fear came over all: and they glorified God, saying that a great prophet was risen up among them, and that God had visited his people.” (Luke 7:16).
After their amazement had passed and their fear had subsided and their doubts had left them, and the conviction had unhesitatingly grown upon them that what they had witnessed was an actual fact, their judgment began to function again and they sent up a cry of glorification to God as the only one able to perform miracles. But what sort of judgment did the beholders of the miracle form as respecting Jesus? That He was a great prophet, and that God had visited His people through this great prophet. They recognized Jesus as a prophet, and not as God become incarnate in man. This impression of theirs, however, was imperfect, since Jesus was God become incarnate in man and revealing Himself through His words and through His works and deeds. Jesus in reality was such as He preached Himself to be and such as His disciples believed and confessed Him to be: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” So, too, believes His Church, precisely as He Himself asserted and verified by means of “words and works, as His great work confirms and corroborates which, overcoming every opposition and resistance proceeds apace in its conquest, and shall sooner or later prevail over the entire world and throughout the universe, which is subject to Him and is governed by Him in accordance with His holy and eternal will.
Being a most sympathetic personage and one most ready at all times to exercise pity and to bestow mercy upon others, just as He ordered the weeping widow to refrain from weeping by telling her, “Weep not!” and thereupon raised up her dead son and restored him to life, so, too, does Jesus now and at all times order the human race not to fear death, but, on the contrary, to believe in the immortality of the future life, and to act and to live, religiously as well as politically, in accordance with the perfect and eternal law of the Gospel: not to fear death, He tells it, because there exists a remedy for the cure of it in the resurrection of the dead. What every human being ought to fear, says He, is sin and all transgression of the divine law, from which liability Jesus relieves and frees us through the process of repentance and through unswerving faith in Him and obedience to Him. “Be of good cheer,” He says, “fear not: I have overcome the world.”
Likewise he tells us: “Fear ye not them that kill the body but that are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear ye him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” For him that believes in Jesus there is no death, but only a transition from the transient and transitory into a better and superior life. The infidel, on the other hand, by which term is meant the man who does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, is actually living in death: as for him, he simply passes on out of death into judgment and the everlasting punishment inflicted after death when he goes to hell, which is a worse kind of death involving the soul. In believing in Jesus we believe that we are to be resurrected after death and that we shall live with Him for ever thereafter; and that, in fact, we shall reign in common with Him as kings. We are not sorry about the death of our body, as are the rest of mankind who have no hope as respecting a future life. Out of all the misery of the world we are in our faith comforts and consoles us, because it offers us the good hope that sooner or later we shall all meet again in a better life. Therefore we are holding on to our faith for all we are worth with steadfast belief in the existence of such a better life. Let us not lend an ear to the suggestions of those who gainsay us and offer us objections in the form of logical fallacies embraced under the term sophistry. The Gospel is a perfectly historical fact. Jesus actually arose from the dead and taught us that we must be fearless, in facing death.