Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category


“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”-John 1:6-9

The second mark of St, John Baptist is “pointing”.  His entire life pointed toward Christ even from the womb:  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.

“He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”-John 1:27

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”-John 1:29

St. Cyril of Alexandria noted that St. John Baptist was essentially a sign post pointing away from himself and toward Christ, He says nothing else than other than that “the one you are looking for is finally at the doors. Indeed, the Lord is within the doors. Be ready to go [with Christ] whatever way he asks you.” COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 1.10.

This is the essence of witness-a point that escapes too many in modern ministry.  To evangelize aright, our words and our lives must point toward Jesus Christ.  So, for today’s meditation on the second “mark of St. John Baptist, let us consider how our we my better point to Christ especially through lives that have been wholly directed to Christ Jesus.

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance;* Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through† Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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Before leaving for Synod last week, I prepared an homily so as to be ready on Sunday morning.  On returning and re-reading the , I discovered that the wise words I had left to age were…well….so much rubbish.  As these things go, I was prompted to preach on the Five Marks of the Life of St. John Baptist and how to live them.

First, there is joy at the presence of the Incarnate Christ.  Indeed, St. John, himself in utero, leapt when the Blessed Virgin, with child, entered into his house. As we hear,

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:…-St. Luke 1:41.

How this prefigures the words of the Apostle, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Here, we find joy in recognition.  These pose today’s meditation questions.  Do we react in joy in the presence of Christ?  Do at least our hearts leap in joy, if not our whole selves?  Or, do we even recognize Him and that we are always in His presence?

Think on recognition and joy as we pray this week noting particularly toe portions of the Collect in boldface,

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance;* Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through† Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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With Christmas blessings to one and all from here in River City!

In Christ,

Fr. Charles

Sermon for Christmas Day-2017
(Given at St. Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
–St. John i.14

No book has so breath-taking an opening as these shattering findings on the life and character of Christ. It is a crowded preface. It creates an atmosphere in which we read, awed and tense, holding our breath. We know in this Gospel that we are right there-face to face with something tremendous and illimitable.

St. Augustine sums up the thoughts of most preachers who approach the Gospel passage for Christmas Day-”I am in great difficulty how, as the Lord shall grant, I may be able to express, or in my small measure to explain, what has been read from the Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;’ for this the natural man does not perceive.”

We can take any verse of the Gospel, indeed we can take parts of verses and even single words of this prologue and think about them, pray on them and in the way of the desert fathers chew upon them. But none is more fitting this Christmas Day than the single verse that shouts, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us….”

Here is the mystery of the Incarnation itself. Here is God made man-one of us, to know us and our burdens, to save us and restore us to our proper relation to the Father.
We can try to parse it, to exegete it, or to work our way through the passage. We find at once the antidote to heresy, the wonder of the very nature of God, the key to our salvation, and an account of those who rejected this most marvelous gift.

In the last few verses of the prologue to his gospel, St. John identifies the Word. We hear that the Word was in the beginning with God, and was God, and through Him all things were made. He was life, and the light of men who came into the world, though many did not receive Him. Yet those who received Him, were given the right to become children of God.

There is no manger scene, no Annunciation, no star or Magi. We hear in straightforward manner the truth: The Word is Jesus Christ.

And here is the key part-the Incarnational part-the saving part:
The Word became flesh and lived among men. His glory was seen by men. And, let’s note, the word “glory” as used here can mean “majesty, dignity, splendor.” St. John writes “We beheld His glory.”

Well, what majesty, dignity, or splendor did people see in Jesus when He walked as a man among men? They beheld His glory. They beheld the Glory of His Deity. Listen to the words: “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” This is the dignity which was appropriate to the only begotten Son of God.

Such glory or splendor as could belong to no other. It is the shekinah. “This glory was seen eminently on the mount of transfiguration.” “It was also seen in his miracles, his doctrine, his resurrection, his ascension.” (John 2:11) “All of which were such as to illustrate the perfections, and manifest the glory that belongs only to the Son of God.”

They beheld the glory of His Grace. We hear in the words of John, “full of grace…grace for grace…grace and truth came through Jesus.”

“The word grace means favors, gifts, acts of beneficence.” This is ultimate Christmas gift, the only Christmas gift that has real value. It is the gift of becoming one of us, knowing and understanding our troubles and burdens. And what better gift could He give than Himself for our salvation? What an astounding Christmas gift!

Men beheld the glory of His truth. In the Gospel words we hear “full…of truth…truth came through Jesus Christ.” “He declared the truth. In him was no falsehood.” He was not like the false prophets and false Messiahs-the impostors of His day and, indeed, our day. “He represented things as they are, and thus became the truth as well as the way and the life.”

Men beheld the Glory of His preeminence. We hear the words of John the Baptist, “He who comes after me is preferred before me…” St. John recognized His superiority, as did the apostle Paul. These men understood Christ by virtue of His preexistence-as St. John the Baptist said, “He was before me.” They knew it by virtue of His creative powers-as the creator Himself.

And here is a key to our own salvation, they beheld the Glory of His revelation. We hear in the words of St. John’s Gospel that, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son…He has declared Him.” This passage is not meant to deny that men had witnessed manifestations of God, as when he appeared to Moses and the prophets.” What it does is that no one had seen the essence of God, or has fully known God.

“Before our Lord’s birth the prophets delivered what they heard God speak; Jesus what he knew of God as his equal, and as understanding fully his nature.” Jesus manifested or declared the Father as no one had done before! Indeed, Jesus told this to St. Philip-He who has seen me has seen the Father. We hear our Lord express it in His prayer in the 17th Chapter of John. We hear it declared in the in the epistles.

What a wonderful experience it must have been to behold the glory of God’s only begotten Son! It transformed the life of St. John and others who saw Him, and it changes and transforms the lives of all who believe in Him today. Here is the Christmas gift that truly keeps on giving.

By the grace of God, it also possible that we can behold His glory in this life. We can behold His glory, the glory of His deity, grace and truth, the glory of His preeminence and revelation! How? How can we do this? We can behold him through the words of His eyewitnesses who made known the power and coming of our Lord! We can know these things through those who declared what they heard, saw, even handled, that we might share with them in their fellowship with the Father and Son. Through their gospels, their letters, their inspired writings, we can behold His glory!

This is life changing. Indeed, we must behold His glory to be transformed. Our transformation involves renewing the mind, a mind set on things above where Christ is. We are transformed through Grace and truth so that, we will see Him face-to-face. We are transformed so that we will behold His glory when He appears, when He comes again, to be glorified in His saints. By the power of the Incarnate Word, every eye will see Him, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess Him.

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” We may not have seen Jesus in the flesh, but we can still behold His glory. Even now, through the testimony of His apostles and the Word of God. Even then, when Jesus comes again to be revealed in His glory.

Beloved in Christ, here is the central fact of Christianity, the very heart of our religion, the wonder of all wonders in an all-wonderful faith, that has moved, and impressed and changed countless souls. It changing and transforming the world.

Why? Why has our faith flourished and the Gospel spread to all the corners of the earth? Why? Because God entered into the world, he chose to be one of us-not looking down on a troubled world, no more disturbed by it and its problems than if bothered by a faintly buzzing insect.

Suddenly, we beheld Him and we found that we are not alone, that there is someone beside us, and that someone is God. He is in the world, at the sore heart of it; touched by our infirmities, afflicted with our afflictions, and always there. He is full of grace and truth that we can and will behold. And, when all our resources are gone, we can lean upon Him, draw upon Him, and bring our frail and foolish hearts to him and he will bear it all because he knows us.

The psalmist says, “Blessed be the Lord who daily beareth our burden.” Blessed indeed! This is the truth-the truth of Christ, the truth of Christmas!  Amen.

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Four Last Things


Over Advent, we have been pondering the “Four Last Things”-Death, Judgment Heaven and Hell.  I have been asked to post at least the sermon on Heaven which will be heard this morning, and Hell, which is next’ week’s topic.

I have never been keen on posting my sermon notes, as, frequently, the words come out in a very different form than the text. I learned years ago that if the Holy Spirit wants a different homily than the text I have prepared, I do best to go with His promptings. However, here is the written text for today, with no warranty express or implied.


(Given at St. Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia)


“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

-St. Matthew 11:11


Here we are at last on Rose Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent which used to be called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is the Latin word that means “rejoice,” but with the ending that makes it a command. So we are really being commanded to rejoice.

But, we human beings have a fairly ambiguous attitude towards life after death. There is the story of a fellow talking with a woman whose close relative had only recently died. Trying to be sympathetic, the man asked this lady, “What do you suppose has become of her? The woman replied, Oh I’m sure she’s enjoying everlasting bliss – but I wish you wouldn’t talk about such unpleasant things!”

You know, you have to be sure you really want to go to heaven. People who have not much cared for God in this life – why should they want to be closer to him in the next?

Certainly in heaven there will be God and I am certain the music of Bach.  Even this will cause trouble, because a lot of people will prefer Lady Ga Ga to Bach. If heaven means we all get rewarded with the things we love best, it looks as if heaven and hell will have to be the same place: for one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

There are so many difficulties here. In fact, it’s just about impossible to form a picture of heaven, because we are bound to think in terms of space and time. Heaven is not in time and it isn’t a place. It is beyond time and space: eternal. When we think of our lives, our being, we have to think of being somewhere and at a particular time. But truly when we die and leave this world, we leave space and time too. So being, life, existence in heaven must be very different from what they are down here.

Heaven won’t be like going to church all the time. There is a lovely hymn in the English Book Hymns Ancient & Modern where it says: “So, Lord, at length when Sacraments shall cease.”  Yes, even the Sacraments will come to an end.

As you know from your Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (page 581), “A Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. So when we are in that eternal state of spiritual grace, we shall not require the outward and visible sign.”

When we speak of heaven, we are attempting to speak about our spiritual state of being beyond time and space.  So, all our language necessarily has to be metaphorical. We just can’t express supernatural realities directly in natural language.

Even Scripture itself is limited to soaring metaphors and the difficulties of expression of the most Divine in human words. We get incredible pictures of beasts with hundreds of eyes, angels and archangels, the Tree of Life and a stream flowing from the throne of God. The Bible is written in natural language, so not even the Bible can tell us completely what heaven is like and all of its glories.

There is another way of knowing. Think of this: if heaven is beyond time and space, if it is infinite, then there is a sense – though our language here is close to breaking down – in which we are there already. Or, if I may so put it, a sense in which we have been there. For if heaven is an eternal state, then to be there is to be there eternally.

We have intuitions of this truth-what the poet William Wordsworth called intimations of immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home

Trailing clouds of glory.  Because God made this material world and because he was incarnate in it in his Son, we must expect the material world to contain something of the eternal world, heaven, God’s everlasting abode. This universe of ours is material, but it is not merely material.  As poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins put it:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God…. Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Remember Our Lord promised that the Holy Ghost would bring all things to your remembrance.

This experience is not just for poets. Beloved in Christ, let me  ask you to reflect on the fact that you and I, each one of us, knows it in ourselves. Imagine you are on a weekend out in the Shenandoah Valley—out in the country near to the mountains. You awake in the pale dawn light in a silent room. It is a high room with oak beams. You go downstairs and open the door. You feel the rush of the fragrant air and from as far as you can see into that mist and the dampness clinging to the fields, there comes the calling of birdsong.

You can barely make out the watery colors of the landscape can hardly be made out. The pale disc of the sun lies behind the racing clouds.

What do you feel?  Doesn’t this give you an exquisite sensation– something like joy, something like peace: but you can’t quite put it into words exactly.  Coming at you out of the beauty of the scene, there is something like recollection.  Such experiences I think are gifts of God sent for our encouragement; they are intimations of immortality.   They are the natural presences which both hide and reveal the eternal presence of God.

Shortly after my mom passed away, I was wandering around my parent’s house one afternoon, just after lunch.  I went upstairs into the front bedroom. It was very quiet, and her things were still there.   I noticed the sunlight on the dressing table, and I had a warm, reassuring sense of presence again.  I didn’t want to leave the bedroom. As Fr. Hopkins said, it was the sense of deep down things. A reality beyond appearances.

Beloved in Christ, God leaves his footprints and fingerprints all over the place. Why do we know that music is not just melody, rhythm and harmony – but there’s something hanging around in there that excites us, that thrills us or even makes us cry? You know the feeling of these encounters. It’s one like this: “Your hair’s standing up on end, shivers going down your spine, a lump coming into your throat, even tears running down your eyes.”  It’s called an appoggiatura, from the Italian word “to lean.” And while it’s tough to define, it’s not unlike a grace note, a note in many forms of music that is ornamental yet produces beauty.

We may react like this to the Bach Double Violin Concerto. The slow movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C – where Schubert almost stops the music altogether. The utterly sublime music of Purcell and the words from the 1662 Prayer Book that go with it: Thou knowest Lord, the secrets of our hearts: shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer.

Human beings have a need to express what is beyond them. We are possessed of a deep sense of the mysterious. This is why we developed all the arts including poetry and music. So look at one of the most famous and earliest experiences of the divine mystery; Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. Isaiah’s response is to utter a few words in a certain rhythm:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

          And out of this little utterance the Church developed the most ecstatic prayer in the Mass:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth: pleni sunt coeli, et terra Gloria tua

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts: heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

And these few words in a certain rhythm have captivated the great composers for centuries.

Miraculously in such works we find that what we thought inexpressible is expressed. And we understand through being overwhelmed – exactly as Isaiah was overwhelmed in his original vision. You remember his response:

Woe is me, for I am undone

We find these intimations of the eternal world everywhere. In just a line of music: sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Or, we may find it in the voice of the hidden waterfall or the laughter of children in the yard or that feeling when you love really someone.

The presence of God is subtle. The reality of eternity is half hidden and half revealed.  Remember the couple on their way to Emmaus on the first Easter Day?  Their eyes were holden that they should not know him. Until later: He took bread and blessed it and brake and gave to them…and he was known of them in breaking of bread.

In all these ways, God seeks to reassure us and show us the reality of heaven, half hidden, half revealed in the things of this earth. As usual, St Augustine puts it better than anyone:

But, what do I love, when I love Thee? Not the prettiness of a body, not the graceful rhythm, not the brightness of light (that friend of these eyes), not the sweet melodies of songs in every style, not the fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs which can be grasped in fleshly embraces – these I do not love, when I love my God. Yet I do love something like a light, a voice, a fragrance, food, embrace of my inner man, wherein for my soul a light shines, and place does not encompass it, where there is a sound which time does not sweep away, where there is a fragrance which the breeze does not disperse, where there is a flavor which eating does not diminish, and where there is a clinging which satiety does not disentwine. This is what I love, when I love my God.

Then we find ourselves in Heaven.

Let us pray (John Donne),

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.


The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls


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“Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” -St. Luke 23:43

We don’t like the Cross.  We don’t like to look at it, be reminded of it or have it around.  It reminds us of the hatred and evil that would condemn anyone to such a death, much less an innocent man, and even more so the son of God. It reminds us too much of suffering and of sin and of the fact that our own kind, not just Jews, but gentiles would engage in such barbarity.  Wouldn’t we just rather have that plain old cross, maybe with an IHS in the middle-what some folks like to call a resurrection Cross? On this night in which Christ began his journey to the Cross, I stand before you to tell you that to ignore the Cross, particularly to ignore it because of suffering-avoidance, is to ignore the very saving act of Christ to the destruction of Christianity.  That is what is at stake onthis Maundy Thursday 2011.

I am not conjuring a theme for tonight’s homily-I will let the modern heretic, the nouveau apostate, the postmodern pagan speak for themselves.  Themes at a 1993 conference of major denomination theologians, themes that have been reprised in conferences with ever-increasing frequency included destroying traditional Christian faith, adopting ancient pagan beliefs, rejecting Jesus’ divinity and His atonement on the cross, creating a goddess in the conferee’s own image, and, of course, affirming lesbianism. Their goal and objective was that Christ would be put down and the feminist goddess, Sophia, would now be accepted in all of the world churches and denominations. At the center of this was the need for self-affirmation and a world of seeming pleasure, devoid of the suffering caused by Christianity.

Delores Williams, theology professor at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, told the gathering: “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all…Atonement has to do so much with death…I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff…We just need to listen to the god within.”  Easy god, feel good god, pain free god, self god. All of this is grounded in the desire to flee from the pain of being incarnate, the pain of sin, the weight borne by Christ on the Cross at the hands of people trying to escape the searing pain of the convicting truth embodied in Jesus the Christ.

But suppose one can’t escape suffering (no one can, really)?  Suppose suffering its one dead on. There are two kinds of responses: 1) We can rail against God and say, “If you are such a great and powerful and loving God, why am I in this hellish mess?”  That’s the immediate post-modern response.  It is even the response of the disciples this terrible night as they flee Christ’s side.  All but John will be far from the Cross and the suffering of Christ, and even Peter, the one who had just proclaimed his loyalty unto death, would deny Christ three times.  And he would weep bitterly.

Or we can acknowledge that we are sinners and that we don’t deserve any good thing, and cry out for mercy and help in our time of desperation. Beloved, the world is full of those who rail against God in their self-righteousness and presume that the creator of the universe obliged to make their life smooth and faith easy, neat and clean. There are only a few who own up to the fact that God owes us nothing, and that any good to come our way will be due to his mercy, and not our merit.

Luke’s text about the two thieves crucified with Christ teach us that there is no great reward for responding to suffering and to the Cross like the first sort of person. Those two thieves who this night would have been awaiting their execution represent these two ways of responding to suffering and relating to Christ in suffering.  Let’s take a close look at them and their response to the Cross.

Notice first how similar they are. Both are suffering the pain of crucifixion. Both are guilty of crime (“We are receiving the due reward of our deeds,” v.41). Both see Jesus, the superscription over his head (“King of the Jews,” v. 38); they hear the words from his mouth (“Father forgive them,” v. 34). And both of these thieves want desperately to be saved from death.

Most of us have all these things in common with these two thieves: there has been, is, or will be suffering in our lives. None of us will be able to say: “I do not deserve this.” Most of us have seen Jesus on the cross and have heard his claim to kingship and his gracious words of forgiveness. And all of us want to be saved from death one way or the other.

But then the ways divide these two thieves and between two categories of people. The first thief says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” What a picture of a spiritually destitute, worldly man. It is a matter of total indifference to him that he is suffering “the due reward of his deeds.” To him right and wrong, praise and blame, good and bad are of no interest: his one objective is to save his earthly skin. He might even believe Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. But, it’s only a matter of convenience to him: he’ll take anybody as king who can get him off the cross. Just another shill to serve his own worldly purposes.

That’s the way one whole segment of humans relate to God in suffering. Suffering interrupts their own private worldly goals and pleasures. So why not try God; if you are king, then get me out of this mess. One writer described this as tire theology. A tire-jack is a dirty, useless thing to be kept out of sight in the trunk until you have a flat tire (a little suffering). Then you get it out, let it do the dirty work and put it away again. Here is Christ-scourged, bleeding, not a fit person to look at. “If you’re so useful, take me down off this cross, Jesus.” Or, to put it another way, “If you’re so useful, lift me up out of this sickness, out of this financial mess, out of this lousy job, and so on.”

The thief had no spirit of brokenness, or guilt or penitence or humility. He could only see Jesus as a possible power by which to escape the cross. He did not see him as a king to be followed. It never entered his mind that he should say he was sorry and should change.

But notice the other thief: this one is the one Luke wants us to be like. First, he is not drawn in by the other man’s railing. If we are to follow his example we too will have to stand our ground and not be taken in by the people all around us who say, “If your God is so great and loving, then why the 20 kids shot in Atlanta? Why sixteen miners buried in a cave? Why a village of your fellow Christians slaughtered in Sudan?” “Why suffering? Why doesn’t he come down off his helpless perch on the cross and do something?”

The first thing the repentant thief does is not get deceived by all this talk. “But he rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God?’” This is the second thing about this penitent thief: he feared God. God was real to him. God was his creator, and he knew that a pot can’t take up arms against the potter and come away victorious. It is fitting that creatures bow in submission before their creator and subject all their life to his wisdom. It is even more fitting that sinful creatures bow before God in holy fear, instead of railing against HIM.

Third, the penitent thief admitted that he had done wrong: “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (v. 41). He had no guile, no desire to save face any more; he had no more will to assert himself much less become his own god. He was here and laid open before the God he feared and there was no way to hide has guilt.

You and I know people right now who are in trouble-this very night they are in a world of trouble. But instead of laying down their self-righteous defenses, they are devising every means to weasel and inagle and distort so as to appear innocent and cool. The penitent thief gave it up. It’s a hopeless tack, anyway, before an all-knowing God!

Fourth, not only did he admit to wrong and guilt, he accepted his punishment as deserved. The penitent evildoer’s confession of sin and of faith shows the proper response to Jesus’ absolution (Cyril of Alexandria). The penitent thief is not ashamed of Christ’s suffering and does not see it as a stumbling block, and so he makes a confession of faith in the suffering, innocent Messiah. He sees on Christ’s body his own wounds, and despite the reality of Christ’s suffering and imminent death, he goes on to voice an even stronger confession: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

This is the real test of humility before God. Many will mouth the confession of sin: “God be merciful to us miserable offenders get angry at him. And this anger reveals that they do not really feel undeserving before God. They still feel, deep down, that they have some rights before God. There are not many people like Job, who, when he lost everything, said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But this penitent thief did become like Job in the last minutes of his life – he took his suffering without complaint, and feared God.

Fifth, the thief acknowledged Jesus’ righteousness: “This man had done nothing wrong.” It didn’t make any difference to the first thief if Jesus was right or wrong. If he could drive the get-away car — that’s all that mattered. But it matters a lot to Jesus if we think his life was good or bad. Jesus does not want to drive a get-away car; he wants to be followed because we admire him. We must say with the thief: “This man has done nothing wrong.” This man only does what is good. This man only speaks the truth. This man is worthy of our faith and allegiance and imitation.

And then, sixth, the thief goes a step further and acknowledges that indeed, Jesus is a King. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Even though he is suffering now, Jesus has the mark of a King. For those who have eyes to see, he has a power here on the cross — a power of love that makes him King over all his tormentors. He is not only good, he is powerful, and one day will vindicate his great name, and every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord — to the glory of God, the Father.

And finally, the penitent thief does one more thing. He fears God, admits wrong, accepts justice, acknowledges the goodness and power of Jesus. Now he pleads for help. “Jesus, remember when you come into your Kingdom.” Both thieves wanted to be saved from death. But O how differently they sought their salvation: 1) “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 2) “Jesus, remember when you come into your Kingdom!” There is an infinite qualitative difference between “Save me!” and “Save me!”

Now what motive does Jesus give us to follow in the steps of the penitent thief? There is a fearful silence toward the railing thief: not a word recorded of Jesus to him. Perhaps a final pitying glance. But no promise. No hope.

But to the penitent Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” This was almost too good. There would not even be a delay. Today the Spirit of Jesus and the renewed Spirit of the thief would be in union in Paradise. The promise would be without delay.

What is this paradise? The word is found in two other places in the New Testament. First, in 2 Cor. 12:3: Paul says, “I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows — and he heard things which cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Thus Paradise is the heavenly abode of God where there are found things prepared by God for those who love him, which are utterly indescribable (1 Cor. 2:9). The second place the word “Paradise” is found is in Rev. 2:7. Here Jesus says to the church at Ephesus, “To him who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” And if we look at the end of the book of Revelation we find that the tree of life is in the heavenly city of God. In Rev. 22:1 John said, “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

But in all this, the one thing that Jesus chose to mention to the repentant thief on the cross (if you can only say one thing, what do you say?) “You will be with me todayThe penitent thief considered the cross of Christ not to be a stumbling block but power rightly merits paradise. The same apostle says, “To those Jews who have been called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”43 The Lord also correctly gives paradise to him, because on the gibbet of the cross the thief confesses the one whom Judas Iscariot had sold in the garden. This is a remarkable thing. The thief confesses the one whom the disciple denied! This is a remarkable thing, I say. The thief honors the one who suffers, while Judas betrayed the one who kissed him! The one peddled flattering words of peace, and the other preached the wounds of the cross. He says, “Remember me, Lord, when you come in your kingdom.”

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This was just sent in by an attendee at the event which took place Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By James Cullum

Reverend Canon Charles H. Nalls gives the sermon. (Photo: James Cullum) Reverend Canon Charles H. Nalls gives the sermon. (Photo: James Cullum)

For many years, Alexandrians have celebrated their Scottish heritage during the first week in December. Those celebrations began last night at The Church of St. Andrew and St. Margaret of Scotland on E. Monroe Avenue.

More than 100 people attended the service. The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia, delivered the homily.

“Whenever we come around to St. Andrew’s Day in the calendar, I am reminded of my mother…who took great delight in letting everyone know about her Scottishness, particularly my father, of the plight of the poor Englishman – whose national costume is a worn raincoat patented by one Charles MacIntosh, a Glaswegian. She would remind my dad that the Englishman drives a car fitted with tires invented by John Boyd Dunlap of Dreghorn, Scotland

“At the office he received his mail with adhesive stamps, which although they bore the Queen of England’s head, were invented by John Chambers of Dundee, Scotland. The Englishman might have occasion to use the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell of Edinburgh, which is of course, in Scotland

“At home in the evening the English squire watches the news on a telly, which was invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburough, Scotland, and here’s an item about the U. S. Navy founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland. Now having been reminded too much of Scotland, in desperation, the gent picks up the Bible only to find that the first man mentioned in the foreword of the good book is a Scott – King James VI – who authorized its translation.

“Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots. He could take to drink but the Scots make the finest in the world. He might think of taking up a rifle and ending it all only to find that his breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland. So he goes back to the previous step, sipping single malt and contemplating his fortune, safe in the Bank of England, which was founded by William Patterson of Dumfries, Scotland.

The congregation of St. Andrew and St. Margaret of Scotland celebrated St. Andrew. (Photo: James Cullum) The congregation of St. Andrew and St. Margaret of Scotland celebrated St. Andrew. (Photo: James Cullum)

“Ingenious and omnipresent, these Scots seem to travel everywhere. And they have been a faithful people, for there is a long history of Scottish missionary zeal throughout the world.

“And so we turn to St. Andrew whom we commemorate this day – one of the patron saints of this parish. St. Andrew’s life teaches us so much about Christian discipleship and the need for missionary zeal, and gives us a great example as we have just begun this holy season of Advent.

“God may need us to be the instrument, or the fishing hook even to bring future deacons, priests, bishops, religious, or even great saints to Him. Likewise, little did St. Andrew know that bringing the simple boy with fish and bread to the Lord would lead to one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed, or that his introducing some Greeks, some non-believers to Christ, would inaugurate a new stage in the spreading of the Good News. Here is a key lesson for those of us who are traditional Anglicans: after the years in the wilderness, we may have grown comfortable in our parishes, perhaps even complacent in our lives. How easy it is to look inward… to the things that make life comfortable. The inward gaze, to run home to evaluate or question the call to follow and fish, that will be the end for us. We shall become a footnote in ecclesiastical history.

“So, let us redouble our efforts this Advent and, in memory of St. Andrew, bring each other into a closer relationship with Christ and to bring others to Him. It is our mission,” Nalls said.

The blessing of the tartans. (Photo: James Cullum) The blessing of the tartans. (Photo: James Cullum)

At the end of the service, men of Scottish ancestry brought their clan tartans forward to be blessed.

St. Andrew’s Day in Alexandria

According to the program describing the service: “Tonight’s ceremonies have both parochial and civil meaning, dating back to 18th century Alexandria. The election and installation of City officials on St. Andrew’s Day, 1761, is described in an issue of the Maryland Gazette of that year: ‘Mr. William Ramsay, first projector and founder of this promising city, was invested with a gold chain and medal….The election being ended, the Lord Mayor and Common Council, proceeded by officers of State, sword and mace bearers, and accompanied by many gentlemen of the town and country, made a grand procession to different quarters of the city, with drums, trumpets, a band of music and colors flying….

‘The shipping in the harbor displayed their flags and streamers, continuing firing guns the whole afternoon. A very elegant entertainment was prepared at the Coffee House where the Lord Mayor, aldermen and Common Council dined. In the evening, a ball was given by the Scots gentlemen, at which numerous and brilliant company of ladies danced. The night concluded with bonfires, illuminations and other demonstrations.’

“These Scottish beginnings were reinforced in 1780 with the founding of the St. Andrews Society of Alexandria, a charitable and social organization of men of Scottish birth and ancestry and the forerunner of the St. Andrews Society of Washington, DC.”

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(Given at Saint Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia)

“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”-St. Matthew 11:11

Here we are at last on Rose Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent.  This Sunday used to be called “Gaudete Sunday,” Gaudete being the Latin word that means “rejoice,” but with the ending that makes it a command. So we are really being commanded to rejoice.

So why should we rejoice? Certainly, Advent is a time for rejoicing because it is a season that revives our expectation of the most joyful event in history: the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Most High God, born of the Virgin Mary. As both the Prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul proclaim, the Lord is in our midst, He is near to us, and with Him the kingdom of Heaven is near.

Today, even these very different liturgical colors call to mind the third last thing-Heaven. We could engage in some rose-colored thinking about Heaven. After all, there are so many popular notions about Heaven—you know, the angels, harps, fluffy clouds, chubby cherubs floating about. The sentimentality of it even struck a curmudgeon like writer Ambrose Bierce who defined Heaven as,

A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.

Certainly each time I think of Heaven, I always come back to one a favorite quote, “If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.”

There is much to think on, when we think about Heaven. How many times do we ever hear convincing homilies about heaven (or for that matter the other last things, death, judgment, and hell)?  Rather than being an affirmation of the realities of eternity, most homilies and sermons tend to be vague.  This is particularly the case with funeral homilies which usually end up in a humanistic celebration of the person who has died.

In our modern day culture we are continually bombarded by secularism, and Fr. Romano Guardini, writing in his book Eternal Life, What you need to know about Death, Judgment and Life Everlasting, calls the deprecation of the eternal, of the heavenly, by modern society an evil. He is right: it is evil. As Christians,  we need to be continually reminded of the most basic fundamentals of our Faith, especially the reality of heaven and of the eternal.

Our Gospel lesson at first blush doesn’t seem to have much to do with Heaven. It is an interchange between two emissaries from St. John Baptist who ask Christ, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Essentially, they are posing the question as to whether Christ is the Messiah of Hebrew prophecy. And look at the response, Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Christ is telling them about his authority. There is talk of Our Lord’s upcoming earthly ministry, present reality, and the miracles that He will perform. But with these miracles Christ gives them and us a glimpse of Heaven where all things are made new.

You see, beloved in Christ, Heaven is far beyond what we now experience. We do not have adequate words or images to describe it. And our culture unfortunately has developed stereotyped ways of talking about heaven. Some of them are “cute”, you know,“Good old Joe is now up in that big golf course in the sky.” And, maybe a little better are images of heaven as reunion. You’ve heard this before, you know “She is finally back with her husband (mother, son, sister) whom she loved so much.” I suppose this at least expresses something about the “communion of saints.” Nevertheless it leaves out what makes the communion possible: seeing God himself. I don’t know about you, but the thought of heaven as a giant “sharing” session sounds to me…well… more like the other place.

An image of heaven that I personally love is from the Chronicles of Narnia,. by C.S. Lewis. Narnia is a kind of heaven and it is ruled by a magnificent lion called Aslan, Aslan represents Jesus. After the children who are the protagonists have spent some time in Narnia, Aslan tells them they must return to their own world. The children become very sad and bury themselves in Aslan’s mane. Aslan reassures them that one day they will be able to return to Narnia. The children say, “it is not Narnia. It is you, Aslan.”

It is about Christ, it is about our Lord.  For you see,  God is the fullness of being. Things here can only dimly reflect him. When we stand before him any other joy, or pleasure, or beauty, or goodness will seem as pale. This joy which excels everything else is called the “Beatific Vision,” that is seeing God face to face. (I Jn 3:2, I Cor 13:12, Rev. 22:4). In the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 22:26-27):

The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live forever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” Heaven will fulfill those deep longings of your heart. But this is not a yearning for place. It is not about clouds and harps, cotton-candy clouds and cherubim.  Our deepest longing is really for a person, for Jesus himself. To be with him is the kingdom of heaven.  Perhaps someday you and I can come to the point of saying, “It is not heaven I desire. It is you, Jesus.”

You see, the proper focus should ever be on Christ, this hunger for Him brings Heaven into focus for us in the here and now. Listen to the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians:

Blessed [be] the God and Father ofour Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ: (Eph 1:3) According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Eph 2:4-6)

That’s the work that has been done for us—heaven awaits. And, so we have two visions, one for the people of Christ in the here and now and one for the future, and both are visions of heaven of life with and in God. But we are called to know him now, to experience His grace and his love right now, to be part of His people right now. And in the life to come, we shall see Him, not as through a glass darkly, but in those heavenly places.

Shouldn’t this  fill us with humility, gratitude, and a desire to greater service? Shouldn’t we love Christ, to desire Him? And isn’t it a call that we ought to be more dedicated in our service to Christ? Let us ask, this Rose Sunday whether we have cause to rejoice. Is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven among us? We’ve got just a few days of Advent to think about this, to reflect on this. Do we truly believe the word Emmanuel, God-with-us? If we believe it, then we must show it.

Heaven will fulfill those deep longings of your hearts. It is the pearl of great price. It is Jesus himself. Amen.


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