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Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity--Sept 24, 2001
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: NOTE: Galatians 5: 16-24 & Luke 17: 11-19 
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity. Against such there is no law. 

My friends, this weekend as we hear the words of St. Paul in Galatians, I am reminded of the fact that the Church to which we belong, the Body of Christ in which we are members, is not particularly healthy. When I say this, I say it in anguish. You and I are fully aware of what is happening in our churches and in our society. Much of it is not very good. 

When Paul writes to a community like the Galatians, he wants to instruct them, to lift them up. He wants to build them up as a community of believers in order that they might live a normal Christian life. Unfortunately, many people in our contemporary society haven't got a clue as to what is a normal Christian life. 

I have spoken about this before in years past and I would beg your indulgence if a few of you have heard some of the remarks that I will make this morning. But I think that these words are important for all of us to understand. What is normal Christian life? 

There are five characteristics of a normal Christian life. First, to know Jesus personally, experientially and to give your whole life to Him as Lord. Second, to live in conscious awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit. This is normal! Third, to live in a communal situation; to live in community. Fourth, to show forth the normal Christian life and the fruits of service to all God's children. Particularly this means the evangelization of the world. Fifth, that these communities of believers be related to each other in perfect unity. This fifth characteristic should indicate to all of us right away that we really are not living a normal Christian life because we do not have unity in the Body. 

I would say a few words about each of these characteristics now. The first, to know Jesus personally and experientially and to give your life to Him as Lord. This should hardly be something that a priest would have to say to his people; yet it is necessary. To know Jesus is at the very root and the very foundation of our Christian lives. Jesus died and rose again and ascended to the Father and then doesn't communicate with us any more? What kind of an aberration would that be? To enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is to recognize Him as Lord; to go to Him; to know Him as a person; to listen to Him. To know that He is Lord. 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9) 

Those are the words of St. Paul in Romans, chapter 10. To confess that Jesus is the Lord is the very foundation of our Christian life, our normal Christian life, and a lot of people don't understand this. A lot of people don't have a clue as to who is the Lord. It is Jesus who is the Lord. Back in the first century, before we developed our creeds, the very simplest creed in the Christian Church was "Jesus is Lord". It preceded Baptism. "Why are you here?" "Because Jesus is Lord." "O.K. Be baptized." Later on, "I believe in God the Father. I believe in God the Son. I believe in God the Holy Spirit." We expanded it. But the simplest creedal statement at the very beginning of our Christian era was, "Jesus is the Lord." To acknowledge this and to give ourselves wholly and completely to Him as Lord is the foundation of normal Christian living. Anything else is an aberration. 

You and I, as we belong to a community of believers - a Church - aren't here because we have subscribed to a set of dry dogmas. Why are we here? What was the causal factor of your coming here to church this morning? There was a lot of psychic energy that you had to muster to get yourself out of bed, washed, dressed, in the car and over here. Yes! Great! But the causal factor is really Jesus. You're here because Jesus called you. And you responded to that. If you're not here for that reason, then, you might just as well go home. You see, we're here because the Lord has called us together. We have responded to what He has said. 

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not something that is taken for granted and we say, "Well, yes, I did that a long time ago." No, we understand that this takes a whole lifetime, a process of growing in the Lord. We understand that as the Lord speaks to us, as we respond to Him, there is a purity of heart that you and I must develop. Paul lists all kinds of horrible things that we could get into in the reading this morning. Pray God we aren't into all of that stuff. But we are a people who acknowledges very simply - or at least we should - that Jesus is the Lord. He is our Lord. 

"No one can say 'Jesus is Lord,' except in the Holy Spirit" (ICor.12:3). The second characteristic of normal Christian life is to live in conscious awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit. When we were baptized into the Body of Christ, we were given His life. The Spirit of Christ was poured out into us. It was given to us in order to create in us the heart of Jesus. We have to have the heart of Jesus and the very first thing that the Holy Spirit would teach us in a normal Christian life is that we can call God Abba, that is, Father. In chapter four of Galatians, Paul writes: 

The proof that you are sons is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out, "Abba, Father." You are no longer a slave, but a son and the fact that you are a son makes you an heir by God's design (Gal. 4:6-7). 

This is the way Jesus taught us to pray. When you pray, pray thus: "Abba, Father!" Daddy!" "Poppa!" Nobody ever approached God up until the time of Jesus and call Him Abba. You didn't even use the name of God out of respect and Jesus said, "Look, He's your Father. You can call Him Abba, Poppa, Father." Imagine it. In Mark's Gospel when Jesus was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, He used the word "Abba". He kept saying, Abba (O Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me . But let it be as you would have it, not as I (Mark 14:36). 

This is normal! It is normal Christian life that you and I have a relationship with our Heavenly Father whereby we can call Him Abba, Father. If we live in conscious awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we understand that we live according to those gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received. The Church has been given gifts. It should be understood by all of us that you and I-all of us-are the Church. The gifts are given to the Church, not just to the ordained clergy. They are given to all of us for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ and that is normal. 

The trouble with a lot of what is happening in the Church today is this: people are trying to build the Body of Christ, not with the gifts of the Spirit, but with human power. No wonder it's failing. No wonder the Church is unraveling. If you begin to grasp at the spirit of this age and say, "This is what the Church is'," you're going to miss the boat. The Church is the Body of Christ (that's you and me), animated by the Holy Spirit and empowered by the Holy Spirit; first, to call God Father, but also that you and I might build up the Body of Christ. There are a lot of charisms and gifts that Paul talks about in First Corinthians 12: 

God has set up in the Church first apostles, second prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators (those are the people who spend and give away the money), and those who speak in tongues (I Cor. 12:28). 

Are all apostles or prophets or teachers? No. But each person within the Church is given the gifts that are necessary for the building up of the Church. See, Jesus established the Church. This isn't a man-made organization. And Jesus will see to it that His Church survives and He will see to it that it thrives if we all begin to live a normal Christian life knowing that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. I mean, we need prophets, people who will speak God's word. 

Without prophecy the people will die! That's Scriptural! The people will die without the Word of God - prophecy! 

This is a great book. You've seen this Bible of mine for many years up here. And it really is a very good book. And yet, what is it? It's a lot of ink on pieces of paper. Unless we understand that this Word has to be alive in its people, we miss the point. This isn't just the rule book. This is the operator's manual. It should be seen that way. And when we breathe the life of the Spirit into the Word of God, that's what we call Tradition. That's the living out of what is in here. That's the Tradition of the Church. And that is normal: not that we would read it as some kind of intellectual exercise, but that we would see that within the Word of God is everything we need to live in this world. That's normal. 

I was with a group of ministers a few years back and one of them said, "I wish I had more time to study the Scriptures." And another one said, "Yeah, I don't have much time to do it at all." I couldn't get out of that group fast enough. I'm not being judgmental. But from what I understand about it, they aren't living a normal Christian life. These are supposed to be leaders. Without prophecy the people will die! And they're dying in the churches. 

Many clergymen are more interested in developing programs. Programs are nice. You've got to have some programs here and there, but a lot of people and a lot of churches hide behind their programs. They've got a program for this, that, and the other thing. Jesus didn't have any programs. I mean, did He have a healing program and those ten lepers got in on it? Did He have a teaching program? Did He have a dying and rising program? No! And yet churches are loaded with programs. Does anybody know Jesus in that Church? That's the question, isn't it? Because that's normal Christian life. 

To know Jesus, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and to live in a communal situation. It doesn't mean that we sell all, give everything to the poor, and all of us sit around in one great big building together. That isn't what a communal situation means. It means that we have within a community a network of committed relationships. That's normal. The rugged individualist living out his Christian life is an oxymoron. Besides just being a plain moron, he's an oxymoron. You can't live out a normal Christian life all by yourself unless you are called with a very special charism to be a hermit. Otherwise we're called to committed relationships. All that I have is yours. Remember what the father said to the older son in the story of the Prodigal? "Everything that I have is yours." You know that our attachment is not to the things of this world, but our bond is with Christ our Lord. 

If we know Jesus and call Him our Lord, then we call one another brother and sister. We don't use those words lightly. We commit ourselves to one another so that what is necessary and what is needed the community would provide. I see a lot of churches as great big referral agencies. And they do it very well. People come trotting in with a problem and they hear, "Hmm, I know just the social agency you ought to go to." And off they go. Another one comes in and has another problem. Go to a different agency. Is that normal? I'm not saying that agencies can't do very good things. But didn't Jesus equip His Church with all of the gifts necessary for the building of His Body, the Church? When are we going to start to use them? There are all kinds of gifts that Paul talks about in First Corinthians 12. But we don't use the gifts. That is not normal. 

Unless we show our normal Christian lives and the fruits of service to God's people, we aren't living a normal life. You see, when Jesus came into the world, He came in order to redeem mankind. He did that on the cross and He was raised up to the right hand of the Father. And now He is Lord. Now, in 2000, we are supposed to be the Body of Christ of which He is the head; we're the members and we are supposed to be the ones to carry the message of salvation to those that need it. All of us. Not just ordained clergy. If you think about it, look at all of the people that don't even know who Jesus is. I'm not even talking about all of the baptized pagans, but just all of the people that have never heard of Jesus. Well, if it's up to clergy to get to these folks, we'd better ordain about a million and a half people next week! No, this is what the Body of Christ is supposed to do. All of us. It's all our work. We've been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do this. That's normal. 

This fifth item is something that would show us that none of us are living a normal Christian life: that these communities be related to each other in perfect unity. 

That all may be one as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee. That they also may be [one] in us (Jn 17:21). 

That was Jesus' prayer the night before He died. To Abba. To the Father. And that unity is still not there. That isn't normal. Jesus has something better in store for us than all of the factions and divisions that we see in the Body of Christ. Normal Christian life isn't easy. This isn't a little holiness club we have joined. We have come here because we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the power to develop within us the heart of Jesus. We've been called to live a community life, a community of committed relationships with one another where we would respond to one another's needs. We know that the Body of Christ in a normal situation is here for the salvation of mankind and it is the work of all of us to evangelize the world. And we also know that it is the plan of Jesus that all be one. All of these are characteristics of a normal Christian life. 

What are we going to do with this? We have the information. What do we do with it? I'm not sure. All I know is that our lives aren't normal now. The Church, for the most part, isn't living the plan of God. How are we going to get in touch with God's plan? 

How are we going to do this? All wisdom is not summed up in one person, except God, of course. It's in rather short supply among us human beings. What we have to do is pray about this, understand it the best we can, and do what we can to live out this normal Christian life. 

Saint Paul lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit. " By their fruits you will know them," said Jesus. Paul ticks off a list of fruits of the Holy Spirit that you can see. If you see them in a community, there is Jesus. You don't have to send people to a referral agency. If somebody is all beat up and hurt, you can say, "We got a little community. It's not a whole lot. But, you know, I think you will find Jesus there. Come and join us." You can do that. What are the fruits of the Spirit? 

. . . Love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity. 

The fruits of the Spirit. If you see them in a community, you say, "Yes, there's the Lord." That's normal, That's where I want to be". 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.