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What Matters
L. R. Tarsitano—Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

We encounter in this brief passage from St. Paul two essential Biblical doctrines that must be held by all Christians, if they are to call themselves "Christians" in any meaningful sense of that word. 

The first is the greatest and most important truth of all—that there is One God who is the Blessed and Undivided Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. If we do not know God as the Blessed Trinity, we do not know God as he is and as he has revealed himself.

The second essential Biblical doctrine found in this passage is this—that the Christian hope, the promise of eternal life and fellowship with God, is received by virtue of our calling, by grace and through faith, to membership in the one Body of Jesus Christ, namely the Church, upon which the one Holy Ghost has descended, and where he continues to dwell for the purpose of giving us supernatural life and for our sanctification. 

Because these are essential Biblical doctrines, they are also essential Anglican doctrines. We claim no "special doctrines" of our own, but only the entire Christian Faith that was believed in common by the members of the undivided Church. We say the same Creeds, and we proclaim the same Blessed Trinity. We teach the same unique Church, the One Body of Jesus Christ, despite the divisions of the past one thousand years, which too often obscure that unbreakable unity, as clouds will sometimes hide the sun but cannot destroy it.

We never claim to be the whole Church, but only one household within the One Church, nor do we un-church or condemn our Christian neighbors. As anyone can read in our Second Office of Instruction, we define the Church as "the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and all baptized people are the members" (BCP 290). We confirm this simple definition as spiritual, rather than institutional, when at the Holy Communion in our Prayer of Thanksgiving we declare the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ to be "the blessed company of all faithful people" (BCP 83). 

If, then, we do not deny God’s gift of salvation to our Christian brethren, despite their differences from us, some might make the mistake of deciding that those differences do not matter at all, and others might ask themselves the question "Why bother being an Anglican? Why bother with the greater duties and discipline of the Anglican Way, almost unknown in most American congregations today? Why bother making the social and economic sacrifices necessary to stand apart from the "mainline denominations" (including the Episcopal Church), and apart from the many new sects that to rise up almost every day?"

The simple answer (which is also the simple truth) is that the Anglican life is worth the bother precisely because the various differences among Christians do matter, and because, at the extreme, those differences may define the point where one ceases to be a Christian in the Biblical sense of "being a follower of Jesus Christ" and becomes a "Christian" in name only. 

For example, a person who does not believe all of the most basic Scriptural truths that are summarized in the Creeds is not a Christian, because he is not following the Living Word of God, no matter how many churches he belongs to. No one is expected to write a theological treatise explaining the Creeds, but all of us are obligated, by the love of God and for the sake of salvation, to trust in God completely and to take him at his self-revealing Word.

There is hope, of course, for those who do not believe, and that hope is their conversion from doubting God to trusting him, from disputing God’s Word to praying in their hearts the "Doubter’s Prayer" found in the Gospel itself: "Lord, I [do] believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24). 

And many decent people would stop there at the hope of salvation, reasoning that if a person is saved, nothing else matters about his Christianity. Likewise such good-hearted people might reason that, as long as the members of a Christian congregation are saved, how they serve and worship God is a matter of indifference, that there is no final right or wrong in the details of a Christian life. Once again, there is no condemnation in observing that such a line of reasoning is as wrong as it is possible to be.

To focus our attention on salvation alone is to miss the point of Christianity, which is the glorification of God by our entire lives, in everything that we say or do, just as Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to glorify his Father in heaven. Christianity isn’t about us, not even about our being saved, or else we may fall into the practical danger of approaching God with a "what have you done for me lately" type of attitude. We don’t organize our lives to please ourselves or to save ourselves, but to please the great and good God who has saved us, and to make his glory known to all mankind.

As St. Paul tells us, "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Salvation means that we no longer belong either to the devil or to ourselves. We strive to live a good and moral life, according to the Scriptures, not because such a life brings credit to us, but entirely to God. This is exactly what our Lord meant when he said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). 

A true and complete Christian life is a perpetual hymn of praise to God that invites all the peoples of the world to believe, and to live, and to join in the glory. St. John describes the perfection of Christian life in just this way: 

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest (Revelation 15:3-4).

The singing together of the great hymn that is the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb of God is just exactly what we find in the Anglican Way, in the daily order of life and worship laid out in the Book of Common Prayer. It is the same disciplined order of daily prayer, daily Scripture, holy sacraments, true Creeds, faithful preaching and teaching, and the Apostles’ ministry that was, for a thousand years, the unity of the undivided Church. All the divisions in the Christian Church have followed from some departure from this Biblically-based order of life.

While the Book of Common Prayer may very well be the best guide to a complete life in Christ available in the world today, that is not the same thing at all as saying that our Christian brethren must adopt the Prayer Book. And it is certainly not the same as claiming that Anglicans have invented or discovered the best way of being a Christian. It is, however, to say that God in his goodness and mercy has preserved for us the identical life that he gave his Church from the beginning, when St. Paul could write to the Church in the whole world "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).

To maintain the ancient order of Christian life in our church does matter, because that order glorifies God in the same way that the Son of God and the Holy Ghost first established the One Christian Church to glorify the Father in heaven. To be complete in Jesus Christ as the first Christians were complete in him does matter, whatever kind of prayer book a church uses, as long as all the Truth, and all the Order, and all the Glory of God are offered to its people every single day until the Lord returns in glory. 

It matters to us, as a parish and as Anglicans, that we work with all that we have and with all that we are to live the Christian life that we have inherited from our Lord, the Apostles, and the first Christians, because that is our vocation. Our calling is to demonstrate the Christian life as completely as we can, and by doing so not to glorify ourselves, but to call others to the only kind of complete and blessed life that anyone can live on this earth—to the life that Jesus Christ alone can give. When every Christian congregation in the world accepts the same divine calling, the One Church of Jesus Christ will be visibly united in everything that matters, in everything that our heavenly Father has given us to be and to do, once again. 

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. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.