Let Christ Lead You to Holiness
When I first preached here at St. Anthony’s I said that you would hear me say often the idea that good people go to Heaven and bad people to Hell is false.
Granted there is a Heaven and a Hell, but we do not earn our way there by being good or bad. That is a pagan concept. Go to the Museum of Fine Arts and read some of the inscriptions on the mummy tombs and you will see how the long deceased expected some form of reward for their good work which were listed there. They were pagans by virtue of the fact they lived prior to Christ and were not Hebrews, obviously.
So, who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? That answer can be found by understanding our second reading.
The second reading for today and next week is from The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 15. This is the oldest eyewitness account of the resurrection of Jesus.
St. Paul testifies that he is the last of five hundred people who saw Jesus resurrected from the dead. The reason he is writing this is obvious, there are countless people, just like today, saying that Jesus’ resurrection is false or that we do not have to believe it. Paul is adamant. Remember, he went to his death refusing to deny that Jesus resurrected from the dead. Why?
Paul teaches that since Jesus resurrected from the dead then so do his followers and his disciples. Who are his disciples? People who do good things and get rewarded with the resurrection? No!
His followers are those who understand that Jesus is the first born from the dead and that he bestows on them the greatest treasure they can possibly receive—eternal life. They need only follow him, be transformed by Him in this life so that they can be with him in the next.
So picture this: Jesus resurrects from the dead and shows himself to you. From that point on what is your greatest desire? Resurrection from the dead. Therefore, all your values, priorities, actions, desires are all going to be influenced by this moment. This is behind every action of St. Paul from the moment he fell from the horse. This is why he endured being shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and eventually executed. That understanding that if Jesus resurrected from the dead then those who embrace him as second person of the trinity will also resurrect from the dead completely changed Paul.
St. Paul also names Cephas, who is Peter, as the eyewitness to the resurrection. In fact, he is the first in his list and you can see the same attitude in him. What does Peter say?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. 1 Peter1:3-4 NABRE
Again, the resurrection is central and it transforms Peter who calls us to be transformed now that we know it is real.
Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
Notice therefore the message is not to be good, but holy. They are not the same thing.
But, there is a caveat.
Those who experience Jesus’ resurrection from the dead are those who understand the promise and form their lives around it. This does not mean that they then go live in a mountain somewhere, but it does mean that their entire focus on life changes, completely and as they embrace Christ as Lord and God. They become his subjects as they continue the journey to His kingdom and to His promise. They live for Christ and see all that Christ does for them every day. Saints Peter and Paul both encourage us to be thankful and to let go of everything that leads us off the path to eternal life. So it is not trying to be good, but letting go of everything that leads us away from the pursuit of holiness is what we do. However, the main focus is that we recognize we have eternal life in Christ and we focus everything around this.
Those who reject Christ embrace the authority of whatever force they serve in the name of their desires and priorities.
When the pharisees rejected Christ, they embraced another authority in order to protect their nation and their temple and they became subject to that authority. We can call that authority the world, but, it manifested itself through the Roman Empire. So, when they said: “We have no king but Caesar.” They took upon themselves to be subjects exclusively of that authority and were destroyed by it. Remember, Masada, the destruction of the Temple. What recourse did they have once they embraced this worldly authority? None.
This is the other side of the same coin. If you embrace Christ, you will form your life around his promise which is eternal life. If you reject Christ, you embrace the promises of whatever force you embrace in his place. Repentance is rejecting that force of sin and embracing Christ.
This past week, we saw some disturbing news, which obviously had nothing to do with the New England Patriots. Two states support infanticide in the name of “rights”, although it is actually about money. They embrace abortion right up to birth in the situations when the life of mother or baby is in danger or the baby has a serious handicap. Vermont, however, which is a third state, embraces the same infanticide with no restrictions of any type, that is not yet law.
How can this happen? Simple, which authority do they embrace? Christ or a worldly authority? The answer is obviously the latter. Therefore, they embrace the promises of that worldly authority which ultimately is death and does not include eternal life in Christ.
It is a scary thought. They do not choose the way of Christ; they reject Christ and, clearly, they embrace that which is not Christ. Since they embrace that authority, they become subject to it. We see the same thing in Jeremiah 32 when the prophet speaks an oracle that condemns those that obey this worldly authority and even sacrifice their children to its deity Moloch, not much different to today. They embrace that authority and they become subject to it, all that authority can promise is death and in 587 they became victims of that choice and were carried off to Babylon.
So Paul’s words for us are important. If you understand the resurrection of the Christ. Embrace it, be transformed by it and prepare for your own resurrection as well seek As the writer in Hebrews says to “Strive . . . for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12). The sacraments are the tools that the Lord gives us to do exactly that as we journey through life to our own resurrection.