These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Happy All Saints Day! Or at least All Saints Sunday. All Saints Day proper was back on November 1, but thanks to a provision in our Prayer Book, we are allowed to observe this principal feast day both on its actual date and on the following Sunday -- which is today. So happy All Saints Day again!
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been up here in the pulpit! We had the Mass on the Grass two weeks ago and last week we had the great privilege of welcoming Bishop Poulson for his annual visit to Grace Church. So, now at the beginning of a new month, we’re returning to whatever “business as usual” is for us as a parish. I say that because, in case you haven’t noticed, there is little that we would consider as “usual” or “normal” about church life right now. I’m still the relatively new rector here; we’re still working through the remaining effects of the pandemic; and we’ve just launched a brand new Family Formation program on Wednesday evenings. Everywhere you look, there are things being rebuilt and things that still need to be rebuilt. Just about everything is a work in progress.
Aside from all of that, we’ve also re-assembled the Church Growth & Evangelism Team recently, head up by vestry member Dan Flanigin and myself, and we’ve had two meetings already. We have a specific goal for the long run -- details forthcoming -- but so far, we’ve spent our meetings trying to come to terms with the present state of our parish and its prospects for either growth and vitality or continued decline. And this has forced us to return again and again to the topic of fear.
Fear is something that our epistle this morning is concerned with as well -- particularly the fear of death and the “lifelong bondage” it subjects us to. We’re not only bound to death itself -- since all of us will one day die -- but also to the fear of death. Death has a way of dictating and determining the way we instinctively go about our lives. And this is what the bondage is. The way that death controls us is through our own fear of it. The fear of death limits our imaginations; it stunts our growth towards holiness and flourishing, and makes us complacent and too attached towards false comforts of the familiar. And on the flip side, this is one reason why the Church has always venerated the martyrs, for perhaps more than all the saints, the martyrs exhibit the most dramatic resistance to the fear of death. They are those who most closely imitate the example of Christ, since Christ, as our epistle says, was made “perfect through suffering.” The only way to achieve perfection through suffering is to be able to see beyond death, as Christ did. To be able to look at suffering, as Christ did, and see not the threat of death that is to be avoided at all costs, but rather the very path of life beyond death. But the martyrs only show in vivid detail what is in fact true of all Christians, or at least should be true of all Christians. We who have come to share in Christ’s victory over death have also been liberated from the fear of death. Death and suffering are no longer the last word for us; they have been transfigured by the cross of Christ that has cast out all fear.
There’s much to say about the impact that our deliverance from the fear of death has upon our lives as Christians. But I want us to think about it from the perspective of a parish -- our parish, from right where we are at the moment. The fear of death doesn’t affect just individuals alone, after all: it can also hold entire institutions in its grip. And this is not really surprising, when you think about it. People gather into groups and form institutions precisely in order to sustain human flourishing; to build things that will out last any one person and continue to serve future generations, hopefully long after they’re gone. Humans like things that are bigger than ourselves -- more permanent than ourselves -- because they help us overcome the fear of death.
The Church itself is one such institution that is bigger than ourselves -- way bigger. Since Pentecost, God has been gathering people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into the people of God: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church that includes not only those of us who happen to be walking around at the moment, but all the countless host of the faithful departed from ages past. And every local church like ours is an outpost of this Church. This space exists to sustain the worship of God across time here in Ponca City. It was here before many of us and it will, God willing, be here long after all of us. The eternal event of our Lord’s Passon that transcends all time and space will continue to make itself present here at this altar week after week, month after month, year after year. And when we work to ensure the permanence of our church, we’re making a confession of faith that what this place is for is something that truly is eternal, infinite, divine. We do not work towards the growth and vitality of Grace Church as though it were just another civic organization in need of numbers and dollars -- though that would be nice, of course. Rather, our growth and vitality are inseparable from the mission of God in which we have been enlisted.
Now, all of that sounds pretty good and hopefully inspiring. But then when we look around at our church, it’s not always to see the eternity of it all. Our church is a lot like us, subject to change and, yes, subject to death. People come and go from among us and things break and deteriorate. That’s just life and it happens everywhere, to every institution. But because we’ve experienced so many years of decline, these realities are more likely to make our fear of death more intense. It becomes even harder to see that what sustains the church is not primarily the dedication of its members, vital though that is, but the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And the more we lose sight of that fact, the more our church becomes defined by its limits, its losses, its fears. We start to look like a church that is held in bondage to the fear of death.
But death is not avoided by fearing it, let alone overcome. And the same goes for decline. Our epistle this morning gives us the confidence we need. “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren….” We are among those who are sanctified here, and the point of this passage is that the one who is sanctifying us is in fact one of us. Because Christ is fully human, he shares the same human origin as we do. And he is not ashamed to call us his brethren. As the epistle continues:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.
Christ is not ashamed to call us brethren. Our humanity is no longer defined by its bondage and its fear, for our humanity is his humanity: the flesh and blood in which Christ destroyed the power of death. And the Church is the Body of Christ, comprised of its countless members. And as the Body of Christ, the Church is where that victorious flesh and blood are present at every mass at every altar. Whether we’re always aware of it or not, this is only place where the fear of death is cast out. There is a reason you pass under the cross of Christ on your way to the altar. You pass from death to life. You may not always feel like it, with the thoughts and anxieties that we all have about the future of our parish, but Grace Church grows in its vitality every time we gather to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.
The permanence of Grace Church is maintained only by the grace of God, the grace that abounds and abides. And with that grace as the beating heart of this parish, all of the decline and the uncertainty only have as much say as we are willing to give it. They will bind us only as much as we will subject ourselves to their bondage. The humanity of this parish -- with all its beauty and all its strength; all its quirks and all its weaknesses -- is the humanity of Christ in which we are members incorporate. “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin.” And no matter what the appearances of things may suggest here at Grace Church, know that Christ will have the final word about us: “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Amen.
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our readings this morning impose upon us the demand of the Christian life at its most uncompromising. At its most scandalous to our normal sensibilities. Here we find the call of Christ -- and with it, the “the word of the cross [that] is folly to those who are perishing,” says St. Paul, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This word is foolish to those who are perishing because it has the audacity to declare that true life is to be found through no other way than the way of the cross, the way of death. “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Everybody knows that we all will die one day, because all of us are among those who are perishing. Mortality isn’t news to anyone. Which is why the sensible thing to do is to avoid death and damage and insecurity at all costs. Self-preservation becomes our highest value. And if we were capable of distinguishing between what, exactly, is necessary for our survival and our flourishing, perhaps our drive towards self-preservation wouldn’t be much of a problem. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? We’re constantly mistaking all kinds of unnecessary things -- some merely frivolous, some actually harmful -- for what we supposedly need to live. Some of us think that we can’t live without the approval of others, for instance, and so we fine tune all of our interactions in order to enhance what we think our reputation is. Just take your pick from the countless other available options in the world, if that particular example doesn’t apply to you. Whatever the thing is for you, the point is that we humans are remarkably clumsy when it comes to identifying what is actually good for us versus what is unnecessary.
And you know, we come by it honestly. Sure, we are constantly afflicted by temptations of every sort -- distracted by our fleeting desires for all the shiny things -- and we probably give into them more often than not and end up falling into sin. But we wouldn’t even be in this predicament if we weren’t created for something more than mere survival. To live as a human is a much more complicated activity than simply staying fed and hydrated and sufficiently protected from the elements. We have a spiritual nature, and thus are always looking for a satisfaction that exceeds that which can be found in the material alone. But the thing is, we can only look for that satisfaction from within the material world as creatures with material bodies. So we’re caught in the middle of heaven and earth. We have eat bread to keep from starving, but what we crave is the bread of life that never perishes. We have to drink water, but what we really want is to thirst no more.
This is what makes living life as a human so complicated. Though our desire is always excessive of what the things around us are able to satisfy, that doesn’t keep us from indulging in the fantasy that maybe the next thing might. And when the fantasy ends up burdening us down with all the bad habits, compulsive behaviors, and dysfunctional relationships, the fantasy keeps on going, full steam ahead. It doesn’t even matter if we know in our heads that all this stuff is making us miserable, because deep down, we like the misery. We enjoy the dysfunction. Our symptoms are satisfying, because at least they’re ours. But the deeper we descend into the fantasy, the more we are convinced that we can’t live without all these souvenirs from our misbegotten adventures. To preserve our lives is to preserve them too, because we can’t imagine life without them.
And yet here we have this man named Jesus whose message is completely outrageous according to this established opinion. He at least seems intriguing to those who encounter him, but his identity remains uncertain. He confuses people, and he knows it. So he asks his disciples, “‘Who do men say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Eli′jah; and others one of the prophets.’” These are all pretty good guesses, as all devout Jews knew that the prophets, like Jesus, were also known for confusing people. But surely Jesus has gone too far! “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” No wonder the word of the cross strikes us as so foolish! If we’re still caught up in the fantasy and think that all the stuff we’ve acquired is basically what our lives are made of, then the call of Christ to lose our lives could only be a call to forfeit all the stuff. And we can’t have that!
Of course, the scandal of Christ’s demand for self-denial is not that it amounts to a suicide mission. God is our creator who gave us our lives in the first place: human life is a precious gifts that deserves to be protected. But this is not the “life” that we are to lose if we are to be disciples of Christ. Rather, it is this fantasy life that we’ve filled up with all of these false securities, all of our obsessions. The prospect of losing all of that is more than scandalous enough for our taste. And yet the scandal of the Gospel is precisely what makes it true. Like the multitude, we are to make of it what we will.
But if you are captivated by the scandal and find in yourself the strange hope that Jesus just might be onto something, then stay tuned for more. It turns out that despite the mystery of Christ’s identity and the apparent folly of his preaching, he was not really saying anything that new. Nor was St. James when he said that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” That was always the uncompromising standard of the law that Christ came not to abolish but to fulfill. Which is why those who would dare to follow him would be held to it as the same standard that Christ held himself to. We, like Christ, must also “suffer many things” so that we too may be raised with him, because we, like Christ, must learn obedience through what we suffer. We, like Christ, must take up our cross.
But if this still sounds foolish, like an impossible task, that’s no reason to lose heart. Christians don’t follow Christ as those who are left to tag along as best we can, abandoned to our inevitable failure. The whole point of the Gospel is that Christ is here, among us as one of us. And not just as a prophet whose words we might heed -- though he is that, of course -- but as the Word made flesh. The one who actually dwells in us and we in him. The one who writes his own law upon our hearts. To be a disciple of Christ is first a matter of being united to Christ before it is a matter of actively following his example. And we are only united to Christ by the sheer grace of God, who has ordained that we come to share in the death and resurrection of Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism. And being raised with him, we find ourselves no longer walking in the fantasy, but in the newness of life given to us in the Spirit. It is only in the midst of this newness of life that the word of the cross appears to us no longer as folly, but as the wisdom of God. All of which is to say that you are already counted among those who have perished already, for you have been baptized into Christ’s death. The cross that waits for you to take up every day from now on is the cross on which all of that which is false and wicked and dysfunctional about you will die. “For it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the repeated bits of advice we receive throughout our lives is that we should just “be ourselves.” Getting on the bus for the first day of school? “Be yourself.” Going on a first date? “Be yourself.” Heading in for a job interview? “Be yourself.”
Now, I suppose that this works out well enough, but for Christians, this conventional wisdom is easier said than done. The advice assumes that as long as you know who you are and stick to that, then all should be well. But how do you know who you are? After all, you can’t be yourself until you know yourself. But again, for Christians, this is precisely the difficulty. Knowing yourself is actually a really hard thing to do. As James says in our Epistle today, God is the only one in whom “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God is the only one who has perfect self-knowledge and is therefore eternally, infinitely, perfectly himself. That’s just what it means for God to be God. But we are not God. We are constantly subject to variation and change, from one minute to another. Our moods can shift on a dime; we can be tired and sluggish after a poor night’s sleep; we can be disciplined one day and indulgent the next; we can be distracted just as easily as we can be attentive. Etc. etc.
So if the advice is to just be ourselves, and our selves are always changing, then which version of ourselves should we be? Let’s imagine that you’ve identified the best version of yourself that you can be. You wake up in the morning and commit to be this best self. You get dressed and look in the mirror and see the best that you can be and determine with all your might to be this person that you see in the mirror. Then you leave and head out to your day. Who are you now? You can’t stay in front of the mirror forever; but once you go away, you almost immediately you forget what you were like. The version of yourself in the mirror slips from your memory almost as soon as you encounter the next thing you have to do; and more than likely, you respond to the situation as habitually and as thoughtlessly as you always do. So much for being your best self!
Because we are creatures and therefore not God, who we are is a rather unreliable guide for how to proceed through life. And when we then consider that we are not only creatures, but sinful creatures, our reliability is further compromised. Sin, after all, is simply another way of talking about the particular way that we can’t seem to walk in a straight line. We are unstable, held in bondage to our fleeting passions and desires, many of which are the causes of our temptations and sins. So being ourselves is precisely the challenge of being human. And because we are subject to change, we cannot serve as our own standard or measure of how we ought to be.
If you recall today’s Epistle, you probably noticed that my little imaginative exercise about looking at yourself in the mirror was exactly what James himself used. But instead of making a point about the difficulty of being yourself, he used the analogy of the mirror to describe the one who is only a “hearer of the word” rather than a “doer of the word.” The word here, of course, is “the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” That is to say, the word, the wisdom, the teaching that is “implanted” into us when we listen to it. But in context, this “word” is not exactly what we think of as “the Bible” but rather the “perfect law” that James mentions a few lines down; the perfect law that, when “interpreted through the gospel of Jesus,”  is the “law of liberty.” Remember that at the time of James’ epistle, the New Testament did not yet exist as we know it. Scripture was just the Old Testament, which contained the Law of God as delivered to Moses and the people of Israel. This Law was a “perfect gift from above,” having come down from the Father of lights, and is therefore able to save our souls.
But there are two conditions that are necessary in order for this word, this perfect law, to be for our salvation. The first is that we are doers of the word, and not hearers only. Those who are only hearers of the word, James says, are again “like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” Note that what makes them hearers only is that they are fixated upon themselves -- they are like the man who looks at his natural face in the mirror. They may hear the word, they may know about the perfect law, but it is not the ultimate standard that governs their lives. They are focused only on what is natural; they are acting as though they are a law unto themselves. The Law of God is at most a helpful suggestion that they’ll take into consideration in time. And of course they never get around to doing that because they forget both what the law is and who they are. By contrast, those who are doers of the word look not at their own selves in a mirror, but into the perfect law itself. The word is their mirror. They meditate upon it day and night, receiving it as a gift from God with all humility and devotion. They submit themselves entirely to it, which is why it becomes for them the implanted word. The perfect law permeates their entire being; it becomes who they are. And, having “put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness,” they can at last live freely; they can finally be themselves. The Law is their mirror.
Now, there is a significant difficulty here that needs to be addressed. Because if we were to just take this epistle from St. James at face value, it could be easy to conclude that this is just about moralism, a code of rules that we are bound to obey out of sheer willpower in order to be saved. Indeed, this is what has made the Letter of James so challenging throughout the history of the Church. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther famously declared it to be little more than an “epistle of straw” because, while he admitted that it was a helpful explanation of the Law of God, it was for that very reason not the Gospel. It could not be “good news” for us because if all we have is the Law, we are bound to fail; which is why any attempt at earning salvation by our works is futile. For Luther, if we were to take James’ advice and look into the perfect Law of God, all that we would see is our own condemnation. It would not be the law of liberty, but the law of our bondage to divine judgment. That’s why it was so important for Luther that we are justified by faith alone and not by works.
Contrary to Luther, though, James says explicitly that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” and that “faith without works is dead.” But his concern is still worth taking seriously. Given our susceptibility to temptation and sin, how can James’ teaching about the perfect law be good news for us? Where is the Gospel to be found here? To answer these pressing questions, let’s consider what James might mean when he speaks of the “implanted” word. Because who could possibly be the one to implant this word within us if not the Father of lights, from whom we receive every perfect gift? And as a gift, God gives us this word out of the abundance of his grace. We don’t earn the gift, because otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift. And the gift is ultimately that of Christ himself. He is the perfect embodiment of the word, for he is the word made flesh. And for him, the law was indeed the law of liberty, because the law was his very nature. He was the Son of God, and therefore he could freely be himself at all times -- to be himself was to be perfect. But he also was the Son of Man, who united himself to our humanity, making it possible for us to be united to his divinity. The Law that he embodied was no longer a moral code that stood over us, but instead was “written on our hearts.” The Law was now implanted within us so that we could receive by grace what Christ possessed by nature. In Christ, the law could now be for us the law of liberty because Christ himself was now implanted within us and we in him. His freedom is now our freedom. And Christ is now our mirror.
The Gospel here is simply that “every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above.” We do not become doers of the word by committing ourselves to follow it to the letter, because the letter kills. We become doers of the word by receiving it with meekness as a gift, given to us by God on account of nothing that we ourselves had done to earn it. We only become doers of the word by first receiving it in faith, which is itself a gift of God as well. So it’s all grace all the way down. When we look into the mirror of the law, we see only Christ. And when we see Christ, we see also ourselves, though the mirror is still dim. But one day, we will see him face to face, at which point we be as he is and Christ will be all in all.
So in a way, the advice to just be yourself still holds true. It’s just that we are no longer ourselves, for we belong to Christ. And he is our true religion indeed, pure and undefiled before God. Amen.
 Addison Hodges Hart. The Letter of James: A Pastoral Commentary. 57.
Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning! It’s so good to be back with you all after such a prolonged absence. I’ve spent the last 11 days mostly in bed with bronchitis, for those who don’t know, and so I’ve not been around much at all at the church recently and I’m anxiously looking forward to getting back into everything this week. But given my absence, suffice it to say that this is going to be more of a homily than a sermon.
In any case, there’s something ironic at least for me in our Gospel lesson appointed for this morning. “Hear me, all of you, and understand,” Jesus says, “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” Now, this would have come as news to me when I first contracted RSV from the kids which would eventually prove to be my downfall, because I certainly felt defiled by what had come into my respiratory system! But if it’s obvious that this is clearly not the kind of defilement that Jesus is talking about, it’s only because we know that he is talking about a spiritual defilement. The defilement of “evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Those vices originate from within, from out of the human heart, as Jesus says; the heart here serving as a metaphor for the internal source of our desires, thoughts, and intentions. These things -- and not the superficial dirt and grime that you can wash off your hands -- these are what truly defile a person in the sense that Jesus is concerned about.
There are lots of passages in Scripture that are obscure or difficult to interpret, but today’s lesson is not one of them. We are all quite familiar with the stereotype of the “churchy religious person” -- the uptight, humorless, do-gooder type who spends most of their time surveying other people’s lives for the slightest infractions. And with that character in mind, the Pharisees who call out the disciples’ omission of hand-washing (and thus their failure to “live according to the tradition of the elders”) seem to fit the profile perfectly. So it’s easy to read this as a straightforward story about getting too caught up in the rules and losing sight of what really matters.
But I don’t want us to settle too quickly with what might seem like the obvious moral of the story. It might appear that Jesus is acting as the great champion of the motto that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” -- as opposed to the Pharisees who are preoccupied with what’s on the outside: the rules and the regulations, the traditions of the elders, “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” In a way, this is a familiar take for us, one that we as modern Americans are inclined to resonate with: it’s easy to hear Jesus echoing some of our most cherished values: to be true to yourself; to follow your heart; “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship”; all of these are versions of a basic idea: namely, the idea that morality is the same thing as personal authenticity; and that if we could just be ourselves and follow our hearts, we would be alright; we would be virtuous. On the other hand, religion is bound to end up in hypocrisy, so the thinking goes, because it causes people to obsess over the externals and the rules -- all of which can be faked. And so the upshot is that we should prefer a personal and internal spirituality over a public and external religion. After all, isn’t that what Jesus is getting at in his criticism of the Pharisees?
The problem with this otherwise popular understanding is that it relies on the assumption that who we are on the inside, when left alone, is basically good and reliable. Which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says today. His whole point against the Pharisees is that it is not that which is outside of a person that morally or spiritually defiles them, but that which is inside. It is the heart that even at its most authentic is the source of all the vices that defile us. Far from casting off all the rules in favor of a vague spirituality free from judgment, Jesus is actually saying that the Pharisees have not gone far enough. They have not gone deep enough.
Part of the reason that the people were not to add to the law in our Old Testament reading is that had been given to them is that it was already sufficient by itself. It already encompassed the entire duty of human beings before God: to love God with the heart, the soul, and the mind; and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. What more could remain to be done beyond that? Only someone who thought that the law pertained exclusively to outward behavior alone could even imagine this. But this is precisely what the Pharisees had come to believe. All of religion was a matter of external observances, whether the actual tradition of the law and the prophets or the traditions of the elders. It was all the same either way. One loved God in the same way that one washed his hands before eating. They vainly imagined that they were only “contending against flesh and blood,” to use St. Paul’s words from our Epistle today. Virtue cannot be reduced to mere behavior, because human beings cannot be reduced to mere behavior. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood,” says St. Paul, “but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” In turns out that what’s on the inside is caught up in a great drama of what’s on the outside; the vices that pour forth from the human heart join together with the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. There are no clean boundaries between inside and outside or religious and spiritual to be drawn here. There is only one conflict, ultimately speaking, that requires nothing less than the whole armor of God.
Alongside Jesus’ warning about the true source of our defilement, our Collect asks that God would “Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works….” It seems that the human heart is just as much the source of the love of God and the fruit of good works as it is the source of all wickedness. So it is what’s on the inside that counts. But the heart inside can only be the source of the love of God if the love of God is first grafted into it. God must claim our hearts for himself and we must receive within our hearts the implanted word of his very truth. From this renewed heart comes all virtue and all godliness; it is the source of good works even as it was once the source of wickedness. But when Christians focus on the heart, they see only what they have received by grace: we see true religion, indeed, for we see the religion of Christ, his perfect obedience to God ingrafted into us so that we too may be nourished with all of his goodness.” For we are cleansed of defilement not by “the removal of dirt from the body,” but by “an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). So we give thanks to God that we no longer worship him in vain, for our hearts are no longer far from him, as God himself lives within them. Amen.