There is an ancient phrase in the church which you might have heard before: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. Literally, we translate this phrase: “The law of praying, is the law of believing, which is the law of living.” It means that our prayers/liturgy determine our doctrine, which in turn determines our way of life. Yet this is not a strict, linear process but a spiraling action. The liturgies of Holy Mother Church not only teach us the proper way to think about God and man, but they inspire in us right action, as how the final sweeping prayers of the Mass send us out into the world “that we may continue in that holy fellowship and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” But the turn to the world, the push to live out the prayers and truths we have experienced are most perfectly acted out in the Mass.
What is that act?
As we partake in Christ’s one sacrifice, we present ourselves as a living sacrifice.
Epiphany readings going through key chapters in Romans.
Last week we read Paul urging the Romans not to conform to the world but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. The King James translation uses two verbs that share the same stem — conform and transform as opposites, but we miss that Paul’s Greek words are vastly different. “Conform”(συσχηματίζω) has to do with outward form or fashion, showing that the world’s worship, powerful as it may be, is only a fleeting fashion. But the word “transform,” (μεταμορφόω) has at its root morphe, meaning a change of our essential nature or form. This is what Paul calls us to since it is what we receive at Baptism and are called to live out the rest of our lives. In other words, it is a call for us to live out morally what we are ontologically.
Today’s Gospel details Christ’s baptism, which not only just prefigured our baptisms, but initiated this new baptism so that through the washing of holy water, our own souls and bodies are renewed. No longer are we fallen creatures but recreated as little Christs for now we now have what we could never have achieved on our own or just by our nature: a renewed human nature united to the love of God. That is your state of being now whether you feel it or not, but it still takes your own attentiveness and intentionality to make it flourish in your life. And this again is where the Mass is so important.
We all partake in the Mass and offer ourselves together in a perfect action to Christ’s perfect sacrifice. That is the perfect act to match the perfecting of our nature. This is the gospel, the good news, but we must then grasp this internally. You can come to Mass and know the prayers and how to respond, etc. But what we do in the liturgy must become your life. It must take over your life.
What this looks like, what living our whole life in worship looks like, is different for every person–we each have our different callings, but each of these callings is part of the single calling of the Body itself: to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Paul then gives advice about what our lives should look like as an outcome of our essential change. At the heart of our worship is a humble love that seeks to give thanks to God and to honor those around you.
First to God: “cleave to that which is good;” “be fervent in spirit;” “serve the lord, rejoice in hope;” “continue instant in prayer.” All of these actions point to the love of God.
Second to our neighbor: “Let love be without dissimulation;” “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love;” “distribute to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality;” “bless them which persecute you;” “be of the same mind mind one toward another;” “rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.
What we see in the Epistle is not just a list of moral rules but the description of a way of living. It is a life transformed by the Word, able to offer ones own life as a sacrifice. Worship is our entire lives — living out the effects of our new position as sons and daughters of God
This is much harder than it appears, because not only do we choose to sin, but there are also many other gospels in the world proclaiming a different “good news.” This has always been the case, but let me give just one example:
In 9 BC , a lengthy inscription carved on a two foot high stone was posted in the middle of the market place in a small town called Priene on the western coast of what we now call Turkey. This inscription declared the Good News, the Gospel, in Greek euangelion, that a Savior had been born who was to bring peace to the whole world. But if you caught the date, this tablet does not declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what it said:
“Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and [Providence has set] the birthday of the god Augustus [as] the beginning of the good tidings, the gospel, for the world that came by reason of him.”
Written a few years before Jesus’ own birth, this Gospel declares the wonders of Augustus–the man so powerful, so majestic, that he is called a god for he has brought an end to war and heralded a time of economic prosperity, political peace, and cultural renewal. The inscription honors Augustus’ birth and goes on to declare the start of the calendar will now be from his birth, signalling that his birth brings in a new era.
But Augustus’ political promises, like all political promises, were temporary, and his power, like all political power, finite. The Roman peace, which was predicated upon oppressive violence and power, slowly degenerated into fanatical tyrants terrified of losing their grip on their glimmering sceptres.
It is with this background that we approach the Gospel from Mark in a new light: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” Mar 1:1 KJV. Mark’s beginning proclamation would not be lost on his audience who were familiar with such ones we found in Priene. He is now declaring a new beginning, hearkening back to Genesis, yes, but also countering the idea that Augustus and all that he stood for was the centerpoint of history. The centerpoint of history is not Augustus but Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
These are competing Gospels, and there are more, of course. We have the choice of which Gospel to follow with our lives. Paul was right: we are all living sacrifices. Sacrifices must be given upon an altar–upon which altar will you be sacrificed?
We may live our lives dedicated to ourselves, warping our loves and desires so that they wrap around each other and look inward. We may live our lives dedicated to another fleeting end, like Caesar Augustus. But in all other gospels, the end is finite, a fleeting hope. Or we may put our lives in the hands of God Almighty, to worship him and serve him only. Come and listen to the liturgy and let our prayers and actions here direct your life, and again offer up your life to God Almighty upon the altar of love.