Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of St. John
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 27, 2009

This morning we celebrate one of the important aspects of a parish’s life together. We come this morning to celebrate and commemorate the patron saint of our parish – St. John, the Apostle of our Lord and Evangelist. It’s always interesting to think about why or how a particular parish chooses a name for their church. I’m afraid I have not stumbled across any documents that show why St. John was chosen as the patron saint of this congregation. I wish I knew why St. John in particular spoke to the group of Christians here in Colquitt County at the beginning of the 20th Century when a small group of believers came together for corporate worship with the dream and vision of becoming a parish in the Diocese of Georgia. Perhaps one day we might stumble upon something that will give us hints and clues as to why the saint we remember today was so important to them no almost 100 years later.

What is most important today is that we look at the saint who we honor, and whose name adorns our church, and allow him to help us and speak to us as we strive to follow along the same path that he did.

From what we know about John from the Biblical witness was that he was one of the sons of Zebedee and his brother’s name was James. He was one of the first disciples called by our Lord, and was privy to some of the most intimate aspects of our Lord’s ministry. Along with Peter and James, John witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the Transfiguration, and the last hours of Jesus’ life in the Garden of Gethsemane. John was the only disciple recorded to have witnessed our Lord’s death on the cross when we hear of the entrusting of Mary to John as Jesus ensures his mother’s care into the hands of the disciple whom he loved. Peter and John were the first two apostles to witness the empty tomb on Easter morning even though he reached the tomb first, John hesitated at the door and Peter ran straight in to discover the burial clothes empty and Jesus nowhere to be found. St. Paul even refers to John, with Peter and James, as pillars of the church in Jerusalem.

Scholars have attributed a large portion of the New Testament canon to St. John in the form of the Fourth Gospel, the three General Epistles which bear his name, and the Revelation or Apocalypse. We’ll save a discussion about authenticity of authorship to a future study, but in any case, there would be a tremendous vacuum left if we did not have the five books of the New Testament that are connected to St. John.

As our adult Christian Education class touched on last Sunday, John offers such a unique perspective on Jesus that would completely change the tone of this season of our Church Year if we did not have his record in our Scriptures. With the exception of yesterday’s commemoration of the Feast of St. Stephen, we will hear the Prologue of John’s Gospel read corporately three services in a row. The framers of our Lectionary so understood the incredible nature of this passage that they could not comprehend the Feast of the Incarnation without those very words which we will hear again at the end of our service this morning.

Our collect this morning highlights the three themes that we hear at the end of Jesus’s ministry as recorded in John 14 when Jesus declares that He is the way, the truth, and the life.

The prayer opens with the great Johannine theme of light that we ask our Lord to shower down upon us in all of its brightness and glory. This bright light is meant to illuminate the teaching and doctrine that St. John conveyed in his writings. Orthodoxy is the right belief about our Lord’s life, and that is the path or the way that the light of Christ illuminates for us so that we might clearly see that path to follow and stay on our course.

Our collect goes on to declare that the only path to eternal life is through the truth - with a capital “T.” Jesus declares most definitively that there is no other path to the Father except through Him. There are many who do not like statements such as this one because it sounds awfully exclusivistic. However, if anyone has ever studied any other religion, you’ll notice that they all make some pretty exclusivistic claims about their religious beliefs as well. Ravi Zacharias once spoke about a conversation he once had with a follower of Jainism and the person he spoke to said on this topic that the Jains exclude no one. Ravi replied, “Yes you do, you exclude the exclusivists! There are many who complain and say that it’s not fair that God only provided one avenue for us to follow to return home to him. If God had provided 1,000 paths back to Him, those same folks would complain that he didn’t provide 1,001.

Modernity and secularism makes a most remarkable assertion that all truth is relative. What’s true for you may not be true for me. You can have your truth, and I’ll have mine. Have any of you ever parsed that statement carefully – that all truth is relative? That line of thinking collapses under its own weight when you think about it. There are only two possibilities here. Either that statement itself is relative, or there is something out beyond that statement that makes it true. The problem there is that assertion violates the very thing that the statement itself tries to put forward.

Our life as Christians is to point to the Truth, and to do so in a manner that presents the Good News of the Gospel so that others might be able to hear it. That is perhaps the biggest challenge as disciples. We must be prepared to present this message both in season and out of season.

As John declares in his first epistle that we heard this morning is that the message of Christ is a message of joy. Jesus came in order that we might experience joy, and have it to its fullest. John records the words of our Lord when Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd, and tells us, “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” As David declares, “my cup runneth over.”

Through the comfortable doctrine and teaching that St. John has given to the church, we have a clearly illuminated path of the Truth which leads to life everlasting.

St. John was the only one of the twelve apostles not to die a martyr’s death, but rather died a natural death in Ephesus around 100 A.D. One of the traditions that surrounds the end of John’s life was that after his exile on the island of Patmos where he received the vision of his apocalypse, he was head of the local church in Ephesus. It was reported that in his old age he tended to preach the same, short sermon over and over. Regardless of the circumstances, occasion, or lessons, he would simply proclaim, “Brothers and Sisters, love one another.” When asked by members of the congregation could they hear some other messages from time-to-time, John’s response to them was, “When you’ve mastered this lesson we can move on to another.”

That should be our mandate as those who bear the name Christian, and worship our Lord here at St. John’s is to heed the words, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”

We give thanks to God for the witness of Blessed John the Apostle and Evangelist. May his words be ours, and may we ever embrace and hold fast the doctrine which he preached and declared to all, so that we might attain the great joys that await those who put their trust in the Lord.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day
St. John’s Church
December 25, 2009

In 1959, Peter Seeger wrote a song that wouldn’t be recorded for another three years, but was one of the biggest hits of the 1960’s. If I were a betting man, I would put forward a wager that many people who liked the song then had no idea that its lyrics were actually an almost word-for-word adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. If you haven’t guessed by now, the name of that song was Turn, Turn, Turn. In light of the glorious readings which we hear every year on Christmas, you might just be asking yourself, where on earth this sermon going with a reference to the book Ecclesiastes in light of the words which we heard from Isaiah, Hebrews, and John?

The reason I even bring up the book of Ecclesiastes and the third chapter is because of a verse which follows the ones that provided the inspiration for the song by the Byrds. In the eleventh verse of the third chapter, the author writes some most incredible words in which he says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (ESV).

God has written eternity into our hearts.

What a remarkable statement. Back in Genesis it is declared that we are made imago dei – in the image of God. Here we have Solomon declaring that one of the awesome attributes of God is imprinted upon our hearts. Eternity finds a home in the deepest recesses of our existence. This certainly sheds great light upon the declaration of St. Augustine in his Confessions when he says, “Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end…. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
We celebrate again the fact that the eternal and transcendent God who spoke everything into creation came to earth and became a part of the very creation that he made. The finite and the infinite have come together and bridged what was before an unbridgeable gap.

So what does this mean for us? How do we exult in the good tidings of great joy that have been declared unto us?

We must first come again with a spirit of humility and kneel before our Lord’s manger, in awe and wonder that God would take our nature with the intention that it would never be undone. St. Athanasius in his treatise on the Incarnation said

…the Word of God Himself...assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. In short, such and so many are the Savior's achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves.

This early Church Father and Doctor of the Church makes a most profound declaration here, and wants us to recognize that the only way for the Spirit of God to walk in the garden in the cool of the day again was to take on our humanity so that we might be able to return to our origin, our very Source of being.

We must also contemplate what brought this into being. That which we inherited from Adam is not something that we can simply brush off, or remove at will. We have inherited a terminal illness in the form of Original Sin. This illness cannot be cured save one source and that is from God alone. The debt that none of us could ever repay was paid once and for all by God’s incarnate Son. As St. Paul declared to the Christians in Corinth, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Finally, we must forever remember that which motivated God to do something like this. “So God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And,

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

Love is the only thing that allows any of this to make any sense. A quotation that has often been attributed to the Church Father Tertullian declares, “I believe it because it is absurd.” The very fact that the King of kings, and Lord of lords, would have come in the most unassuming and least majestic of forms has the fingerprints of God all over it. All throughout history, God has acted in some of the most unpredictable of fashions.

He has done so with one motivation and one alone. He first loved us, and seeks and desires our love as well. He also desires that the love which he manifests toward us we go forth and show to our fellow man as well. This is the central focus of Christmas and our common life as followers and disciples of our Lord.

May the light that comes from the Word becoming flesh shine brightly within each and every one of us here; and may that light so shine so that others might see who we are and whose we are and give praise, glory, and honor to our Father in Heaven – our Father who has written eternity into our hearts so that we might come and dwell with Him forever.
Christmas Eve
St. John’s Church
December 24, 2009

Last Sunday in our discussion of St. John’s Gospel, I mentioned the following observation that I have often wondered why the ancient church ordered Scripture the way they did. I have been curious why Matthew’s Gospel is always first, with Luke third and Mark sandwiched in between. Then John’s Gospel follows and seemingly interrupts the flow of Luke and Acts. Scholars have offered many ideas as to why the order is as we have it today, but more specifically, I’ve often pondered the thought of John’s Gospel being first book in the New Testament. Why you might ask? Is it because John’s Gospel paints such a glorious picture of Jesus, who knows clearly who He is, where He has come from, what His role is, and where He is ultimately going? Or is it because of the rich symbolism that runs throughout the Gospel that provides such rich meanings behind the words. Or is it because the Prologue – the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel are some of the most remarkable in all of Scripture? Actually, the one reason I would give for having John first is the fact that both Genesis, and John start at the same place – In the beginning, God.

The creation story as recorded in Genesis, and the creation story as re-told through the lens of John’s Gospel begin with the source of all life and light. On the first day of creation, God as He moves and hovers over the chaos and darkness of the great void, he literally speaks a Word, and darkness is overshadowed by Light. The prophet Isaiah foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah when he wrote, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” In creation everything was in great darkness, and in an instant, the Creator caused a new light to shine.

Today, as in the ancient world, whenever one deals with issues of evil, chaos, confusion, turmoil we often hear the term darkness used to describe that experience. Many of you perhaps have experienced a sense of spiritual embattlement that many call a dark night of the soul. Perhaps some have come here this evening and this is the first Christmas without a spouse, or parent, or child, or long-time friend. If you are like me and over the past year opened up your IRA or 401k statements, there hasn’t been much light there in there either, but rather, a great deal of darkness. Instead of light, it seems like darkness is creeping in from every direction.

The words I proclaim tonight are not going to immediately make any of those thoughts vanish, but I do believe with all my heart that these words, this evening, this Incarnation might be a catalyst for healing and wholeness. Henry van Dyke in the hymn Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee speaks of God “driving the dark of doubt away” and “filling us with the light of day.” That is the message of the Incarnation and of Christmas. Jesus came so that we might be filled with the light the He shares with the world.

Christianity is unique in a number of ways, but none more important than how God interacts with the world He has created. One of the central tenets of our faith, and our celebration this evening commemorates the event that is perhaps one of the hardest for many to embrace and believe – the fact that God became a part of the Creation that He made. Dr. Peter Kreeft said that, “the eternal God has stepped into the world of time He created.” That is simply one of the most remarkable things about the faith that we proclaim and believe. We do not believe in a remote, detached, distant, uncaring, unfeeling God who is so many light years away from where we are, who we are, or what we struggle with. If that were the case, then there is ultimately no reason to have much faith in the first place because there would be no certainty that God would hear our pleas and cries for help, or worse, if He really even cared. Joy to the world would be such a foreign concept if we found ourselves in a hopeless situation as that.

No, we celebrate the glorious nature of a God who would personify Emmanuel – God with us. The great hymn of Advent O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is fulfilled tonight! As was proclaimed in Isaiah and then repeated by St. Matthew, a virgin shall conceive a son and shall call his name Emmanuel. That is a most remarkable assertion. We have received the greatest blessing in knowing that the very God who created everything became a living member of that very creation.

In the person of Jesus Christ, God faced the same temptations as we do. He shared the same emotions that we do. He experienced the same disappointments, failures, and shortcomings from those He loved just as we do. He faced loss, death, and abandonment. And through all of those things, he did not allow the darkness to overshadow the light that he came to bear. He did not place that light under a bucket or cover it up, but rather he let the light devour the darkness.

In one person, we receive hope. The difference is we are not trusting in just a person; we are trusting in God who became Man. God who bore all of our weakness upon himself came in the most vulnerable of forms. He came as a baby. He came to us in the most unassuming of fashions in order that we might assume that same manner of life.

If we are going to bear the name of Christian, it means that we have to first bear the name of Christ. St. Paul in both his Epistle to the Romans and to the Galatians uses that same terminology – we are called to put on Christ. That is a very risky proposition. It means that we must know the very person we are called to be like. Putting on Christ means that as we celebrate Christ’s coming and birth we must also embrace His death. Even in the midst of life we confront the images of death and darkness that come at us from all sides. There is the temptation to cave into these forces of darkness and abandon the light that is within us. There is the reality of internalizing the events that happen to us and live in our own world in which we can only describe as lost. Jesus said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

We are those very lost sheep who are lost and have gone astray. We are the ones who seek to do things our own way, and feel like we have the world conquered. We are the ones who are in desperate need of a Saviour, and He comes to us again in a spirit of humility, and He bids us to follow him in that same fashion. Only with a humble heart can we fully comprehend the profound nature that our Redeemer “was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one” (Heb. 2:9).
Jesus’ very destiny was set from the moment he was conceived by the Holy Ghost. He most likely spent His first night on earth in a cave outside Bethlehem, and slept in a wooden feeding trough that served as a bed. He spent His last day on earth hanging on the hard wood of the cross, outside Jerusalem, and then laid to rest in a cave owned by a rich man.

Through Jesus’ Incarnation, death, and resurrection comes the sure and certain hope that Emmanuel has in fact come to give life, and he gives us that life in order that we might enjoy it abundantly. Jesus told the crowds one day, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (Matt. 13:16-17).

In Jesus, we have the one and only gift we could ever hope to receive this Christmas. For if we have Him, we have received the life that was the light of men. We have received a gift that lasts for all eternity. And since our Lord Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, our calling as Christians is to give that gift away. We must share what we have freely received. We must let the light so shine within us so that all might see what we do in love, and give glory, honor, praise, and worship to our Incarnate Lord and Saviour.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sermon for Advent IV
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
December 20, 2009

All of our themes, all of our focus during the Season of Advent point to the most miraculous event in all of human history – The Incarnation of the Messiah. We will hear on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day those glorious words from John’s Prologue, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Those words have such a sacred character to them that it is appropriate to genuflect at that point in the reading out of profound reverence for the miracle that is our Lord’s birth.

God actually became a creature, for a finite period of time, and a full part of the creation He made, in order that the chasm that exists between Man and God might be bridged for all eternity. The only bridge capable of supporting the weight of sin is God Himself, and that is what we are preparing to celebrate later this week.

However, as we ponder and meditate on these eternal mysteries that are the centerpieces of our Faith, I think on this final Sunday in Advent we should look at some of the people who played equally important roles in this story of Christmas – the supporting cast if you will.

The entire first chapter of Luke’s Gospel is spent looking at the lives of three people – Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and Our Lady, Blessed Mary. This long chapter, 80 verses in length, is critical for us to hear before we hear again the words of Luke chapter 2 on Thursday evening.

Luke chapter 1 finds its grounding in first century Judaism. As a time marker we are told that Herod is on the throne as king, and Luke gives some very interesting details about Zechariah and Elizabeth. He says that Zechariah is a priest, and is of the division of Abijah. According to I Chronicles, twenty-four different divisions were established from the sons of Aaron, Eleazar or Ithamar, in order to carry out the duties and functions of the sacred priesthood. Luke is also careful to mention that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of a daughter of Aaron. John the Baptist’s lineage links him back to the priestly tribe of Israel, and how appropriate that the last of the prophets would come from an Aaronic family. The one who prepare the way for our great High Priest would come from a priestly family himself.

When Zechariah’s lot was chosen and he was appointed to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense, an angel appeared to him and told him that his wife would conceive a son. His natural response was to comment on the natural state of both he and his wife. They were both well advanced in years and well beyond the normal childbearing age.

What’s amazing about this and so many other stories is how quickly the events of the past are forgotten. If we go back to the Book of Genesis the exact same sequence of events happens to the great Patriarch of Israel. When God appeared to Abram and told him that he would be the father of a great nation, he laughed. Abram actually laughed at God. When Sarah overheard the news from the three mysterious visitors that she would get pregnant, she too laughed to herself. I’m sure that her heart sunk into the pit of her stomach when the Lord confronts Abraham and asks him why Sarah laughed when she heard that news. I know I’ve found myself in that same situation where I’m searching mightily for that trapdoor in the floor, praying that it will miraculously open for me when I’ve been caught and know it.

You can see what I mean when I mention that the events of the past somehow become foreign to us and we forget the graces that have been bestowed upon us before. Zechariah did just that when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the temple with news that the same miracle that happened to Sarah was going to take place with his wife Elizabeth as well. And just as Gabriel had said, Elizabeth conceived that long awaited son who would go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way.

Gabriel’s next visit is to a young virgin girl in Nazareth who is betrothed, or legally pledged to be married. It is incorrect to simply say that Joseph and Mary were engaged because betrothal carried legal rights, and could not simply be “called off” in the event of problems. And yes, the Angel Gabriel is about to bring Mary news that could be a very big problem.

Yet somehow Mary is able to grasp at some level the significance of the news that the angel brings to her. Really, her big question of doubt is a matter of practicality, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” I’m sure the thought, “I wonder what Joseph is going to say,” ran through her mind, but it’s never recorded in the pages of scripture. Instead, we hear the following, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” She is able to respond with the greatest YES to God that has ever been given. She is about to become the Theotokos, the God bearer, the Mother of God. How about that for your, “how am I going to live up to these expectations!?!?”

We then come to one of the most tender of exchanges between Mary and Elizabeth. Scripture says that Mary left shortly after Gabriel’s message and headed off to visit her cousin. As soon as Mary entered the house and Elizabeth merely heard her voice Luke records that the “baby leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Ghost.” I can only wonder with awe what that must have felt like, and what Elizabeth experienced at that time. Elizabeth knew that her son would play a role in the life of the Messiah, and would take somewhat of a backseat position in comparison. And yet, she is still able to declare with the utmost of humility, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Mary then responds with the words that we hear every time we pray the Daily Office of Evening Prayer the Magnificat or Song of Mary. I hope those words are familiar to us all as they are a response to grace in the midst of uncertainty. The miracle of our Lord’s birth is also a testimony to the miracle of his mother. One young girl, chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah. Just like God chose one race of people to bring about the redemption of mankind, so to does He choose one woman to bear His Son. I read just the other day on the blogsite of a former Anglican priest and now convert to the Roman Catholic Church that there was no more holy a place on earth than within the womb of Mary. The more I think about that statement, the more I agree with him. God told Moses to remove his shoes before the burning bush because the ground on which he was standing was holy ground. Moses was standing in the presence of the Spirit of God; within Mary’s body dwelt both the full humanity and full divinity of God. The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies was no longer an object, but now was a person.

One more shift takes place as Mary departs after a three month visit. It is now time for Elizabeth to give birth, and as she does, the family and friends that surround her naturally assume that she will name the boy after his father. Yet she does something rather odd and declares to the people that the child’s name will be John. No one in the family bore that name, and yet she is adamant that this will be the name he is to receive. They question it such that they give a writing tablet to Zachariah, who had been struck dumb during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and he confirms what his wife said. With those words Zachariah is able to speak again as if nothing had happened. The first words out of his mouth after nine months are words of praise to God – words that sound allot like his wife’s and allot like Mary’s.

He breaks out into praise, and then into a foreshadowing of his son’s future vocation. He prophesies about his newborn son in the words of the Benedictus, one of the canticles for Morning Prayer and most suitable during this Season of Advent.
68Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
76And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
A critical part of Advent is hearing the stories again of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. We hear again their stories because we know deep down inside they had to have asked the same questions we ask all the time – How and Why? Mary asks, “how is this possible?” Zechariah asks the same question. Elizabeth cannot figure out why the mother of her Lord would come and visit her.

We too want to know the answers to questions that begin with the words how or why.

How am I going to deal with my son?

Why are things going this way in my marriage?

How are we going to manage with less money this year?

Why am I having to deal with this now?

I leave you with these and other questions that I’m sure confront you and your faith. Yet, at the same time I leave you with three people who wrestled with questions of an equally significant importance. I leave with the stories of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the Mother of our Lord, Mary. Three people who somehow turned to the only source of light in the darkness that seemed to be creeping in around them. Three people who turned to the Lord of life when chaos and death surrounded them. Three people who knew that the Messiah of the world was coming, and that He was coming to save them from every fear that confronted them.

O come thou Dayspring from on High, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon for Advent III
St John’s – Moultrie, GA
December 13, 2009

There are numerous blessings that our Anglican tradition has given to Christendom, but to me, none more beautiful than the Collects of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. These small gems – in size only, are one of the centerpieces of our liturgical services, and one of the great hallmarks of who we are. The Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl once said, “If you want to know what Anglicans believe, pick up the prayer book, and read the collects.” Again, I’m going to make a selfless plug for the book that Dr. Zahl co-authored, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, which is a book of meditations on the collects appointed for Sunday morning; I cannot recommend highly enough that volume as a source of enrichment to one’s prayer life.

One of the overarching attributes of the collects we pray each week is that they are grounded with the belief that we as Christians are sanctified by grace alone through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let me expand a bit on what I mean with that statement.

In many churches today, there remains a remnant of a very reformed doctrine known as the “third use of the law.” Hang tight for a minute, and I believe you’ll see very quickly where I am going with this. If you’ve ever been to a church service where you walked out feeling like you’ve been beaten up, drug through the mud, and say to yourself afterward, “I would have felt better if I had not even gotten out of bed this morning,” you probably endured a sermon grounded in the third use of the law. More than likely the preacher left you with a laundry list of things to do in order that you might sin less, pray more, be kinder to your neighbor, love your spouse more, improve your parenting skills, or something of the like. What the preacher has done I believe is get things out of order.

If you look at any of the collects in the prayer book, I hope you will notice an overarching theme throughout. The prayer begins with the law as it rightfully should. It points out some aspect of our lives in which we need correction, amendment of life, or where we fall short and miss the mark. The Greek word amartia is the word that is translated in Scripture as sin, and it has the connotation of an archer taking aim on a target and missing the mark. The collects are structured in such a manner as to bring to light those places where we have grieved the heart of God, and where we need to seek to re-order our lives in accordance with His will.

The prayer finishes with a petition and sometimes an aspiration in which we seek the grace and mercy of the Almighty. One of the things that you will not find in the collects is a second dose of the law tagged on at the end. This is an elementary definition of the third use of the law where one thinks that we have achieved such a state of grace that we can begin to do things on our own, and thus, succeed on our own merit. The only way that one’s heart, mind, and will can truly change is through the grace, mercy, and love of God. Our feeble efforts are of no avail against the principalities of this world, and the battle that wages against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Only when our prayers are ordered in such a way in which our final plea and petition is for God’s grace can we ever hope to win.

What the third use of the law tries to do is present the law first – for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; then it presents grace – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”; then we see the third use of the law come back at the end as a type of scolding. Evangelist Alistair Begg once said that, “so many times we hear a preacher tell us to pull up our proverbial theological boot straps, which are somewhere between our armpits and ears, we’re not sure how much higher they can go.” Leaving people with a dose of the law doesn’t give them hope. Rather, it only reinforces how lacking we really are. Look again at the insert in your bulletin and count the number of times you see the words “sing, rejoice, be glad, joy, thanksgiving” – or the title of our processional hymn. Heaping helpings of the law without grace leaves us with none of the joys of the Gospel, only the realization of how impossible the task that lies before us really is.

If you take a look at the collect for the day on page 160 of the Prayer Book, I believe you will see what I am talking about. You will notice the portion that speaks about law is toward the beginning where it says, “because we are sorely hindered by our sins.” Earlier renderings of this collect reads, “that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we be sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us.” This line places us right where we need be in order to receive the blessings of God’s goodness and mercy. We have made such a mess of things on our own, and our continued practice of doing things our way, trying to pull up our bootstraps we are ultimately hindering ourselves, and not making things better. The law has done what it is supposed to do. It has reduced us to a point where we can ultimately experience God’s grace.

Dr. Zahl offers this meditation on the law portion of this collect:

The prayer represents us as being hindered through our sins and wickedness. We are thwarted in all our attempts at self-deliverance. That is a grievous admission. We are unable to help ourselves: trapped, stripped, caught by outward circumstances and inward tendencies. This is as it were a paraphrase of Step One of the Twelve Steps. Our life is fundamentally out of control! No one can appreciate the power of this prayer without first making the admission that all human hopes of self-redemption are delusional. Is that too much to ask?

This does not paint a very bright picture of the human predicament, but it paints a very honest one. A couple of decades ago the big slogan was I’m okay, you’re okay. In the light of the Gospel that slogan should more properly be rendered either – I’m okay, you’re okay is NOT okay; or it should be read I’m not okay and neither is anyone else. The one thing that we should take full ownership of is that in the eyes of God, we are sinful, broken creatures in need of help – we are ultimately in need of a Saviour.

The most beautiful piece of the both the collects and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are not left to wallow in this untenable position. We have been given the source of help that we need only ask for, and do so every day of our lives. The Gospel centered portion of our collect says that even through we hinder things based on what we have done and continue to do, God’s grace and mercy is even more bountiful. We also pray that it will come to us speedily so that we in fact might be delivered from those powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy God’s creation.

Dr. Zahl concludes with these words:

But as we are “sore hindered,” even so is the mercy of God bountiful and speedy. Moreover, the mercy of God is not a facile fiat. It is grounded in something: “the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord.” You could have all the faith in the world in thin ice, but you would still fall through. You could have extremely fragile faith in thick ice, and you would not fall through. The thick ice which will not give way is the historic sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, satisfying the Judge of Life. With sins forgiven, the human spirit is no longer obstructed and caved in on its own insatiable hungers. There is breathing room, known in these words “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be no entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

We are past the half-way point through this season of Advent, and one of the great promises of this time before the Incarnation is that God came, and will come again. The book of Revelation concludes with the words, “And the Spirit and the Bride say come, and let him that heareth say come…Amen, even so come quickly Lord Jesus.” We live in the time between the first and second Advent of the Messiah, and in this period of waiting, we must continue to depend completely on God’s grace and mercy.

I came across an article some time ago, not on the subject of Advent, but I believe the closing paragraph sums up our anticipation and longing as pilgrims along the journey toward Christ’s second coming:

May we continue to flee to the word of God for comfort, encouragement, and preparation for what is “yet to come.” For the “coming of Christ” does not consist of Rome destroying Jerusalem, [in the first century AD] but rather the return of the risen King to consummate human history and set up His eternal Kingdom. Since our King is returning to repay the wicked and rescue His people, we are called to be both prepared and faithful in light of this reality. We must cling to the blessed hope of being resurrected to be with the risen King forever. Until this “great and terrible” Day arrives, may we live as ambassadors for the Gospel, pleading with the world to “Be reconciled to God” for indeed, “the end of all things is near” (I Peter 4:7).

And the Spirit and the Bride say Come, and let him that heareth say Come…Amen, even so come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.

*****Citations available upon request******

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sermon for Advent II
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
December 6, 2009

I’m sure that in the midst of the news coverage of the Health Care Reform bill in the U. S. Senate and the President’s address to the nation concerning his war strategy in Afghanistan, you probably came across a small news story that made a few headlines regarding Tiger Woods. The larger-than-life golf superstar made major headlines last weekend when he ran over a fire hydrant and hit a tree at his home in Orlando at around 3:00 a.m. The grocery store tabloids had been circulating stories about marital infidelity by Tiger Woods a few weeks before, and naturally the rumors began flying when news first broke on this story.

This morning’s sermon isn’t about piling on Tiger Woods. He’s already had enough piled on him already. Rather it’s about the written “apology” he posted on his website. I put apology in quotations because I had to search for what I considered to be a heartfelt apology. I do realize I’m not privy to private statements made that are not included in what he wrote, but I’m still not sure I found one. His letter sounded more like the words of someone who was sorry for being caught and not someone who is really sorry for his actions. He starts off first by saying that “I have let my family down, and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.” I realize to a certain extent that many of these statements are prepared with publicists, attorneys, and agents weighing in, but in this first paragraph there is no admission of sin, adultery, infidelity. Why would you soften what happened and refer to what occurred as simply a “transgression?” Why not stand up like a man and admit with an humble, lowly, obedient, and penitent heart that he disobeyed his marriage vows to his wife, and committed serial adultery and infidelity? The only time he mentions the word apology in his statement is in the very last sentence when he says, “For all of those who have supported me over the years I offer my profound apology.” The people who deserve his most profound apology are his wife, Elin, and their children. I have no idea whether Tiger considers himself a Christian or not, but first and foremost, he needs to repent for his actions and seek the forgiveness of God Almighty. That may not have been his style to have said something like that in print, but I sure would have been quite impressed if I had read those words from his pen. Instead, he includes a paragraph where he almost sounds like the victim by the tabloids exposing his infidelity. He says further, “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.” There’s only one problem with a statement such as this one. The public funds his salary. The general public buys the products which finance his sponsorship deals, and fund the purses at PGA Tour events. He’s made hundreds of millions of dollars from the public, so yes he does owe us an apology. He owes an apology to all of the children who look up to him as a role model, and have had to have their parents explain to them what happened if they didn’t already know.

I said I wasn’t going to pile on Tiger Woods, and this probably sounds like exactly what I’ve done, but I believe within this Season of Advent this is an appropriate illustration of what we are to wrestle with as we await our Lord’s coming. It’s appropriate because we must first and foremost ask ourselves the question, why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

God could have very well left us to our own devices to earn merit and favor with him by what we do and what we don’t do and then see how things shake out in the end. However, St. Paul helps us out when he declares with complete conviction that he doesn’t do the things he wants to do, and does the very things he wishes with all his heart that he didn’t. He was a disciple and follower of Christ when he made those statements. He understood what our Lord did for him on the cross, and every way he sliced it, he ended up short. The following story about English slave ship captain and the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton conveys this same point perfectly.

Two or three years before the death of John Newton, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then appropriate prayer would be offered. That day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.
Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke, “I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”

That is what true repentance looks like. That is true acknowledgment of the human condition. That’s the honest admission that we are wrestling against something far more powerful than we can ever fight through our own devices and desires of our own hearts.

God sent Jesus to earth because he wanted to open every door and provide every opportunity for us to be reunited into fellowship with Him. He wanted to be able to move through the Garden again in the cool of the day and not find us naked and ashamed because of who we are, but rather look upon us again through the lens of his perfect Son. He opened the door, and now the choice is ours as to whether or not we will accept this fact and pass through on the only way to our salvation. Can we truly accept our condition for what it is? Here’s how the Moody Monthly defines sin – are we able to accept these points?

What Is Sin?

Man calls it an accident; God calls it an abomination.
Man calls it a blunder; God calls it blindness.
Man calls it a defect; God calls it a disease.
Man calls it a chance; God calls it a choice.
Man calls it an error; God calls it an enmity.
Man calls it a fascination; God calls it a fatality.
Man calls it an infirmity; God calls it an iniquity.
Man calls it a luxury; God calls it a leprosy.
Man calls it a liberty; God calls it lawlessness.
Man calls it a trifle; God calls it a tragedy.
Man calls it a mistake; God calls it a madness.
Man calls it a weakness; God calls it willfulness.

This is of course a harsh reality to face. The Good News is the God did not leave us to face this alone. He did not leave us to face it uncomforted. He did not leave us to face it without hope.

This Season of Advent is a time of reflection. It is a time to reflect upon who we are as a people in need of a Saviour. Most importantly, it’s a time to reflect upon a God who would send a Saviour, and would do so in the form of His only begotten Son.

As we approach our Lord’s Incarnation, we are called to reflect upon the love of a Heavenly Father who would deign to be our guest and come and be among us. Thanks be to God for this most remarkable gift.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon for Advent Sunday
St. John’s Church - Moultrie, GA
November 29, 2009

It is a glorious and wonderful new year that we begin this morning. We come to the start of a new Church Year as we have arrived again at the Season of Advent. The time when we as the Body of Christ reflect and anticipate the coming of the Messiah in the Incarnation of our Lord.

It’s amazing how me move so quickly from last Sunday where we celebrated the kingship of Jesus Christ, into the season of longing and expectation. If you look back at the lessons assigned for this morning, you might see that they provide a different sort of beginning of the Church Year and our Season of Advent.

The texts assigned don’t bring us stories of Zechariah and the coming of the prophet John the Baptist, nor do they speak of the interaction between the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. We don’t begin where we would think we would.

The lessons today do point to the Incarnation, but they do so looking straight through the Incarnation, straight through the cross, and on to the second coming of the Messiah. They have a focus on the eschatological future or the world. Eschatology is a theological term which deals with the study of the end times, or the final things of this world. Passages such as what we’ve just heard have an eschatological focus.

Not unlike our lessons from a few weeks ago, we heard a great deal of strange language and imagery such as:

“the valley…shall be filled up by the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah.”

“there shall no longer be cold or frost.”

“there shall be continuous day.”

“before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm.”

“there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.”

“people will be perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

“the powers of heaven will be shaken.”

“and then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”

What are we to make of these particular passages of Scripture?
These passages certainly don’t bring to mind images of a manger, or shepherds, or wise men, or the coming of the Son of God.

No, they conjure up images of darkness and confusion.

And since we believe that the Holy Scriptures are the living, breathing Word of God, I believe they are certainly chosen specifically so that we might hear them and wrestle with them today.

Try for a moment to think about the first Christians in Jerusalem about 30 years after Jesus’ Ascension. They are meeting together to break bread, and re-tell the stories of Jesus together in small house churches. If some of these groups were lucky, they might have had something written down by one of the Apostles or one of the Evangelists. Most likely though they would have had nothing but the stories that they never got tired of telling over and over.

What would be going through their heads if they had heard these same passages being read in their midst? Most likely their non-Christian friends have been ragging them unmercifully because this so-called Messiah that they worshipped had not yet come back. Things were certainly getting rough around Jerusalem with all the Romans around.

And also think about what was happening in other parts of the world at the same time. Christianity was spreading rapidly outside Palestine, but these new converts were going about it in roundabout kind of way. There was an ex-Pharisee Saul, now Paul was telling these new followers of Christ were instructed that they did not have to be circumcised as a sign or maker of being part of the New Covenant.

However, many cried foul.

Hey! That’s not part of the deal here. Jesus was a good Jew, and he sure didn’t tell us we didn’t have to keep our part of the Old Covenant. These new folks need to follow the Law of Moses just like we do.

But what did Jesus say in our passage this morning? He told the Christians in Jerusalem the same thing he told Christians anywhere else.

Stay Awake!

Be on guard!

Hang on!

Prop your eyes open! Either literally of figuratively, whatever the case may be.
Now, let’s move forward to 2009 and St. John’s Church in Moultrie, GA. We are gathered together as a faith community preparing to break bread just like the early Christians did. We are in the process of re-telling the stories of Jesus just like the early Christians did. We aren’t doing it homes, but we are gathered around the altar for to be fed by the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same. We are still met with the same criticisms that the early Christians did.

Come on! Are you still believing those silly stories about that Jesus person?

Don’t you know that we are now enlightened and proven that this Christianity thing is just a big hoax?

All you need is a little more pleasure in your life in whatever form it takes. Besides, hasn’t the Church done some pretty bad things in its history all in the name of Jesus? What about those Crusades and that Inquisition business? You’ll notice that everyone who wants to debunk Christianity always bring those two items up. Ravi Zacharias once said that many would like to point out how much violence was done in the name of God, how much violence has been perpetrated in the name of godlessness?

Of course, the biggest complaint against Christianity has to do with the nature of evil. Skeptics say if your Jesus was so special why is there so much evil in the world, and why are we in as big of a mess as a global society as we’ve ever been?

These questions and accusations come at each of us in different forms, and are manifestations of the Devil and his work. He wants to whittle and wear us down. He wants to make us weary and tired.

And what happens when that occurs - we are not able to see the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus told us very clearly that this is exactly what we are to expect. This is what is going to be coming our way as His disciples. He continues to tell us today to stay awake, be vigilant, pray, and keep alert.

As our Gospel lesson from the morning closes, what does Jesus do?

It says that he went to the temple area during the day, and at night he would go apart and stay at a place called the Mount of Olives. Jesus knew that in order for him to stay alert he would have to go apart and be with His Father in prayer. In order for us to do the same we too must spend time apart and do the very same things.

I wish to close with a story that sets the stage for us during Advent as we approach our Lord’s Incarnation

A. J. Gordon was the pastor of Clarendon Baptist Church in Boston, MA. One day he met a young boy in front of the church carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”

The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”

When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds, and they sure can’t sing very well.”

Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”

The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shinny new coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and save the lost - paying for them with His own precious blood.

“That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!’”

This is Advent - and the message of these times is the song of those wild birds. It’s the song sung in every carol of this season: Redeemed!

It’s the word that the shepherds heard: Redeemed!

It’s the assurance Mary received: Redeemed!

It’s the message behind the star that the wise men followed: Redeemed!

We are all trapped by sin, but Christ has purchased our pardon. He who has this hope in his heart will sing, and you know the song: Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!

Happy New Year to all of us here at St. John’s and the followers of Jesus Christ everywhere, we are redeemed people.

May God give us the strength to stay awake, alert, and life like the redeemed people that we truly are.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 22, 2009

If I were to take a guess, I would suspect that most of us here have played the game 20 questions. In an effort to discover the identity of some person, place or thing, one asks a series of questions to help us on our quest. One of the strategies of the game is to move as quickly as possible to questions of a more specific nature because the broader questions at the beginning attempts to rule out as many wrong answers as they can. The closer one gets to the answer the more specific the questions tend to become.

This morning’s Gospel doesn’t deal with 20 questions, but it does deal with some of the most critical questions that have ever been posed in all of human history.

Our Gospel from St. John sits squarely within the context of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as Jesus has already been questioned by Annas and Caiaphas, and is now in the presence of the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. If we look at the few verses which precede what we just heard, we know that Pilate actually tried to have nothing to do with Jesus’ trial. He told the religious authorities that led Jesus to him to go and judge him according to their laws. He wasn’t interested in getting into what he perceived to be a religious squabble between different factions of Judaism. In Matthew’s Gospel we even have Pilate’s wife sending him word not to have anything to do with this righteous man because she had suffered much on his account in dreams just that night before. However, the religious authorities forced Pilate’s hand when they said to him that it was not lawful for them to put someone to death.

At this point in time Pilate was in a dilemma, he’s obviously dealing with someone who has done something serious enough to warrant the death penalty, and the last thing he wanted on his hand was a riot amongst the people. Talk about your untenable positions, Pilate was walking the tightrope between the Jewish people who despised the fact that they were under the occupation of Rome, and having to live under the rule of these pagans, and the Roman government who did not want to hear about their territories being problem areas and causing trouble. Pilate’s job was to keep the peace, and the last thing he wanted was this kind of a problem taking place around the Passover and Jerusalem packed with pilgrims from all over the country.

Pilate begins the interrogation with a series of questions, and unlike 20 questions, he starts off with a very specific question right off the bat. He asks Jesus directly if He is the King of the Jews. Interesting that Pilate goes right to that question from the very beginning as that might tell him who or what he’s dealing with here. An affirmative answer to Pilate’s question would lead him to want to know what this does for Herod’s authority. If he answers no, then Pilate would want to know why the religious folks are even attempting to put Jesus to death. In typical Jesus fashion He answers Pilate’s question with another question, “are you saying this on your own behalf or did others say that about me?” If we notice in Jesus’ answer, he never denies the accusation, and never shuns the title of King of the Jews. He simply turns the question on top of itself.

Pilate then replies in an almost sarcastic fashion following Jesus’ response when he says to him, “Am I a Jew?” Even in his answer it seems like Pilate is doing all he can to find get this case dismissed. He tells Jesus that it is his own people who have turned him over to him for judgment and Pilate wants to know what Jesus has done to warrant death. Jesus then gives a most interesting response when he says, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; buy my kingship if not from the world.” Twice in Jesus’ answer he uses the phrase, “my kingship is not of this world.” The word that is translated as kingship also means kingdom, so not only is Jesus saying that his authority comes from outside this world, his kingdom is from another realm as well.

Pilate then asks a follow-up question – one that I see as a bit more broad than the first one he asked. In our game of 20 questions, it appears that Pilate is moving in the wrong direction. He asks Jesus the more general question, “So, you are a king?” Based upon Jesus’ reply, Pilate merely wants to know more about this kingdom which comes from outside the cosmos in which he claims to have attendants and servants who will fight on his behalf. Who is this person who is standing before him? What is he up to, and what is he going to do?

Again, to this question Jesus answers in an almost sarcastic and short fashion when he simply replies, “You say that I am a king.” There is no direct affirmation, and yet there is no denial either. However, Jesus doesn’t stop there, but continues his answer in one of the most incredible statements ever uttered by our Lord. The Incarnation is defined in the following terms, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Jesus declares that his kingdom and kingship is beyond this world, beyond this cosmos. Yet, it is for this very world that Jesus was born and came here. He did it for us in order that we might be able to experience the kingdom that lies beyond this life.

I know I said it a couple of weeks ago, but I’m certainly going to say it again now. Why does our lesson for today stop with verse 37?

I ask that question because of the question that Pilate asks of Jesus following his last statement. Personally, I believe that Pontius Pilate asked the most pertinent, most honest, and most important question anyone has ever asked. Verse 38 continues with Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”

His questions of our Lord are the exact opposite of what one might expect in a game of 20 questions. He starts with the specific, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He continues with a more general question, “Are you a king then?” Finally, he ends with an incredibly broad question, “What is truth?”

It’s Pilate’s third question that is by far the most critical because it actually would have led him to the answer. His only problem was he didn’t wait around to hear Jesus’ answer. The Truth was standing right in front of his eyes, and yet, he didn’t know it or comprehend it. I often wonder what Jesus would have said if Pilate had not gone right out of the room after asking that question and tell the crowds that he found no crime in Jesus, and sought again to release him. Would he have listened to Jesus’ answer? Could he even comprehend what Jesus might have said?

How many times are we confronted with the truth, when it’s right in front of our eyes and don’t’ do anything about it? Sometimes our eyes are blinded and we can’t see. More often though, I think we turn a blind eye to the truth that confronts us. In our efforts to accommodate, and not offend, and be inclusive, the truth seemingly becomes optional.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts his hearers to “speak the truth in love.” He believed the loving thing to do is to speak the truth no matter what. The worst thing that we could ever do is temper or lessen the truth in order for the person to like what we have to say.

Pilate had the truth standing right in front of him, and he never knew it. He never knew that the King of kings, and Lord of lords was looking him squarely in the eyes with the eyes of love and compassion. The Truth does just that. He looks each of us in the eye with that same love and compassion and bids us to come and follow Him, to come and listen to His voice. The Good Shepherd is bidding us to listen to His voice, the voice of truth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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Sermon for Trinity XXIII – Proper 28
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
November 15, 2009

Several years ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of a teaching that The Rev. Dr. N. T. Wright gave at a church in Minneapolis, MN, after she discovered that I was a fan of Dr. Wright. As you might imagine if you’ve ever read any of Tom’s writings that the topic of his lecture was on the historical Jesus. He has been one of the most fervent supporters of the traditional teachings when addressing the question ‘Who was Jesus?’ or ‘Who is Jesus?’ as opposed to what I believe to be the heretical positions put forward by the Jesus Seminar and the likes of Marcus Borg and others. We’ll save a discussion of the Jesus Seminar for another day, but in the lecture that Dr. Wright presented, I came away with a description and interpretation of this morning’s Gospel that I think might help us all.

Passages like the one we just heard from St. Mark, sometimes called the little apocalypse, most likely gives us pause, and I’m sure we’ve been tempted to ask the question, “How do I understand what I’ve just read?” What is Jesus talking about when he speaks about a tribulation, and the sun being darkened, and the moon not giving off her light, and stars falling from heaven, and the powers of heaven being shaken, and the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory?

This is one of those passages of Scripture where we are actually required to use our brains, and think, and listen to the Spirit, and trust Him to discern what we are to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. This is one of those places where we really must understand the concept of multiple genres of biblical literature. As we know, the Bible is a collection of 66 books written as history, poetry, wisdom literature, parables, apocalyptic, visions, letters – I’m sure others could be mentioned as well. So in our passage from Mark 13, what are we working with? For some strains of Christianity, this passage is to be read as a literal sequence of events that either took place in the past, or will take place in the future. They see these events in an almost George Lucas or Steven Spielberg type fashion, and try to envision what that might look like.

Let me make a side note here. Please don’t hear me saying that I don’t believe that God isn’t fully capable of ordering all of these things to occur in the exact order that Jesus declares according to His Divine Providence. He absolutely can and could do so at any time that He desired. End of side note.

However, I find the explanation that N. T. Wright gives about this passage to be most helpful in gleaning what our Lord wishes us to hear.

“We need to learn how to read apocalyptic. One of my colleagues at Oxford used to put it this way in his lectures. If we read a Jewish text which says that the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will be turned into blood, and the stars will be falling from heaven, we know as a matter of genre that the next line will not read the rest of the country will have scattered showers and sunny intervals. This is not a cosmic weather forecast.”

Dr. Wright went on to tell the story about a cover picture on either a Time Magazine or The Economist that came out after the mid-term elections during the Clinton presidency, and the picture showed a piece of earth that had opened up with a great fissure with Bill Clinton stuck down in the chasm by his elbows and the title read, “Large earthquake in America, one president hurt.”

We use imagery like earthquakes, and we speak of earth shattering events to describe things of a cataclysmic nature – in an oxymoronic sense to prove our point. This cover uses imagery to refer to political events in order to explain their significance. If someone came across that magazine cover in 1,000 years, we would certainly hope that they didn’t really believe that there was a literal earthquake in Washington D.C. sometime toward the end of the 20th Century in which President Clinton was literally injured.

“In this passage that we heard this morning, our Lord is speaking about a time of great tribulation at the heart of which Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed and He as the prophet who has warned about these events will be vindicated. And the language of vindication is taken straight out of Daniel chapter 7 which is the Old Testament lesson that we will hear next Sunday.

When we look to the events of Good Friday through Easter, most of those very things which Jesus spoke of in our Gospel this morning did in fact come true.

All three Synoptic Gospels state that from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, while our Lord hung upon the cross, darkness covered the entire land. St. Luke goes so far as to say that the sun’s light failed. All three Synoptics record that the Veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The word for torn there has a connotation of being forcefully rent in two. This veil was the large curtain which was the barrier in the temple into the Holy of Holies. The only person allowed into this region was the High Priest, and only once per year on the Day of Atonement when he would make the sacrifices for the nation. Think about the significance of this barrier being ripped open.

Matthew records that after Jesus’ death, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city appearing to many.”

Matthew and Mark both record that the centurion who stood beside the cross declared that Jesus was the Son of God after witnessing what took place on that Friday afternoon almost 2,000 years ago.

Look at the way that Jesus describes the earth shattering events, both figuratively and literally, which would in fact happen to him. No, Jesus does come floating down to earth on a fluffy white cloud, but he bursts open the gates of hell, conquers the powers of sin and Satan, and establishes a way for everyone to enter into the saving embrace of His Heavenly Father. He established a means for us continue to receive the grace He intends for us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

We heard in our Collect this morning that our Lord has caused ALL Holy
Scripture to be written for our learning. Our church has certainly gotten itself into all kinds of trouble by missing that one word ALL. All of Scripture is given to us for our instruction, teaching and learning. It is given for us to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest so that we might both embrace and hold fast that blessed hope of everlasting life. It is given to us so that we might have ears to hear and eyes to see all that God has in store for us both in this life, and in the life that is to come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sermon for Trinity XXII – Proper 27
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 8, 2009

There are a number of times that I often wonder how the framers of our lectionary decide what portions to keep, and what portions to exclude from our Sunday readings. For instance, this morning we skip the three verses which precede the lesson we just heard regarding Jesus and David, and how can Jesus be considered David’s son, when David called him his Lord? Perhaps since we do hear the parallel passage in Matthew in Lectionary Year A that it is skipped when it comes up in Years B and C when we read Mark and Luke’s Gospels.

This morning, I’m not so much concerned with the passage that is skipped in the Gospel as I am the first seven verses of the seventeenth chapter of I Kings. We don’t hear read very many of the events surrounding the prophet Elijah, but as a stage setter, I think these first few verses shed some additional light on the incredible faithfulness of one of the great prophets of Israel.

I Kings 17 begins with the following words:

1And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. 2And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 3Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 4And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 6And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. 7And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. (I Kings 17:1-7)
Look what we lose if we do not hear these words – we hear of Elijah’s heeding of God’s word and doing something that seems quite illogical. After Elijah prophesies to Ahab that there will be no dew nor rain until God opens up the heavens again, he is told to flee the area and hide. That’s not so hard to imagine because most of the prophets whenever they gave the people warnings that they didn’t want to hear would have to flee for their lives.

I’ve heard it said before, and I’ll share it with you as well, it’s never a good thing when a prophet shows up. The words of the prophets were never filled with accolades or encouragement. They were almost always filled with gloom and doom that is to come. When living on St. Simons, I was told of the time when Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel was doing a live broadcast from the pier. For those of you who watch the Weather Channel during hurricane season, you know full well that wherever Jim Cantore is, you don’t want to be there! He’s never reporting how calm the surf is, or how beautiful the sunset looks.

Getting back to Elijah, the strange thing that he hears is the fact that God tells him that he will receive water from the brook Cherith, and that the ravens will bring him food. I don’t know about you, but I almost wonder what was going through Elijah’s mind when he heard that he would depend on the birds for his daily nourishment. Of course, we never know if there was any hesitation or questioning on his part, we simply hear that “he went and did according to the Word of the LORD.” What a measure of faith that God’s mouthpiece would exhibit.
Yet, in light of Israel’s history, this isn’t so far-fetched. If we remember back to the time of the Exodus, God fed His people with “the bread of angels” which would appear on the ground each morning. When the Hebrews complained against Moses and Aaron, He was still faithful, and spoke to them saying:
12I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God. 13And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. 14And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. 15And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat. (Exodus 16:12-15)
Elijah of course knew his people’s history, and knew of the Exodus. He had no reason to doubt that the Lord would be faithful to him as He had to his ancestors before him.

I think it is important to have heard that introduction and background to help provide additional insight into our first lesson.

Both our Old Testament lesson and Gospel deal with the most vulnerable of people in the Ancient Near East. Widows had no income, no status, and were truly exploited if they had no male heir to advocate for them. In our lesson this morning, the widow that Elijah meets is preparing the last meal for her and her son. All her possessions have given out, and she is ready to confront the horrors that lie ahead.

What makes this story so remarkable is where it takes place. Elijah had been commanded to leave Israel and head to pagan lands. He meets this woman Baal’s backyard, where polytheism was rampant, and the God of Israel would not have been revered. Yet when Elijah gives the woman a command, she has some insight into who is speaking to her. When she is asked for some bread she tells Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” There is some semblance of acknowledgement that she is in the presence of someone special. That is further exhibited by her unwavering trust in his words that her supply of flour would never run out, and her jug oil would never go empty. For we hear that the woman, “went and did as Elijah said.” As we heard at the beginning of this chapter, “[Elijah] went and did according to the word of the LORD.”

In this first half of I Kings 17, we see both sides of the virtues of giving and receiving. The chapter opens with Elijah receiving from the Lord everything he needed as he was in hiding on the east side of the Jordan River. When he traveled to Zarephath he was then able to give a gift from the Lord to a widow who was in desperate need. The gift that she received was one that she in turn would share with her son. For our text says that, “she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD the he spoke by Elijah.”

As we turn to our Gospel, we hear of another widow and her most remarkable generosity.

Jesus sets the stage by his comments regarding the religious authorities who like to stand around in their long robes, and pray erudite prayers, and claim the best seats, and like to hear people call their names and use their titles. He says that these people not only exploit the widows, they actually, “devour their homes.” Quite a condemning statement from our Lord.

So Jesus and his disciples are sitting watching the goings on at the temple, and are seated opposite one of the gazofulakion. In this context this word is used to describe the receptacle mentioned by the rabbis to which were fitted thirteen chests or boxes, i.e. trumpets, so called from their shape, and into which were put the contributions made voluntarily or paid yearly by the Jews for the service of the temple and the support of the poor.

The widow is supporting the very group that should be supporting her. The religious authorities should be taking note that the very person who needs their help is doing all that she able to do her part, even if it seems quite insignificant. We don’t really have a good idea of how small her offering is unless we look at what these two copper coins were really worth. If we look at the Greek and the term that is used, the woman put into the treasury two lepta, which was the smallest and least valuable coins in circulation in Palestine, worth one-half of a quadrans or 1/128 of a denarius, or about six minutes of an average daily wage. In essence, this really was an insignificant amount of money.

Yet, Jesus said that her contribution was the largest of all placed into the treasury by everyone else. “With God, giving is weighted evaluatively, not counted. The widow was praised because she gave sincerely and at some cost to herself.” Our Lord says that she put in what she had to live on, everything she had. The widow that Elijah met gave to God through His prophet everything she had as well, and she was blessed for that gift. We never hear what happens to this widow in Mark’s Gospel, but we live with the assurance that what we give to for our Lord’s service will return to us according to our Lord’s good purpose.

We too are called to give back to God with that same sense of gratitude and trust. As our alms and oblations are presented at the altar we pray each week, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” All that is ours is truly God’s. He entrusts us with a tremendous responsibility, and our duty is to return thanks in a like manner.

Elijah met a poor widow who was planning to die, and she gave all that she had back to God and His servant. Jesus and his disciples witnessed another widow giving back to God all that she had in the service of His temple. May we also return to the Lord the honor, glory, praise, and worship that is due his most Holy Name.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sermon for All Saints’ Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 1, 2009

One of the wonderful attributes of the Christian faith is the fact that our focus is always on what lies ahead. We are a people who live with the sure and certain hope that there is more to life than just what we live here on earth. We have been promised an inheritance, and a future that is more glorious, more incredible than we could ever imagine or comprehend. We live today knowing that everything good in this life will be eclipsed by something more remarkable in the life to come, and all of our challenges, hurts, disappointments, and trials are for our building up and growth.

This morning we celebrate one of the high feasts of our Church Year. We commemorate and celebrate the saints who have gone before us, and as our opening hymn states are now at rest from their labors here on earth. We celebrate this day each year in order that we never forget to make sure we look backward at those who have preceded us along this faith journey. This date has been on our Kalendar for 1,300 years when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter on November 1, in the first part of the eighth century. Gregory IV extended a church-wide commemoration of All Saints the following century.

The Gospel lesson appointed for All Saints’ Day is always the traditional hearing of the Sermon on the Mount. When we look at this particular piece of our Lord’s teaching, we certainly see the connection between those attributes that Jesus mentions and the lives of those godly men and women who now dwell upon the eternal shore.

There are two portions of the sermon that I wish to expand upon this morning.
The first point has to do with the setting of the stage for these three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel. It says in our text that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain. One of the attributes of Matthew’s Gospel is its intentional linking back to the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the terms that Matthew uses almost exclusively is Son of Man in reference to Jesus, and those hearing it would immediately draw a link back to the Book of Daniel and other Old Testament references.

The physical location of this teaching within Matthew’s Gospel has the potential of conjuring up some of those same historical links. One of the terms many use in reference to Jesus is the new Moses, and of course the Law, the 10 Commandments were given to Moses by God upon Mount Sinai. Moses ascended a mountain as God commanded, and received the tablets of stone. Jesus now ascends a mountain, not to receive a new teaching, but to give one. The Law came down from a mountain by a human messenger, and this remarkable teaching from Jesus himself is going to come down from a mountain as well.

Blessed Saint Augustine speaks of the mountain in these terms, “If it is asked what the ‘mountain’ means, it may well be understood as meaning the greater precepts of righteousness; for there were lesser ones which were given to the Jews. Yet it is one God who, through His holy prophets and servants, according to a thoroughly arranged distribution of times, gave the lesser precepts to a people who as yet required to be bound by fear, and who, through His Son, gave the greater ones to a people whom it had now become suitable to set free by love. …With respect, therefore to that righteousness which is the greater, it is said through the prophet, ‘Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God:’ and this may well mean that the one Master alone fit to teach matters of so great importance teaches on a mountain. ”

The second attribute of the setting has to do with Jesus’ posture. We hear that Jesus sat down, and his disciples came to him. Seated would have been the natural position to teach and instruct, and this is noted in number of places regarding Jesus’ posture while instructing his disciples or the crowds. One of the features of an ordination, or confirmation, or any other service where the bishop is the celebrant is the addition of a bishop’s chair or cathedra, and many parts of the service take place with the bishop seated, rather than standing. This is a symbol of authority, and certainly Jesus’ posture portrays that authority. Again, St. Augustine expresses it this way, “Then He teaches sitting, as behooves the dignity of the instructor’s office; and His disciples come to Him, in order that they might be nearer in body for hearing his words, as they also approached in spirit to fulfill His precepts.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, we as Christians live our lives in the present always mindful of what lies ahead. In the Sermon on the Mount there are eight statements that make-up the first portion that we commonly recognize as the beatitudes. The term beatitude comes from the Latin term beatus which means ‘blessed’ or ‘happy.’ If you don’t look at these eight statements closely, you might pass over the verb tenses. If you look with me at the text from your bulletin insert, pay attention to the verb tenses, and this leads me to my other point. The first and the last beatitude end not in a future expectation, but rather convey a present reality. Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs will be the kingdom of heaven.” He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.” Those who are poor in spirit, don’t wait for something to happen in the future, but are free to experience the riches and rewards of the kingdom here and now.

Augustine helps to define the poor in spirit when he writes, “And ‘the poor in spirit’ are rightly understood here, as meaning the humble and God-fearing, i.e. those who hath not the spirit which puffeth up. Nor ought blessedness to begin at any other point whatever, if indeed it is to attain unto the highest wisdom; ‘but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom;’ for, on the other hand also, ‘pride’ is entitled ‘the beginning of all sin.’ Let the proud, therefore, seek after and love the kingdoms of the earth; but ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”

The eighth beatitude is a bit harder for us to hear. Our Lord says that kingdom of heaven is for those who will be persecuted for righteousness sake. Where do we ever come up with the idea that becoming a Christian means the end of persecution, the end of tragedy, the end of suffering, the end of any of the ills which confront each of us all the time? It certainly doesn’t come from Scripture. I can’t stand the “prosperity gospel” preachers out there who say if we just pray hard enough, just believe more, just think more happy thoughts, then all our troubles will disappear. Their Bibles must not contain the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount leaves us with the reality that life is going to present us with all of the challenges we can ever imagine. It confronts our comfort zone and says that we are going to we are in fact going to go through the “valley of the shadow of death.” But like the Psalmist says, “we will have no fear.” The beatitudes leave us with the hope that the kingdom of God is not just some future place, but is here now. Bishop N.T. Wright said that the, “Kingdom of God is not a place where God reigns, but it is the fact that God reigns.” I hope you see the huge difference.

So the first and last beatitude bring us full circle to the kingdom of heaven. Those who are poor in spirit are the people who recognize their utter dependence upon God – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those very same people accept the fact that that very poverty of spirit is going to lead to persecution for righteousness sake. However, in the back of their minds are the words of St. Paul when he tells the Roman church and us as well, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

May we continue to walk in the blessed fellowship of the saints who have gone before us. May we see in their lives their love for our Lord and Saviour. May we be the ones who are blessed both in this life, and in the life to come. May the light which shineth in each and every one of us all point others toward our heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord who is the source of that one, true light, which is the light of the whole world.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sermon for Feast of St. Luke
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 18, 2009

There are many instances when I believe that we Americans got it right when we revised our Prayer Books and parted ways with the Mother Church of England. Certainly there were some fairly easy changes that absolutely had to be made such as prayers for George our King. After 1776 that really didn’t seem to fit too well any more.

When the colonies achieved independence from England, the American church had a slight problem in that she had no bishops to be able to ordain new clergymen. To further complicate matters, one of the requirements for ordination in the Church of England was the swearing of an oath of allegiance to the crown, and for newly elected bishop Samuel Seabury of New York, this was unacceptable. After a series of delays, Seabury was not discouraged, but rather, appealed to his ingenuity and headed north to Scotland where three nonjuring bishops consecrated him to the episcopate. In exchange for his consecration, Seabury promised them that he would utilize the Eucharist service from 1637 Book of Common Prayer from Scotland, rather than the 1662 book from England when the American church was crafting its first Book of Common Prayer in 1789. The Eucharistic canon from Scotland is much more Catholic in its theology, and that carries over into our American books as well. Even though the order is a bit different, the Eucharistic canon that we use every Sunday morning here at St. John’s is much closer in theology to the Church of Scotland than to the Church of England. Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon a Christian Education topic for later this fall!

In light of this morning’s collect, commemorating the Feast of the Evangelist St. Luke, I must tip my hat to the English version of the collect appointed for today as opposed to the one that appears in our American Prayer Books. Their version prays as follows:

ALMIGHTY God, who calledst Luke the physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the soul; May it please thee, that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed, through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Two clauses within this collect stand out to me as a wonderful diagnosis of the human condition. The best thing about its diagnosis is the fact that it leaves us with a solution to our problem.

One of my heroes in Anglicanism is The Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl. Dr. Zahl was the Dean at the Cathedral of the Advent in Birmingham, AL, and Robyn and I had the opportunity to be parishioners of his when we were newly married and living in Birmingham. After leaving Birmingham he was Dean of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and most recently retired as Rector of All Saints’ in Chevy Chase, MD. One of the books that Paul co-authored with Fred Barbee was a series of reflections on the Collects of Thomas Cranmer in honor of the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Book of Common Prayer. These reflections are a must own for Anglicans, and I will gladly share that title with any of you if you would like.

One of the things that Dr. Zahl would stress in his preaching and teaching was the fact that Jesus’ entire ministry was a teaching of law and then grace. He would always stop right there. One of the great temptations within some streams of Christianity is to get the original order correct, but then feel compelled to heap on more law. There’s only one problem with that. Jesus never heaped on more law, why should we?

What do I mean here?

As St. Paul expands upon most clearly in his epistle to the Romans, he fully understood that the more the law was preached, the more defeated he felt; he realized how far short he came to measuring up to God’s standards; actually, he says that the more the law came in the more he felt tempted to break it. Isn’t that the case with you and me?

As a child growing up, whenever my parents told me not to do something, the temptation to do just that entered my mind. It would have never dreamed of watching that particular television program, or reading that particular book, or whatever else they didn’t want to do. But just as soon as they said no, my mind said, why not? Why can’t I do that? What kind of fun will I be missing out on by not doing it?

The law comes in and increases that trespass that is within. The only way to overcome that trespass is through grace. Grace is the only thing that can change hearts, and minds, and wills. The law will never do it, and that is why the correct order and the only order that works is to preach the law, and then preach a Gospel of Grace, and leave it there.

From a practical sense, telling our children not to drink, or smoke, or have sex outside of marriage, or experiment with drugs, or any other vice doesn’t work if all we do is condemn them with a simple NO. We have to leave them with grace, and then let the Holy Spirit do his work in their lives.

Our collect this morning emphasizes just this, and does so in a most beautiful way.

It clearly portrays the human condition as one that is sick and in need of healing. The prayer acknowledges that our souls are diseased. Our souls actually are infected with a terminal illness for which there is no human cure. The prognosis is fatal.

However, the collect says that St. Luke proclaimed the “wholesome medicine of doctrine.” The doctrines that we believe and proclaim embody the very medicine that will help cure what ails us.

I can’t remember the number of times in our current church climate that I’ve heard someone say that we don’t have to worry so much about doctrine - we just need to leave that up to the theologians. There’s a major problem with that line of thinking. If you look at what the word theologian means, it includes each and every one of us. It’s not just those who teach at seminary or write massive volumes of work. The word theologian is the combination of two words which literally mean - the words of God. All of us who speak about God, or read about God, or speak to God are theologians. That means that doctrine had better be something we think about, read about, and pray about.

St. Luke has presented one particular Gospel record of the comfortable doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ. These doctrines have been upheld by the Church for two millennia and shape who we are as Christ’s disciples. We submit our hearts, our souls, our minds to these teachings in order that we might know our Lord more each day.

One of the things about Anglicanism is the fact that we don’t have a confessional statement like the Lutheran Church which clearly states our official church doctrines. We don’t have a Magisterium like the Roman Catholic Church. What we have are our Anglican Formularies in the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles, and the Ordinal. If someone says they want to see our doctrinal formulas, we show them our Prayer Book. When someone asked Paul Zahl that question, he would tell them to read the collects in our prayer book. Why would he ask them to do that? He did so because Archbishop Cranmer understood the Gospel in a wonderful way, and his gift to the church catholic is in the compilation of the collects that we still pray each and every day.

He completely understood that the Good News of Christ was the presentation of the law in all of its attributes, and then a presentation of the Grace of God. This coming week, I would suggest you take some time to read and pray the collects in our prayer book. As you are reading and praying them, notice their structure, and see if you don’t agree with me. The prayers and petitions we make to God acknowledge who we are as sinners, and then appeal to His grace and mercy. Then and only then can we have a heart open to hear what He commands, and then strive to live that out every day of our lives.