Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Trinity
St. John's Church - Moultrie, GA
August 21, 2011

There is a term that has been used to speak of Anglicanism for years that has in some way become corrupted, but has a use for us this morning in hearing the words from St. Paul to the church in Corinth. I believe I've mentioned this before, but it certainly helps ground our lesson if we know a little something about the church to whom Paul is addressing his concerns. If you really wanted to insult someone, and basically say that they were a sorry lot, un-redeemable, hedonistic, and in general residents of the the pleasure capitol of the world, you called them a Corinthian. Certainly there were plenty of other places in the Ancient Near East with their own vices, but the Corinthian community had a reputation for rampant paganism, debauchery, and sexual immorality surrounding the pagan cult practices of the area. It was a rough place to live a morally upright life because the pervading culture around you was such a hotbed of its antithesis. Unfortunately, we appear to be moving the compass in that direction ourselves as a society.

Going back to my original comment as I opened this sermon, the term I wish to speak on is the phrase via media. What was originally used to describe Anglicanism as somewhat of a middle way between the gross abuses of Roman Catholicism from the Middle Ages and a rejection of the overtly Protestant rejections of everything Catholic, the Church of England sought to find a middle way which was a reformed Catholic form of the Christian faith that was not a wholesale housecleaning that the Protestant and Puritan reformers were advocating. Today, the term has somewhat come to mean that under the umbrella of Anglicanism you will find high church Anglo-Catholics, broad churchmen, low church Evangelicals, including influences of the charismatic movements. Even though we have differing views regarding churchmanship and style of worship, we still proclaim our unwavering belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our wholehearted devotion and worship of Him as our Saviour, and the mission and ministry of the church which he founded.

So, what does that term have to do with us and our lesson from I Corinthians? I'm glad you asked.

One of the things that Paul exhorted his hearers to pay attention to was the dangerous temptation that exists in trying to keep things in balance and keep things in their proper perspective. There is always the temptation to swing from one extreme or the other and swing from strict legalism on the one side to extreme laxity on the other. The danger of becoming just like the Pharisees one the one hand, and making statements like the French enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said on his deathbed, "God will forgive me, it's His business." Or as the Anglican poet W.H. Auden once wrote in his poem The Christmas Oratorio, "Every corner-boy will congratulate himself: 'I'm such a sinner that God has come down in person to save me.' Every crook will argue: 'I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really, the world is admirably arranged!" On the one extreme there is a moralism that says I can do it if I simply try a little harder, the other says that no matter what I do I'll never succeed so why bother trying. Our Christian life is lived in the via media, the middle way of these two extremes.

One Anglican priest I've begun following speaks of this middle road as follows:

There are a lot of struggles in the Christian life, but as I've walked with Jesus myself and as I've talked with fellow brothers and sisters over the years, one that keeps cropping up over and over is the balance between the extremes of legalisms and license. I think it's fair to say that at different times we've all fallen into the ditches on both sides of the road. Fr those of us who identify as "conservatives," we're probably more likely to be so often thinking of sin and recalling to mind all the Bible's do's and don'ts that we fall into the trap that we can earn God's favor by "keeping the rules." The biggest danger in that is if we don't manage to get back on the road-if we keep walking in the ditch of legalism-we inevitably become self-righteous as we compare ourselves to others and to our own lists. The cross falls out of our vision and the witness and ministry of the Church withers and dies. But we can run off the other side of the road too. Like the Corinthians we can remember that because Christ died for us, we are free from the condemnation of the law and in that knowledge we can start asserting our rights and our freedoms to the point that we forget what it means to walk in love and to live as new creations. Instead we simply insist our freedom and we end up just like the world around us-and again destroy our witness and ministry. But regardless of which ditch we find ourselves in, we strayed off the road and ended up there because we took our eyes off the cross.

When we start trying to earn God's favor it's because we've lost sight of the fact that Jesus, on the cross, has already earned God's favor for us. And when we fall into license because we know we don't have to earn it, we're forgetting the high cost of our freedom-we're forgetting that to pay the penalty for our sins, God himself had to come to earth and die in our place. When we fall into license we forget the price God paid for our freedom, when in fact, that high price should motivate us to serve him, to do what we know to be pleasing to him-ultimately to be supremely loyal to our redeemer-all out of gratitude. Legalism and license: they're both the result of losing sight of the cross.

We are called to live in that via media, that middle of the road between legalism and license. Both extremes are dead end roads that ultimately lead to naught.

Fr. Bill Klock concludes his commentary on this passage from I Corinthians when he says:

We can never earn our salvation or earn God's favour, and yet our love for him and our knowledge of how merciful and gracious he has been to us ought to motivate us to a radical obedience-not because it'll get us brownie points, but because we seek to be loyal and because we're grateful for what he has done. We come each week and are reminded at his Table that we are members of the body of Christ. How then can we leave his Table and go back to a life in which God is not our first and highest priority? We aren't making a sacrifice before a false god, but we still engage in idolatry. Sin, no matter what the specific form, is always at heart a rejection of God's plan for us and a substituting of our own. It's treason against our Creator and Redeemer. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: you can't serve God and mammon-or for that matter demons, whatever form they might take in our modern world. Knowing the grace and mercy and love of God, how can we be against our Lord. His invitation to us to gather and eat around his Table and it partake of the benefits of grace and freedom never give us license for religious and moral licentiousness. No, instead, what it really does is bind us together-all of us-in a common fellowship in, with, through, and around Jesus Christ and his new covenant, in such a way that our behaviour - what we do and how we live-is radicalized toward what Paul calls "the law of Christ"-toward a radical obedience driven boy a profound love for God - a love that itself is rooted in gratitude for just how much he has done for us.

Our church is oriented in a particular fashion to direct all of our attention to one place - the altar and the cross. The cross is the place where the once for all sacrifice took place to atone for the sins of the whole world. Those repeatable sacrifices upon the altar of the Temple are replaced by a never to be repeated sacrifice of the Son of God. Everything that we do, the fundamental component of our worship finds its focal point upon the work of Christ upon the cross. License must be abandoned because of the price that was paid on our behalf. Legalism must be abandoned because all that we do must be borne out of love, not out of some favor we think that we have earned.

The via media is a difficult road to walk because it means that we too must bear our own cross along the via dolorosa or the way of suffering as our Lord did on His way to Calvary. The principal difference comes in knowing that we have the assurance that Jesus has walked that same road before us, and willingly will do so with us as we seek to follow and serve him all the days of our lives; and at the end, the way of suffering ultimately leads us to the way of life everlasting, the destination of those who love God and submit our wills wholly and completely into his never-failing care and protection.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 14, 2011

One of the hardest things about reading Holy Scripture is the reality that our experiences, culture, upbringing all affect the way that we read and then interpret what the text is saying. Eisegesis is the process where we read something into a particular text based upon many of those factors I just mentioned. Basically, we’re reading into it what we want to hear, or worse, we have already decided what it really says before we begin. One the attributes about Holy Scripture is that it is the Living Word of God, and if it is living, one of our goals should be to have the Scripture interpret us and dissect us as hearers more often than the other way around.

This same thought crossed my mind when I read the collect appointed for today when our prayer opens with the line, “O God, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth.” What exactly is the word ordereth getting at?

It’s certainly very easy to fall prey to the temptation to think when things go very, very wrong in our lives to say to ourselves, “Ah Ha, if God so ordered everything here on Earth, then He’s to blame for this mess I’ve gotten myself into.” Or, perhaps from another angle, “Why did God allow this particular event to happen to me in my life?”

However, I think we need to take another look both at what the word ordereth means in this context, as well as, the collect as a whole.

First, in order to end up at the right place, we really need to start at the right place. The phrase itself is an acknowledgement about who God actually is. It is an appeal to the reality that all Order comes from one particular source, and that source is God. If we take time and carefully study Genesis 1 and 2, one of the overarching themes that comes across is the particular order by which God creates out of nothing.

One particular Study Bible I consulted has this subheading for Gen 1:1 – 2:3, “God’s creation and ordering of heaven and earth.” Sounds remarkably like our collect this morning.

The editors went on to say, “The book of Genesis opens with a majestic description of how God first created the heavens and earth and then how he ordered the earth so that it may become his dwelling place. Structured into seven sections, each marked by the use of set phrases, the entire episode conveys the picture of the all-powerful, transcendent God who sets everything in place with consummate skill in conformity to his grand design. The emphasis is mainly on how God orders or structures everything.”

Cambridge physicist and Anglican clergyman John Pulkinghorne said that one of the most important points to extract from Gen 1 can be summed up in the eight-fold repetition of the six words, “And God said, ‘let there be…’”

Before God spoke, that which we know about our world, our universe was chaos and disorder. After God spoke, order displaced disorder, and we continue to live in the Light of God’s handiwork.

Misinterpretation occurs when we neglect the whole of the story. In the beginning God ordered all things rightly, and then gave man one simple command – do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet, the three-fold temptation took hold, and Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise. She ate of the fruit as did Adam, and the course of human events was altered in an instant. The one thing that Adam and Eve never knew was that in their attempt to become wise and like God they were attempting to exchange their view of order for God’s. They simply saw the forbidden fruit as pleasing for food, beautiful to behold, and possessing something they thought they had to have. It did not work then, and it certainly doesn’t work now. Doesn’t that sound familiar in our own lives? We see something we simply can’t live without; something forbidden comes in an awfully enticing package; all I need is just this one item more.

It happens all too often, we exchange God’s order for our own, and usually it comes with undesirable results.

God calls each of us to live our life striving to conform to His Will – His Order.

From the very beginning, he gave us the example for the right ordering of the family. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” These same words from Genesis are quoted by Jesus as recorded in both Matthew and Mark, as well as, by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. The right ordering of husband and wife is a direct commandment from God. Jesus also adds a clinching caveat, “Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” When man and wife come together in the bond and covenant of Holy Matrimony, God binds the two into one, and they are no longer the same as they were before. The two have become one flesh. This is why the Church treats Holy Matrimony as a Sacrament, and thus so much more than just a service of the church. That is why the debate that continues to plague The Episcopal Church, and now the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Methodist Church and others regarding human sexuality, and the debates going on across this country regarding gay marriage or civil unions is that we are exchanging human notions for what we think order is, and these notions stand in direct contradiction to Holy Scripture and God’s intention for order regarding the family and the right ordering of society as a whole. Our calling something right that God says is sinful and wrong doesn’t make it so – it makes it an even more egregious sin against the very One who ordered all things rightly from the beginning of creation.

One of the critical components of the right ordering of the family is that God is and absolutely must be the central focal point of that relationship. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks conveyed this in an article he wrote dated 7/25/09 entitled “We must guard love in this world of easy pleasures.” He opens with these words:

One day I was called on to officiate at two funerals. The families involved were old friends of ours, but they lived in different parts of London and did not know one another. In both cases, the wife had died after a long and happy marriage. One couple had just celebrated, and the other was just about to celebrate, their diamond wedding [anniversary].
What was striking was that both husbands said the same thing to me, in virtually identical words: “I loved her as much as the day we first fell in love.” To hear that once, after 60 years of marriage, would have been rare. To hear it twice on the same day seemed like more than mere coincidence.
Both couples were religious. Prayer and going to the synagogue, celebrating Sabbath and the festivals, and giving time and money to others, were integral to their lives. They knew that in Judaism the home is as sacred as a house of worship. Did these things, I wondered, have something to do with the strength and persistence of their love?
We tend to think that emotions, especially one as capricious as love, are simply what we feel. We don’t choose our likes and dislikes, our fears and joys. They catch us unawares. They can hold us helpless in their grip. The words “passion” and “passive” are related. So we conclude that we can’t help feeling what we feel.
Recent developments in psychotherapy suggest otherwise. Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the premise that what we feel is influenced by what we think, and we can change the way we think. Positive psychology has had success in turning pessimists into optimists by reframing people’s perceptions. Martin Seligman, the pioneer in this field, calls pessimism “learnt helplessness”, and what can be learnt can be unlearnt.
So it is with love. Someone who believes that marriage is “just a piece of paper”, that sex comes without commitments, and that pleasure is the measure of all things, will have one range of emotions. One who believes that marriage is a sacred covenant, that love is inseparable from loyalty, and that what we love we make sacrifices for, will have another. Because they think different thoughts, they will feel different things.
…He concludes with these words that I believe connect what I’ve been alluding to this morning.
To see love as the force that moves the Universe, to love God and know that God loves us, to celebrate love in ritual and song and know that it means constancy and faithfulness, to understand that love gives and forgives, and to see in the birth of a child the love that brings new life into the world: these give love a better chance. And in a world of easy pleasures, short attention spans and fragile relationships, love needs a better chance.
That is what faith does. Sanctifying love, it protects it from the thousand temptations to which it is daily exposed. That day when I heard two old friends in the midst of grief speak of a love undiminished over time, I thought of Dylan Thomas’s famous words, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion”, and knew that loving God helps us to love one another.
Why do we hear each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist either the Decalogue or the Summary of the Law? The only way that we can begin to comprehend the grace of God in Christ’s Body and Blood is through constant re-ordering of our lives and wills toward God. Lives lived centered on the Great Commandment will then begin to embody what the rest of our collect speaks about, and prays for.

If we go back to our collect for this morning, the only way we as individuals can ever discern what is harmful for us and what we need to put way is if we acknowledge our necessity to call upon the One who ordereth all things in heaven and on earth. Then and only then, will we begin to receive those things which are profitable for us.

God’s desire is to bless us more than we can ever imagine. Those blessings came with a price, and they still do. It means as St. Paul told the Ephesians that they and we must constantly put off our old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self (Eph. 4:22-23). It means that we must take up our cross daily and follow Christ. It means exchanging our interpretation of order and exchanging it for God’s. If we are humble enough to do so, then our Lord allows us to receive those good things which are profitable for us, and will ultimately last for all eternity.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 7, 2011

There must be a very good reason why three times a year we hear the story from the Gospels regarding Jesus' miraculous feedings. We hear John's account of the feeding of the five thousand twice, on the last Sunday of the church year and then again in the middle of Lent. Today we encounter Mark's telling of the feeding of the four thousand. I can't say that I have a definitive answer as to why this one theme is repeated three times, but it is clear to me that our forefathers wanted us to hear multiple times during the year that we are forever in need of heavenly food and partakers of a meal that has divine origins.

How are we to hear these feeding stories when we hear them three times a year? What thoughts are they meant to invoke when we hear them year-after-year?

I believe that the first point to remember when we contemplate these events is the order in which things happen. The people who were out in the wilderness didn't go out there expecting a miraculous feeding. They went out into the wilderness first to follow this incredible new teacher wherever he led them because they wanted to hear what he had to say. He was saying something to them that they needed to hear, wanted to hear, and had longed to hear. They followed first. That's our calling and mandate as well.

Our call to being an apostle of Jesus comes with the express command to first be a follower. Jesus' first actions upon his return from His temptation in the wilderness was the calling of the first apostles and his first words to them were follow me. We don't hear of them asking first what was in it for them. There were those would be disciples who asked if they could bury their dead first before following or those who needed to say their goodbyes before setting off to be a follower, but if you remember Jesus told those folks to let the dead bury their own dead, and if you need to cover all of your bases first you are perhaps not quite ready for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Those who were listening to Jesus' words that day were seemingly unconcerned with their physical needs. They were following with an almost reckless abandon to the notion that they were eventually going to need to eat and where was that food going to come from. Are we able to approach discipleship in those same terms? Are we willing to follow regardless of the cost and follow wherever we are led? Are we prepared to give of ourselves in terms of our time, our talents, and our treasure to the point that it beings to be uncomfortable? Those 4,000 some odd followers did just that and we are called upon to do the same.

What is it going to cost us to do so?

Well according to the story, if we are sent away with no nourishment for the journey ahead we will be famished and will become faint along the way. Following Jesus is not an easy thing. It requires a death to our way of doing things and an acceptance of God's way of doing things. The word for repentance means just that, a giving up of going in one direction, doing a complete 180, and going in another. As St. Paul declares in our epistle lesson, the direction that we are going in on our present trajectory is a dead end that ultimately leads to death - for the wages of sin is death. Repentance, metanoia, is a turning and rejection of that path and accepting God's free gift which leads to life - but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The crucial point for us to remember is that it will require all that have and all that we are to continue on this road. There is one piece that still remains and it is of course the crux of this feeding miracle which is the food itself.

Jesus had compassion in the crowds. I know I mentioned this in a previous sermon that the word for compassion here has the connotation of being moved at a depth and level that permeates to the pit of one's very soul. The word here denotes a profound stirring of the emotions, and that is the level to which Jesus is moved in recognizing the crowds need for nourishment for their being sent forth. Thus, Jesus being moved to compassion is preparing to give them sustenance for what lay ahead. That nourishment comes in a most remarkable form.

Order here is everything. What do I mean? In one sense the crowds were already being fed. They were feeding and feasting on the Words of Jesus which is of course the Bread of Life. Their first and foremost source of nourishment was Jesus' words which they had been hearing for the past three days. They followed first, and then before they were to be sent forth were they fed with physical bread for their life lived in the world.

We too are called to reenact that same order. Our first mandate is to follow. Follow with that complete abandonment in which we like St. Augustine find our rest and repose in God. When we do this we will of course be famished and faint along the way if we are not being fed by Jesus. That of course comes in two forms. First, we must daily feed upon His word - Holy Scripture. As we pray on the 2nd Sunday in Advent, we are to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the words of the Bible. You notice that last clause to inwardly digest is the only way that true nourishment can take place.

Second, we must feed upon Jesus himself which we do each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Before Jesus fed the crowds to performed a Eucharist - he gave thanks for that which he was about to bless and give. So too do we give thanks for what Jesus has already done and prepares to do again each time we gather around his holy altar to celebrate the mystery of His Most Precious Body and Blood. We give thanks through the hymns we sing, the confession of our sins, through the alms we give for the mission of the church, and for the bread and wine that will become for us heavenly food and drink.

There are two additional points that we are to glean from this story.

We must recognize that when our Lord feeds us we are fed with an abundance that we simply cannot fathom or comprehend. In both of the feeding miracles recorded in Scripture, we read that the crowds were completely satisfied, and there was an abundance of fragments left over. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, we believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit simple elements of bread and wine become for us the very Body and Blood of Jesus fully and completely. There is nothing left out. The ordinary becomes something extraordinary. We receive Jesus into us through the abundance of his never failing grace and mercy.

Finally, the crumbs that were left over were not carelessly discarded but were commanded to be gathered together. Why? Why is this detail carefully preserved in each of the feeding miracles? The fragments left over are to be used to repeat the process by us as we are sent forth as Jesus' disciples and apostles. We are to take the nourishment that we receive as his followers and then go and nourish others. We are to take Jesus and make him known to a broken, hurting, and famished world. We have the one and only source of food that will truly satisfy the hunger of those who are fainting along the way. We have received the Bread of Heaven and the source of life and it has been given to us in order that we might then share it with others.

We are both disciples of Jesus, ones who follow and we are his apostles, ones who have been sent to feed and nourish others. But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. The renewal of our strength comes through our following of the Lord Jesus, through the feeding of our souls from His Holy Word and His Body, and our mission is taking those precious fragments and feeding the fatigued and fainting world through the power of God's Holy and life-giving Spirit.
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 31, 2011

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

If you noticed the citation at the beginning of this morning’s Gospel lesson you will see that it comes from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, and thus, a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. How appropriate to have a portion from the Sermon on the Mount as our adult forum over the past few weeks has been taking a look at the beatitudes and sermon in a bit more depth.

I don’t know about you, but this passage makes me rather uncomfortable. I want to shrink back from a passage such as one like this and simply wallow in my impassable situation of not being able to attain to the standards by which I am called. After all, we didn’t have to look very far in the beatitudes to discover those places where we don’t quite measure up or where we fall woefully short. And what are we to make of the verse that we opened with that declares that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. I might as well sit down, and we might as well pack up and go home because no one is going to be able to exceed that type or righteousness. Or can we? What is it that Jesus is trying to say here and get us to understand?

As we all recall, the scribes and Pharisees were not exactly high up on our Lord’s list of people to praise and exalt. Like his cousin before him, Jesus had some very scathing words for these keepers of the law to the nth degree. They called them broods of vipers, Jesus told his disciples to beware of the yeast and leaven of the Pharisees, they were referred to as whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. What is going on here? Are we called to exceed that type of righteousness? That doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of thing we are called to emulate.

Two of the most faithful expositors of Scripture within Anglicanism are the late nineteenth century Bishop of Liverpool J. C. Ryle, and the late Dr. John R. W. Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Langham Palace who died earlier this week. Their writings are so helpful in unpacking some of the more troubling portions of the Gospels and I resort to their works regularly. Their understanding of these verses and this passage in particular I think will help to shed light on what we have just heard.

One of the points that these two Anglican Divines highlight is that Jesus is here praising the scribes and the Pharisees in the sense that they do in fact recognize and hold on to the teachings of the Law, and their full acceptance of the fact that God’s authority is writ large in the words of the Law. They understand that a piece of their very identity as Jews and the People of Israel is that they are the benefactors and recipients of the Torah, the Law. In other words, a portion of their being considered righteous was in their faithful keeping of the Law. This was seen as something good, and Jesus is in fact saying that the Pharisees were accorded some measure of righteousness because they were faithful to the Torah.

However, the twist comes when we examine what it really means for us to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.

God is not doing away with the law. God is not telling us that because he sent Jesus into the world all bets are off, and the law doesn’t apply to us any longer. That doesn’t hold water with what our Lord said in the passage I quoted at the beginning of the sermon. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Nothing from the law will pass away until all has been fulfilled, which happens through Jesus’ atonement and death upon the cross. Those who teach that the Old Testament is no longer applicable to the Christian life do not teach the Christian faith. I realize that is a rather harsh statement, but it is the truth. Anyone who says that they belong to a New Testament only Church are not a part of the church catholic.

The fundamental difference comes in the why. Why do we obey and follow the Ten Commandments? Why do we still read the Old Testament as a part of sacred scripture, for our learning and instruction? We don’t do it, or at least we shouldn’t do it, just as a matter of checking off things on a to-do list. The major flaw with the Pharisees and lawyers and religious authorities was that they were keeping the law with their head and Jesus is calling for a keeping of the law with our heart. This is the only way that our righteousness can exceed that of the Pharisees. Only when we heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Or from Ezekiel, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Or as the Psalmist declares, “BLESSED is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, * and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; * and in his law will he exercise himself day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, * that will bring forth his fruit in due season….But the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous; * and the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
The Christian life is the life lived in full recognition that the very God who gives us life gave us His law, and then sent Himself in the form of His Son Jesus Christ to be the complete fulfillment of that law. He gave us the law not to simply show us who we are, but to show us who He is. The law is an expression of his love. In a way that sounds quite oxymoronic. How can the law be an expression of God’s love?

It is an expression of God’s love in exactly the same way that we do the same things for our children. We give our children laws and rules not to exercise some arbitrary, authoritarian rule over them, but to give them complete freedom to enjoy the wonderful things of this life within an established set of boundaries. What happens when those rules are broken or the boundaries are pushed? Well, in the best case scenario there is simply discipline to help them understand why the rules are there and why they should be followed. In a worst case scenario, someone is hurt, or maimed, or killed.

Love is the underlying principle behind the law. Because God loves us he gave us his Law and then gave us Himself who is the perfect fulfillment of that Law so that we then might be able to see what true perfection looks like. We are then free to gaze upon that perfect fulfillment which is Jesus Christ and look to him as the “author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

How are we to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? By living out the words of our liturgy in which we come to God in faith and offer and present unto Him our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice. That means meditating upon his Law and seeing it for what it is. It means giving our selves wholly into his never failing care and service. It means the life-long journey toward wholeness and health that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. It means rendering unto God true and laudable service in the worship of Him and in the outworking of that worship which is service toward our fellow Man.

“Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way, and walk in the law of the Lord….And my delight shall be in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and my study shall be in thy statutes.”

O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man's understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.