Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
September 4, 2011

I mentioned last Sunday that this morning's Epistle was again going to come from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and the topic at hand begins to speak of the Christian notion of death and dying. Well, this morning's section from I Cor. 15 doesn't actually go to the full depth that the rest of this chapter does in dealing with this life and the life to come but is the platform from which Paul is going to begin to speak about that most important and relevant topic.

A number of you mentioned on several occasions that you so much prefer the Anglican Burial Office to any of the other funerals that you've attended in your lives. Certainly the reverence and solemnity of the rite itself is beautiful and comforting in its language and does indeed set the stage for a service that is hopefully done decently and in order. Another reason that I believe that these services are so beautiful is the fact that we lean so heavily on Holy Scripture in the service and depend on the language of the great hymns of the church to express in words far better than we can say at that particular time. However, I think that the true reason behind those statements is the fact that more times than not the funeral has felt more like a roast of someone's life rather than in the worship of Almighty God and the final rite of the church for the deceased. It's more about the life of the deceased than about the life of the Saviour of the world into whose loving arms we are committing the soul of someone we loved in this life, with the blessed hope of everlasting life resounding in our ears that we will see that person again.

If we look at both of our lessons appointed for today, we see two prime examples of what displaced trust does in our lives. I am only going to touch on the Epistle, but I hope you will also see that same theme shine through in our Gospel lesson of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

Paul begins this 15th chapter of I Cor. by making four declaratory statements about the Gospel. First, it is the Gospel which Paul preached to them. There is a great deal of trust being exhibited that he is asking them to extend, which he is going to clarify at the end of this passage. Second, it is the Gospel that they received. It is not something that they came up with on their own, it was not something that came from the "devices and desires of their own hearts." No, it is something that they received, and it is the same faith that we receive as well. Third, the Gospel is the means whereby they are now able to stand, and is the strong rock upon which they receive sure footing. The Gospel that they've heard proclaimed and that they now believe is their very foundation. Finally, and most importantly, it is the only place where they may receive salvation and whereby they are saved.

Paul then brings these four statements back to their starting point by adding a caveat that they must continue to return to his faithful preaching and teaching for instruction, correction, and growth in the faith. He is calling upon them to remember that the only source of strength for their life in this world is a faith in the One that will bring them into the perfect joy and fellowship with Him in this life and in the life to come. They cannot depend upon themselves for this but submit their lives wholly into the care, mercy, protection, and pity of Almighty God.

That's an awfully strange way to say that, to place ourselves in a position where we might receive pity. However, remember what we prayed in our collect this morning. God's most glorious example of his unfailing power is in His showing to us his mercy and his pity. It's not in His handiwork and in the things that He created, however marvelous those things are. It's not in the outpouring of gifts from the Holy Spirit, as necessary and important as they are. No, God's most remarkable example of his power is through showing mercy and pity.

The reason this is so is because it points most directly to the cross and what God's Son did upon the cross for us.

Paul offers a reason whereby he can exert his authority to the Corinthian church, and it speaks most clearly as to why his trust is not a disordered one. He tells his hearers that he's not preaching to them his own gospel but the one that he has first received. He's not placing his authority in something that is perishable, but in something that fadeth not away. He says to the Church that first and foremost he's sharing with them the Good News that was given to him-that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again according to the scriptures. Twice he mentions the scriptures, and then he goes on to bear witness to those who share in that same revelation, those who believe that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the dead. We make that same declaration ever time we celebrate the Eucharist, and we do so twice in the liturgy-once in the Creed and once in the Eucharistic prayer.

Finally, Paul acknowledges his shear folly in exulting in himself and says that he is of course the least of all of the Apostles, born out of due time. He was a persecutor of the Church. He sat there and held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death. He did everything in his power to stamp out this rebel movement that he saw as a threat to everything that the Jewish faith stood for, and the promises of a Messiah to which they all were looking. He realized that asserting anything else other than the message of Gospel as the source of his authority to preach as a minister of Jesus Christ was shear foolishness. Paul believed that he was unworthy to even bear the title of Apostle, and yet, through God's grace, mercy, and pity, he is able to do just that because by God's grace only he is who he is. It is only through Christ and him crucified can he boast. Anything else is of no worth. But by the grace of God, we are who we are.

Are we not the same? If we are truly honest with ourselves do we not make the same claims that we are not worthy to be the vehicles through which God's work is accomplished? No, we probably don't offer the same excuse as Paul in persecuting the Church, but we offer our shortcomings as excuses nonetheless. We say that we don't know our Bible well enough to lead a Bible study, or talk to that skeptic who has questions about the Christian faith. We often call to mind those times where we've sinned against God and neighbour and shrink back in fear. We lament our state and say that we can't possibly be the one God has called to bring His kingdom into this broken and hurting world.

Yet, we prayed at the beginning of this service that the supreme vehicle through which God's power is exalted is through showing mercy and pity. I need that assurance. Wretch that I am in light of God's law and commandments, I need someone to show me mercy and pity.

For all of those people who make the claim that Jesus was just like all of the other moral teachers who have come and gone, this doesn't hold water. Jesus was not simply bringing some new morality or new way of showing how to be good as opposed to being bad. No, Jesus came to show us that we are dead, but that through Him and through Him alone we might have new life. That new life is not just reserved for the life to come, but in this life as well. If that were not the case then there would have been no reason for Jesus to have taught us to pray that God's will be done on earth as it was in heaven.

Where do we place our trust? How could we possibly have the audacity to think that we could ever trust in our own righteousness? We can't. Why on earth would even bother to pray the Prayer of Humble Access if that were so? After all, when we pray that prayer in just a few minutes, take note of the fact that the word mercy appears 3 times in those 3 sentences.

The great Apostle St. Paul knew that there was only one place in which he could glory and that was in the cross of Jesus Christ. That's why our Anglican Burial Office speaks with such power and conviction is because it attempts to direct our attention away from the casket and onto the cross. The cross is the only way that one lying in that coffin, which we will all one day do as well, can ever have hope in this life, can ever have true faith, and can ever have life everlasting. To the same Lord who gives us that assurance, and whose power is exalted most in His ability to show mercy and pity, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore.
Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 28, 2011

Last Sunday, today, and next Sunday we will hear Epistle lessons from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week we heard from the tenth chapter and Paul’s words to the church to pay attention to two temptations that befall Christian disciples – laxity toward the law on the one hand, and on the other, a religious moralism that distorts our need for Christ in our lives and the necessity of grace to help us along our path toward sanctification. Next Sunday morning we will hear the beginning of the long fifteenth chapter which deals with the theme of death and resurrection and the latter portion of that lesson is one that I always select at the Burial of the Dead because of the manner in which we should properly orient ourselves and our thoughts regarding the Christian perspective on death and dying.

This morning’s Epistle from the twelfth chapter is a continuation of a theme of Christian stewardship that permeates our lessons, and looks at stewardship not from the perspective of our treasure, but more so from the perspective of our talents.

Paul begins this portion of his letter with a sharp transition, and he begins a new line of thought in his teaching about spiritual gifts. I must say that we don’t talk allot about spiritual gifts or the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. We don’t delve too deeply into the realm of theology known as pneumatology, which is the study of the Holy Spirit and his works. Why not? Why are we so shy about this most important branch of theology? Should we be weary of studying about it, talking about it, and somehow avoid praying more fervently regarding the things of the Spirit of God?

The answer to the final question must be a resounding NO. We should not be weary of studying about and talking about the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. After all, everyone here who has been confirmed had a bishop lay hands upon your head and ask for that very thing to happen – to pray for the Spirit to come and be among us, and permeate our total existence. The bishop prays, “Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.” The bishop, through the power of his apostolic office, invoked the Holy Spirit of God upon each of us, and asked that we might increase in that Spirit each and every day of our lives.

I think that one of the main reasons that speaking of things in these terms is so frightening is that it is ultimately an acknowledgement that we are giving ourselves over to something that is mysterious, awesome, frightening in many ways, and last but probably most important, out of our control.

We want to be in control. We want to have a handle on things. As Burger King advertisements say, “We want it our way.” Unfortunately, with the things of God, we don’t get to have it our way. When our way does not accord with God’s way, we will never get it. Well, in actuality if we are so obstinate that we insist on doing it our way, God will allow us to have it our own way, but unfortunately, the consequences are met usually to our own peril. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard it said that the song that will be forever sung in Hell will be, “I did it my way.” C. S. Lewis of course wrote that at the end of time there will be two types of people left, those who have said to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “Thy will be done.”

Not only is Paul telling the Corinthian church that they should pray for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but that they should carefully regard the stewardship of those gifts for one reason alone – the glory of Almighty God.

There is a good reason that this lesson follows directly after the one that we heard last Sunday. If it was equally destructive to deviate in one way or another regarding the law, so too should we not deviate too far regarding spiritual gifts.

Our text says that the Spirit divides to every may severally as he will. What that means is that some will be given the gift of wisdom, some knowledge, some faith, some healing, some prophecy, some tongues, some the interpretation of tongues. The key words here are some and same.

Paul does not say that all will be given all of these gifts. I frankly don’t think that anyone could handle the responsibility of the stewardship of that many items. It’s hard enough simply to manage what we have.

It’s also critical to focus on the word same as well as some. All of these gifts come from the same Spirit. Just because someone has the charisma for a certain spiritual gift does not mean that he has reached some new plateau from which he can look down at others who do not possess that same gift.

There are some churches who state that if you have not been given the gift of speaking in tongues you have not been completely baptized by the Holy Spirit. Somehow your Christianity is deficient, and that you need to pray harder and seek more faith so that you might receive that gift.

To those folks I say, I’m sorry, you are doing the exact same thing the Judaizers did in saying that the only way you could be a proper Christian was to be circumcised and be a good Jew first.

This is why the entire heading of this passage falls under the broad category of stewardship. Our Lord has entrusted us to be the good stewards of the gift or gifts He has given. We are to cultivate them, pray that they might be strengthened, use them, and share them with others. We are not called to lord them over other people.

We are also called not to bemoan the fact that we don’t possess a gift that someone else does.

There are some in this parish who have the gift to offer their service to God in the preparation of the altar, others have the gift to offer their voice in the choir, others serve as a greeter or usher, others in their gift being with the children.

Our lesson stops early in the twelfth chapter of I Corinthians, but if you were to read further Paul goes on to talk about the interworking of the various gifts. What if all wanted to sing in the choir, but none wanted to serve on the altar guild? Brandt, don’t answer that question! What everyone felt called to teach Sunday School and no one wanted to attend. Actually, I don’t know what I would do if that happened!

I think you see what I mean. We cannot wish away the gifts that God has given us because they are not the same gift as others have. We can’t look down on others because we have been blessed in one area that is not visible in others.

Rather, we are called to use our gifts for the glory of God, for the building up of the Body, for the edification of the faithful, and for the growth of God’s kingdom. We must pray that God might enlarge and multiply the several gifts we have been entrusted to be the stewards of.

Yes, this is somewhat scary stuff because it requires us to be accountable for what we have been given, and use those wonderful manifestations of the Holy Spirit faithfully and wisely. Being agents of the Holy Spirit commands us to go forth in faith, allowing the Spirit to do His work, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight. For it is the same Spirit, same Lord, same God which worketh all in all. To Him be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore.

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.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 17, 2011

We’ve all had down times. I don’t believe that anyone here can say that life has been nothing but peaches and cream. Now, if I’ve mischaracterized someone, please be sure to meet me after church. We go through ups and downs in life; there are good days and there are bad days; there are blessings and there are curses; we have intense spiritual highs and at times deep spiritual lows. These are the cold, hard facts. Life doesn’t always serve up exactly what we need, exactly when we need it or desire it.

Now that I’ve begun on such an upbeat, positive manner, I want us to take a closer look at the Psalm that we’ve just recited a few moments ago and see what the Psalmist wishes for us to hear. If you remember back a few weeks ago, I said that throughout Trinitytide we would be reciting the 119th Psalm in its entirety over the twenty-two weeks of this season. We read the fourth octet this morning and we began with a most stark assertion, “My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

I have sat with that phrase all week long.

“My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

The overarching message of this sermon deals with those six words. There is a tremendous depth in the brevity of that phrase and I pray that we might understand the significance of what is being conveyed to us this morning.

To begin with, this verse makes a stark shift from the preceding verse. Last Sunday when we ended on verse twenty-four, we ended on a high note when we declared, “For thy testimonies are my delight, and my counselor.” The Psalmist declares that because he is a keeper of God’s law, he has become, as it were, a “stranger upon earth,” and that, “Princes also did sit and speak against me.”

We are going to find that out as we grow deeper and deeper into the full stature of Christ that things are going to be different and appear so more often. We might as well get used to the fact that one of three things is most likely going to happen: we will be ignored by those who are apathetic to what we say or do; we will be mocked and perhaps persecuted by those who hate what we have to say and are doing; or we will bring along with us those whose hearts, and minds, and souls are touched by what we have to say and what they’ve seen us doing. As I see it, those are the only three choices.

In returning to our Psalm it seems clear that he is not going to concern himself with the effects of the first two groups – the apathetic who make him feel like a stranger or the Princes who speak against him, but rather, that he is going to occupy himself with God’s statutes and delight in God’s testimonies for they are his counselors.

So far, so good; life beings to kick in, temptations fall his way – our way, a false sense of longing and security from the things of this world creep into his thoughts and we begin to hear an honest plea of the Psalmist’s spiritual condition, “My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

What are we to make of that phrase? I would hope that we might understand it as a cry of the heart as an acknowledgement of our true nature. When we pray in the General Confession of Morning or Evening Prayer that, “there is no health in us,” we are in essence repeating the first half of the 25th verse of the 119th Psalm.

Since we were formed from the dust of the earth, and since we are reminded each year on Ash Wednesday, “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return,” that a part of our very essence is wrongly trying to get back to our point of origin – the trying to return to our false home. The problem is this earth is not our true and ultimate home. We aren’t destined to live here for eternity, but rather in the fully realized presence of Almighty God.

It’s important to make not here the incredible parallels to the creation narrative as found in Genesis chapter two. We recall the familiar passage where Scripture says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” At the end of that chapter God institutes the sacrament of Holy Matrimony when He says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” The three central words in our Psalm are found right here in Genesis 2 – soul, cleave, and dust. The issue at hand for us is the fact that the words from Genesis 2 speak of a rightly oriented use of those words, and the passage from Psalm 119 speaks of a soul incorrectly oriented.

What we have in these first six words of this portion of the Psalm is the admission of a low point in the Psalmist’s life. It seems to indicate that he is honest enough to admit that even though his heart’s longing is for the Law he is facing an uphill battle with his soul’s corrupted bend toward its improper origin – it is cleaving to the wrong thing.

Let us remember that our souls rightful slant should be toward its true source – God Himself. However, when Man headed the words of the serpent our longing shifted away from God and toward that from which we came prior to God’s Spirit being breathed into us. Adam and Eve sought protection and cover from the garden to hide their nakedness rather than protection and cover from their Maker. They tried to seek solace in the creation rather than from the Creator.

When Adam and Eve fell Mankind received a curse for its disobedience but so did the serpent. “Thou art cursed above all cattle…upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”

This earth and the dust of its surface will one day pass away, and ever since the Fall the serpent, Satan, has been feeding upon the dust of the earth. The dilemma that the Psalmist declares and that we too must admit is that in our times of being downtrodden and weak there is the ever present temptation to cleave to the one thing that is merely an illusion of stability, comfort, and peace – the dust and the things of the earth. Thankfully the Psalmist does not remain in this position forever for we hear him declare that the only true source of life is not in the cleaving to the dust from which we were formed but in the cleaving to the Spirit that was breathed into us at creation and is expressed in God’s Logos – his Word. Certainly here we are referring to God’s Word written, but implicit in that statement is God’s Word who became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.

The question for us is whether or not our soul will cleave to the dust or will it cleave to the one who created the dust and gives us his Word. Will we be like Judas whose soul never ceased cleaving to the dust of the earth and ended in despair and death? Or will we be like St. Peter whose soul was cleaving to the dust of the earth as he declared with fervent conviction that he never knew Jesus, and upon hearing the cock crow went out weeping, feel upon his face, and cried out for mercy?

Many times throughout our lives, probably before this day is over, we will with complete certainty come to the realization that our soul is cleaving to the dust of the earth. When that happens and we come to that realization may we ever pray with the Psalmist for the Lord to give us life that comes only through the hearing, heeding and obeying His holy Word.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 10, 2011

I really need to be sitting in the congregation today listening to someone else give this sermon. I need to hear these words because they address one of the hardest struggles in my own life as one who is striving to live the Christian life and attempting to take small steps toward holiness. Now before you begin to squirm in the pew and think that I’m about to turn the pulpit into my own confessional you can breathe easy because that is something that I will never do. The pulpit is never the place for the preacher to work out his own issues and bear his own burdens. No, I’m simply placing myself in the position of the patient; I, like you, am coming to hear the words of the Great Physician who administers his healing balm for our souls at all times if we are willing to submit ourselves to His never failing care and protection.

That being said, I am going to make one self-disclosure that I believe will help ground what I am about to say regarding that insidious sin of pride that draws us further and further from God’s presence because of its very nature. I think some of you have perhaps heard this before in other settings, and it pertains to my days as a high schooler. Most of you probably remember those awards that each class hands out where they select a boy and girl as most likeable, or best dressed, or biggest flirt, or most outgoing. I was the proud recipient of the award for being the most right. This was not an assessment of my political leanings, but was actually a most truthful statement of fact. I hated to be wrong. I never wanted to lose an argument or have my position questioned. I was the Andrew Wilkow of my school – I was right, they were wrong, that’s the end of the discussion.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

We heard in our Epistle lesson from First St Peter about the attitude of Christ’s disciples and how they are to humble themselves toward one another. Our lesson began mid-chapter, and the first few verses that precede what we just heard speak about the relationship between the elders and the younger members of the community. Peter declares, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”

There will always be the temptation to lord over others with our knowledge or our position of influence or our status in life. It’s very easy to think that because of who we are there will always be others who will need us or what we have to offer them and thus, gives us the license to be proud or prideful.

I’m sure you can call to mind examples of people who have exhibited this type of attitude in which you were made to feel like you had absolutely nothing to offer and as long as you knew your place as the dutiful student or subordinate or co-worker everything was fine.

How did things work out in the long run? What was the long term relationship with that supervisor or teacher? It was probably tenuous at best, fraught with animosity at worst. Why?

Pride is perhaps the worst of sins because it is a direct affront to that most noble theological virtue of charity. One who strives to foster a spirit of charity seeks the love of the other over one’s self. Charity always seeks to displace pride.

St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the thirteenth chapter, which we hear read on the Sunday before Lent begins, tells us that if we speak of earthly things well or of heavenly things well that if we do not have charity we are nothing. If we can prophesy, or understand incredible mysteries, or have remarkable knowledge of things temporal or spiritual, but don’t posses love, then we are nothing. Suppose we have the strongest faith so that we could remove mountains or give away all our goods to feed the poor, or even suffer death on behalf of this faith, but do not exercise charity, it does us no good. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”

All of these attributes of charity, of love, are the counter virtues of the vice of pride. If you leave today and re-read I Corinthians 13, I believe you will see that St. Paul dedicates an entire chapter to a letter to a church in the most wayward of places, Corinth, to keep their pride in check. He is admonishing them to remember that the only way that they were going to stand out amongst the crowd in the See city of hedonism, materialism, humanism, pluralism, pantheism, and any other ism you’d like to add, was not through some type of new moralism, but by loving God with all of their heart, and loving their fellow Corinthians as counter-cultural as that was. Charity not pride is to be the benchmark of a Christian disciple.

So how do we get to the place where charity reigns, and pride is arrested?

We must begin in the one place that all who have sought this same task have begun – in prayer. We must ask God to help us. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Our collect for this morning exhorts us to the same task, “O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities.” What greater adversity and danger is there than to fall prey to the sin of pride? There truly is no greater danger because pride is the sin that led to the fall of Lucifer, the prince of darkness. It is the sin that displaces God from His rightful place as the Lord of life and light.

We are to come seeking solace and comfort and grace from God’s Holy Word and the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. We must have our lives shaped and formed by these two great gifts that we have received from our Lord. We receive the Word of God through our study, devotion and worship, and through His precious Body and Blood. When we deprive ourselves of these great benefits we do so to the peril of our very soul.

Finally, we must share what we have received with others in a spirit of joyful thanksgiving. As is often said at the offertory, “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The world must see us as the new creatures that we are as the children of our heavenly Father.

Praying for the gift of charity is one thing. Study of God’s Word and the reception of the Sacraments is yet another thing. Taking this Good News out into the world is yet another and a mark of a true disciple. We can’t keep this to ourselves, but rather, we are commanded to take this message into the whole world.

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world.”

We have work to do. It is hard work, tedious work, challenging work, but it is work that has supreme benefits not just for today or tomorrow, but for all eternity. May Almighty God empower us for the task that lies ahead as His disciples. To Him be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and power both this day and evermore.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
June 26, 2011

There is a shift in focus in our readings from now until the end of the church year and Advent Sunday, at the end of November. It has been said that the Kalendar is broken into two halves, with the first half from Advent through Whitsunday, and the second half being Trinitytide or Ordinary Time. The readings for the first half of the year speaks of the life of Christ in which our lessons speak most directly about Jesus’ life and redemptive work. The second half of the church year makes a bit of a transition and looks at the life of a disciple or our life in Christ.

One of the great benefits of the Internet and facebook in particular is the opportunity to meet people and share information. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know an Anglican priest from Canada who is currently re-publishing many great works of Anglican theology and producing some of his own works as well. I purchased two commentaries that he has written and I look forward to reading and using them in the future.

One book that he produced is an expositional commentary on the 119th Psalm. In the introduction he pointed out something that was previously unknown to me. The first Book of Common Prayer produced in 1549 had a proper Psalm appointed for each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For this season of Trinitytide the Psalm appointed for the first 22 weeks after Trinity was an ordered reading of Psalm 119.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever studied this Psalm, but it is the longest chapter in the Bible – 176 verses. The Psalm itself is unique in its structure. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the Psalm contains twenty-two eight-verse divisions. Each division is an acrostic because the first word in each verse begins with same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, in verses 1-8, the first division that we recited this morning, the first word in each verse begins with the Hebrew letter ‘Aleph.’ The second group of eight verses begins with the Hebrew letter ‘Beth.’ This pattern continues throughout the rest of the Psalm, and thus, presents the ABC’s, so to speak, of the godly life that is deeply rooted in the Word of God.

The eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards once said of this chapter of the Bible:

I know of no part of the Holy Scriptures where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in the 119th Psalm. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verse of the Psalm, keeps his eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellency of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law – that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature, and prescription of holiness to the creature – is all along represented as the great object of love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commandments ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold;’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.’

Martin Luther once said of this Psalm that it was the, “gospel in a nutshell,” and that he, “would not trade one page of it for the entire world.” I don’t believe that I am going to preach 22 sermons in a row exclusively on Psalm 119, but you can count on the fact that we will recite the Psalm in its entirety over the next 22 weeks, and there will be some exposition of the eight verses assigned for each Sunday.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

Just this past week I’ve been reading various news reports about a movement whose goal is the promotion of more religious tolerance amongst faith groups. According to the faith shared website they would like to offer an event, “as a way to engage faith leaders on the national and community levels in interfaith events intended to highlight respect among people of different faiths. Through photos, video clips and print coverage distributed around the world, we are looking to display visual images that reflect the mutual respect that is shared by so many Muslims, Christians, Jews and other Americans, standing together as a strong counterpoint to the negative images that have dominated the domestic and international news.”

June 26, today, is the date that a large number of churches are hosting this type of interfaith gathering that organizers hope, “will create opportunities across the United States for faith communities to strengthen ties with each other. We will counter the misperception, including in the Arab and Muslim worlds, that the United States is a nation defined by the widely covered images of the marginal few who would burn a Qur’an, rather than by a proud and longstanding tradition of religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism. In communities across the United States, this project will not only serve as a model for tolerance and cooperation and promote local faith leaders as champions of such, but it will also create a concrete opportunity to build and strengthen working ties between faith communities moving forward.”

Finally, “Faith Shared asks houses of worship across the country to organize events involving clergy reading from each other’s sacred texts. An example would be a Christian Minister, Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam participating in a worship service or other event. Suggested readings will be provided from the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an, but communities are encouraged to choose readings that will resonate with their congregations. Involvement of members from the Muslim community is key. We will also provide suggestions on how to incorporate this program into your regular worship services.”

Why do I even bring this up? What difference does it make for us?

It makes all the difference in the world – and in the world to come. Dr. Carreker spoke so eloquently, clearly, and faithfully upon the Holy Trinity last Sunday, and asked us an important question – should we concern ourselves with a doctrine such as the Trinity? The answer should be a resounding yes, because the only way for us to wrestle with an issue such as faith shared and others like it.

The Christian life is lived in obedience to what God commands, in submission to His will, through the proclamation of His Word, and in making disciples of all nations. The only way that we can obey what God commands, submit to His will, proclaim His word, and make disciples in His name depends on one very important thing – do we know who God is? As we sang in the processional hymn last Sunday and Dr. Carreker proclaimed, we bind ourselves to the Name of the Trinity. That Name is the Trinity. The ancient Jews had a name for God that was so sacred and so holy that they would never write it or utter it out loud. Through Jesus Christ we are given the words to say and proclaim that name and we are commanded to make disciples in that name – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

Our only source of blessedness comes through our walking in the law of the Lord. Our world presents us with all sorts of supposed blessings that knows not the law of the Lord and thus will leave us empty and longing for more. True blessing comes in one place and one place alone.

Groups like faith alive makes the fatal mistake that tolerance and pluralism is some recipe for blessing and peace. There will be those who cry peace, peace when there is no peace. If we know not the Prince of Peace, how will we ever know peace on earth and good will amongst men?

We’ve made a shift in our readings from those that speak of the life of Christ to how a life in Christ is lived in the world. May we daily bind unto ourselves the strong Name of the Trinity, proclaim that Name to a broken and hurting world, so that we might continue undefiled in the way, and walk in the law of the Lord.
Sermon for Whitsunday
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
June 12, 2011

For the most part, everyone loves a birthday party. Even those who will turn 40 in just over a month! Why do we love birthdays even if we try and tell ourselves that we can’t believe we are getting a year older, or everything is downhill from whatever contrived age we have set for ourselves?

I think one of the reasons that we like birthdays is because it usually means being surrounded by people who love us, care for us, are glad that we are in their lives. Birthdays in some way make us think that we are special.

When kept in its proper sense, birthdays do make us special because it is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the gift of another year of life to be lived to His honour and glory. We can look back on the year past and call to remembrance those things that have happened to us, both good and bad, and know that all things work together for good for those who love God.

Believe it or not, in our church there are only two people who share the same birthday – Matt Paine and Gerry Webb. However, as members of Christ’s church we all share the same birthday as His body, and that day is today. On this the Feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday, we traditionally celebrate the church’s birthday, and it’s appropriate to do so in a special manner.

After all, the church, Christ’s Body, was the very thing He died for, redeemed, sent His spirit to empower, and prepares as a bride for her wedding day. Thus, it is very meet and right that we should celebrate this day with every fiber of our being.

Our Epistle lesson tells the traditional Pentecost story where the Holy Ghost, the Comforter who was promised to the Apostles, came to them in a most extraordinary manner. The Gospel lessons that we heard over the past few weeks alluded to the event that we just heard a few minutes ago – that first Pentecost Sunday.

The Apostles had already taken care of a bit of business after Jesus’ ascension, and that was in the selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas in the number of the twelve. Following this event we hear that the Apostles were “all with one accord in one place.” They were together, they were in fellowship with one another. They were praying, worshipping God, and recalling the events that they had witnessed over the past 50 days since Jesus’ resurrection. They were obedient to the command when Jesus departed from them on Ascension Day. As recorded in the final chapter of Luke’s Gospel, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”

Melville Scott summarizes so beautifully the events of that first Pentecost:

The birth of the church can be pinpointed by both its time and its place.

These were both definite, thus marking the reality of the gift. The time when the Church came into being was a Sunday – that every Sunday for ever might be both an Easter-day and a Whit Sunday, the living commemoration of a living Saviour. The time was at a festival – that “these things should not be done in a corner,” and that it should be seen from the first that the Church was not for one nation only.
The time was at the Festival of Pentecost, in which the remembrance was made every year of the writing of the Law on tablets of stone, and thus was fitly designed for His coming Who should write upon the heart the new law of liberty (Jer. 31:33). As the festival of harvest (Lev. 23:17) Pentecost fitly witnessed the first ingathering of souls, the first swathe cut by the Saviour’s sickle and made into the bread of God. The place was significant also, for “they were all with one accord in one place,” and the Holy Spirit was thus given to the whole Church, and to individuals as members of the Church.
Its manner was most striking and impressive. The gift came from above, and came as wind – mysterious, invisible, mighty, as described by our Saviour (in S. John 3:8), and as the very breath of life. The gift as fire which should warm the cold and chilly heart, should lighten men’s darkness, soften men’s hardness, burn away men’s dross, and kindle the dead matter of the world into Heavenly flame.
He came one fire for all, for there is one Spirit and one body; but He came as fire distributing itself so that “it sat upon each one of them,” for, though given to the whole body, He is given to every member of the same for his vocation and ministry, “dividing to each man severally as He will.” There is one Fire but many tongues, many tongues but one Fire. He came as tongues, to persuade, not to force; as tongues of fire, for he persuades not by human eloquence, but by Divine inspiration.
The first result of His coming was the miraculous gift of tongues, a striking symbol of the nature of the Church of Christ. As the languages of men are the result and perpetuation of division, so the one message made plain to all was the proclamation that divisions should pass away, and that in the Catholic Church there should be neither Jew nor Greek. The Gospel addresses man as man: tells of a universal need, a universal grace, and of the perpetual expansion and adaptation of the one body for all races, times, and needs.

Mr. Scott hits on something that I’ve never heard before, and yet brings such clarity to that miraculous event – One fire, many tongues. Even though this seems completely intuitive, I’ve never thought of it that way before. St. Augustine at the very beginning of his Confessions wrestled with this notion of the indivisibility of God. He asked some very fascinating questions that speak about what the Apostles received when the Holy Ghost was come upon them that first Pentecost morn.

Do the heaven and earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? or dost Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee? And whither, when the heaven and the earth are filled, pourest Thou forth the remainder of Thyself? or hast Thou no need that aught contain Thee, who containest all things, since what Thou fillest Thou fillest by containing it? for the vessels which Thou fillest uphold Thee not, since, though they were broken, Thou wert not poured out. And when Thou art poured out on us, Thou art not cast down, but Thou upliftest us; Thou art not dissipated, but Thou gatherest us. But Thou who fillest all things, fillest Thou them with Thy whole self? or, since all things cannot contain Thee wholly, do they contain part of Thee? and all at once the same part? or each its own part, the greater more, the smaller less? And is, then one part of Thee greater, another less? or, art Thou wholly every where, while nothing contains Thee wholly?

Augustine was asking truly practical questions that should resonate with us as well. When we receive God’s Holy Spirit do we just receive a small portion of God, or do we receive Him wholly? When God comes into our life, we receive all of Him, not just some portion. It is not like some get more of God than others; all who call upon Him receive Him completely.

The Feast of Pentecost is one of those significant days on the Kalendar in which there are two collects, two Epistles, and two Gospel lessons appointed. The alternative Epistle lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks to this question as well:

NOW there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

What a glorious revelation that when we become part of Christ’s church, and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Saviour, our Redeemer, and His Spirit rests upon us we receive Him in totality. We don’t have to look around and wonder if someone else is getting more of God, or a better part of God, and that we are in some way being left out or missing something. When we come to this table in a few moments, as we “offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”

Everyone who calls upon the Lord Jesus will receive him, all of him. We don’t just get some miniscule piece of God, but Him in all of His totality. What a wonderful gift to receive. The only question for us to ponder is whether or not God will get all of us in return. Will we give Him our selves, our souls and bodies, or just some portion? He gives us His all, should we not do the same?
Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
June 5, 2011

Earlier this week I came across an article on the Internet that intrigued me simply by its title. The title of the article was “Five Words That Could Save the Church.” I was looking forward to reading it, but as I started reading I began to get quickly frustrated with what the author put forward. It was written by Ian Morgan Cron who was the founding pastor Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT, which according to the tagline is a community committed to “social justice as well as communicating the Christian story through the arts.” Since it is short I will read it in its entirety, and I think you will begin to see where I began to disagree with Mr. Cron’s arguments.

Five words could prevent the public brawls between Christians who differ in their opinions on social and theological issues.
“…but I might be wrong.”
Pepper an impassioned debate with those five words with someone you’ve previously denounced as a heretic or traitor to the cause and an amazing thing happens.
It tells your “opponent” on the other side of the issue that you care more about the mutual pursuit of truth rather than in placing another check in your camp’s win column. It communicates that maintaining Christian unity despite your differences is more important to you than scoring points and dancing in your “opponent’s” end-zone.
Who knows, if spoken with a true spirit of humility, something close to civility might break out and confused onlookers might believe Christian leaders are different than the shrill ideologues they see on cable news every night.
“…but I might be wrong.”
It would be disingenuous if we attached these words to the end of every sentence. We all have spiritual and moral convictions we believe are non-negotiable, but can’t the humility associated with those five words define the tone of our dialog?
My friend Jim Wallis of Sojourners is an exemplar of someone who practices this gracious approach to public discourse. He brings together Christians who lean both left and right to work together on poverty and caring for creation. In areas of agreement, he builds on common ground. In areas of disagreement, both he and his colleagues offer grace in the spirit of… “but I might be wrong.”
Today I’m following St. Paul’s advice “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
It’s hard to argue against that position unless you’re certain that my decision to use the NIV translation of this passage proves I’m a heretic and that I should be publicly disgraced for it.

Certainly there are points of disagreement amongst Christians regarding some of the particulars surrounding baptism, the Eucharist, spiritual gifts such as healing and speaking in tongues, forms of church governance, even which translation of Scripture to be used in church. If we didn’t have differences regarding these issues and others, there would still be one unified catholic church, and not the appalling number of different denominations that we have today. This is definitely not what our Lord had in mind when he prayed that we might be one as He and the Father were one. I feel fairly secure in saying that many of our denominational differences grieve God’s heart and schism is a grievous sin against charity.

If this is what Mr. Cron is talking about, then perhaps he has a point. However, I believe he’s approaching things from a different perspective and one that is permeating the church from all directions. I believe that he’s coming at things through a hermeneutic of suspicion that is insidious at its core. It’s a belief system that has no real firm foundation on which to stand and everything is up for grabs. We are told in Scripture to let our yea be yea and our nay be nay. If you remember from our Lenten study of the Book of Revelation that the Laodicean church’s problem was that they were neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm and for that reason they were spewed out of God’s mouth.

When I think of the persecution of the church that has taken place since its inception, I could never ever imagine St. Peter, or St. Paul, or St. Andrew, or Justin Martyr, or Thomas Cranmer, or the martyrs of this century saying to their tormenters that they might be wrong. A statement such as that one seems to fly in the face of the blood that has been spilled for the sake of the Gospel.

I recognize that the article quoted above is not referring to attacks from outside the church, but the turmoil and strife from within. I think though if I were going to offer five words that could save the church, and that will help us all strive for that most excellent virtue of charity it would be these five words, “I apologize, please forgive me.” Those words practiced more often would go a long way in the manner in which we interact with our spouse, our children, our parents, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners. Those five words will begin to foster within us humility that will allow us to begin defeating the sin of pride that is perhaps one of our fiercest enemies.

Even though I think that learning to say, “I apologize, please forgive me,” is a better alternative than, “but I might be wrong,” there are four words that the church needs to learn more than either of those or we will continue to fight a losing battle and those four words are “JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!” Those are the only four words that will ultimately save the church. Until we can proclaim with the utmost conviction and without hesitation or wavering that first Creed we are truly lost with no hope.

Those first martyrs of the early church took a great risk when they no longer said the words Kaesar kurios and began to say Iesou Christou kurios. They could no longer say that Caesar was Lord but that Jesus Christ was Lord, and they did so to their peril. Still, those who proclaimed that Jesus was Lord departed this life praying that God might forgive their tormenters and persecutors. History records that many even in the throes of death were singing hymns and praising God as their very life was being exacted of them. Others like St. Stephen as they were taking their final breath on earth saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power of Almighty God awaiting their arrival to welcome them home.

These don’t sound like the stories of those who would have couched their words with a concluding epithet, “but I might be wrong.” No, these were the stories of those within the church, bold enough to proclaim with the utmost conviction and unwavering belief in the saving power of the Gospel. May we too have the same power and boldness to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, and as often as necessary those five words of humility, “I apologize, please forgive me.” If we can hold on to those two phrases we will go a long way in not just saving, but helping grow God’s kingdom here on earth – His precious Body, the church.
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
May 29, 2011

There are two words when one speaks of theology that are really two sides of the same coin, and they cannot be separated, the one from the other. The two words I’m speaking of are orthodoxy and orthopraxy. When I say orthodoxy here, I’m of course not referring to the Orthodox Churches of the East. I’m speaking of the root word orthodoxy here which means right belief. Of course, those churches that propagate and declare the historic, Christian, orthodox faith whether they be Eastern, Western, Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, what have you, are the group of Christian believers who share the common faith and belief. This must be the starting point. Right belief is foundational. When one is orthodox he believes in the dogmatic declarations of the faith as indisputable and not open for debate. These questions have been settled and must be believed in order for a person to call himself a Christian. A Christian must profess that God is a Trinity in Unity – one God in three Persons. He must believe that the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is both completely human and completely divine – deriving his humanity from the womb of the Virgin Mary his most holy Mother, and deriving his divinity from God Himself, through the Holy Ghost. We declare that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that he died a physical death and rose from the dead with a resurrected body; that He ascended unto the right hand of Almighty God, where he ever makes intercession for us to His Father. We believe that His death was the full, perfect, and sufficient atoning sacrifice and the complete oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the entire world. We also faithfully assert that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. While not a completely exhaustive list, these are the points of agreement shared amongst all believers who would call themselves orthodox and subscribing to orthodoxy. Those who do not would be called heretics, or those who teach and uphold a contrary faith.

Until the middle of the last century it was fairly easy to come up with a pretty good list of what would be considered orthodox and what was not, and no matter what church you attended the orthodox faith would have been preached, the differences being matters of church governance and polity, or matters of style in worship. These would have been considered differences amongst believers, and our salvation didn’t depend upon which camp we happened to fall in regarding these notions.

The other side of the theological coin has to do what the notion of orthopraxy, which basically means right actions. We don’t hear that word nearly as often as we should but in essence orthopraxy is orthodoxy put into motion. It’s what we do with our right beliefs once we’ve embraced them and take them to ourselves and own them. It speaks to the fundamental principle of how is the Christian life lived out. If orthodoxy is believing the Creed, orthopraxy is living the Creed. Orthodoxy is believing that through the empty tomb we have received newness of life and that we are a new creature in Christ, orthopraxy is living as that new creature.

St. James speaks this morning on this final Sunday in Eastertide about being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. My former church in Montgomery, AL adopted James 1:22 as their tagline verse on their signage and letterhead. If the church sent out anything one saw that verse front and center.

So what does being a doer of the Word look like? More importantly, are we doers of the Word?

This morning you’ll notice on the hymn boards and in the bulletin that today is Rogation Sunday. The Rogation Days are the three days which precede Ascension Day, and they are a time when we are to be intentional about asking God for his protection and blessings. Traditionally it was a time for farmers to have the priest bless their crops after the spring planting with the hope of a fruitful harvest, and some churches performed solemn processions around the property asking that God might be with them in the coming year.

How appropriate that we would hear the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel today that, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” We are specifically commanded by Jesus to ask for God’s blessings.

Let me make something very clear here. I’m not talking about asking God for that new BMW or Mercedes and specifying what color. This is not some prosperity gospel sermon that simply says be sure you ask God for whatever you want and be sure to do so in Jesus’ name because it says right here in John 16 that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name He’ll give it to us. That is not what Jesus is saying here. This is when we need to check to make sure our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy are in sync.

For how does St. James conclude his first chapter? He says, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” That doesn’t sound like asking to have my physical needs met on my terms just because I asked for it in Jesus’ name, now does it? That sounds allot like a life of intense self-examination in light of God’s law, and a life of service and self-sacrifice, loving one’s neighbour as one’s self.

Orthopraxy, right action, is the living out of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Speaking of another instance of two sides of the same coin.

I know many who say that we simply need to live out the Great Commandment and let the rest take care of itself. I say no to that assertion. To me that’s simply being content with one’s orthodoxy and leaving the orthopraxy to handle itself. I believe that we absolutely must do both. Certainly right action is loving God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength, and loving others as we would ourselves. Right action is also doing what our Lord commanded his disciples when he departed from them on that first Ascension Day when he told them to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

We simply cannot have the one without the other.

The only way that this is truly lived out is through a lifetime of rogation, a lifetime of asking, an existence shaped by prayer. If you hadn’t picked up on it before now the central theme behind this day on the Church Kalendar is to foster a life of prayer.

What are we to ask for; what are we to pray for? How are we to pray?

We are to ask and pray for those things that are in accord with God’s Will. It’s taking the words of the Lord’s Prayer to heart and truly mean it when we pray, “thy will be done.” Those are perhaps the four hardest words to pray because it brings us front and center to the reality that we are not God. Wasn’t that the temptation of the serpent to Eve? Didn’t he say that she wouldn’t die but that she’d have her eyes opened and she’d be like God?

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy, rightly understood, are two interconnected words that show us with crystal clarity that we are nothing save but the grace of God. One of the churches here in Moultrie had a marquee out front that said God without Man is still God; Man without God is nothing. Truer words have never been spoken.

Jesus wants us to ask the Father in His name for blessings beyond our comprehension. He wants to shower us with his grace and mercy. However, the life of prayer that we are to cultivate is radically different than what we might think. As the late Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse once said the life of prayer, “is the habit of relating, the habit of referring all our thoughts and words and deeds, and all our circumstances to God through Jesus Christ. It is not just particular petitions; it is thanksgiving, it is adoration, it is penitence and intercession. Prayer is not some magic charm employed to change the will of God. Prayer is looking into the mirror of the charity of God, and remembering, and being changed by what we see.”

We are called to look to that “perfect law of liberty, and continue therein.” We are to daily strive not be forgetful hearers, but doers of the work. And if we pray for the guidance and the strength to do this we shall indeed receive those abundant blessings that our Lord wishes for us to possess and intended for us to inherit from time immemorial.