Rev. Ian E. Dunn on Love, and the fast of Lent.
July 19th, 2015
Text: Romans 6:19-23
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
For all the strengths of the traditional Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service one of it’s greatest weaknesses is that it does not contain an Old Testament lesson, without a little bit of finagling. The Old Testament is fundamentally important and foundational to our understanding of who we are, where we have come from, it teaches us of the brokenness of humanity and shines a light on our very own hearts to show us our desperate need for something greater than our own broken will. It convicts us for our need for Christ.
Now, in order to understand what St. Paul is writing about in the epistle lesson this morning, we have to understand the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and if we wish to understand Genesis 3 we need to understand Genesis 1-3, which contains the creation narratives we are familiar with. If you are not familiar with Genesis 1-3, I would urge you, strongly to spend a few minutes reading these chapters this week, but in order for you to understand what the rest of the sermon, this is what you need to know: human beings hold a special place in creation, they were God’s final creative act in the creation narrative and not only that but man was given the right to name all of the creatures of the earth. He was given dominion over them. After God was finished His creative act He rested and thought of His work that “it was very good.”
Now in this time after creation, things were very good for the first humans and very good for all of creation. They had but one commandment and that was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sadly, the idyllic time did not last forever. Soon, one who had a wicked desire, one who wished to diminish the glory of God that Adam and Eve were able to enjoy, entered their world and through conniving convinced Eve to doubt the words that God spoke to Adam and so she ate the forbidden fruit and Adam did likewise and their eyes were opened to good and evil. Now, I do not want to delve too deeply into the theology of the creation and fall – but there is one major misconception in our time that I want to put to rest and that is that while Eve did wrong – it was not her fault. Too often people try and blame her, either to be misogynistic or to discredit scripture, the commandment was to Adam and it is clear that Adam is there with Eve and at any point he could have stopped her from eating the fruit and even in his failure to do so, he didn’t have to eat the fruit. Adam, not Eve bears the responsibility for the fall of man.
Now, before we proceed I want to read to you the curse, the curse that was not only upon Adam and Eve, but is upon all of humanity and in fact all of creation, it is found in Genesis 3:16-19:
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Now, I left out the first part of the curse, the curse that is upon the serpent, which also holds the first messianic promise, because I do not want to distract from the trajectory we are on today, but I do want you to understand that even in this painful curse, God gave mankind hope. But none the less it is after this fall that we see pain, animosity in marriage and relationships, hardship in labor, the corruption of creation and death introduced into this world which was called very good by its creator. It is with this in mind that St. Paul writes what we’ve read today. This is the cause of the infirmities of the flesh and this is why we with the saint bemoan, “why do we do the things we ought not to and not do the things we ought to!”
St. Paul launches into an imperfect analogy, for how can we set free from bondage only to be bound again, yet this is what it is, and this is how we are to understand what has happened to us when we become Christian. For when we turn form our sinful ways and are brought into Christ’s warm embrace we are both free in Christ and bound in Christ. In our humanity we lack the words to understand or express this.
At the same time, sometimes we need theology brought to it’s most basic level so that we can understand, so that we can grow in Christ – this does not mean we change the fundamentals of theology, but make it such that the youngest amongst us might understand it and build off those blocks. As some families might give their children a small glass of wine, watered down, we might use basic terms for new converts to understand. Those same converts may go on to seminary some day and study the same theology, but at a much more intense level, but we don’t expect one who was just baptized into the faith to be able to sit through an advanced seminary class. So we may make the faith basic, as the Saint may feel he is doing here, but we do not diverge from the truth we know to be true.
The saint then reminds the Romans and us of the dichotomy of life before faith and after. The wording in the translation found in the Book of Common Prayer is a bit confusing, and so for better understanding the English Standard Version reads: For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
The life we are born into leads leads to greater and great sin, to a numbness to those sins. When we chose to ignore our conscience and the laws of God, we find that our propensity to do things that we should never have done is much greater. Perhaps you can remember a time that you had a hard time in your life and in following the will of God and you can remember how suddenly you found yourself doing the things that you never should have done, that you knew better than to do, for the trajectory of life without Christ is away from God and deeper and deeper into sinfulness. The same happens to those who are not born in Christ and a life of sin leads to a deeper and deeper life of sin.
For the man or woman who is born a new in Christ a transformation occurs and as he presents himself at the foot of Christ and gives himself over to the sanctifying will of Christ, as he embraces a life of righteousness he finds that sanctification follows. That is to say that as we follow Christ, we grow in Christ, as our hearts are given to Christ, so our righteousness grows, not by our own will, but by His will.
The Saint continues in the dichotomy between sinfulness and righteousness. For the non-Christian to be free from righteousness sounds like a great thing, he can do as he pleases, seemingly without consequence, but there are consequences to this. It leads to pain, to loneliness to injury and eventually to death. Righteousness, true righteousness leads to healing and comfort, to community and to life, true life, eternal life.
The saint likes to talk about the fruit of what people do, and there are fruits of righteousness and fruits of sinfulness, perhaps you remember his great list from Galatian 5, which reads: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
These things lead to dissonance in communities and eventually to death. And for those who were not blessed to be born into a Christian family and have come to Christ later in life we may feel shame for the things we once do and we all probably carry with us the shame of times when we wandered outside the will of God. But the grace found in Christ covers that shame, covers those sins and in true repentance, we needn’t feel shame any more.
For we are now free from those sinful ways, we are brought into true life. We are made free not by our hard work, not by our own self righteousness but by putting Christ upon us. How does this change the way we view the world? How does this change the way we act? I think we are able to view the world with more compassion, more kindness. We feel empathy and sympathy for those around us who do not know of the grace that we have, for we have seen that not only were they born into sinfulness, their lives lead to more sorrow and eventually death. But not only do we have empathy for non-Christians, but also we are called to live lives that show compassion, that show them what the Gospel is, that invites them into the freedom and fellowship that we enjoy. We are not to be the frozen chosen, but men and women on fire to show the world the grace that we enjoy.
This grace makes us servants, but much more than servants. A better wording here is that we are actually made slaves to God. Which I know may sound odd to us, for slavery has a gruesome past in our country, but this is not what the verse means, rather we belong to one who has more compassion and kindness towards us than we can imagine. We are purchased and made free from sin. For though we were once slaves to our sin, and now we are made to belong in the family of God.
Perhaps to use the analogy of slavery in our country, we are presented with two very different masters – our own sin-filled affections or God. Many of the infamous slave owners of our sad past were notoriously brutal, were cruel, unkind and unjust, it is the same for when we submit our wills to our own affections. Yet for the slave who escaped or who was bought for freedom there were still rules she had to follow, but she was freed from this cruelty, so is the same for us when we are freed from the bondage of sin. I know this is a bit of a vulgar and perhaps even simplistic example, but we need to understand the stark contrast between our life with and without Christ.
Now this new life we enjoy leads to the fruit unto holiness, leads to fruit that leads to sanctification. Sanctification that happens through the gentle, orderly though sometimes painful work of the Holy Spirit. For those of you who weren’t at Christian Education a few weeks ago, we will review the fruits of the Holy Spirit, for they are not things that come naturally to the sinful natures of mankind, they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. It is these things that the Holy Spirit are working in each of us, and these things lead to true life, true community and most joyfully – eternal life with God.
Our epistle ends with St. Paul’s iconic statement: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we have learned that the result of the fall of mankind is that death was introduced into the world, because our first father sinned we have pain, we have hardship in labor, we have death. This is the natural end to the desire to be our own god, to being our own ruler of our destiny, for we cannot have life without the one who has made life, the one who gives every living creature life. So naturally without Him we will die.
Yet we are not left to wallow in our own falleness, but God has given us life in Christ, life that grows our souls so that we can have eternal life. It is in the spirit that we learn to live in Christ, that we are given the fruits that teach us to submit our will to the giver of life.
We end with this hopeful thing, that though the world around us may be given to its sinful affections, and though we may struggle and fail, we can hold on to the hope that we are made anew and that we are being made new. That though this life may bring us pain, sorrow and heartache, we can look forward to a life where we will be able to truly enjoy the glory of God forever. Where work will be joy and communities will live in peace. This is our hope; this is that which we look forward to no mater what the days may bring.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Text: Romans 8:18-23
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
It may be that the events of the past few weeks have proven to be quite discouraging for the Christian church and in fact many of you here today, and as the world rages with madness it might be perfectly reasonable to conclude that the Christian should become despondent. This, however would be an unreasonable, erroneous and theologically improper conclusion to come to. Perhaps, if the news of the past two weeks has hit you pretty hard these words are hard to hear, but the Christian does not live with a worldly vision, but an eschatological one. That is a vision not of the way things are, but the way they will be at the end of time.
The Christian worldview turns the world on it’s head, we learn, most often of this view from St. Paul’s epistle where he establishes the theology of all ready, but not yet. We are all ready saved, but we will be saved. The kingdom of God has come, but it is not yet complete, though it will be in the fullness of time. We have new life, but the resurrection is not yet here. All ready, but not yet. So the Christian worldview is contrary to that which the world tells us.
Now, let’s be clear, this does not mean that the recent events are without consequences or do not mater.They most certainly mater and there will be consequences both now and eternally. This also doesn't mean that we must simply be quiet and complacent, or ignore our consciences. But, we must live within the rule of the land, so far as our consciences allow us to, and where we cannot, we do not seek to harm others, but gently and kindly follow our own consciences.
It may be that persecution will come to the church, it all ready has in other places in the world, it may be that people will hate us for being Christian, there are some who all ready do. These things should not surprise us because before Christ left he he promised these things would come. But, it may be that nothing will happen, it may be that we would be able to live peaceable with those whom disagree with us, and those whom we disagree with. The later is of course the hope of the constitution of our country, that people of many beliefs and views could live together and through earnest dialogue not live more segregated lives but rather be the better for it and live peaceable with each other.
But, the former could happen too, and as heartbreaking as it may be, as sorrowful as it would be, we must not lose sight of the fact that God is on our side and as one commentary said of the first verse of our epistle lesson for today “the ultimate glory that Christians will receive is so stupendous that the suffering of present time are insignificant in comparison.” It is this truth that we hold on to when the world rages in a way that we cannot comprehend, when every thing falls apart, whether it be personal turmoil, family trouble or the world around us is crumbling, the future glory is so stupendous.
Now, we hold on to hope in this wild and mad world for in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he talks about how though we, in particularly those of us who have converted to Christianity, we once sons of darkness, sons, or daughters of the world, are now in the light and we are to walk as children of this light. That the fruit of this light is all that is good and right and true and one day the light will come in all fullness and wickedness will be exposed, so we stay faithful to the good and the true and the beautiful, no mater the cost, believing that the light, that is Christ will come back again one day.
Before we delve further into the epistle lesson today, I think it would be wise that we wrestle for just a moment with what the christian life should look like. For our life is to be a witness to the gospel of Christ, to shine forth its goodness, not because we are good, but because Christ’s goodness is in us. For those of you who have been coming to Christian Education after church, you know we have been talking about the Holy Spirit, and how after Christ ascended into heaven the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within the church and works in us for our sanctification. Now, the mark of the Christian is that he or she exhibits the fruits of the spirit and what are these fruits? They are found in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and against these there are no law. The saint also talks elsewhere about the importance of humility, and so we pray that we might grow in these attributes as we grow in our sanctification, and if we are dwelling in the spirit, then certainly there are no forces in the world that can stop the gospel of Christ.
Now, let us delve a little deeper into the Epistle lesson. There is no sin, no crazy idea that can be espoused by the world that is new, I know they may seem new, and certain ideologies of today try to imply that they are new and therefore enlighten, but really, there is nothing new under the sun, only new ways of saying old things. Old heresies packaged in new wrapping. So when the saint tells the Roman Christians, who lived in a time of decadence and self service, that he doesn’t even consider the suffering of present time, that the persecution that the church faces at that time, is not even worth his breath, isn’t even work acknowledging, he might as well be talking to us, or to those churches in the world that face true physical persecution. For the church has endured this and will continue to endure it, so long as we stay faithful to the gospel, and dwell in the Holy Spirit.
However, he does not want to give the false hope that things will definitely get better in this time, rather, our hope is the glory that is to come. Our hope is the eternal glory that is so much greater than the things of this world. For when the heavens and the earth were created, they were created in perfection, they were called very good by the creator and the only one who could ever be good. Yet in the fall, not only did the will of man fall and become corrupt, but all of creation fell along with it. Instead of peace and glory reigning under the king of kings, we find rebellion, dissonance and a delighting in lesser things. Yet creation still aches for the coming restoration and we see little glimpses of the coming glory in a beautifully painted sunset, in the majesty of mountains, in the compassion shown to the weak, the poor and the innocent, in a thousand actions and incidents that happen through out the day. Yet we also see the ravaging effects of sin, as it disintegrates the world around us, weakening relationships, demolishing the natural world and mocking the God that created it.
Now, not only do we see the coming glory at random points in time, the point of the liturgy is to point out the coming glory, to give us a tiny taste of what is to come. In the liturgy we start out with an observation of our state, that we are sinful and separated from God, that we have failed to uphold even the most basics of God’s law, which is why we call out for his mercy, but then we are taught, we hear the word of God which acts to convert our hearts and minds, we are taught that we might grow in the grace which has beckoned us here. We approach the heavenly throne with prayer and are brought into holy fellowship. Then finally when we break bread together and in a very real and mystical sense, in a way that surpasses our understanding we communion with God himself, we for a moment experience the coming glory, we experience that which we ache for and that which the world aches for.
Creation, and all of the creatures there in are eagerly waiting for the time when all of us will experience that which we taste in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. We know that there is something greater, something better than that which we have now, we know that we taste something great, at the table and we long for it in our hearts, but some how we know that there is something greater and though we glimpse it with weak understanding at the table, we hope for its fullness when all things are completed. It is this glory that will come in the fullness of time that St. Paul talks about and that we wait for with all of creation in eagerness.
It would be easy to think that when all things are made right, that God is just going to wipe the earth out, and demolish it, sending it spinning out of it’s orbit into insignificance, but this is not what scripture teaches. Rather the heaven and the earth will be recreated. Popular modern american theology teaches that only your soul maters and the resurrection is the resurrection of the soul only, but this is not only unbiblical, it is profoundly dangerous and because of this danger and the prevalence of this thought in our culture today, I wanted to pause a moment to point it out and redirect you towards a more biblical understanding of God’s coming glory.
In the fullness of time God will make a new heaven and a new earth, just as He is in the process of recreating each and every one of us, and in the end of times we will be raised in glorified bodies, so too will the earth be recreated, and returned to its perfected and pre-fallen state. So, creation does not eagerly await its destruction but rather all of creation waits for the time when all glory is restored, remade and finally made anew.
Though we see the destructive power of sin in the world, though we feel the heart ache it causes and see creation pained by the fall of the caretakers of it. Yet in some way it seems the Saint expects that creation knows the end game and like a woman eager for her child to be born creation groans for the coming glory. He compares this expectation to that of a woman in child birth and this is not an analogy that is original to him, but one Christ used too to express what it is like to wait for the coming glory. The coming glory will be much like the joy and glow we see in the face of a new mother, yet first we must go through that pain of child birth, we must endure the things that are coming. We must pass through the unreasonableness and wickedness of the world. For just as pain in childbirth was part of the curse of the fall, so too is the wickedness of men.
This groaning is not limited to creation as I have mentioned we long for this coming completion. For although we have the fruits of the spirit, although we are being recreated we wait, eagerly for the time when we will be fully adopted as sons, and daughters. We wait eagerly for bodies that will not fall apart with time. We await the time when our adoption into the kingdom of God is complete.
Now the world around us may very well be mad, the world around us may very well fall apart and even the American church may face persecution, though we pray that it does not, but we see our hope is not in such things. We see our hope surpasses anything we can experience in the here and now. We see our hope is great indeed.
So although the world may seem very mad right now, let us not grow weary, let us not give up hope. Rather live out the gospel every day in our lives, live out the promise that if we repent and believe that the kingdom of heaven is at hand that it will come in all glory and we will be made children of God. We will be brought into his warm embrace to enjoy His glory forever. Let us make that our hope, enjoying the gifts that we are given now, but dwelling always in the Holy Spirit and the fruits that he endues with with. For not mater what may come the eternal hope and glory is a much greater thing.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
June 21st, 2015
Text: 1 Peter 5:5-11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
It has been said that Karl Barth once said that you should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, it is advice that I almost always reject, but something happened this week. Something I think that needs to be talked about, something that needs to be seen in the light of the gospel of Christ. Because even though it was an attack on a specific race of people it was also an attack on the body of Christ, it was an attack on our brothers and sisters, in fact on the very institution that we are a part of — the Christian church. For even though this was a horrible act of racism and it was intended to divide Americans, white from black, suffering within the church acts to unite the church, it ought not be a cause for us to turn on our brothers and sisters though the devil may tempt us to do so, but instead be united with them, mourn with them, cry with them —— and forgive with them.
Over the passed few years, even since I was ordained there have been horrible acts of violences against many different groups of people who didn’t deserve it. Against movie goers and children, against marathon runners and college students, but for whatever reason this one touched me in a way these other horrible acts haven’t, it may have been because he hated these people for their race, and was willing to kill, hoping to divide neighbor against neighbor, but I think it was because, despite the fact that this attack was a racially motivated attack, he attacked the body of Christ, and even though I have never met the martyrs of Charleston, they are my brothers and sisters, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I know this is a hard thing to talk about, and I have not known the pain and fear of racism. From all conversations I have had and all evidence that I have seen it seems it is a very real problem in America, which is heartbreaking and the church should be involved in the conversation to bring reconciliation and healing, I do not wish to negate these facts, but this is not what we are talking about today. I simply want to acknowledge this and make it clear that it is not my attempt to pretend these problems do not exist before we talk about what happened next in Charleston, South Carolina, because what happened next was the most Christian response I have seen in any of these painful situation it was beautiful and it was sad.
As we know the shooter was arrested not longer after and this past Friday had a bond hearing. At this time the victims’ families were able to confront him. What happened defied the logic of the secularist and the media, and though it was surprising, it shouldn’t have surprised us. One by one, with profound pain in their voice and tears in their eyes they all told this young, lost man, that they forgave him.
Felecia Sanders, who lost her son said: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms, you have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know, every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” She asked for God’s mercy to be upon a man who hates her simply because she’s black, who killed her son, who by all accounts was an excellent man. The world could not process this.
Others spoke with similar words of forgiveness. The one that caught me the most was an Anglican priest Anthony Thompson, whose wife was at the Bible study and said a similar thing to the young man: “You know I forgive you, my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who maters most Christ.
The media was baffled by these words, the talking heads didn’t know how to respond to them, and so they were quiet and then they went on with their normal post horror dialogue, about gun violence, racism and America. One headline read “Victims Families Confront Shooter (pause) Forgive Him.” The title using dashes to imply a pause, a surprise by their action and to this world the action is surprising. Yet they did the right thing, the hard thing, the Christian thing. This does not mean that the young man should go free, or not suffer to societal consequences to the actions — but in their hearts, the victims families have decided to struggle out forgiveness towards him, as should we when someone injures us.
This may all seem like a random ramble, as though I’m talking about current events and not much else, yet it has everything to do with these lessons. Let us first start with the gospel for a minute. We see the Pharisees and scribes wondering why Jesus is allowing the lowest of the low to come on to him, why he is spending time teaching and being with the sinners. Yet he responds that these are the people he was sent to, he uses parables to illustrate what a joyful moment it is when the sinner repents. This is a joy that we are invited to share in. The grace that extends through Christ, given not only to us, is enough to forgive the prostitutes, the criminals and even the murders.
What the families of the victims in Charleston did was profoundly hard, and must have been one of the most painful things they have ever done. Yet they acted as an example to us, if they can forgive someone through such pain and loss certainly we can too. Yet the world would tell us that we don’t have to, or can wait, can demand that justice be dealt out first. The worldl response is not the biblical response. We must forgive all who trespass against us. It will be hard and it will be painful, but this is the Christian response to hatred directed at us, forgiveness.
This is in part what the epistle lesson is about. St. Peter exhorts us to be humble and submit to one another. This submitting is referring to the Christian community. We must not allow ourselves to be tempted into ruling over one another with pride. But humility applies to all our interactions. Taking the humble road is the tougher road to take. Yet, the scriptures call us to do it time and time again. For humility allows us to grow in Christ to grow in grace. It is painful and hard to have the humility to forgive those who have hurt us so deeply and to not have to always be in the center light.
Not only are we to be humble before our fellow man, we are to be humble before God. Which intellectually seems like it should be easier than humbling ourselves before our fellow man, certainly it must be easier to be humble before the one who created us, who formed us, but it has been my experience this is the harder thing. It is our hubris that makes us want to be our own gods, that makes us want to make up the rules as we go along. It is our hubris that makes us ignore the will of God and follow our own heart, our own desires that we know full well are contrary to that which God has commanded. So, it takes humility to strive to do this, it takes humility to recognize our sinful condition and the need to follow God.
It takes humility to realize that our reward isn’t in the here and now, but in God’s own timing. So too, we cast our cares on God, we don’t seek our own solutions, though we work hard, and seek solutions to problems, we trust that God will work out even the most impossible of situations and God will use them to His glory. And likewise we bring all our cares, small and big, our fears about making ends meet, our anger at our neighbor, our worries, and our joys and lay them at his feet. We bring them to the creator of all and He listens and as hard as this last part might be to wait for, in His timing he gives us the solution. For the our creator, the God of the world cares for each and every one of us. Not as the preachers of the prosperity gospels say we are cared for, but as a father cares for his children, with kindness and direction, with discipline and love.
But we are exhorted to be sober and vigilant in our lives for the devil seeks to destroy us. I have always appreciated the phrasing here, “be sober and be vigilant for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking who me may devour.” Our walk in Christ will not be with out trouble and the devil wants our destruction, wants to devour us. In our postmodern context in America, we so often like to diminish the fact that there are angels and demons at work, and we forget about this. Yet this is a very real threat. The devil whispers in our ear that it’s okay to eat too much, or too much to drink, just this once. Tells us we don’t have to forgive those who have harmed us, he deteriorates our moral fiber and our life in Christ and sometimes in such a subtle way we don’t even notice it.
It is without a doubt that the devil did his work in Charleston earlier this week and it is likely that he tried to make the families feel as though they didn’t have to forgive the man, yet they understood this simple truth, that the devil wanted them to not only lose their loved ones, but for their souls to die as well. So we must be always on guard for these temptations and always submitting to the word of God, and not to the little teases that tell us we know better than God. For these thoughts do not come from our intelligence or moral compass, but from the devil who desires to devour us, to destroy us.
St. Peter reminds us that the consequences of this destruction are seen in the world, and we can certainly see the hand of the devil and the after affects of sin in the world around us. We see it in little things, as drug culture and drunkenness become more and more celebrated and sexual immorality is the acceptable norm. We see it in our media and we see the most disastrous effects of it when we look at how we treat the sanctity of life. We scramble for answers when horror hits our homes, like that of Charleston or any number of other violent out bursts over the past few years, but we know the answer, it is the brokenness and sinfulness of man.
It is the fact that we as a culture have traded in God for any golden calf that catches our eyes, and instead of seeking God and following his commandments to be kind, loving, and peaceful we celebrate violence, arrogance and pride, because the worldly mantra of “whatever makes you happy” has become the norm. Yet this mantra has its consequences and though the world doesn’t see the consequences right away, we can see in these men that commit such horrifying acts of violence the eyes of one who has stumbled so far from grace. It is with a heavy heart that we have no doubt that they have embraced the evilness of the devil. Their actions and their lives can be described as nothing more than deranged evilness and until we start to recognize this as the problem, it will only get worse.
In contrast to this wickedness St. Peter paints of a picture of the Christian life, a life in the God of all grace, this is the God who came to earth and died for us, came to earth and died for the worst of the sinners. There was a 16th century Englishman named John Bradford, who upon seeing a harden criminal being dragged off to jail said “there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” This is the same for us, and we ought not hold ourselves too high, because who knows where we would be if it was not for this grace.
Our lives are being made perfect in this grace, not immediately, but through the long slow process of sanctification, of repenting of our sins, of our evils, and he is strengthening us and giving us peace. He is calling us through the pain, confusion and turmoil of this earthly life and into the peace that only he can give.
St. Peter ends with the statement “To Him be glory and dominion forever.” And here we remember the Westminster Catechism and the famed opening question: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” It is here that we begin and here that we end. Even though life will be difficult and provide us with challenges, no mater what those challenges are we are invited to live in Christ. To follow him seeking to glorify Him in all that we do. This is the Christian calling in the valleys and on the peaks of life, to live our life out with the saying: “To God be the glory, now and forever,” in our hearts and in our minds no mater what may come next. Amen.
March 1, 2015
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The first letter to the Thessalonians was a letter reminding the Christians at Thessalonica to be looking for the second coming of Christ, to be prepared as though his return was imminent. It is, as all the letters are, a letter to us as well, reminding us to be prepared for Christ’s imminent return. This view, the constantly looking for His second coming is one that the Church has typically lived in. So dominant in the thought of the church that classical Christian architecture calls for the church to face east, that is when the Christian worships, he worships east, for he is looking for the son of man coming from a cloud from the east.
This constant and expectant looking is a part of the Christian life, we are to be constantly preparing for his coming. We are to live with an eschatological view, that is a view that looks for the end of this time.
The idea of eschatology, the word and the thought process is one that we should all become comfortable with, if we are not. Eschatology is the study of the end of times, for some it can become almost neurotic obsessive study. Perhaps you remember the popular late 90s early 2000s Christian fiction book series called “Left Behind,” which played off of people’s fears and made a good deal of money for the author. But an eschatological view is a view that looks forward to the second coming of Christ, that prays “come Lord Jesus comes,” and causes the believer to live as though their life has eternal meaning.
Now living with an eschatological view doesn’t mean that we are to be doomsday preppers, or to not care for material items, whether it be taking good care of our vehicles, the environment or listening good music and justifying this apathetic attitude with the idea that the world will some day be destroyed we faithful Christians will be whisked off into heaven to be with Jesus. Both of these views are not a healthy or helpful eschatological view. Instead we live as though these days do mater, how we live and what we do have eternal consequences because we know that when all of time is complete God will create a new heaven and a new earth, so we trust that this life maters and the things of importance God will redeem. This means that the Christian is to live as though Christ is coming back tomorrow but at the same time with intentionality and purpose in this day.
Now, before we start to look at the passage for today, I want to look at a classic western Christian explanation to the question of how then should we live? Sometime in the 4th century monks developed from the book of Proverbs and other sources what are known as the seven deadly sins and subsequently the seven virtues. Now these seven sins and virtues aren’t a core part of Anglican theology or even reformed theology, they are integral in Roman Catholic theology and I do think they are worth hearing about at least once.
The seven deadly sins can be said in various ways but they are typically listed as: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, in some lists more archaic language is used, but this modernized list is sufficient. We see all these as being things that St. Paul’s writing and others condemn, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how destructive these actions might be in the Christian’s life. The seven virtues, four cardinal and three theological are prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and love, the first four being the cardinal and the latter three being the theological. Cardinal virtues are those virtues that almost every culture has revered as to what makes a good person, they were first defined in pre-Christain Greek philosophy, and the theological being those found in the bible, and the most important, and if we remember St. Paul’s famous treatise on love in his first epistle to the Corinthians. We remember that love is the one that will last, love is the virtue of all virtues.
Now please don’t think that I have gone on a serious tangent, but these things are good to know, because the question of “how should we live in a fallen and broken world?” is a question that should be on the front of our mind, and while there are certainly other formulas for looking into the the sin in a life and as guides to how we should live.
For example another excellent way of checking our consciences and inspecting the inner part of our hearts is earnestly inspecting them against the back drop of the Ten Commandments. This is the reason why we read them monthly for they reveal in us our failings. Likewise the seven deadly sins are very practical guidelines to check our hearts as well. Have we chased our lusts allowed them to take over our hearts? Have we been gluttonous for more than we could possibly want? Are we greedy? Have we been lazy when we should work hard? Responded with wrath when mercy or justice were needed? Been envious for others blessings? or lived with pride? In the same way the virtues are a response to these things.
The question of how then should we live is always one we must wrestle with, and one St. Paul talks poignantly about throughout his epistles. Not that it is our work, or our life saves us, but we are to live worthy of our calling as children of God. These virtues are the the thing that grows of a vibrant life in Christ. Instead of lust we live with chastity, that is we live with an appropriate sexual affections. We act with temperance, instead of gluttony — one glass of wine, or one hamburger is sufficient, not an entire bottle or three burgers. In lieu of greed we act in charity or love. In place of sloth we act diligently, we work hard and are not afraid to toil with the work we are called to. When we might wish for wrath and vengeance we must live with patience, allowing God to be the one who doles out justice. Instead of envy, kindness of the Christian life is one of kindness towards all people and instead of pride humility understanding that all our goodness stems out of the goodness that God has put in us.
So this is how we ought to live, seeking the virtues, the lifestyle that is laid out in scripture. It is when we struggle, when we give these things to God that we learn to be sanctified. If we find we are struggling with a given sin, we are called to confess them, primarily to God, but some sins we must confess them to our confessor. With some, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox the confessor is the priest, some Anglicans accept this too, though, I would simply suggest that there be someone whom you can confide your personal struggles are, a Christian friend of the same sex is often best for this. If you chose a priest he is to help you work through whatever problems have besieged your hearts and in your repentance assure you of your forgiveness. It is in our constant turning and repentance we seek sanctification by seeking virtue, which comes from God.
We turn now to our epistle lesson where St. Paul emphasizes how destructive sexual immorality is, it is an action that St. Paul is insistent we flee from, time and again he warns against it. For this reason lust is one of the seven deadly sins. Sexual immorality has haunted both the church and culture through out their entire histories, and certainly we probably all know of at least one incident that is closer to home than we would care for. So, why is it that we have such a hard time with this one and St. Paul is so insistent upon it?
Our modern culture would tell us that behaving rightly in sexuality is no big deal. The world would tell you, “really, it’s no big deal, whatever floats your boat.” Perhaps the most recent evidence of this comes from the particularly disturbing recent release of a film that was adapted from a rather horrible and popular book that glorified abuse and domination of women. There are of course other examples the deteriorating sexual morality in culture, but this one is recently and powerful.
I think sexual immorality is so dangerous because it is so to go astray, the gratification is so quick and when it captures our imagination it so quickly takes our mind off God. Yet at the same time at the time when one stumbles into it seems so docile and perhaps even normal. Yet the destruction builds exponentially. For this reason, I suspect St. Paul identifies it as so profoundly important to keep our sexual affection in check. Practically within the church this means that the single person is to abstain from sex and the married person is to enjoy only the person to whom they are married to, for sex within the covenant of marriage is a good thing, and in fact a part of that covenant.
With sexual immorality more than any of the other sin a person can so quickly lose control of all things — but the Christian is called to have self control, to act out their life in holiness and honor. This isn’t some stuck up self-righteousness but it is acting in kindness, it is acting in faith, it is acting in the eternal hope of the final promise of Christ’s return and it is, most importantly acting in love — the fullness of love, self giving and unselfish love.
Holiness is delighting in the world, it is laughing with those we love, it is being kind to all people — the creepy bum, your estranged sister, your obnoxious coworker. Holiness is loving those who have wronged you, and forgiving them with an open heart. Holiness is not keeping score, is not holding yourself higher. Holiness is knowing that the source of your holiness is God Himself.
When we live in self control and holiness we flee from the winds of the world, we flee from the things that push us around like a leaf in the wind. The Christian is steady, we follow the spirit, but we follow it not as some wild dog chasing a piece of paper being blown down the street. We follow it while checking the word of God, we follow it with Godly council. We fight the destructive fires of lust that can ruin lives, break hearts and destroy our relationship with God.
Lust, perhaps more than any of the other sins destroy our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, it builds up distrust, they demolish the communities that Christ so carefully forms in our churches. It was for this reason that the New England puritans made infidelity a capital crime. For they realized such things were so evil that it was better to be rid of such people than to risk a community falling apart. This attitude certainly lacks the grace that the church must exemplify, but it does help us to understand how severe and painful lust can be on the oneness of the church.
We are to repent and flee from such things because this destructions not only destroys communities but it breaks God’s heart and for those who have been warned and do not flee such things, or for those who are unrepentant of their actions, God will have the revenge of those who have been hurt. That is to say — their is justice in the end. So we must flee lust.
So flee immorality, whatever immorality may tempt you or haunt you and run towards Holiness and by the grace of God, he will give you holiness. When you struggle with sin, pray, pray for God’s grace and strength and over time it will come more and more.
The final verse from todays epistle bears looking at it from a different translation, for despite the beauty of the King James Version, sometimes the translation is a bit incomprehensible, the verse reads in the English Standard Version as: therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. It is a heavy statement, but what is says is, these things come from God and we know them because they are laid out in scripture and they are laid on our heart by the power of the holy spirit.
For the holy spirit is the one who develops our conscience and if you remember other passages by St. Paul, what we know of as the conscience is the law that is written upon the flesh of the heart. So we must listen to our conscience and we check it regularly by reading scripture and by praying.
If we boil it down all which we’ve said and learned today it can be summed up as we must flee immorality — but we must flee towards God, we must flee towards love. We must live in God’s love and act in love that writes on our hearts a conscience, that builds within us the virtues of God. This is what we were made for that through the grace found in Christ’s death, given by the Holy Spirit we are being remade into someone who can live in a relationship with God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen
Text: Romans 12:1-5
January 11th, 2015
Rev. Ian E. Dunn
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
We live in a time of tremendous busy-ness. A time when it seems that to have a full calendar is to have a virtuous life. Children are rushed from soccer practice to violin practice to ballet while our lives are filled with their own demands, so that we scurry around without a moment to pause or think. This life is the normal for so many of us that we don’t even bat an eye or question if it’s normal, healthy or what God wants.
We were created to work, we were created to tend to the garden and the earth, to be stewards of it and tend to it, so it is natural for us to long to work, to long to be busy and create good things. For this is what God has created us to do, to be hard workers and to be creative. We see evidence of this on the 6th day of creation. Where we see that humans are created not only in the image of God, but in order to be fruitful and multiply to fill the world and subdue it. That is to say to have families and with those families go into the world and create order - work the land that God gave humanity. However, the end of our hard work is not hard work and when hard work becomes the only goal, we have lost sight of the important things, we have lost sight of what our calling is as created — creative beings.
Instead we work in order to glorify God, we work hard because we are called to give all we do as living sacrifices. This is in part what St. Paul is talking about in the epistle today. To be a living sacrifice is to live out our lives in order to glorify God. That means that God is to be always first in our mind, whether we are a banker or a teacher or a housewife or a mother or a father or a farmer or soldier, or any combination of these, it is to God that we work to glorify.
Let’s look again at those first chapters of Genesis - more specifically chapter 4 when we learn of Cain and Abel:
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
It is clear from this passage that Cain did something that displeased the Lord, but what was it? Was it that he didn’t bring God some deliciously juicy meat? No, this is not the case - the key to this is in what Abel did as compared to Cain’s actions, and when we look at that we realize what Cain failed to do. The attitude between the two men provides the answer, when Abel brings his sacrifice to the Lord, it is the first born of his flock. The first fruit of his hard labor goes to the Lord, not to himself or his family, but to the Lord. However in this text — the omission is key —Cain does not bring his first fruits to the Lord, his attitude was not that of a joyous giver, but it would seem he was rather begrudging when he gave his sacrifice to the Lord. It also implies a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. It is in giving of our first fruits, our first thoughts to God, that we both become a living sacrifice and learn to trust Him completely for all we need.
The fact of the matter is, is that as people living in a state of sin, we are much more likely to be like Cain than Abel, that we are more apt to give a little bit begrudgingly than to give our whole selves as living sacrifices; however the later is what we are called to do. We are to turn from the sinful ways of selfishness, to rule over those affections and learn what it is to be a living sacrifice. But the first step is we prayerfully retrain our mind to make our whole lives such that they glorify God, that our first thought is to Glorify him and not our own self, to make all we do an action of self-giving to the creator of all.
We retrain ourselves by learning to be a in constant prayer, by daily spending time in His word, by breaking bread both in fellowship and at the Lord’s table in the sacrament. We learn to let our minds be turned to Him in all we do and not let the world dictate our actions but let God our creator be the guide of all we do.
Do not be fooled into thinking this is an easy endeavor, however because of our sinful nature struggle in the turmoil and brokeness of the world this is no easy task, so we should not grow discouraged when our walk with Christ seems to be more of a trudge than stroll. However, the world will tell us that it can give us happiness, and it will for a moment, but that happiness is fleeting. St. Augustine once said that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” that is to say that all these fleeting moments of happiness will inevitably disappoint us, whereas the joy and peace found in God will last for eternity. Yet we can always turn back to God no matter how far we wander, for there is a tremendous grace found in Christ.
Beyond becoming a living sacrifice to God in Christ, the fruit of our devoted prayer life — the giving of all we do to God is also a learning of His will for our lives, a learning of what it is we should do with our moments and our vocation. That is what we were created to be. Vocations are our calling within the church — are we to be husbands, wives or celibates? Mothers, fathers or not? Are we to be priests, architects, engineers or chefs?
Each vocation is no higher or lower than the other, and the demand on the Christian is no different, each person living as a sacrifice to God, brings glory to him, each person in the church is as important as the next. It is easy to think that the priest or senior warden are more important that the lady who quietly vacuums the floors of the church while no one notices or someone whose only offering is to occasionally bring a tasty basket of treats in. All of these actions are important and we don’t do them for our own glory, but rather they are given to the glory of God.
When I graduated from college, life gave me a bit of a curve ball and I was hurled into confusion and felt very lost and alone in the world. I was going to a church in Portland, Maine, it was small and sometimes, if the weather was bad, it was only me and the priest. It only furthered the pain of isolation and while I knew I could go up the street to a much bigger church where there were a lot of young people, I had this strange nagging feeling God wanted me there, which incidentally didn’t make me feel terribly endeared to Him. At this church there was a woman there, who was a mere 90 years old when I met her. Learning of her life later, I learned that it had not been easy on here, yet in that fire, God had given her a joy that I long to have some day. She did very little for the church because of her age, yet her smile became something I looked forward to seeing every week. Her smile was something of a gift, not only to me, but to all who know her. She was living out her vocation by simply loving all those whom she met.
Where I am going with this story is that we should not, as the saint tells us, think more highly of ourselves, or if we are able to do very little for the church more lowly for as we learn from the simple, loving widow that when we live as living sacrifices we can do more than the priest in healing the soul of a broken hearted young man, and so each of us are to act out our calling, not to our own glory, but to the glory of God.
Likewise when we are acting out our vocation in humility and joy we work together with the rest of the church to build the church. You may be an appalling apologist, but are excellent at making disciples or you may be a terrible teacher, but excellent at hospitality so we live these callings out and glorify God, not holding a grudge against those who hold gifts that we lack, but rather joyously working with them to further the goal of the church of Christ.
We are called to be the body of Christ — in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes about the theme of all being different parts of the same body. It should be clear to us that we all play an important part in the body, and when we work as a body - we become both Christ to the world and become what the church is to truly be — a shining light on the hill, a beacon calling all to come, taste and see that the Christ is Lord, and this is ultimately what the calling of the church is.
Finally the saint reminds us of that wonderful dichotomy of an individual relationship with Christ as well as a corporate one. We cannot have only one or the other. One of the biggest reasons for the reformation was because of this false idea that only the priest could have a relationship with God and we needed him for that purpose. The priest ended up taking the place of Christ, not being an icon of Christ but rather a little christs. So the Roman church had grown to over emphasis the corporate relationship with God, in the same way the modern American evangelical church over emphasizes the individual relationship with Christ — which comes to this idea of it’s just me and Christ. As you can imagine both of these are dangerous ideas. Rather we need to have an individual and corporate relationship with God. They keep each other in check and with them both we grow as Christians and as a body of believers.
We, as Christians and part of the church, are all called to a very big thing, that is to be a living sacrifice. To give our lives daily to God, to make him our first and foremost so that we may glorify him in all we do, no matter what our vocation may be. In doing this we learn both humility and to act as the church should, act as one body. So when our lives are given to glorify God, we become shining beacons no matter how simple or complex our callings seem to be. So take heart, do not grow weary in this race and let your light shine before all men, so that all our works may be both good and more importantly giving glory to God.
Dear Lord, may we learn what it is to present our selves, our souls and our bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Text: Ephesians 4:17-32
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Today’s Epistle lesson is really about Truth, what is truth and how does it change our lives? St. Paul is very clear here, so that there is no questioning that Truth is from God and it is revealed in Christ. That to know Truth is to know Christ and to know Christ is to know Truth. This Truth that we find is Christ is a force that changes us, not that we live as the world lives, but rather live as Christ lived, in the way we can see in His gospels and in the way that the apostles have instructed us.
In order for us to start to understand this passage and in order for us to start to understand this truth we start in the middle of the passage with verse 21 “If so be that ye have heard him (that is Christ), and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
This is a quick and simple statement, almost snuck into the letter without much emphasis, but it is very important for it makes a strong and important theological statement - Christ is Truth. If you want to know Truth - look to Christ and if you know Christ - you know Truth. On this belief hangs the Christian religion.
There is an old saying that goes something like this: “If you want to know what a perfect or true human looks like, look to Christ, if you want to know what God looks like, look at Christ.” That is to say that Christ was the perfect man while also being fully God, and in his life on earth, he revealed the nature of God, as being both full of truth and compassionate, caring for his people, while being distraught at false teachers. In the same way he showed what a man who was not fallen should look like and how he should behave. He showed how men and women would and should behave if they were not rotten to the core with sinful affections. If you want to know truth, if you want to be truly alive - seek Christ.
It is in this knowing of Christ - in this knowing of the truth that our hearts are transformed, that we are brought to a place where we flee from our old ways, where we flee from the afflictions and affections of the world and flee towards Christ and the way that he instructs us to live, following after His example and learning from what apostles have taught us. St. Paul often refers to the way of the world in his epistles, but today he calls it “living as gentiles do,” these are basically synonymous terms. Today we might refer to the same type of behavior as worldly, doing as the secularists do or even pagan.
Before we are in Christ our minds are corrupted by the plague of original sin which misleads us and causes us to think that we are our own god, that we can create our own destiny, that we can save ourselves. Yet from the very beginning of creation we see this is a deadly and tragic assumption. Time and time again, humanity and the Israelites decide that they can do better than God can and they set out on their own, only to find that they will fail. Likewise when we live in the world, when we live in the corruption of our mind we inevitably find failure as well, that over time this only leads to discourse, sorrow and heartbreak. So we seek Christ and allow him to convert our minds.
Likewise the heart and the mind are not separated in the Christian’s worldview. As Anglicans we are reminded weekly that God has called us to love him with our hearts, souls and minds and in this passage the saint reminds us that how one aspect of our self behaves or believes directly effects how the rest of our self. So if our mind is constantly day dreaming about our neighbors pretty wife or fancy new car, chances are our heart will become very sick as well, if it is not all ready. Likewise if we only have a knowledge of God, but no love for him, we are not being transformed. Instead we are transformed in heart and mind.
We see in our culture today a distressing need for more, more than we could ever need. We are inundated with ads that tell us if we eat at a certain restaurant or buy a certain kind of car or shop at certain stores that our families will be happier, that we will find more pleasure or that the things that ail us will be made better and this might be true for a moment, but these are fleeting hopes and temporary fixes.
We have to understand that delighting in the world around us, delicious food, the love of a husband or a wife or even a nice house is not bad, and in fact these things are biblical but when we clamor after these things at the expense of our relationships with God, with our family and with our neighbor, they are useless. When we seek them to fix all our problems, instead of seeking Christ first, they will inevitably fail us. So it is when our hearts and minds are corrupt, physical pleasures and corruptions take the place of these good things, we lose sight of what is important in the corruption of our hearts and over time this corruption leads to the chasing after all worldly things or as the saint says when given to the way of the world we “work all uncleanness with greediness.” (If this is unclear, the translation from which I do my personal devotions reads “greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”) So hard hearts lead us down a wild and unhealthy path, that always wants more.
As we have discussed and seen the hardness of heart is not the path that we learn from Christ, and we can see from the testimony of his life that his heart was certainly not hard, but rather full of compassion and love for all who came to him in true repentance, in the realization of their need to be transformed from the ways of the world around them.
So when we come to Christ - we put off our old self and put on Christ. St. Paul talks about this time and time again in his epistles. He talks of putting away our old ways, and how even for him, that sometimes he needed to be reminded of this daily and likewise so do we. Here he is calling the Ephesians and us to not live as they once did when they were gentiles but instead live as Christ has taught us and showed us to do. It is easy to look at the world around us and think, “well that action isn’t so bad,” or “I really wish I could experience that,” but if it is contrary to how Christ lived then we are not living in the way that Christ has taught us, and we are to flee from such things. For if we slide off that path just a little bit, we come tumbling down a steeper hill than we might have imagined.
Yet there is hope - in Christ’s grace our mind and spirit are renewed, in Christ we are given the opportunity to put on a new self that God has fashioned in his very likeness. That is, we are recreated, we are made new and we are given the chance to live in the manner we were created to live in before the fall, we are recreated in His own image. This is the gospel promise - to experience recreation, to live as we were supposed to in the fullness of communion with God and with our brothers and sisters who are also in Christ.
When we are in this newness that is found in Christ, we are called not only to put away these falsehoods, these temptations of the world, but to also speak the truth. We are called to live and speak the truth in all we do. Yet what does speaking the truth look like? It is not an oppressive thing as some have supposed. In a desire to speak the truth, in the desire to show the evil of the world, some have given into evil themselves, being spreaders of hatred and not love. Yet if we give into this the devil again has won.
No, we look again at how Christ behaved, the truths he spoke. The ones whom he was kind to were the repentant adulterers, the fraudulent tax collectors who turned from their evil ways at his beaconing, the younger brother who in the complete brokenness of his heart ran back to his father and fell on his knees hoping only for the lowest position in his house. The villains in these stories were the tyrannical religious leaders who were not happy to simply bring these people back to God, instead they burdened them with more rules than could ever hope to achieve, the one casted in a poor light was the unmerciful older brother — who was left with a choice, forgive and love, or stay out in the cold. (As one who has struggled to forgive - I hope quietly that the older brother realized his wickedness and turned to love his brother for until the last day there is always hope for repentance). If we wish to live as Christ lives, we do not tolerate sin, nor false teachings, but we do so with a compassionate heart. Now - isn’t that a bit of a challenge? To find how we balance this act of truth and compassion is certainly a challenge, and even when we do, there will certainly be some who call us prudes or bigots for not accepting their lifestyles or choices, for not living as they do, yet we still must love even them.
Some may say “but Christ turned over tables in the temple, shouldn’t we be outraged too?” And there are things to be outraged about in this world, but we must look carefully at why he was turning over tables. The tables he turned over were money changers were those who profited off of the commoners worship of God. So it is false teachers within the church, those who would profit off of worshippers, those who would mislead and mistreat the children of God, these are the ones who we should be outraged against, not those who are lost and hopeless in the world. This lostness should only bring compassion and a gentle and repeated representation of the truth in the lives that we live and in the words that we speak.
St. Paul goes on to give examples of what this new living in the truth should look like - we may be angry but we do not sin, rather we repent of this anger before the day is over. We do not allow sin to reside in our heart, for even the smallest sin gives the devil a foothold. Even the smallest sin gives him an edge into our lives and minds and it does not take long for him to tear down the goodness that God has planted in us.
I liked to tell my old congregation - that I tell you all these things of goodness, I tell you how we ought to live as the chief among sinners. That is as the saint said - I too struggle with my own sins and I am telling you this, because I see within myself that even if I am given to an evil thought about someone I love, I can see how quickly that love becomes hatred and in the moments before I repent I can see how the devil is delighting in the wickedness he has planted within me. Or even if I am given to a slight temptation, i can see how that temptation quickly becomes an obsession. The point is - we must be on guard for the devil, for he is a roaring lion and he seeks to destroy us. He is very real, do not be deceived into thinking anything different and do not destress that sin is tempting, you are not alone in this struggle, but we all struggle and we all pray for each other, that we may over come these struggles and when the struggle is too hard to do it alone we find a brother or a sister to walk with us in it, we confess our sins to them and we pray together. This is how the body of Christ is to work.
The saint then gives some examples of a new way of living. It could be any act of turning away from wickedness, but here he talks about a thief who no longer profits by stealing, but rather works honestly, so that he can honestly share in the community. It does the reformed thief no good, if he goes on sinning and it does the body of Christ no good. Likewise our talk must be reformed. It is so very easy in what some call a “post-Christian world,” to be given to bitter talk, but we must fight that urge. For though we are quickly becoming a minority for though orthodox Christianity (by orthodox I mean holding to a right belief or as some call it bible believing and not the eastern Church), is coming to be seen as something of an unfavorable world view, we need not be distressed. We were promised to be seen negatively by Christ and our joy does not come from the world - but rather life in Christ, our joy does not come from being validated by what others think of us, but rather the future hope of a completely regenerated body and restored communion with God.
So do not be tempted by negativity, do not be tempted by anger - but rather seek that Joy that is only found in the new creation that Christ has done in us. For this bad talk that the saint talks about corrupts our very hearts - this negativity will destroy us if we allow it to reside in us. The word used for bad can also mean rotten. So if we cut these rotten things out of our live we will flourish in Christ, but if we allow them to stay they will destroy us to the very core. We have probably all watched an apple sitting on our counter top - one day there is a small mushy part and suddenly a day or two later the whole of it is mushy and brown and cannot be consumed. It is the same when we allow sin to reside unchecked our hearts become hard and cold. Instead of clinging to these sins we must learn to submit ourselves to the holy spirit, by praying, by reading God’s word, by living in Christ and fellowshipping with his community, by partaking in His sacraments and by repenting of whatever sins ail us. It is in these things that the Holy Spirit works to redirect us back to the right track and back to the good way, for we have been sealed for the day of redemption - that is we have been sealed for an eternal life with God in Christ.
The saint ends by telling us to flee from those things that build bitterness and anger in our heart and to be kind to one another. I have been known to say that the rule of life for the Christian is to live in love - to love God and to love man. This love is expressed in kindness. Kindness which is both quick to gently speak the truth and is quick to forgive, for we have been forgiven a far greater amount than anyone has ever sinned against us and so in this we ought to be quick to forgive all those who have wronged us.
With that in mind - it may do us well to commit to memory the final verse of todays lesson, and to remind ourselves of it regularly: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So now, let us go and do this.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.