True Worship

November 4, 2007
Bible Text: Revelation 7:9-17; Philippians 1:3-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year True Worship Revelation 7:9-17 & Philippians 1:3-11 by William Klock Earlier in this morning's service we prayed in our collect: "Father in heaven, keep your household the church firm in godliness, so that it may by your protection be free from all adversities and may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen." Think about those words: “Keep your household – the Church – firm in godliness” that we “may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name.”  The collect sums up our essential duty: to be steadfast in conforming to the nature of God, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he works to set us apart as a holy people, to sanctify us, so that we can do the good works that God calls us to do – to leave behind the works of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to put on the character of Christ.  And we do this not selfishly for our own benefit, but to give glory to God. This is what the Prayer Book refers to as “our bounden duty and service.”  The post-Communion prayers remind us, saying: “And here 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 partakers of the Holy Communion, may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him.  And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Again, it's the Christian life in a nutshell: God gives us his grace so that, through Christ, we can be restored to fellowship with him.  And while that restored fellowship doesn't instantly make us perfectly righteous on our own – we still have to rely on the righteousness of Christ for our redemption and ultimately to please God – that restored fellowship does do a work of sanctification in us.  It takes a heart that was devoted totally to sin, and turns it gradually and bit by bit toward God.  It's only by the assistance of God's grace that we can continue in that “holy fellowship” and that we can do the “good works” that God has prepared for us “to walk in.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this when it asks its first question: “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  And that's the tack that I want to take with this today.  The “chief end of man” is to “glorify God” and “enjoy him forever.”  That's what we were created for.  So we have to ask: what's our problem?  Birds were created to fly and fish were created to swim, and that's exactly what both of them do naturally and without any problems.  But the last thing that we're inclined to do as men and women is to glorify God.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us in Romans that in our natural state we're all enemies of God – not just indifferent to him, not just not caring about him, but really and truly in complete and total opposition to him and to his plans. God created us to be in close fellowship with himself, but in our natural state we're far from him and can never come close – in fact our desire is to stay away, as far as we can, from him.  That's what sin does.  Light and dark can't exist together, because one drives the other way.  Righteousness and unrighteousness can't exist together for the same reason.  In our case, our unrighteousness drives us away from God – just like most of us wanted to run and hide from our parents when they found out we raided the cookie jar, broke the window, or got in trouble at school.  We know we displeased them, we knew that we were eventually going to be punished, and so all we wanted to do was run and hide.  And for God's part, his perfect righteousness calls for perfect justice.  He can't just overlook our sins.  Our darkness can't be allowed into his presence without first being covered by the the long robe of Christ's righteousness – until we've been washed clean by his blood. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived in that perfect fellowship that God created us for.  But I don't think that's the first aspect of their lives that we think of. No, the first thing we think of is the beauty and perfection of the garden into which God had placed them.  For us, paradise means no weeds, no thorns, no pain, no back-breaking labour, and natural beauty all around.  We're not so inclined to think about paradise in terms of the full fellowship Adam and Eve had with God.  The author of Genesis gives us a great picture of the closeness they had with God when he talks about them actually hearing God as he came down to walk with them “in the cool of the day.” It's interesting that throughout Holy Scripture we see this idea of “walking with God” over and over.  Adam and Eve really did, literally, walk with God – they were that close, they had that kind of intimate fellowship.  And so it's not surprising that we still talk about someone “walking” with God when we want to stress both the closeness of the fellowship that that person has with God and the uprightness of character and life that person has.  But since the fall, none of us can ever walk with God the way that Adam and Eve did.  Not even Enoch.  Enoch “walked with God” and was so close to him that one day God simply took him home with him.  But even Enoch's close “walk” with God wasn't like Adam's walk with God – in order to be that close God had to take him home.  Enoch was a “righteous” guy, but he was still a sinner.  The only way for him to be restored to that full, whole, and open fellowship with God was for God to take him and perfect his righteousness in heaven. I think that heaven was the real hope of Adam and Eve more than it is for anyone who's ever lived after them.  No other human being has even had the fellowship with God that they lost when they sinned.  I can't imagine how pained they must have been when they realised that fellowship was broken.  All they knew of God was his perfect holiness, his perfect love, and his perfect peace.  They walked in that presence every day.  And because they knew the perfection of God's holiness so well and so fully, when they sinned they understood better than we ever can the full magnitude of what it means to offend God – to commit cosmic treason against our Creator.  They knew the perfection of his holiness, and the moment they sinned I think they knew that they had suddenly thrust themselves out of his presence.  They knew what real holiness was and realised that they were no longer fit to be in its presence. The rest of us are a little like chickens.  A chicken doesn't know what it means or what it's like to fly – that's not something they're capable of doing, so it doesn't make much of a difference to them that they can't fly.  But clip the wings of an eagle and ground it, and you've effectively killed the bird.  It's no longer capable of doing what it was created for and it knows it.  All of us who have come after Adam and Eve are like the chickens.  We're born sinners living outside the presence of God.  Adam and Eve were born eagles – they lived in God's presence and then clipped their own wings.  God creates all of us as eagles, but because of our sin we live like chickens.  Adam and Eve knew what it was like to be grounded, but since none of us can soar like they once did, we sadly fail to miss what it is that God created us for. To be restored to God, Adam and Eve put their hope in the promise of the righteous one who would come – in the hope of the Messiah.  But heaven was their only hope for the full fellowship with God that they had before they sinned.  And just like we're not usually inclined to think of life in the Garden of Eden as a time of perfect fellowship with God, we're also not used to thinking of heaven in terms of the restoration of that prefect fellowship.  Ask most people what they think they'll be doing in heaven and they'll tell you about being restored with loved ones, not being crippled anymore, or being able to do all their favourite things whenever they want.  What most people don't seem to mention is the restoration to fellowship with God that we'll have there – being able to be in his presence all the time, never hindered by sin.  I'm sure that Adam and Eve looked forward  to heaven because there'd be no more pain and suffering there, but even more I think they yearned for it because, more than anything else, they missed being that close to God. In Scripture God puts our view of heaven where it should be.  In the Epistle lesson from All Saints, St. John tells us about his vision of God's heavenly court and the saints there.  Notice he doesn't talk about the things we normally associate with heaven: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:9-17) The main focus that Scripture puts on life in heaven isn't all those other things – it's on being in the direct presence of God.  St. John wasn't given a vision of the saints of God embracing their long-lost friends and family, leaving behind crutches and wheelchairs, or just having fun all the time.  John's vision of heaven was of the saints gathered around the heavenly throne in service and worship, while God takes care of their every need.  All those other great things happened too – God promises to take care of us – but that all happens so that we can devote our lives – devote eternity – to the service of God in praise and worship.  And I think John's vision should be a reminder to us of just how wonderfully amazing it will be to be in God's presence and to worship him if all those other great things we expect pale in comparison! The beatific vision of St. John the Divine ought to sound familiar to us, because what the saints do in heaven is the same thing that we ought to be doing here on earth in preparation.  John tells how God cares for the saints so that they can worship him eternally.  Jesus tells us the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount, but relates it to our lives here and now. In Matthew Six Jesus speaks his familiar words: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Jesus' words are hard for us to follow, because it's so often easier for us to trust in those things we can see and hold in our hands, and so Jesus then goes on to remind us that God takes care of the birds of the air and lilies of field.  They don't put in any overtime.  They don't stress about paying bills.  They aren't worried about “keeping up with the Joneses.”  And yet God cares for them – and if God cares for birds and flowers, how much more does he care for the men and women he created in his own image: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6:30-33) This is the whole point of our life here on earth: to learn to trust God, and to devote ourselves to a life of service and worship to his glory.  He promises to meet our needs so that we can seek first his Kingdom.  That's worship. One of our problems is that too much of the time when we think of “worship” we think of what we do at church on Sunday morning.  That is what we do here on Sunday morning, but worship is a lot more than gathering to sing, to pray, and to hear God's Word read and preached.  St. John doesn't tell us that the saints in heaven go about their business six days of the week and then gather around the throne for a couple of hours on Sunday morning.  No, St. John tells us that the saints are gathered around God's throne in worship day and night. If all you do is set aside from ten to noon on Sunday to worship God, your not living the life of the Spirit that God has called you to – and I'll add that if that's all you're doing, your Christian life isn't going to feel very alive and you're not really going to feel the reality of that restored fellowship with the Father that Jesus gives us.  I really think this is why so much of the modern Church has turned to an entertainment oriented model for doing church and turned from true worship to emotional manipulation and “feel good” gimmicks.  Much of the modern Church has been slack in calling people to a life of true and full devotion to God – to a life of true worship 24/7/365, because today's conventional wisdom says that if you ask people to be fully committed, they'll walk away.  After all, we can't ask too much of people.  But if we don't call people to wholly devote their lives to Christ, they won't.  And then they come to church on Sunday morning, not expectantly, not with the idea in mind to gather with their brothers and sisters before the throne of God as the culmination of a week of worship in the more mundane aspects of life, but they come seeking to “experience” God and to have a feeling of his presence that's lacking the rest of the time. The problem is that if it's lacking the rest of the time, it's going to be lacking on Sunday morning too – and so too many churches fake it with worship-tainment that manipulates the “worshippers” into feeling happy and good about themselves and about God. But our “bounden duty and service” isn't just coming each Sunday to celebrate the Holy Communion – it's to continue in his “holy fellowship” and to “do all such good works as [he] has prepared for us to walk in.”  If we live a life of worship all the time, we don't need to come on Sunday seeking God's presence having missed it all week.  Instead Sunday becomes a celebration of thanks and praise with our brothers and sisters and where we find sacramental refreshment and promise of life at the Lord's Table. Christian maturity is what happens when we seek the Kingdom of God first and always.  That's why St. Paul writes in today's epistle from Philippians: For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 3:8-11) Paul's great desire for the Christians at Philippi was for them to abound – to grow – more and more in their lives.  His prayer was for them to conform more and more to the image, the example, of Jesus Christ so that they could show the world what righteousness looks like, and finally to be able to stand before God as blameless and full of the abundant fruit of the righteousness that Jesus gives us.  What I find really strikes me is how Paul ends that prayer: not that they would do all this and grow in righteousness for their own benefit, but that through them God would be glorified. What Paul desired for the Philippians is what God desires for all of his people.  And it's a daunting thing.  No matter how often we're reassured that God will look after the worldly things that otherwise bog us down and consume our resources, it's still really easy to let that happen.  We do get bogged down in the cares of the world.  We do become consumed with worldly things.  But this is why God gives us his grace – that with his help, because we can't do it on our own – we can persevere to the end as we put him and his Kingdom first in our lives. In that same passage from Philippians, Paul gives us some of the most reassuring words in all of Holy Scripture: I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:6) If he was certain of nothing else, the Apostle Paul was certain that what God started he would finish.  God does nothing for nought.  God doesn't waste his grace on any of us.  If he has seen fit to call us to himself, if he as seen fit to send his only-begotten Son to die on our behalf, if he has poured his Holy Spirit into our lives, and if he has blessed us with an overabundance of grace, he will never, never abandon us in our struggles.  God never looks down and says, “I sure did pump a lot of my resources into Bill, but boy did he blow it big time.  I think I'll just take it all back and put all that grace and Holy Spirit power into someone else who will take advantage of it better than Bill did.” No!  When God sees us stumbling and falling behind, he gives us more!  Paul also tells us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.  If we struggle with devoting our whole selves to the glory of God, he will give us the grace we need to overcome those things that are holding us back.  When we sin and drive ourselves away from his holy presence, he pours out his grace to draw us back.  When we have trouble handing over that certain area of our life that we just don't want to let go of, he gives us the grace to find assurance in him so that we can put our trust in him and hand it over. The key is to live in God's grace.  We don't want to be like the man in today's Gospel lesson.  You'll remember that he owed a huge debt to the king that he could never repay.  By all rights he should have been sold as a slave so that the king could at least recoup at least some of the money owed to him.  But the king was merciful and gracious enough to forgive the debt when the man came before him humbly asking for it to be forgiven.  But then that same man, who had shown so much humility before the king and who had been shown so much mercy and grace, went out into the street to find a man who owed him a relatively small debt.  He grabbed that man by the neck and demanded his money back, and when he didn't get it he had the man thrown in to prison. I think that a lot of Christians are like that man that the king forgave.  God offers his grace and mercy to us and maybe we even approach him humbly, knowing we're sinners.  We take God's grace for our own benefit, but all we ever use it for is as a “get our of hell free” card.  We fail to apply that grace to our lives and we don't consistently share it with others.  We forget that God didn't save us from his wrath for our benefit alone.  He saves us so that we can be restored to fellowship with him and so that he can work in us to change and renew our lives as a witness to the world around us of what God is and what he can do. There really is no excuse for what so many of us do.  Christianity is more than just “religion.”  It's more than just a “Sunday thing.”  Christianity is to be a “Christ follower,” and Jesus didn't leave his spirituality at the church door – he lived his life in the grace of God all the time and every day.  He gave himself and everything he had over to his Father in heaven – even to the point of giving his life.  He's our example, showing us the way to heaven.  But are we living in a way that will get us ready for a life of worship in eternity, or are we living more or less like we always did – yes, we're redeemed, yes we've been saved from our sins – but we're still living in a way that serves self instead of God.  We really need to be living in anticipation of what awaits us in heaven, wanting more than anything else to live in such a way here that a life of heavenly worship won't shock our systems when we get there.  Have we given every aspect of our lives over to God, obeying him and letting him use us for his own glory? And so each of us needs to ask: “Am I living a life of worship and service to God?”  God calls us to be living sacrifices.  St. Paul writes in Romans 12: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1-2) This is the key to true worship.  In response God continues to assure us of his presence with us as we come to his Table.  Here he gives us the downpayment on eternal life.  Here he reminds us in the bread and the wine, that he is the one who will take care of us, not just in eternity, but this side of heaven too.  So I urge you this morning, if there is some aspect of life that you haven't given over to God, that you haven't trusted him with, bring it with you to the altar this morning.  Receive God's promise of grace here at his Table and as you do that, lay your cares here, at the pace where he reminds us of his promises.  As he gave himself, body and soul, for you, give yourself, body and soul, to him and live for his glory alone. Please pray with me: “Our Father, we prayed earlier that you would protect us from all adversity so that we may devoutly serve you in our good works.  Help us to understand that what you desire of us is true worship done by the devotion of every part of our lives to you and to your service.  Give us the grace, Father, to hand everything over to you and to devote every aspect of life to what will bring you glory.  We ask this confident in the Spirit that brings us life and by the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 2:13-18 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Truth, Grace, and our "Culture of Death" St. Matthew 2:13-18 by William Klock Christmas is a joyful time – it’s the annual reminder that the Messiah has come to redeem us from death to life.  The only thing that might top it is Easter, when he rose from the dead as victor over sin and death, or maybe the Ascension, when he rose to heaven to rule his kingdom.  Christmas is a time of joy.  And so it’s interesting that of the three saint’s days that fall during these twelve days of Christmas, only one of them – that of St. John, the apostle and evangelist – is a happy commemoration.  While our focus may be on Boxing Day sales at the mall the day after Christmas, the Church commemorates St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and it’s today that we commemorate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod. In our Gospel we read the angel’s warning to Joseph:   Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.  This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet,  “Out of Egypt I called my son.”    Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.   Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:      “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”  (Matthew 2:13-18) Herod was king of Judea, but he wasn’t Jewish.  Like the hated Samaritans, he was half-Jewish – the child of a forbidden mixed marriage.  The Romans set him up as a puppet king.  Despite all of his building projects around Jerusalem, he was hated and despised by the Jews.  He was so insecure on his throne that he murdered and exiled his own sons.  The last thing he wanted to see was the long-expected Messiah come to throw out the Romans and their puppet king.  He may have used the title “King of the Jews,” but no one considered him such – that was the title of the coming Messiah.  And so when the wise men came from the east looking for that King of the Jews, Herod was afraid.  He trusted the wise men knew what they were doing when they went looking for the new king in Bethlehem, so he gave orders to have all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger slaughtered just to ease his fears. Was he truly afraid that the Messiah had come or was he just being paranoid?  From what we know of Herod, he wasn’t a very pious man.  It’s unlikely, at least from what I’ve read of him, that he was pious enough to think that the Messiah had really come.  But my reading about Herod does tell me that he was capricious and put no value on life other than his own.  This is my interpretation of events, but I don’t think Herod truly feared that one of those little children was likely to upset his throne.  When he ordered their slaughter it was a “just in case” move on his part.  He put no value on their lives.  It was convenient for him and gave him a little bit more security – at least it sent the message that you don’t mess around with Herod and get away with it!  We aren’t sure how many children died because of Herod’s decree, but Bethlehem was a small town.  Those who look at the demographics of the ancient world tell us that Herod’s decree probably resulted in about 25 children being killed.  And today the Church commemorates those Holy Innocents. And yet every day in Canada about 275 innocent children are killed in hospitals and clinics before they’re even born.  For every 100 live births, thirty children are aborted.  And those numbers don’t include children killed by the “Morning After” pill or who are prevented from being implanted in the uterus because their mother is on the birth control pill – which results in the abortion of a fertilized egg at least as often as it prevents conception.  In our province alone, forty children are aborted every day. Wednesdays are “abortion day” at the hospitals in Campbell River and Nanaimo.  In each place one room is given over to an abortionist on those days and the women are lined up shoulder to shoulder to get in.  One local nurse estimates that 20 to 25 abortions take place at each of those hospitals every Wednesday.  We read about Herod’s murder of 25 babies and toddlers and we’re outraged!  And yet even more children than that are killed in our province every day.  Under Pierre Trudeau, Parliament eased the abortion laws in Canada in 1969, then in 1988, in the infamous Morgentaler case, the Supreme Court struck down all of the criminal code applying to abortion, thereby allowing completely unfettered access to abortion by anyone and under any circumstances.  Based on the most recent statistics – which only give us numbers through 2004 – over two-and-three-quarters million children have been aborted in this country.  If those numbers remained the same over the past four years, they put us over the three million mark!  And that in Canada alone. Everyone cringes at the story of Herod’s murder of the Holy Innocents, but when it comes to the millions of children murdered in the modern world by abortion, somehow we take it in stride.  Here’s the difference, I think, in the average person’s mind: the children Herod killed were wanted, and those killed by abortion were unwanted.  You see, it started in the 1920’s with the birth control movement.  Sadly not many churches have held out on the issue of birth control, yet it was an issue on which Christians up until about eighty years ago were unanimous in their agreement that it was a violation of both God’s law and natural law.  Martin Luther, the magisterial Reformer, described artificial birth control as something practiced by “swine,” and that was the view held by Protestants and Catholics alike until very recently.  And yet our culture bought into this movement and the natural consequence was the free-sex movement of the 1960’s.  Birth control “liberated” us from what we started calling the “consequences” of sex.  And notice that: a child, which used to be considered a blessing, became a “consequence.”  And so it was only natural that the legalization of abortion would follow.  If you don’t want the child to start with, and then you have an “accident,” the child becomes a “mistake,” then it’s only natural that somehow you’ve got to get rid of it.  That’s how we got here.  All the arguments about the health of the woman, about not being able to afford a child or not being able to care for a child – even the talk of rape and incest – are just window dressing.  Those were just the argument used to convince the holdouts who still put value on children.  The real issue is that the child wasn’t wanted in the first place and now we’ve got to get rid of it.  It all comes down to the fact that as a culture, we place a low value on life – if we place a value on it at all. And yet this is the very life that God lovingly created.  The Holy Trinity existed in perfection before any created thing was ever made, and yet God in his great grace chose to create human life as a means to display his glory.  He created Adam from the dust of the ground and gave him life with his very breath.  He imparted to his creatures his own image.  And when we rebelled and sinned against our Creator, he valued our lives enough to want to redeem them.  We may not be passionate about life, but you know what?  God is!  He created it.  He loves it.  He didn’t have a need to create us, but he created us anyway and gave us life with his own breath.  And when we fell into sin and death, he restored us to life by his own blood. Think of the ministry of Jesus Christ.  In John 10:10 he says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  God saw that the life of his creation was sacred enough that he sent his own Son to redeem it.  That’s God’s passion for life.  He holds it as something holy, something sacred.  But the fact that God sought to redeem his fallen creation reminds us that God is not just passionate about life – he’s also passionate about grace.  Again, he sent his only Son to die for us.  That’s grace.  Grace is God’s unmerited favour.  He knew that in our fallen state we are his enemies – we can do nothing good – and that our every inclination is to evil.  Even our good deeds are tainted with selfish motives.   And because God is both holy and just, he cannot tolerate our sin – even the smallest little bit of it.  And that’s why God is so passionate about grace.  Because in showing us grace through the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, he glorifies himself by giving us the gift we can never earn on our own – the gift we can never merit.  We deserve death and everlasting damnation, but because God values and is passionate about life and because he values and is so passionate about grace, he sent a Redeemer to be what we can never be and to restore us to his fellowship. You might think that the subject of abortion is an ugly intrusion on the joy of Christmas, and yet there’s no better time to address it.  Because at Christmas we celebrate the ultimate gift of life and grace – the Word Incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary – God himself stooping down and becoming one of us that he might give his life for ours. So what does this mean for us as the Church?   The greatest massacre in history is taking place and it’s taking place with the approval of our government – with the approval of those whom we elect to represent us.  What do we do as the Church in response to what is easily the greatest sin ever committed by the human race?  I see the Church responding in three different ways.  Well, some might add a fourth.  There are “churches” out there that have embraced this sin and whose people have promoted abortion, or at least it’s legality.  I can’t say this clearly enough: that is not an option for us.  That is not an option for the Church.  Any so-called church that promotes such a Gospel of death – of anti-life – is no church at all, but a convocation of Satan!  That is not an option.  So what remains? The first thing we could do is ignore the issue.  We could simply chalk this problem up to a fallen world from which we’ve been redeemed.  Or we could simply choose not to address it at all – to remain neutral.  Maybe we could say, “This is a political issue and the Church isn’t supposed to get involved!”  We can stick our fingers in our ears and sing Amazing Grace all the louder.  And yet it’s not enough to sing about grace – we have to put it into action.  And grace in action is concerned about God’s Truth.  Grace in action sees a fallen and sinful world and desires to see it forgiven and redeemed.  And redemption doesn’t happen until we’ve first confronted the reality of sin – the reality that we’re all fallen creatures in need of redemption.  Grace demands that we take a stand for truth.  We need to be as passionate about the truth as God is.  Ignoring the problem – ignoring sin – isn’t the answer.  Jesus didn’t do that. So instead we could be like some Christians.  We could take God’s Truth about sin serious and we could stand on the street corner or in front of the abortion clinic and make sure that the women going in and the doctors and nurses and receptionists and office managers working there know they’re sinners.  We could stand there shouting “murderer!”  We could hold big signs with pictures of aborted babies and rub their noses in it the way you do to a dog that chewed up your shoe or did his business on the living room carpet.  There are Christians that are passionate about life and they make sure people know the truth of their sins.  We could do that and walk away from the abortion clinic satisfied that we’ve spoken the truth about abortion and the truth about life.  We could walk away and hope that those people whom we told were murders will one day take it to heart, repent, and come to the Church.  Lots of Christians do that. But you know, if that’s what they do, they may be showing their passion for the Truth – and grace is all about God’s truth – but they’re forgetting that grace is also about redemption.  Dear friends, it doesn’t do any good to point out the sin in another person’s life without also showing them the sin in your own life and showing them the Saviour who died to take away the guilt of that sin. Imagine a starving homeless man who is one day pulled aside, taken to a place to get fed and cleaned up, given a change of clothes, and given a good job.  Suddenly his life is changed.  Now can you imagine that man going back down to Skid Row where the rest of the homeless, hungry, and jobless are still hanging out – can you imagine him going back there and walking down the street, pointing his finger, and shouting, “Losers!  You’re all a bunch of losers!”  And yet that’s exactly what we’re doing when we stand up for truth by pointing out the sins of others without sharing with them the reason for hope.  We need to go back to the people still on the street and show them where we found food and clothes and a job.  They need to see that we’re not perfect – that we’ve been cleaned up, but still have some of that dirt and grime from the street under our fingernails.  We can’t condemn without at the same time leading those sinners to the Saviour. That’s what grace is all about.  Knowledge of sin is part of God’s plan of grace, but the heart of grace is redemption.  And that’s why we need to be the kind of Christians – the kind of church – that is willing to take a stand alongside the men and women contemplating and hurting from abortion.  They need to know that it’s the wrong choice – that it’s sin – but they also need to be shown the Redeemer.  They need to know that we care as much about their individual souls as we do about saving the life of their unborn children.  You see, grace acknowledges that there’s a gash across the souls of each and every one of us because our sins offend God.  Grace seeks not only to affirm the Truth, but it provides forgiveness and healing.  Grace restores the fallen and the wounded.  Grace condemns the sin, but it also points to Jesus Christ. And remember that St. James tells us talk is cheap.  When people are hurting, they usually need more than us quoting a few Bible verses at them about hope and faith and salvation.  They need to see the Gospel at work in us.  They need to see us being the hands and feet of the Saviour.  To paraphrase James: If a young girl is being thrown out by her parents because she chose to keep her baby, and one of you says, “Good for you!  Go in peace and be warmed and filled, but doesn’t provide the support she needs, what good is that?”  As the Church it’s not only necessary to encourage women to choose life, we need to be there to help them stand with them when the storm of consequences hits them.  As Christian we can’t just point out sin and walk away.  We need to put our arms around the sinner and mourn with them knowing that we are sinners too.  Then we need to stand with them and give them our support as they seek to repent and follow after God. Frederica Matthewes-Green of Anglicans for Life writes that as she was researching for her book, Life Choices, she spent two years asking post-abortive women what the reasons were for their abortions.  She expected answers like, “I’m too young to have a child,” “I don’t have the money,” or “I want to get my school or career underway first.”  But in 88% of cases, the reason was that someone close to the woman, usually a relative or friend, put pressure on her to have the abortion.  In 88% of the cases it was the pressure from one other person.  Imagine what could be done if as Christians we did what we’re supposed to do in showing grace to women like these.  Imagine the influence for life that could be had if there were only one or two otherpeople influencing these women to choose life, and then committing to stand beside them and providing the support and resources they need in the months or years ahead?  Imagine if we showed these women the face of Jesus.  Imagine if we showed them the grace of God. In conclusion let me say: our mission is a Gospel mission.  As he was ascending to heaven, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples, “Go out and form Pro-Life groups and save babies.”  No, he gave us the task of proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples.  We are to stand up for Truth as Christians.  We are to take a stand against evil in this world.  But our primary duty is the world’s conversion to Jesus Christ. And that’s the problem with so much of what I see going on today.  For the last century or more Christians have been lazy.  Because we lived in a predominantly Christian culture we forgot Christ’s Great Commission.  Ultimately, the Church in too many ways has only herself to blame for the godless society we now live in.  We live in a post-Christian age, because for too long we forgot the task of evangelism.  Is it any wonder that there’s little value for life when there’s no value in the culture for God and his Gospel of grace?  Don’t misunderstand me.  We do need to be on the street helping those in need and doing what it takes to help women choose life.  And we do need to work for laws and legislation that promote righteousness, but the bottom line is that if we aren’t about the business of the Great Commission – of making new disciples – our culture will turn farther and farther from God.  If all we do is legislate morality and march in protest of the world’s sins we’ll only be fighting a losing battle.  The only way to have a country and a culture that follow God’s ways is to have a culture of people that desire and follow after God.  The only way to have a Christian culture is to go out and make more Christians.  And the best way to carry out the Great Commission is to truly live the grace that has been shown to us by Jesus Christ.  Don’t just speak it; live it and make it real for those around you. Please pray with me:  Our Father, as we look at the great sin taking place in our world and especially considering abortion, we first and foremost ask for your forgiveness.  We, your Church, have failed so often in the mission you have given us.  We have been lazy in proclaiming your Good News and we have often been lazy in living your Good News.  Have mercy on us and on our land, Father.  And give us a profound understanding of your grace, that we might preach it and live it in this fallen world, that our culture might be redeemed and follow your ways as it sees you at work in us.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 27:1-3 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Christmas Courage 1 Samuel 27:1-3 by William Klock This Christmas Eve I’d like to look at an episode in the life of David that we find in 1 Samuel 27:1-3.  If you have your Bibles, open them and follow along with me: Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.”  So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him,  to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household. This happened during the time that David was a fugitive in Israel.  Saul was still sitting on the throne.  Saul was the first king of Israel, but when he broke God’s Law – when he decided to take the priest’s place and make a sacrifice on the altar himself – God rejected him as King and sent the prophet Samuel to the town of Bethlehem – to what was later known as the City of David – to find and anoint a new king. As the Bible tells us, Samuel went to Bethlehem and to the house of Jesse.  And when he got there he asked Jesse to parade all of his sons in front of him.  And as they all filed past Samuel shook his head at each one, saying, “No, this isn’t the one.”  The youngest son, David, was still out tending his father’s sheep.  But when he came, Samuel recognized him as God’s chosen king.  Samuel anointed David’s head with oil and proclaimed him, by God’s authority, the new king.  And yet Saul continued to reign. Consider these two kings: contrast Saul and David.  Scripture tells us that Saul was a giant of a man – taller than all the other men of Israel – and I think God gives us that detail for a reason, as we’ll see in a bit.  He carried a giant spear with him – even next to him when he was in his throne room.  It was huge and it was symbol of his power and authority as the king of Israel.  And yet for all his size, Saul was a coward.  We all know the story of David when he went to visit his brothers when they were camped with the army on the frontier, fighting the Philistines.  And the Philistines had a giant with them.  The Hebrew text says that Goliath was about nine-and-a-half feet tall.  The Greek text says he was six-and-a-half, which is probably the more accurate reading, but no less intimidating to the men of those days.  Sure the Philistines had a giant, but the Israelites had Saul, who was taller than all the men of Israel.  He probably wasn’t much shorter than Goliath.  Two giants squared off.  And yet Saul and his army were afraid of to go up against the Philistine giant, who knew the Israelites were afraid, and would come out every day and taunt them. And then young David showed up and saw the Israelite army cowering.  He was disgusted.  Saul had promised riches and marriage to his daughter to the man who would kill Goliath.  And David looks around at the cowering soldiers and asks if that’s all they’re concerned about: money and a girl as a reward.  He says, what about the fact that this guy’s defying, mocking, and shaming the army of God himself.  “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” he asks.  “Who’s this gentile dirtbag who dares to defy God and why are you guys afraid of him?” is basically what he’s asking. And we all know what happened.  David went toe-to-toe with Goliath – shepherd’s slingshot against a spear the size of a weaver’s beam.  And David took down the giant.  But it was no surprise to David.  You see, he knew God’s promises.  He trusted in the living God.  He wasn’t afraid.  And he did what he had to be done – and God took care of the situation. Saul took David into his own household and David became a great general for the Israelite army.  But pretty soon, David was outshining Saul.  The people of Israel were singing in the streets about Saul killing his thousands and David killing his tens of thousands.  David was being and doing everything Saul was supposed to but wasn’t.  And Saul, in his jealousy, sought to kill David.  And so David spends the first several years of his life with Saul on the run.  Twice David could have killed Saul, and yet David said it wasn’t his place to harm God’s anointed.  The first time Saul stumbled into a cave where David and his men were hiding.  In the dark we was oblivious to David’s presence, so David cut a piece of Saul cloak to take to him as evidence: “Saul, why do you have it in for me?  See, I could have killed you, but I didn’t.”  The second time, David and his buddy Abishai sneaked into Saul’s camp.  They sneaked into his tent and while he lay there sleeping with his giant spear next to him, Abishai whispered to David, “He’s fast asleep.  Why don’t you let me pin him to the ground with his own spear.  [Remember Saul’s giant spear that was always with him?]  One blow and it’s all over, David.”  But again, David warns Abishai and says, “No.  Who can put his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless.  As the Lord lives, his day will come.  The Lord will strike him.  Eventually he’ll die or he’ll fall in battle, but the Lord forbid that I take his life with my hand.” David just wanted to be reconciled to Saul, so he and Abishai stole Saul’s big spear and they stole his chamber pot.  They ran out of the camp and up the hillside.  And when they were out of the camp, they called down, waking up Saul and his men.  And David waved the spear and the chamber pot so Saul could see them.  He asked Saul why he had it in for him and reminded him again that he had nothing against him.  “I could have killed you again, but I didn’t.”  In both cases where David spared Saul, the king made his apology to David, but both times it wasn’t long before Saul was after him again.  But David understood: it wasn’t his place to take the life of God’s anointed. When the time was right, God himself would take care of Saul. And there’s only one reason why David could be so confident that God would take care of the problem.  He remembered that day when the prophet Samuel was led to him by God, poured oil on his head, and anointed him king of Israel by God’s authority.  David had God’s promise and so he had no problem telling Abishai, “God will take care of Saul.” Now this has all just happened in Chapter 26.  But Chapter 27 begins with those words: “Then David said in his heart, ‘Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul.’”  The text doesn’t say how much time passed in between, but based on the arrangement, it seems pretty obvious that whomever wrote the text wanted these two events closely connected.  Here’s the man ordained by God to be the next king, who just before this has put his trust confidently in God – here’s the man who wrote so many of the great Psalms of faith in the Almighty – and yet here he suddenly fears his own death at the hands of his enemy.  Here’s God’s anointed running off in fear for his life.  And he doesn’t just run and hide from Saul.  He runs to the pagan Philistines – the greatest enemy of Israel there was in that day.  And he doesn’t just run to the pagan Philistines.  There were five great cities in Philistia.  David runs to the city of Gath.  And that ought to sound familiar.  Remember Goliath.  He was known as Goliath the giant, but he was also known as Goliath of Gath.  David take his family and his six hundred warriors, and he runs and hides in the most despicable place imaginable.  Think back.  When Goliath was taunting the Israelite army and David showed up.  He was disgusted with the men and asked them, “Why do you let this uncircumcised Philistine mock and shame the army of the living God?  Uncircumcised was about the worst insult he could use – it summed up everything it meant to be outside of God’s grace: a pagan barbarian.  And yet now in his fear, David runs and takes refuge in the shelter of Achish, the prince of Gath.  And not only that: he spends the next year or two working as a hired thug for Maoch, the king of Gath, raiding the surrounding countryside – raiding his own people! David had just experienced divine deliverance from his enemy.  He rejoices and his faith lasts for all of fifteen minutes.  Then he says, “I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul.  There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines.”  Let me repeat that: “There is nothing better than that I should escape to the Land of the Philistines.” David had more than one low point in his life.  We probably think of his great sin with Bathsheba, when he committed adultery with her and then had her husband murdered – we think of that as his great low point.  But let me suggest that this was probably even lower.  Here was the man whom we’re told had a heart after God’s own heart.  Here we have a man anointed by God to be the king of Israel.  Here we have a man to whom God had a made a promise.  And yet he loses his faith and spends the next couple of years being the exactopposite of what God had called him to be.  Because he had forgotten God’s call.  Because he had forgotten God’s anointing. Because he had forgotten, most importantly, God’s promise. Now you might ask: “What does this have to do with Christmas?”  Well, it has a lot to do with Christmas, because David’s fear and lack of faith in God’s promise isn’t just David’s problem.  It’s our problem too.  If you are a Christian, if you are a follower of Christ, and if you have put your faith and trust in him as Saviour, then God has called you, God has anointed you, and God has a made a promise to you.  We read earlier in the lesson from St. John’s Gospel: But to all who did receive him [that’s Jesus Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the rightto become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:12-14) The Christmas message is that God came to reconcile sinful men and women to himself – but not just to forgive them their sins through the death of his own Son.  Jesus Christ came not just to impart to us his own righteousness – the righteousness that we can never have on our own – so that we can stand before our Holy Father uncondemned.  He came to impart to us his grace and to give us the gift of his Holy Spirit.  Why?  That we might become like him.  God’s call to us is to be like his Son that we might glorify him by living righteous and holy lives and by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others – not only in word, but in action.  And his promise to us is his gift of grace that makes us able to live that calling.  His promise to us is that though the battle may rage here on earth as we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, he will one day take us home to be with him. Revelation 21 paints a picture of life in the New Jerusalem – the consummation of our new life in Jesus Christ.  St. John gives us a vivid picture of the grandeur of God’s kingdom.  He gives us hope saying that there will be no more darkness, and no more tears, and no more death. That’s the consummation of God’s promise to us: the end of sin and death and our finally being perfected in our righteousness.  But as St. John is shown the New Jerusalem, Jesus also tells him who won’t be there.  And he gives John a list of all sorts of gross sin: “murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars.”  And we think, yeah, those are pretty big sins.  But you know what two sins start that list?  The list starts with the cowardly and the faithless.  The cowardly and the faithless.  There’s no excuse for Christians to live in fear!  David fell into sin more than once – and they were some big ones – but his greatest sin and his lowest spiritual point came when he feared Saul and ran to hide with the enemies of the people of God.  And he did that because he forgot the promise of God. And we’re prone to doing the same thing.  God calls his people to a life of courageous living.  And yet we fear the consequences of living out his principles in our lives.  We fear that if we take a stand for his Truth we may offend our family or our friends.  We fear that if we take a stand for righteousness it might cost us our job.  We fear that if we take a stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ we might lose our dignity.  We fear that if we hand over our all to the work of God we might be left destitute.  As Christians we’re frequently doing exactly what David did: we fear the battle because we’ve forgotten God’s call and his promise, and so we run off to hide in Gath with the Philistines. But we have no reason to fear…because it’s Christmas!  Once again we have the annual reminder that the Word of God became incarnate – became one of us – so that he could die the death we deserved and reconcile us to God.  At Christmas we’re reminded of the power and authority that stand behind our baptism.  God Incarnate coming to redeem sinful men and women so that they might become the adopted sons and daughters of God!  Christmas reminds us that our heavenly Father has made the down payment.  Christmas is the yearly reminder as we fight the battle and wait for the coming consummation of our redemption that though our enemy may be mightier than we are, just as Goliath was so much mightier than David, our defender and champion is God himself!  That’s the Good News.  As the angels proclaimed to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” If you are in Jesus Christ – if you have ceased to trust in your own goodness, your own works, your own righteousness to find God’s favour, and if you if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, making him your Lord:  fear not!  God has called you.  God has anointed you.  God has given you his promise.  Those whom God has redeemed by becoming one of us – being born in the lowly manger and dying on the lowly cross – are called to live out the Good News of the Gospel with courage.  Because, as St. Paul wrote for us: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Please pray with me: Almighty God, who gave your only Son to take our nature upon him and to be born of a pure virgin, grant that we, who are born again in him and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.