As I Have Loved You St. John 13 by William Klock In our Gospel this evening we read about Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room at Passover. John…
Behold, Your King St. Matthew 21:1-43 by William Klock We began our service this morning with a lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel about the first “Palm Sunday”. We read about…
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.
Bible Text: Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: The Rt. Rev'd Charles Dorrington | Series: The Church Year
Bible Text: Ephesians 6:10-20 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year The Whole Armour of God Ephesians 6:10-20 by William Klock I want to look this morning at our Epistle lesson, taken from the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus. I think these are probably fairly familiar words to all of us. They come at the end of the letter – they’re an exhortation. The Apostle Paul has been addressing the problem the Ephesians were dealing with and he’s been teaching them the finer points of the Gospel. And here at the end he gives a reminder to them – and to us – of what its really all about. He reminds them that as Christians, especially when we’re doing the work of the Kingdom, we will face battle. It’s a given. The Enemy always seems to do one of two things: either he works to get us off track and away from the Gospel or he works to make us complacent in our faith. But when we’re on track, when we’re not only faithful to Holy Scripture in our doctrine, but also faithful to the Gospel in our living, when we lift high the Cross, the Enemy will always oppose us. And so St. Paul, at the same, warns us and exhorts us in these verses. Look at them again with me. Ephesians 6:10-13: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. We all struggle. Sometimes it’s our daily struggle to personally fight and overcome the sin in our lives. Sometimes it’s our struggle to find assurance of our salvation or of God’s presence with us when times are tough. Sometimes it’s the discouraging things that happen within the Church, when brothers and sisters choose to fight with each other instead of against our common Enemy. Here St. Paul gives us both our assurance and our marching orders. “Don’t be strong in yourselves,” he says, “but be strong in the Lord and in his might!” Remember that the last couple of Sundays I’ve been talking about the necessity of relying on God and not on ourselves. When we struggle we have assurance because we know that it’s God doing the work, not we ourselves. And so here he tells us to put on his armour and to pickup hisweapons. Paul’s first point is that God’s armour is necessary. Whether you look at it from the standpoint of our own weakness or the strength of our enemy, we can’t fight, let alone win, the battle with what we’ve got on our own. Think about the fact that as men and women we can’t even so much as think a good thought or do a good deed. Our nature and our wills are inclined to nothing but sin. The first thing we have to do is to be strong in the Lord. This is the God of whom David wrote, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1). Jesus Christ is our captain and as we go into battle he gives us his very self. We not only put on the armour he gives us, but he also calls us to “put on himself” so that we can be “strong in the power of his might.” Our battle isn’t against the powers of this world so much as it’s against the one who came craftily in the Garden as a serpent and whom, after his thousands of years of experience at deceiving the human race, the book of Revelation tells us has become a great dragon. He works through deception. As evil as he is, he comes looking like an angel of light. He whispers things into our ears, just as he did with Eve, and helps us rationalize our sins – to twist sin into virtue – and then when we finally realize our sins for what they are, he accuses us, whispering in our ears that we’re not good enough to fight on God’s side as the battle rages. St. Peter describes our enemy as a lion on the prowl, just looking for whomever he can devour. The point is to discourage us. Scripture warns us over and over about our Enemy – not so that we’ll feel afraid or discouraged, but to show us just how urgent it is that we join the battle. St. Paul warns us, not so that we’ll go run and hide, but to exhort us “to withstand in the evil day” and “to stand firm.” His second point is that this armour is God’s armour and not our own. Jeremiah wrote, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5). The strength of the flesh is nothing more than the strength of our Enemy who is the prince of this world. David wrote in Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” That’s the key. St. Paul exhorted the Corinthians saying, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We go out to battle against the darkness. Let us first put on the armour of light! When the Enemy tempts us to cruelty, to pride, to selfishness or any other sin, let us respond with “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” as the Apostle tells us in Chapter 4. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth [against the lies and false doctrines of our Enemy], and having put on the breastplate of righteousness [against our sins and our sin nature], and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace [to remind us that our righteousness is not our own]. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith [against our infidelity], with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation [which gives us our hope], and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouthboldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:14-20) St. Paul’s third point is that we need to put on all or the whole armour of God. It isn’t enough to just put on the belt of truth or the breastplate of righteous. You can’t expect to win the battle with the shield of faith, but not the sword of truth. Imagine a knight going off to battle with a shield, but no sword. Imagine a tank without a gun on top or a bomber with no bombs. But notice that there is one piece of armour missing. There’s a helmet for the head, a breastplate for the body, and shoes for the feet – and there’s a shield that can cover everything in the front, but Paul doesn’t mention a backplate. The armour of God doesn’t have a defensive piece to cover our backs. Why? Because in the battle God calls us to fight, there’s no turning back. Every soldier in God’s army is called on to push forward against the enemy, or at worst to stand his ground. In 1066 when William the Conqueror landed with his troops in England, the first action he took was to burn all of his ships. He didn’t want his troops retreating back to Normandy. He gave them one choice: fight on or die. God tells us that we are either for him or against him. There’s no fence-sitting. There are no neutral parties in this war. Once we make Christ our Lord and Master there’s no going back It’s also telling that Paul talks about the shield of faith. Not the helmet or the breastplate or the shoes of faith; the shield of faith. You see, the helmet only covers the head. The breastplate only covers the breast and the shoes only cover the feet, but the shield covers the whole body. You can move it up and you can move it down. In every temptation and in every battle with the Enemy we need to put faith first and foremost – having a lively faith that assures us with confidence. Without that the rest – the helmet, the breastplate, and the shoes – is all worthless. Without faith, the sword of the spirit is no Scripture. Without faith, the belt of truth can never be truth for us. Without faith the breastplate of righteousness is really unrighteousness. We’ve talked about this before. All of these other things only fall into place in the presence of a true and lively faith generated in our hearts by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Without faith it’s impossible to please God, but without it, it’s also impossible to resist the Enemy. So pick up the shield of faith so that you can douse all the “flaming darts” of the Evil One. He throws his darts at us and they’re both sharp and fiery. If we don’t have the shield of faith, they strike and they go deep – and, like all sin, their fire spreads. One sin leads to another bigger one until the entire body is on fire with sinful passions. St. John reminds us that the entire world lies in wickedness, set on fire by the devil, who is the author of all wickedness and sin – all the fiery works of the world. But he exhorts us saying, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). But notice that the armour of God isn’t all defensive. If we are to put on the whole armour, St. Paul also tells us that we are to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The writer of Hebrews tells us that sword is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God, which was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and which works in our hearts by his moving is what opens our eyes to sin. That sword, sharp as a razor, cuts deep and excises the sin in our lives and trains us in holiness. Does the flesh tempt you to sexual impurity? Strike with the sword: 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Do you struggle with worldliness? Strike with the sword: 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Does Satan make an assault on your faith and tempt you to superstition or idolatry? Strike with the sword: Matthew 4:10, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Are you tempted to give up the fight and lose hope? Strike with the sword: 1 Corinthians 15:54-56, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The shield of faith defends the Christian soldier from the attacks of the Enemy, but we’re not called to duck and cover. With the sword of the Spirit we charge forward to take him on. In Canada the government is gradually chipping away at our freedom to preach the Word of God freely and unfettered. There’s a sense in which we can rejoice in that. It means we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and the Enemy doesn’t like it. The last thing the he wants is for God’s arsenal to be opened up to his people. He wants us stumbling around unprotected. So open the Scriptures. Read and study. Arm yourself with the sword of the Spirit! Finally, it’s not enough to know God’s armour. You have to put it on. In the corner of my living room, leaning against the wall, is a Confederate officer’s sword from the Civil War. My great-great-Grandfather served the State of Alabama as an artillery officer. In his hands that sword was put to use. It doesn’t do much good now, just sitting in my living room. It looks neat. It’s a reminder of the past and of a cause long gone. Yet we tend to do the same thing with God’s armour. We know it, but we don’t use it. We don’t put it on. We know truth, but we don’t live by it. We have faith, but we forget about it and live as if we lack the hope that faith gives. We have the Gospel, but don’t tell anyone about it. We have a Bible, the sword of the Spirit, but it sits on the coffee table or on the nightstand collecting dust. That’s what the enemy wants! Complacent Christians who have all the head-knowledge, but never put it into actual practice – who don’t live it. Don’t get me wrong. You have to have the head-knowledge first. Without it the heart can never be given over to God and to his truth. But our problem is that the head-knowledge doesn’t make it to the heart. A suit of armour makes a nice decoration. An old sword does too. But the whole armour of God was never meant to decorate the corner of the room. It was meant to be worn – to be put on and used. If the armour is on a stand in the corner, you can bet there’s a knight around somewhere doing anything but fighting a battle. You can’t do battle with the Enemy without the armour. Put it on and jump into the action! God has not only given us good armour to get the job done, he’s given us a good Captain to lead us, even the “Lord of hosts, who has all power and might.” John Boys wrote, “The continuance of fight is little, but our reward great. In Rome the military age was from seventeen to forty-six…. The days of our age are threescore years and ten, and in all this time there is no time for peace; we are legionum filii, born in the field, and sworn soldiers in our swaddling clouts, always bearing arms against the common enemy from our holy baptism to burial.” God’s going to do one of two things: either he’ll bring an end to the battle or he’ll end it for us individually by taking us home to be with him. We’ll be soldiers no more, because he’s promised that on that day he’s going to put palm branches in our hands and crowns on our heads as conquerors. St. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Please pray with me: Our Father, we give you thanks for the promise of victory over the enemy. Remind us to put on your armour daily and go to battle for the sake of the Gospel. Show us where we’re being complacent or fearful and give us the grace to strengthen us for the battle, through Jesus Christ we ask. Amen.
Bible Text: Acts 2:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd Bill Hedges | Series: The Church Year
Bible Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11, John 15:25-16:6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Waiting Expectantly 1 St. Peter 4:7-11 & St. John 15:26-16:4 by William Klock This past Thursday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension – one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year. It’s really sad that we don’t do more with it, because it really is just as important as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter when we look at the great events in the life and ministry of Jesus. It really ought to be our great festival here in this parish. We bear the name of Christ, who is the true, incarnate, and Living Word of God. Without the Ascension, Whitsunday has no meaning, because the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfilment of the promise made by Christ at his Ascension: “I’m leaving you, but I will send one to help you.” On Friday of this week one of you came by the house and left some flowers, but because we weren’t able to receive them in person and didn’t know who they came from – at least for a few hours – there was, for that short time, a certain ambiguity about the gift. They were appreciated and welcome, but not knowing the source made it difficult to know what to do. Just so with the gift of the Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the Church the Church, it’s the Holy Spirit that works in us to renew our hearts and minds and turn them to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit that actively works in us to stamp out sin and set us apart for God. It’s the Holy Spirit that bears witness of the divine origin of the Gospel message itself. The Spirit is a great gift. But that gift would never have come had Christ himself not Ascended, and without Christ’s promise to and commissioning of his followers at his Ascension, we wouldn’t know what to do with that great gift. The Ascension promise gives us hope. It tells us that Christ is not leaving us alone to do his work. He isn’t leaving to establish a merely heavenly Kingdom. He’s going to his heavenly throne, but he’s doing so, so that he can rule over his spiritual kingdom here on earth. But lest we become complacent, the Ascension promise also reminds us to get busy building our Lord’s Kingdom. He’s is coming back and he’s coming back soon. We have lots of work to do! And so here on this Sunday that sits between the Ascension and Whitsunday, we remember not only the promise of the Spirit that will be fulfilled a week from today, but we also remember the promise Jesus made of his sure, certain, and soon return to come back for his Bride, the Church. As we sit here in this season of waiting, the Lessons remind us of what it is Christ calls and prepares his people to do here in the world as representatives of his heavenly Kingdom. Look with me, if you will, at our Epistle Lesson from St. Peter’s First Epistle: The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7) I don’t know about you, but I find it really interesting that the Apostle Peter tells us this first. “The end is near, so keep sane and keep sober.” First, this is a caution. Don’t freak out just because the end is near. Don’t run around like you hair’s on fire, screaming that the end is coming tonight, tomorrow, or next week. St. Peter also wants us to keep things in the proper perspective. He’s telling us that the end is near, that Christ will return soon, because he wants us to understand that this gives urgency to our mission. Think about it. If there’s no deadline, there’s not much incentive to get the work done. He’s saying, “The end is near. No don’t go running off in a crazed frenzy. We have work to do.” It’s just like the two angels we read about in the Ascension Gospel: Jesus ascended into heaven, and while the disciples just kept standing around staring up into space – I would bet for a pretty long time – two angels suddenly appeared with them and basically said, “Hey, why are you guys standing around staring into the sky? Don’t you realize he’s gonna come back. You have work to do!” There are a lot of preachers and teachers who seem to have missed the point of this. St. Peter’s point isn’t the precise timing of Jesus return, it’s that he’s going to return so we need to get busy doing what he told us to do. But a lot of preachers, instead of getting busy doing what Jesus told us to do, get fixated on the “time is at hand part.” For two thousand years we’ve had men missing the whole point, misreading books like Daniel and Revelation, trying to fit the current events of their day into what’s already come and gone in the past, and ultimately getting Christians side-tracked from the real business of the Kingdom. These off-base preachers get Christians all fired up, but not about our Gospel call – they get them all fired up about the end of the world that they think is going to happen tomorrow. But then it doesn’t happen tomorrow. Think of all the wasted energy that could have been put into just being the Church. That’s why Peter says, “Stay sane. Stay sober!” Look at the next verses: Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. (1 Peter 4:8-9) People who are looking for one Lord need to draw closer together, encouraging one another, as the writer of Hebrews says, Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25) I find this really interesting. If it were up to me, I’d be saying, “The end is at hand. Get busy sharing the Gospel with the world out there.” But Peter says, “The end is at hand. Get busy loving one another. Show each other what grace is all about. Don’t be afraid to give of yourself to help others.” But you see, before we can go out into the world, the Church needs to be what it is called to be in and of herself. I think this is what St. John gets at in his First Epistle: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, especially after what St. James told us last week about being doers, not just hearers. It’s love and light that gather in the outcasts. It’s love and light that keeps the flock from straying away. It’s love and light that feeds the sheep and tends the lambs. It’s love and light that are important to the Good Shepherd. If you think about this from the perspective of our Epistle last week, when our Good Shepherd returns he won’t come looking for his Church based on our right belief. No, he’ll come looking for us and will find us by seeing the evidence of our faith and belief worked out in practise. He’ll be saying well done, good and faithful servant based on our having shown hospitality, based on how we’ve treated each other, and based on the love we’ve shown. A master doesn’t reward his servant for knowing what he was supposed to do in the master’s absence. He rewards the servant for actually having done it. It’s just so for us when our Lord and master returns. And that leads us into the rest of the Epistle: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11) As we await our Lord’s soon return we really do need to see ourselves as servants – more specifically as stewards of what God has given to us. But we’re not just stewards in respect to God, were also stewards in respect to each other. As Christians we all make up the Body of Christ and God gives each of us gifts and abilities to use to build up that body. And not just to build it up, but to make it active so that it can do the work that God wants it to do. This has got to be the number one reason why the Church is so often ineffective. I’m glad this isn’t the typical Church, but neither is it perfect. In the “typical” Church 10% of the people do 90% of the work. It’s also usually true that 10% of the people give 90% of the financial support. Here’s something to ponder: What would happen if 10% of your body did 90% of the work. You wouldn’t survive. Thankfully God is gracious. Thankfully God has built his body in such a way that it doesn’t die if only 10% of it is working. But at the same time, the Body of Christ is crippled if the person gifted to be an ear is also forced by necessity to also be an eye and a finger, because the people gifted to be eyes and fingers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. St. Peter’s telling us here, if God has gifted you – and he’s gifted all of us generously – don’t hold out. He’s gifted you for a reason. Not using your gifts to build up the church is just as much a sin as anything else. We need to ask ourselves if we’re willing to give back to God for his service some of our time, talents, and treasure. All those things came from him in the first place. If we’re not willing to give a portion of them back to God, then we’ve got a big problem – not just personally, but the entire body – because were missing what God expects us to be using to fulfil his Great Commission. If we’ve got it all sorted out what we’re supposed to be doing internally as the Church, Christ’s Great Commission follows naturally. The waiting Church is called to be a witnessing Church. Look at our lesson from St. John’s Gospel: But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27) When the Counsellor comes. In the Greek the word is parakletos. It literally means, the one who “comes alongside.” This is the Holy Spirit, who was sent into the world once Christ had Ascended to heaven. He is the Spirit of Truth. The disciples had been with Jesus through everything, and most importantly, they were eyewitnesses to his death, resurrection, and ascension. They were called to go out and share what they had seen as witnesses, but Jesus says that the Spirit will “come alongside” as a witness too. And the Spirit did exactly that. The most profound instance was on Whitsunday itself. Pastor Bill will be preaching on this next week, but we all know the story. St. Peter got up to preach. He talked about what Christ had done in his life, death, and resurrection. He talked as an eyewitness, but it was when the Spirit came that the real work was done of changing hearts. There was a great sound like wind, tongues of flame came down and rested on their heads, and the believers there started speaking in other languages. Peter gave the message, but the Spirit backed it up with the authority of God. The Spirit gave the signs and wonders to prove the divine source of the message. And we see this throughout the New Testament. You always see the Spirit providing miracles to accompany the Gospel message of the apostles. The Spirit served as a witness to convince men and women of the truth of the Gospel. The New Testament period was a special time with a special need. Those early disciples were sharing a message to a world that had never heard it before and had no historical witness. They had the Old Testament, but the inspired books of the New Testament weren’t written yet, and so the Spirit manifested in ways and to an extent that it never has since. And this is why it’s so important that the inner life of the people of God be right, as we see St. Peter saying in our Epistle. We still do sometimes see the Spirit work those amazing miracles, but today the greatest miracle of all – and the greatest of all witnesses to the world – is the regenerated and renewed heart of the believer. We have the authoritative Word of God written to share with the world, and to back up its truth, the Spirit renews our sinners’ hearts and puts in them a love for God that should show the world the power of the Gospel. If the fruit of the Spirit are missing from our lives, half of our message is missing – we become hypocrites. And as we go out with our message, Jesus also give us a warning and an encouraging word here: I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 15:26-16:4) Jesus promised the Spirit would come alongside. The disciples might not have understood why they needed a divine helper, so Jesus warns them, telling them that there will come a time – not very far off – when they’d not only be thrown out of the synagogues, but that Jewish and Roman leaders alike would put them to death. In his death and resurrection, Jesus had won the victory over Satan. Yet in his fury Satan, like some kind of Hitleresque madman out for world domination and learning that his chances have just been shot, goes on a wild rampage of fury just before he’s finally caught and dealt with. We see just this happening in the early years of the Church. The Jewish nation rejected the truth of God for a lie. They rejected God’s Messiah and turned on his people with a fury that can only be described as demonic. They not only threw the Christians out of the synagogues, but rounded them up and brutally put them to death. Saul of Tarsus was just one such persecuting Jew. But even after the Jewish nation was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Roman Empire rose up against the next generation of Christians in much the same way, until God brought about his judgment on them as well, ushering in his Kingdom. The blood of the martyrs became a witness of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’ve been spared the great tribulation that those early Christians experienced, but it’s still not always easy to confess Christ in every aspect of our lives. We can expect to be ridiculed for giving witness to him by what we are, by what Christ has done in us, and by what we do for him. But Jesus tells us here not to lose faith because our success comes slowly. He predicted this from the beginning. Jesus tells us that we run into opposition because the people around us don’t know him. And when that happens, what we need to do is to show those people Jesus. They need to see Jesus in us. They need to hear about Jesus from us. And that means being consistent followers of Christ. The need to see the Spirit bearing witness – backing up our message – through our own changed lives. Today as we gather at our Lord’s Table, we need to remember that here Our Lord gives us a foretaste of the marriage feast that waits for us in heaven. Those faithful martyrs of the Early Church built their hopes and future on and around the confident expectation of their Lord’s soon return. But we today still have the same hope. If anything I think we have even more reason to be hopeful, confident, and eager, remembering the final message of our exalted groom, “Behold, I come quickly!” For two thousand years the Church through all the ages has been kept conscious of her status as the bride of Christ and has hopefully looked forward to his return. What’s kept her hopeful is that each Sunday the faithful are able to gather here at his Table and remember to whom we belong. He says to us here, “Take and eat this, my body. Take and drink, this my blood. Do this in memory of me until I come again.” Each Sunday we see and hear him again – we hear him remind us of his soon coming in glory, and as we hear him, we trust in his promise and wait expectantly for the hour of his return. We are his people. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we you for sending your Son to redeem us from our sins. We thank you not only for his coming, for his death, and for his resurrection, but also for his glorious Ascension, through which we have the promise of his soon return. We thank you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit as we await his return. As we wait, Father, let us put your gifts to use. Let us not be a complacent people, but instead let us be a people that puts your gifts to use: loving one another and showing your love to those around us in the world, that we may build your Kingdom in anticipation of your Son’s soon return. We ask this in and through his name. Amen.
Bible Text: James 1:22-27 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Being a Doer St. James 1:22-27 by William Klock In our collect this morning we prayed: “O Lord, from whom all good things come, grant to us your servants that by your holy inspiration we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practicethrough our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” “That we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practice.” How often do we get some great idea in our head, but never follow through on it? We tell ourselves that we’re going to go on a diet or start an exercise routine in the new year and forget about it within weeks. We tell ourselves that we’re going to break that bad habit, but we never make it past the first day. Maybe we make it a whole week before we give up. Sometimes we never actually follow through at all. Several years ago I joined a health club. When I went in to sign up I noticed that they give all sorts of discounts if you’re willing to pay for six months or, better yet, a whole year in advance. But even if you’re not willing to pay for the whole year in one lump sum, the club didn’t offer any way to just come in and make monthly payment. I ask them, “I come in here three or four times a week – consistently – so why can’t I just make a payment each month?” They just told me the don’t do it that way. If you weren’t paying in advance, they required either direct and automatic debits from your chequing account each month or automatic monthly credit card billing. You see, the people in the health club industry know that ninety percent of the people that join stop coming within a month or two. In fact, of the people who join, an extremely high percentage never even come back after the first week! When I was lap swimming the pool always got crowded during January, but by February the crowds always disappeared and I was back to having a lane all to myself. The health clubs don’t care so much whether or not you actually show up, they just want your money. In fact, after being a member of one for years, it’s pretty obvious that they oversell memberships big-time in the knowledge that most people will quickly drop out. As human beings we’re very fickle. It’s part of our fallen human nature. We make grand and glorious plans, but we’re very prone to forgetting about those plans. And even though our fallen nature died with Christ on the cross and was buried with him in the tomb, we still have to fight the desire to go back and dig it up. And so even more disastrous than forgetting about the fitness plan or diet we planned to start after Christmas or the credit cards we never quite got around to cutting up, is our tendency to listen to what God has to say to us in the Holy Scriptures but never actually putting those words into action. In a very practical sense this it what we’ll be looking at on Sunday nights starting next week. Maybe more than anything else, this is our biggest problem as Christians. It’s not a lack of knowing the right thing to do. It’s a lack of doing it. And so St. James addresses this in our Epistle lesson. Look with me at St. James 1:22: Become doers of the Word and not only hearers, fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 CCNT). Have you known people that seemed to know it all when it comes to the Christian life, but they never actually seemed to live it out? I think we all know people like that. They’re walking encyclopaedias of theology. They know every Bible verse from Sunday school that you’ve forgotten. They beat everyone at the Bible Edition of Trivial Pursuit. They read all the right books. But somehow all that head knowledge never quite makes it out into the way they live their lives. If you were to talk to their co-workers about them, you’d never know they were a Christian. I remember years ago being in a Bible study at our church. It was part of a new members intake group, so there were mature Christians there and some who had just been baptised and hardly knew anything. One guy in our study group always had the right answers, but he consistently belittled and was verbally abusive to the people who gave the wrong answers. On one occasion we were looking at Colossians 3:20 (“Children, obey your parents.”). One young girl who was a new Christian asked, “What if you’re parents tell you to do something you know is wrong?” And before anyone else could respond he jumped in saying, “Duh! St. Paul assumed that the people reading his letter had half a brain! Of course you shouldn’t obey your parents if they tell you to sin!” We were all taken aback and not sure how to respond to someone like that – it wasn’t what anyone expected to happen in a Bible study! But this is exactly what St. James is talking about. It’s not enough to know the right things – we’re obligated to do them too. The example of the guy in our Bible study is pretty extreme, but only so because even a non-Christian would consider what he did to be just plain anti-social behaviour. But most of us – probably all of us – do the same thing on a regular basis, cutting people down. We just wait to do it until they’re not around or until we’re in a group setting where we can get away with it. Part of our problem is that we’re prone to relying too heavily on our emotions. Have you ever heard a really good sermon that got you fired up about something, but forgot about it before you got up Monday morning and had a chance to apply it to your life? How many times have you read a good book on growth as a Christian, but the longer you put off doing what it said, the less enthusiasm you had for it? St. James warns us against just this. If you’re enthused by the Word of God, do something about it NOW and take advantage of that enthusiasm, but by the same token, don’t let it die as your enthusiasm wanes. Remember that our faith has as much to do with the head as it does the heart! But whatever the cause for our being hearers only and not doers, the real danger here is that we deceive or fool ourselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging our spiritual maturity based on what we know instead of how we apply that knowledge and live it out. Knowing that I have to change the oil in my car every 5,000km is easy, but it takes some commitment to caring for my car to actually take it down to the shop and fork over the money to have it changed. I had a friend who never bothered to change his oil – he just dumped another quart into the engine whenever it got low. And he wondered why his cars only lasted two or three years while I was still driving mine after twenty years. It wasn’t that he didn’t know he needed to actually change the oil, he just didn’t care to make the commitment to do it. And so his car didn’t take him very far. Just so, it’s easy to talk about the ideal Christian life, but it takes real commitment to Christ to give up our old ways and live a Christ-like life that is pleasing to God. If you don’t make the commitment and do in your life what you know in your head, your walk with God is going to be just like my friend’s car – it won’t get you anywhere. The Apostle gives us an apt illustration of this: Whoever is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like man who sees the face he was born with in a mirror – he sees himself, and goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. (James 1:23-24 CCNT) James gives us this very apt illustration of a man looking in a mirror. It works. My guess would be that everyone here probably took at least a quick look in the mirror this morning. The mirror warns us if we’ve got bed-head or hat hair, bags under our eyes, or if we need a shave. The mirror helps you ladies to make sure your makeup goes in the right places and it helps us men make sure that we don’t miss any spots as we shave. Our mirrors show us what we look like when we get up in the morning and help us as we do whatever it takes to look the way we really want to. The whole point of looking in the mirror is to make sure everything’s okay, but St. James says that the man or woman who hears God’s Word, but never applies it and never does anything about it is like a man who looks in the mirror, sees that he’s got green bits of spinach stuck in his teeth, that his hair’s a mess, and that he desperately needs a shave – that he sees all that, but then walks away and forgets how unkempt he looks. You see, just as the bathroom mirror shows us everything that’s physically wrong with us and helps us make it right, the Word of God shows us what’s spiritually wrong with us and how to make it right. You know how there are days when you’ve been out and about all day thinking nothing was wrong, but wondering why everyone was looking at you funny, and you get home only to pass a mirror and see that somehow you only managed to shave only half your face that morning or you’ve got something really gross stuck in your teeth or hanging out of your nose. It happens to the best of us. There we were thinking everything was fine when there was really something terribly wrong. Well, God’s Word should do the same thing to us spiritually. We go through life thinking that we’re in good spiritual shape, thinking that we’ve got out spiritual hair perfectly combed and our spiritual teeth just bleached and regularly brushed – and then God jumps out at us from the pages of Scripture and shows us a giant spiritual wart right on the end of our spiritual nose – a big flaw that everyone else has been seeing for years, but was too embarrassed to tell us about – or worse yet, the same spiritual wart that everyone else has and that we’ve all come to see as perfectly normal. Scripture shows us all of our sins and, worse yet, just when we’re inclined to see those sins and start comparing ourselves to someone else who looks even worse than we do, Scripture holds up before us the example of Jesus Christ and says, “Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to him.” And we look at Christ, and no matter how good we look and no matter how much grooming we do, we know that we can never compare to the perfect image of the Word Incarnate. The mirror of God’s Word condemns us by showing us what we really are, but in doing that it also shows us what we really ought to be. It shows us what real righteousness is as it shows us God’s holy Law and it shows us an ideal of righteousness as it holds before us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. This is a pretty bad spot to be in, but God doesn’t leave us condemned – his whole point is our redemption. The mirror of Gods Word doesn’t just show us to be the sinners that we are and it doesn’t just show us the perfect image of Christ to which we can never fully live up. God’s mirror also shows us what we can be. St. James goes on: But whoever looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues to do so, becoming not a hearer who forgets but a doer of deeds, will be made happy in the doing. (James 1:25) The key is in the doing. God doesn’t leave us condemned because of our sins. When we make Christ our Lord and Master, God extends to us his grace. And so now we have Christ’s perfect image in the mirror and the grace of God to help us along as we imitate the example. It’s not that following Christ isn’t hard work, but it’s a work of love and one that eventually sets us free as we throw off the bondage of sin. Have you ever tried doing something you’d never done before and without the instructions? Last week the movers took apart quite a few pieces of our furniture. The problem was that we didn’t keep the assembly instructions for any of those pieces and the guys who had to put it together here in Courtenay weren’t the ones who had taken it apart. They were only able to do it because they’d reassembled so much furniture in the past, that they were used to how it all works and could figure it out. But imagine how frustrating it would be to have all those pieces in front of you and no idea how they go together. Imagine putting together a puzzle with no box-top to look at to see what you’re doing. Imagine trying to paint a painting with no knowledge of how the paint works or trying to play a musical instrument with no idea how it works or how to read music. How would you play the piano if you didn’t know which key played C or which played an A – its not like they’re labelled. How do you pick up a trumpet and get multiple notes out of three valves, or multiple notes from just four strings on a violin. In each case it’s knowledge that sets us free. It’s an intimate knowledge of his instrument and of music that sets the musician free. It’s an intimate knowledge of colour, lighting, and shading that sets the painter free. And it’s the intimate knowledge of God’s Word and of the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, that set us free to be the people that God calls us to be. We need to stare long and hard into that mirror, looking into its pure surface and allowing the Holy Spirit to convince us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. I think it’s important to notice that James says that we “will be made happy [or blessed] in the doing.” The blessing comes in the doing, not before. We’re often prone to sit around waiting for God to give us what we need to do a task we know he wants us to do. Sometimes we even make our waiting sound spiritual and saintly. We tell people we’re waiting on the Lord’s timing. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to wait on the Lord’s timing, but when it comes to conforming to the image of Christ, the Nike slogan, “Just do it,” is very applicable. Remember that God’s already given us everything we need to do what he calls us to do. His grace is with us all the time and so is his Holy Spirit. St. James drives his point home in closing as he gives us a very practical example: Whoever thinks he is religious and doesn’t bridle his tongue but swindles his own heart, his religion is worthless. (James 1:26) I think those are Words that convict us all. How often do we forget that we’re called to imitated Christ and end up letting our mouths run, saying stupid things, things that hurt others, things that blaspheme God, or even things that suggest we wouldn’t know Jesus if he was sitting right next to us. James says it doesn’t matter how religious you may be or think you are, if you’re characterised by an unbridled tongue, you’re only deceiving yourself. An unbridled tongue is just one example – it just happens to be one that should hit home for many of us – but he could have used any number of ungodly and un-Christ-like behaviours. If you call yourself religious – not matter how many Bible verses you have memorised or how much theology you know – if you’re not a doer of that Word and if instead your life is characterised by sin and un-Christ-like attitudes and characteristics, you’re only fooling yourself. Your religion is worthless. You’ll be like the men Jesus described who will stand before his judgment seat pleadinging, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name.” Our Lord’s response is a truly frightening one: “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Jesus said that his followers would be known by their fruit and that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire. And so in contrast James shows us that good fruit with the example of charity: Clean and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself from becoming spotted by the world. (James 1:27) The Apostle makes a clear reference to the message God gave over and over through the Old Testament prophets: that worship, sacrifice, and all the externals of religion are worthless if the heart is not turned toward God. A heart turned toward God is a heart of compassion. It’s a heart that looks out for others instead of trampling anyone who gets in the way of its own ambitions. A heart turned toward God doesn’t make excuses, saying, “He’s down and out because he’s a sinner.” It doesn’t say, “Welfare is the government’s job.” It doesn’t say, “I don’t have enough.” A heart turned toward God is one that says, “What can I give in the knowledge that my provision for those in need reflects my trust in the God who also provides for all of my own needs.” It’s a heart that humbly says, “How can I show the grace of God as one sinner to another.” Finally, a heart turned toward God is one that is totally committed to him. It doesn’t flirt with sin. It doesn’t flirt with the world. It doesn’t peek around the corner at what the world does. It doesn’t sit on the couch with a girlfriend or boyfriend pondering how far is too far. It doesn’t ask how far I can bend the tax laws without actually breaking them. A heart turned toward God doesn’t ask, “How far can I go without actually sinning” when it comes to the temptations of the world the flesh and the devil. A heart turned toward God seeks after righteousness. It doesn’t skulk in the shadows on the fringe of darkness – it desires the glorious presence of God that dispels all darkness! And so let us be reminded as we once again come to Our Lord’s Table this morning, that what is offered here in the bread and wine is the sign and seal of his gracious promise of new life. Here we commemorate not just the death of the perfectly righteous Word Incarnate, but also his Resurrection and Ascension. Through his blood sin has been conquered and in knowing that he reigns as King we have confidence in our own victory. Here at his table we see him face to face. Let us look at his perfect image and the example he has set, knowing that his Father has given us the grace to conform to the Divine image we see staring back at us in the mirror. Please pray with me: Again Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that all good things have their origin with you. It was your Holy Spirit that turned us to you in the first place when you regenerated our sinful hearts. Let us now not only be renewed in our minds as we study your written Word, but let us also be always mindful of the grace that you have given us, so that what we hear we will also do, as we conform ourselves to the image of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. We ask this confident inyour promises and in the name of that same Incarnate Word, your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.