Bible Text: Matthew 5:14-16 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Light of the World St. Matthew 5:14-16 by William Klock Last week we looked at Part One of Jesus description of the Christ-follower as salt and light. Last week we looked at what it means for us to be salt. This week I want to look at what it means for us to be light. But first remember that both of these descriptions of the Christian immediately follow the Beatitudes – Jesus’ description of the norm, the character, of his Kingdom. When Jesus talks about salt and light, he’s talking about our witness. He’s told us what the norms of the Kingdom are. What we need to understand at this point is that those norms, as they’re lived out in the lives of his Kingdom people, are what constitute the witness of the Kingdom – its salt and light. Jesus’ Kingdom people are to be poor in spirit (knowing their sin and that they cannot earn God’s favour); they are to mourn (not only their sin, but also the sin of those around them); they are meek (giving up their own rights in the knowledge that they’re no better than any other person on earth); they hunger and thirst for the righteousness that they lack (the righteousness that Christ offers of himself); they are merciful (because their one great desire is to share with others the mercy God has shown them); they are pure in heart (not only because they are covered by the righteousness of Christ, but because they seek to conform to his image); they are peacemakers (because God has made peace with them and they want to share it); and finally, because the character of the Christ-follower is so drastically different from that of the natural man, they are persecuted on account of their righteous character. And when it comes to persecution, notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are you if men persecute you.” No. He says, “Blessed are you when men persecute you.” It’s not a matter of if – it’s a matter of when. We may not live in ancient Judea where Christians were stoned for professing faith in Christ, we may not live where emperors throw us to lions, and we may not live in a place where we’re sent into Siberian exile or made political prisoners for the sake of the Gospel – although that does appear sadly to be changing in Canada – but persecution doesn’t have to extreme. Jesus also has in mind the fact that even on an informal and personal level, those who faithfully follow him in living out the norms of the Kingdom will face the ire and animosity of the men and women of the world. Jesus told us we are the salt of the earth. In Matthew 5:14 he goes on to tell us: You are the light of the world. If we’re the light, Jesus’ statement means that the world is dark. You don’t put a light somewhere if its not dark there. If a place is already light, it doesn’t really need light. The world needs a light because it’s dark – really, really dark. Modern men of a couple hundred years ago started talking about the “Dark Ages.” The men of the Enlightenment of the 18th Century looked back a few hundred years to the Middle Ages, and despite the fact that Christianity was the dominant cultural force in Europe, they called the period “Dark” because it was a time of stagnation in terms of secular thought, philosophy and scientific achievement. They saw men of the Middle Ages as “primitive” in much the same way they came to see cultures in Africa or South America as “primitive” – not so much for spiritual reasons, but because of a lack of worldly progress. That was the whole premise of the Enlightenment: that men were lightening the darkness by means of intellectual, philosophical, and scientific progress. There’s no doubt that we’ve benefited from that so-called light, but the world is no less dark than it was before. We still live under the same curse that Adam brought when he committed treason against his loving Creator – when he chose to determine what was good for himself, rather than trusting in the perfect goodness of God for guidance. If anything the world is getting darker. The Enlightenment sought “light” apart from the true light of the Gospel. It made all sorts of advancements, but divorced the intellectual from the spiritual. And so it’s no wonder that the great philosophers from Nietzsche to Foucault have sought to find meaning in modern life and ended up throwing up their hands and committing suicide or dieing in despair because they saw no way through the darkness. And we’re now seeing that darkness bear fruit. We’ve moved on from Modernism to Post-Modernism, in which there are no absolutes. We stumble around in the darkness, but don’t even realise it – in fact, we’re happy with the darkness and call it good. Robert Simons, history professor at Hamilton University in Indiana illustrates just how much we’ve come to prefer darkness as a culture. He notes that in his classes he’s never had a student deny the historicity of the Nazi holocaust, yet he finds growing numbers – he estimates about one quarter of his students – who are reluctant or refuse to make a moral judgment regarding the holocaust. They’re willing to express personal distaste for what the Nazis did, but they’re unwilling to say that what that government did was wrong. Think of all those people today who campaign to save the whales or who lobby against nuclear energy, while at the same time arguing for the legalisation of abortion or euthenasia. Not long ago I was driving behind a car with two bumper stickers. One supported the SPCA and the other support legalised abortion. You wonder how someone can throw themself into caring for orphaned or abused dogs and cats and yet be in favour of the killing of human babies. We wonder how that can be. It can be because the world is so terribly dark. And so it’s no wonder that we live in such great darkness when the culture teaches us that truth is subjective and that we have no business making value judgements about the actions of others. Virtue is whatever the individual wants and likes and the idea of sin goes no further than describing anything that keeps you personally from gratifying your desires. As we fumble around in the dark we end up, as St. Paul tells us in Romans, exchanging “the truth about God for a lie and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). It was into this darkness that God raised up the Israelites, through Abraham, to be a light to the Gentile nations. God called them to be different, to follow him faithfully, as a witness to his glory, and to be a measuring rod of what light is supposed to look like. God gave his Law through Moses – the light of the Law was meant to show the people right from wrong so that they could be the example, the light, that God had called them to be. Without an objective standard – without true light – every one of us does his own thing and calls it light. Our only standard for measuring, if we have one at all, is the light that other men and women carry. Think of it this way. When I was in camp we’d all take a flashlight with us. And we’d lie there in our cabin at night shining our flashlights into each others’ eyes, trying to see who had the brightest light. If we could draw some drapes here and turn out the lights we could all play that game now. And some of you might have a big, four-battery Maglight and other’s might just have a wimpy, little light running on a AAA battery. Some of you might have a big and potentially powerful light, but the batteries are almost dead and all you’d see is its faint glow. That’s the game the Pharisees played. They sat in the darkness of the world and boasted about their four-battery Maglights and how bright they were. Sadly we sometimes play the same game. But when we do we miss the point – God’s light was intended to show just how weak the most powerful of our lights is. His light is the light of sun. And so into the darkness, St. John says, came Jesus – The Light. He was the light that the Law given through Moses had foreshadowed. If the Law was a big search light, Jesus came as the sun itself, and in his brightness he showed up even the biggest flashlight in the world to be just a little flicker, just a faint glow. St. John writes at the beginning of his Gospel: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (John 1:10) That’s the really sad thing. The very light who was there with his creative power in the very beginning went unreceived and unrecognised by his creation – so enamoured of the darkness were they! Jesus is the light and by comparison we’re just little flashlights flickering in the darkness of the world. But what’s really remarkable here is that Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world.” YOU. Not Mr. or Mrs. Super Christian. Not just the people with the title “Saint” before their names. Not even “Christians” in some general and vague sense. No. YOU, are the light of the world. The world goes to the great thinkers, philosophers, and scientists with life’s problems but never finds any answers. Jesus is telling us that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a great psychologist to lighten the darkness – it’s the light of Christ that lightens the world, and each and every Christian reflects that light. Just as Jesus tells us that we accomplish his purpose in the world by simply being something as common and lowly as salt, now he reminds us that even the most lowly of us, through him, have what the world needs to find its way out of darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). If we are light it ultimately means that the Christian takes part in an intimate relationship with him in whom there is “no darkness at all.” Understanding this is as simple as understanding Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. We don’t have nearly enough time to cover that long passage in detail, but essentially Jesus says there, “The result of his coming is this: My Father and I will come to live in you; we will be in you and you will be in us.” God, who is the “the Father of lights,” is the light that is in us; he is in us, and we are in him, and so Jesus can say of us as Christians, “You are the light of the world.” We are not the light in and of ourselves. St. John said of John the Baptist: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” The same applies to us. If Christ is the sun, we’re like the moon. We produce no light of our own, but we reflect into the darkness of the world the light that he shines on us. Think also about the fact that the moon goes through phases. Sometimes it’s full and shines a lot of light on the earth, sometimes it’s just a thin crescent, and other times it can’t be see at all. Why? Because the earth gets in the way of the sun shining on it. Just so for us as followers of Christ. We need to be his faithful and whole-hearted followers. If we let the world get in the way not only does less of his light reach us, but there’s less of his light reflected off us onto the world. And that’s our problem. Too many of us, too much of the time, make nothing more than a half-hearted “commitment” to Christ. We want the benefits of living in his Kingdom, but we aren’t interested in the obligations. We continue to live more or less as we always have. We put our hobbies or our work – even our families – before God, and in the process being salt and light gets pushed to the side. Our salt becomes adulterated and our light glows dimly, if at all. And it’s no wonder that Christians have little credibility with the world. As we saw last week, salt has only purpose: to be salt. If it were to somehow lose its saltiness it would be completely and utterly useless – fit only to be thrown out in the street. So with light. It has one purpose: to lighten the darkness. In the next chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel we’ll see Jesus talking about the need to remove from our lives the things that cause us to sin, because sin fills us with darkness. And he warns there, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). It raises the issue: light and darkness are antithetical. You can’t be both light and dark. Just as salt that isn’t salty isn’t really salt, so light that isn’t light, but instead is darkness, isn’t really light. If you’re not shining the light of Christ into the darkness of the world, you need to take a close look at yourself and ask, “Am I really following Christ.” And so, if we are the light of the world, what does that mean for us? Jesus goes on in verse 14 and says: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works andgive glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16) Think about what those words mean. If we’re the light of the world, we’re like a city on a hill. Today we may not grasp the full meaning of what Jesus was getting at. We live in a world of big cities and electricity. We’d have to travel pretty far to get away from all the lights around us. Even here, on a cloudy night, we can see the lights of Vancouver distantly reflecting off the clouds. That’s what the astronomers these day call “light pollution.” Los Angeles is now so big and puts off so much light at night, that as far away and as high up as Palomar Mountain astronomers at the big observatory there complain that they can no longer see what they used to – because of the city lights. The people of Jesus’ day didn’t know anything about “light pollution.” When the sun went down, all they had to lighten the night were their fires and lamps. Imagine a traveller in those days. When the sun went down you had to stop for the night. It would have been pitch black – you couldn’t follow a road. And yet a city on a hill could be seen in the distance as a beacon. Their cities weren’t very big – they would have been little villages by our standards – and their lights weren’t bright by any stretch of the imagination, but they shone out in the pitch blackness of a moonless night, lightening the darkness, and drawing people toward their walls. That’s what Jesus says we are. If you are a follower of Christ you are the city on the hill, shining into the pitch blackness of the world around you, guiding men and women to the place where they can find rest in the blackness. The very fact that the world, as it walks further and further away form Jesus Christ, falls into greater and greater darkness demonstrates just how much our world needs the knowledge of the Saviour. Jesus came as the light, showing the way to restored fellowship with God. He leaves that light with us. As we follow Christ, we show his light into the world, that men and women may find the way to God through Jesus Christ. The need for light is all the more evident today in the Post-Modern world where no one wants to talk about absolutes anymore. Fifty years you could share the Gospel message with a person, and even if you weren’t really living it out, that person could think about the message objectively, reasoning it out, and despite your hypocrisy, still see the merit of the message. Today we live in different times. The base assumption is sort of, “If it works for you great. I’ll find what works for me.” You can’t share the Gospel with that kind of person if you aren’t living it yourself! If they’re even going to listen they have to see it working in your life first. And so we have all the more reason to be following Christ’s example. It’s not enough to talk about the light – you need to be the light – you need to live the light. That gets at Jesus’ second point about light: nobody lights a lamp in the house and then puts a basket over the top of it. What’s the point? Just as salt that stays in the salt-shaker does no good for anyone, light that’s hidden from view is worthless. It’s great to gather here together to share our light with each other, to strengthen each other, and to be refuelled by God, but it’s not enough to stay in the walls of the Church. We need to go out into the world. We need to be out there where men and women can see us and where we can draw them to the light like a porchlight draws a moth. As the Church living in a society that’s increasingly intolerant of our message, we often allow ourselves to be herded into a little Christian ghetto. The government tells us what we can and can’t talk about, who we can or can’t marry, and all that stuff. The world out there gets angry when we start talking about sin or when we start talking about truth and absolutes. And so we’re often guilty of backing away, bowing out, and retreating to our own little building where we commiserate about the evils of our society. But you see, that’s Jesus’ whole point. He tells us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The world is dark – it’s evil – it’s Godless. It needs him, but because he has chosen to work through us, the world needs us to point it to Christ. Just as the Jews were to be a light to the Gentiles, showing the nations around them what it means to serve God and receive his blessing, so we as Christians are called to be a light that draws the world to God through Jesus Christ. If the world gets angry with us, GOOD. That means we’re fulfilling our mission. But it also means that we need to keep dong the same thing. No retreat! We need to keep being salt and light! Jesus exhorts us to show the world what he has made us. We need to live our lives as men and women who have been given divine and eternal life. The Beatitudes aren’t just a description of what our character should be – they’re a description of what Christ himself is like. He came as the light of the world and now he tells us, “Be just like me.” Don’t wait until you get to heaven to be like Christ – do it now and do it in the world! In the New Testament we read about Jesus and the apostles performing miracles that validated their divine message, and after those miracles, the Bible often tells us that the people who saw them, “Gave glory to God.” They were amazed at what they saw and they were moved to glorify God. You and I are to live just like that! Every day you live out the Beatitudes, every day you live your new and renewed life in Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you shine the light of Christ into the world. The greatest miracle of all is the life of the redeemed sinner who turns to follow Christ. That’s our witness to the world – to live out our new life by following the example of Christ, doing what the natural man can never succeed in doing. To make the Beatitudes a description of our character and to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – that is what makes us the light of the world. We need to live in such a way that men and women see us and ask, “What do they have? Why are they so different? Why can’t I succeed in living the way they do?” so that we can share with them the only real explanation: that we are the people of God, the children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” If we can do that we can share with the world the good news that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” and to give men a new nature and a new life and to make them sons and daughters of God. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, YOU are the light of the world. Live as a child of the light. Please pray with me: Our Father, you redeemed us from darkness to light through the blood of your only Son when he died on the cross. You have given us your Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can follow Jesus’ example – so that we can be the light of the world. We confess to you that we often hide our light and that we often obscure it by our worldliness. Give us the grace, Father, to remove the basket and to faithfully follow Christ so that our good works will move others to give you glory and turn to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Impatience & Irritability Respectable Sins: Sermon Eleven by William Klock I’ve noticed over the years that the people I often esteem as models of mature Christianity – people who have walked with Christ for many, many years and seem to have it all together – are often the ones most ready to confess their struggles with the flesh. When I was a university student I remember sitting down with the campus chaplain from my church one day. He was older – close to retirement age – and had been a Christian since he was a teenager. He carried his Bible around with him everywhere. It was a cheap paperback copy and the cover had fallen to pieces, I assumed, years and years before. The thing was covered with duct tape and was really ratty. If he set it down it fanned open all by itself. In contrast, my nice leather Bible hardly looked used – because it was hardly used. I took it to church on Sunday mornings and if I wasn’t too busy I cracked it open every once in a while during the week. To me his Bible looked like it was a million years old, but even more than that it was a complete enigma to me. I wondered, first, why he didn’t just buy a new one, but I also wondered how a man of such deep and profound faith could wear out a Bible – I mean, I thought he must have read it so many times he didn’t need to anymore. But one day he told me that, no, his Bible wasn’t decades old – it was only about five years old. He wore it out not only because he was using it daily to teach from, but mainly because it was almost constantly in his hands and because he was reading it ever chance he had – because it was the Word of God that gave him victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil as he walked through every hour of every day. Not only was it profound in that it reminded me that maybe a lot of my problem was a lack of time spent in God’s Word, but it also taught me that no matter how much we progress spiritually in this world, we will always struggle with sin. As I’ve said before, the Holy Spirit works like a microscope in our lives. He shows us our sin and then when we’ve dealt with it, he turns the power up and shows us more sins that we need to deal with. It’s never ending. Don’t listen to the guy who tells you he doesn’t sin anymore – he’s guilty of at least one: lying! The point of this series is to help us see the sin that remains in our lives – especially the subtle ones that we’re blind to. And this week I want to look at two of those sins: impatience and irritability. These two are closely related to each other, and since they can be defined in quite a few different ways depending on the context, I want to narrow things down a bit and define impatience as a strong sense of annoyance at the (usually) unintentional faults and failures of others. This impatience is frequently expressed verbally and in a way that tends to humiliate the person who is the object of the impatience. This kind of impatience is a response to the usually unintentional actions of someone else. Here’s an example: I’m one of those people, who if there’s nothing else to distract my attention, I’m usually deep in thought about something. Someone once asked me why I’m always walking around with a scowl on my face. I said, “I’m not scowling – I’m just thinking hard!” People have a problem getting my attention. Veronica will often see me in the room and start to tell me something, and I’ll respond with, “Huh?” I was right there, but if I’m thinking about something else and she didn’t get me attention first, I may have heard it, but I wasn’t listening. This is the sort of thing that can cause a person to become annoyed, as I have to ask the person who spoke to me to repeat what they just said. If you’re like me and you do this a lot, it means that the people around you have to learn to be patient! Here’s another example: When we get married we bring our habits and backgrounds with us. Some of us are accustomed to getting places early and with time to spare. For other people “on-time” means getting to Church before the first hymn is finished. And if two such people marry, well, it’s an opportunity for both to learn some patience. Either one could respond with a “Why are you always late?” or “Why are you always rushing?” You could even say nothing at all and still communicate an attitude of impatience. But you could also be patient, realising that a harmonious relationship is more important than leaving the house at the time you’d prefer. I think these are example that we can probably all identify with. They’re also examples of situations that come up when two people live closely with each other. And you see, that’s another issue here. Impatience and irritability tend to be sins that we practice at home – with our families – and a lot less frequently when we’re out dealing with the world. Being impatient or irritable at work or at church would probably have repercussions that we don’t want, so we restrain ourselves, but at home we let loose. That tells us something about our priorities, but it also drives home the point I made last time, that society sets certain boundaries, but within the boundaries we generally live as we please – not as God wants us to. Why? Because we can get away with it. Now, it’s also important to note that one person’s failure to listen or another person’s running late isn’t really the cause of another’s impatience. Those things simply provide the opportunity for the flesh to do its thing. The actual cause of our impatience lies in our own sinful hearts – in our own attitude of insisting that everybody around us conform to our expectations. Can you think of situations in your life that tempt you to become impatient? You might say, “Who, me? I don’t have a problem with impatience!” Well, you might not have a problem per se, but are you ever impatient? Let me suggest a few more possibilities. As parents we can become impatient when our kids or teenagers are slow in responding to our training: “How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your shoes on the stairs?” How many times do I have to tell you to clean your room?” Or, “When are you going to stop playing with your food?” When you’ve told your kids something over and over, it’s easy to become impatient when they don’t seem to be learning the lessons you want them to. And the real problem with our impatient outbursts is that they only give vent to our own impatience. They don’t really help to teach our kids anything – they only humiliate them. The same goes for our kids when they get impatient with brothers and sisters – they need to learn the same lessons we do about being patient with others. Obviously we’re not just impatient with other members of our own families. That may be the place where we’re most likely to let our guard down. But how about this? How are you when you’re in your car? We get very impatient when we’re stuck behind a slow driver on the road. We can get very impatient waiting in line at the bank or the store. How about when you go to the post office to buy a book of stamps and the lady in front of you has a stack of twenty packages she wants to mail to Timbuktu? You may or may not see your own impatience, so I suggest that you ask your husband or wife, your kids, or a good Christian friend who knows you well. Ask them to tell you if there are areas of impatience they see in your life. Above all else, we need to acknowledge and repent of our impatience as the sin that it is. St. Paul exhorts us in several of his Epistles, to be patient. In 1 Corinthians 13 – the great “love” chapter – he starts his long description of Godly love by saying, “Love is patient.” He could have started anywhere in that list, but no, he starts by telling us that first and foremost, love is patient. Think about that the next time your husband or wife does something that annoys you! In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit – the very characteristics that by their existence in us verify the presence of the Holy Spirit. Patience is one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. If you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives in you. Are you showing his fruit of patience? In Ephesians 4:1-2 Paul urges us to live our lives with patience, and in Colossians 3:12, he tells us that we are to put on patience. There was no question about it for St. Paul: the quality of patience is a godly quality that we need to cultivate in our lives. If patience reflects God’s character – and think of all the times that God has been patient with you – we can be certain that impatience, the opposite of patience, is a sin that we have an obligation to stamp out of our lives. Impatience may be an “acceptable sin to us, but it’s not acceptable to God! I said earlier that impatience and irritability are closely related. Where impatience is a strong sense of annoyance or exasperation, irritability, as I define it, describes the frequency of impatience, or the ease with which we might become impatient over the slightest little provocation. A person who easily and frequently becomes impatient is an irritable person. We can all be impatient at times, but the irritable person is impatient most of the time. He’s the sort of person who makes you feel like you have to walk around on eggshells. He’s not fun to be with, but if he’s your family member or your co-worker, you don’t have a choice. Ask yourself this: Are you upset with someone or with some circumstances a lot of the time? If the answer is yes, then you just might be an irritable person. If you’re upset with another person (or persons) a lot of the time, you may need to learn to overlook their unintentional actions. Proverbs 19:11 addresses the problem of anger (which we’ll deal with next week), but it applies here too: “It is [one’s] glory to overlook an offence.” St. Peter wrote saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). You could say that if love covers a multitude of sins, how much more should it cover a multitude of acts that irritate us! If you regularly catch the brunt of someone else’s impatience – if you’re often berated, criticised, or chewed out – how should you respond? Responding in kind isn’t going to work. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an irritable person probably isn’t going to just sit there and listen while you give him a taste of his own medicine – all you’ll do is start a war of words. This approach is not only unproductive – it’s also completely unbiblical. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re the sort of person who doesn’t respond verbally, but inwardly seethes and resent the person who had vented his or her impatience at you. Well, this is just as unproductive and sinful. Biblically speaking you have two options. You can follow the example of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Sometimes this might be your only biblical option. But the other thing Scripture says we can do is to confront the person who is always impatient and irritable – confront him and point out examples of his impatience. The hitch here is that you can only do this when you’ve resolved the issue in your own heart and can speak to the other person for his benefit, not just to make your own life more pleasant. If you do this in a biblical manner and the person accepts what you say, you’ve likely enhanced your relationship with one another. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). But if you confront him lovingly and he’s hostile or denies that he’s impatient and irritable you either have to be willing to take the next step, or back off and allow “love to cover a multitude of sins.” Either the issue needs to taken before the Church or you need to follow the example of Jesus. But to follow Jesus’ example really does require a firm belief in the sovereignty of God in every situation in your life. God is probably using this person’s sinful actions to help you grow in the biblical virtues of patience and meekness. This was what happened to Moses. Miriam, his sister, and Aaron, his brother, started speaking against him, but the writer of Numbers tells us that Moses responded with meekness. The text says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). He didn’t respond in kind – he trusted in God to work it out. And God did. He told the three of them to report to the Tabernacle. He descended in a cloud on them and when the cloud left Miriam was covered with leprosy for a week as a lesson to her. I want to close with this reminder. We’re looking at “respectable” sins – the sins we tolerate in our lives at the same time that we condemn the more blatant and flagrant sins of the society around us. We need to be as severe with ourselves over our own subtle sins as we are with the vile sins we condemn in others. May we never be like the self-righteous Pharisee in the Temple who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” but may we continually have the humble attitude of the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:11-13). Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:13 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Salt of the Earth St. Matthew 5:13 by William Klock Let’s begin this morning with a little review. Two weeks ago we wrapped up the Beatitudes – the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Do you all remember how Jesus described the character of the Christ-follower there? Okay, so first, the Christian is poor in spirit – he knows that there’s nothing truly good in himself and that he can’t save himself; he needs the goodness, the righteousness, of another; he mourns – not just his own unrighteousness, but he mourns the sin he sees around him; because he understands that he himself is damned without Christ’s righteousness, he mourns the fact that without Christ, those around him face eternal death; he’s meek – he knows that he’s got nothing to lord over anyone; he knows that any personal rights he might have once thought he had have been swallowed up by the great privilege he has to share the Gospel with others – one beggar showing another beggar where to find life-giving bread; he hungers and thirsts for righteousness – he knows his need and hungers for the righteousness that Christ offers him, and not only that, but like a starving man craves bread and a thirsty man craves water, the Christian craves to follow the example that Christ has set before him out of gratitude to his Saviour; he’s merciful – he understands just how much Christ has given him, and so he approaches others with the same mercy he has been shown; he’s pure in heart – in his quest for righteousness, he sets aside ungodliness and allows the Spirit to purify him from the inside out; he’s a peacemaker – not just a man who runs away from a fight, but one who seeks to bring reconciliation, first between men and God, and then naturally between man and man; and finally, because his character is so at odds with the natural character of fallen humanity, the Christian finds himself persecuted because he has put off his old self and put on Christ in its place. In that last Beatitude, Jesus springboards from the character of the Christian right into the deep water – into the Christian’s function in the world. The world persecuted and finally crucified Jesus for being who he was. If we model his behaviour, if we conform to his image, the world will persecute us too. Think of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who as the Jews gathered around and began throwing stones at him cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60), or St. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who was dragged into the arena and before the Roman proconsul and commanded to deny his faith in Christ. The proconsul threatened him first, saying that he’d be torn to shred by wild bests if he refused, and then threatened to burn him at the stake on the spot. And Polycarp stood firm, praying for those who lit the fires around him as he was consumed by them. In their deaths, the martyrs were witnesses of the faith – in fact, that’s what the Greek word, martureo, means: to witness or to testify – to show the world what Christ has done for you. And Church history abounds with stories of those who were drawn to Christ by the witness and testimony of those who stood firm in the faith, even to the point of death. And so Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:13: You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. If we live out the character Jesus has described, then we are “the salt of the earth.” Notice: it’s not that Jesus is telling us that we need to be the salt of the earth or that he’ll gradually make us the salt of the earth, but that we already are the salt of the earth. This isn’t another Christian characteristic to put on, it’s what we are if we’re doing all the other things he’s told us. Being salt is the function of the Christian in the world. So why does the world need salt? Well, the world’s ultimate problem is that it’s rotting. God created it perfect, but from the time of Adam’s first sin, from the time of his first act of rebellion against his loving creator, the world has been progressing into increasingly greater corruption. All you have to do is go back to the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam sinned in Chapter 3 and by Chapter 6 the entire human race had fallen into sin so terrible that God’s only solution was to wipe it all away, saving only Noah and his family – the last people on earth who still followed him. That’s been our story as a race over and over again. God shows us his loving care and we respond selfishly with our sin – our cosmic treason against our Creator – and it only seems to get worse with every year that goes by. The world is full of corruption – it’s rotting. And so Jesus uses a very apt metaphor: he says that we’re the “salt of the earth.” Think about that in terms of what salt does. First, salt is a preservative. Our ancestors, in the days before refrigeration, used salt to cure meat so that it would last on a long sea voyage, or on a long overland trip by wagon, or even to keep it through a long northern winter when meat would otherwise become scarce. Even today we still eat things like jerky, or for you South Africans, biltong. In fact, from what I hear, if biltong is cured right and made very dry it will last indefinitely – because of the salt used to cure it. Without the salt-curing process meat doesn’t last – within a day it’ll start to rot and putrefy. The world, just like a piece of meat left out in the sun, is slowly rotting. Nothing’s ultimately going to reverse the rottenness of the world, but a little spiritual salt will slow down the process, or even halt it for a little while. That’s what salt does. It needs to be spread around and rubbed in, but when that happens it has a preserving effect. Think of the way the world so often reacts to the presence of a Christian. I’ve noticed that when faced with the witness of a faithful follower of Christ – of one who is truly characterised by the Beatitudes – many men will put away their sins. I’ve seen men clean up their language and stop taking God’s name in vain, because the witness of a Christian reminds them that it’s wrong. I remember one particularly profound example that happened to me just last year. My company was engaged in an unethical business practice and by necessity I ended up being forced to take part in it. I said no, but my supervisor insisted that I follow instructions. So I went to the C.E.O. I was scared. I was sure I was going to lose my job, but I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do. And the funny thing was that as I left the C.E.O.’s office, I realised that just as I was scared to bring the issue to him – since the unethical policy had started with him – he was just as scared of having the “Padre” confront him about it. You see, men and women often justify their sin, or they get so into it that they sear their consciences and reach a point where they no longer see their sin as sin, but when the faithful Christ-follower comes along, he raises the bar, opens their eyes, and shows their sin for what it is – when you see real righteousness in front of you, it tends to re-sensitise your deadened conscience. The Christian’s righteousness condemns sinful men and women by example. And that leave the non-Christian with two choices: persecute the Christian to remove the source of condemnation, or follow the Christian’s example to avoid it. Think about the preserving influence that Christians have had on society over the years. England was ripe for a godless revolution just like the one that swept France – the revolution that tried to kill God and the Church – but instead of a revolution a great evangelical revival happened under men like John Wesley and George Whitefield. Why have countries like Canada and the United States managed to retain much of our Christian foundation? Because for centuries Christians were being salt – they were working their way into our society and into our culture. We may be living on borrowed capital at this point, but we have what we have, because our forefathers were the salt that Jesus describes here in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Now salt not only preserves, but it also seasons and flavours. I always loved my grandmother’s cooking, but it suddenly changed after my grandfather’s third heart attack. He was put on a no-salt diet. And you know what? Butter with no salt in it doesn’t have any flavour. Neither do eggs, or vegetables, or meat. It had never occurred to me just how much flavour salt brings out in our food. Without it, everything turns bland. Jesus tells us in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” We were once sinners and enemies of God, but he loving redeemed us by the death of Jesus Christ and for that reason we should be a people full of joy! God himself, the one we offended and committed treason against, chose to reconcile us to himself. How much better does it get than that? Well, it does! He not only saved us from punishment and from his own wrath, but he gives us his Spirit to indwell us – to renovate our hearts and minds – to make us new creatures. Remember that one of the fruit of the Spirit is joy! But as the Spirit works in us, as it plants and grows its fruit in us, the world through us comes to know not only divine joy, but divine love, divine goodness, and divine peace. As God’s salt, we flavour an otherwise rotting piece of meat with the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit does this through us in order to point the world to Christ. The ministry of the Spirit is to give witness to Jesus Christ. As Holy Spirit salt we flavour the world so that people can “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Think of our being salt in terms of our speech. In Colossians 4:6, St. Paul tells us, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” What does that mean? Well, in Ephesians 4:29 he also tells us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” What’s interesting is that Paul tells us this in the context of telling us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. You see, our speech is one of the best measurements of the condition of our spirit. Our speech is capable of doing a lot of harm, but it can also lift the spirits of the discouraged. It can put the whole of life in a new perspective. And, most importantly, it’s the vehicle by which Christ is made known – but notice that it’s not only by what we say, but by how we say it. Speech is like salt: not enough, and you can’t taste the flavour of the food; too much, and all you’re left with is the terrible taste of salt – the food is ruined. So just like salt, our speech and our lives should bring out the “flavour” of Jesus Christ. Too much of ourselves – too much of our talk – will ruin the message and leave a bad taste. We need to be like Christ or else people won’t be able to tell the difference between the salt and the meat, between the poverty of our witness and the goodness of the Lord Jesus that we’re inviting them to taste.” So ask yourself, are you imparting the “flavour” of Jesus Christ to the world? Do people see your joy? Do they see God’s love and God’s peace in you? Does your speech and do you actions build people up? You see, that’s what salt does as it witnesses Christ to the world. But now Jesus asks, “If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” It’s a good question. I don’t really think Jesus’ point was to get into a chemistry lesson with those people gathered there to hear him preach, so I’ll keep the chemistry lesson short. Sodium chloride – salt – is one of the most stable chemical compounds there is. Under normal circumstances, salt is salty and salt doesn’t change into anything else. It’s stable. Salt likes to be salt. Salt stays salt. I think it’s likely that the people listening to Jesus knew this. They never expected to open up the salt pot in their house and find that the salt had changed into something else anymore than any of us expect to shake the salt shaker and find anything other than salt coming out. If we are salt – and we are salt by the very virtue our being followers of Christ, living out the Beatitudes – we can’t cease to be salt. And here’s the scary implication: If you’re not salt – if you’re not having a preserving influence on the rotten world around you – then it’s probably because you’re not really following Christ. You see, this is the same principle we see throughout Holy Scripture. It’s not enough to say you’re a Christian – you have to actually be one. Your life has to back up your talk. You have to walk the walk. St. James tells us that talk is cheap – he says, “If you want to prove you have faith, show me your works – show me that Jesus has changed your life and your way of living.” Jesus tells us that he’s the vine and we’re the branches – and he says that every branch that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire. If you have Jesus, you will bear fruit. If there’s no fruit, it’s evidence that you don’t have Jesus. If the salt isn’t salty, it’s not really salt – it’s dust and it might as well be thrown out into the road with the other dust. You see in Jesus day and place they got their salt from the banks of the Dead Sea. But when they scraped it up, they got as much dust as they did salt. Since salt is water-soluble it was pretty easy to separate the two – dust doesn’t dissolve in water. So the people understood what Jesus was talking about. Until you separate them, the salt and the dust look pretty much the same – the difference is in the taste and the effect. Dust isn’t salty. It doesn’t have a preserving influence. It doesn’t flavour or add zest – its just dust. So you have to ask: are you salt or are you just worthless dust masquerading as salt? Salt gets used and makes a difference. Dust gets thrown into the street and walked all over. But here’s another problem with salt. Under the right conditions it’s absorbent. It’s like when they put down kitty litter at the gas station to soak up spilled gas or oil. Salt does the same thing. The best example I can think of is the use of salt to clean a pipe. When you smoke a pipe you build up a layer of ash and soot on the inside of the bowl. Now you want that layer to be good and thick – it makes the pipe smoke better. The problem is that that ash soaks up oil from the tobacco and eventually that oil gets rancid and sour. So to get rid of it without messing with the layer of ash and soot, you fill the pipe bowl with salt, saturate it with some ethanol, and let it sit. Overnight it dries out, but in the process the ethanol breaks down the rancid and sour oil and the salt absorbs it all. In the morning you’ve got a bunch of orangey-brown salt that isn’t fit for anything but the trash. See, Jesus calls us to be in the world, but he also calls us not to be of the world. I don’t think most of us have a problem being in the world. Our problem is that we end being of the world too. As salt we start to let the world soak into us. Now think of that nasty orangey-brown sticky salt that comes out of a pipe. Would you put that on your eggs? Would you rub into a piece of ham to flavour and preserve it? No. It would ruin the eggs and it would ruin the ham. Think of it this way. Maybe you’re still salt, but you’ve let the dust settle back in by being too worldly. Try putting dusty salt on your eggs. Okay, so the salt might bring out some flavour, but who wants to eat dusty eggs? It’s counter productive. But you see, that’s what happens when, as salt, we let the world contaminate us. We lose our effect. We lose our impact for preservation. We produce a product that nobody wants and that’s counter productive if we try to apply it the way we would real, pure salt. Now, there’s another important aspect of salt that we haven’t looked at yet. Our bodies contain a lot of salt, because salt helps us with water retention. But if too much salt builds up in your body, or if your body stops getting rid of salt through sweat, your body retains too much water, gets bloated, and becomes very unhealthy. And so does the Church if it doesn’t spread it’s salt around. Think of this salt shaker. It might look nice sitting here all filled with salt, but the salt isn’t having any effect. You have to shake the salt out. And that’s how we need to be as Christians. There are times when it’s good for us to be all together like the salt in the shaker, but we also need to spend time out in the world. In a sense, we gather to reinforce our saltiness, but then we need to go out and be the salt of the earth. There are things that the Church, as the corporate Body of Christ, is good at and then there are things that are better done by individual Christians. The Church can get together in councils and synods and make all sorts of pronouncements to the world, but if you look at history, the Church’s track record at being a preserving influence isn’t very good when that’s all that it did. The periods in history when the Church had the greatest preserving influence were the times when individual Christians went out and got involved in the work of personal evangelism. Think about it this way. I can rub this salt shaker on a piece of meat all day, but if that’s all I do, I won’t do anything to preserve the meat. To preserve the meat you have to shake the individual salt crystals out so that they can get out and spread out over the whole piece of meat. I can set the shaker on top of my eggs, but that won’t flavour the eggs – you have to shake the salt out of the shaker for it to do any good. You see, the Church can make pronouncements about the sinfulness of things like abortion or homosexuality, but none of those evils are going to disappear unless real people meet the real Jesus who takes away their sins. Too often we take the easy way out: we make pronouncements or we work to pass moralising legislation, forgetting that men and women won’t change without Christ. If the Church spends all her time preaching against this segment or that segment of society, she usually ends up doing nothing more than closing the evangelistic door to that segment of society. That’s like rubbing the salt shaker on the meat. We need to remember that each person in each of those segments of society that we’re prone to preach against has an individual soul that needs to be saved. If we go out as individuals into the places where God has put us, we can show the love of God toward sinners and save those individual souls one by one. Let me close with a real-world example of what it means for God’s people to be salt. The great English Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter, wrote one of the finest books ever on the ministry and I think the world and the Church would be very different if we all held Baxer’s view of the Church’s ministry. In 1647 he was sent to the parish of Kidderminster, and when he got there he found that out of the hundreds of people in the town, you could count the actual Christians on your hands. He engaged in an active ministry of doing whatever it took to go out to the people, to meet them at home and work, to share the Gospel with them, and to teach them about the faith and about the Bible. As people came to Christ they began to do the same themselves. As Bill Hedges is fond of saying, “Sheep make more sheep.” It’s said that by the time Baxter left Kidderminster fourteen years later, of the hundreds there, you could count on your hands the number of people who weren’t Christians. When he arrived immorality was rampant, when he left Kidderminster it was a model Christian community. But you see, Baxter didn’t just stand in the pulpit and make pronouncements about the evils of the town. No, he went out and made Christians, who made more Christians, who made more Christians, and together they became a preserving influence – and by the time Baxter left, the entire character of the town had changed. That, dear friends, is precisely what we need to do in the Comox Valley, in Vancouver Island, and ultimately to all of Canada and the rest of the world. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we prayed earlier in the Collect of the Day, asking you to teach us to ask for those things that please you, so that we may obtain those things for which we ask. Father, this is one thing we know you desire and that we can confidently ask for, knowing it to be according to your will: Make us salt and give us boldness to spread ourselves throughout our community and the rest of the world. Let us be your preserving influence that will flavour the Comox Valley with your grace, and let us with boldness spread the good news of Jesus Christ, who died, was resurrected, ascended, and now reigns on high, that all the world might come to know you through our words and Christ-like character, we ask through our mediator, Jesus Christ, who died to reconcile us to you. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Lack of Self-Control Respectable Sins: Sermon Ten by William Klock In Proverbs 25:28 we read, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Remember that in biblical times, the wall of a city was its primary means of defence against outsiders. It was hard to tunnel under the walls. It was hard to climb over them, but if you could break down the gate or knock down part of the wall, an invading army could pour into the city and destroy it from the inside out. Think of the story of the fall of Jericho. God told the people to march around the city for seven days blowing their trumpets. And at the end of the seventh day, after marching in silence all day, when they blew the trumpets, God caused the falls to collapse and the Israelites swarmed over the city and destroyed everyone in it. And so Solomon tells us that just as a city without a wall is easy prey for an invading army, so a man or woman who lacks self-control is easy prey for any and all kinds of temptation. It’s too bad that Solomon didn’t heed his own device. He’s a perfect example – on a large scale – of what happens when you lack self-control. The Bible tells us that he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and many – maybe even most – of them came from pagan nations – the very people God had told the Israelites NOT to take wives from. But Solomon gave free reign to his desires and passions. You see it started harmlessly enough. He married the Pharaoh’s daughter to cement a political alliance – that’s what kings did in those days. But God called his people to be different. While the other nations trusted in horses and chariots (and worldly negotiations and treaties), God called on his people to trust in him and consistently obey his Law. Sin snowballs. It starts with small things, but it turns into big things. Instead of trusting God, Solomon negotiated with Pharaoh and took his daughter as his wife. Pretty soon he was doing the same thing other kings and princes – marrying their pagan daughters and bringing them into his household. And once it started, it awoke in him other sinful desires and before long he was building a harem, bringing in every pretty girl he came across. Instead of exercising self-control, he disregarded his own words of wisdom and allowed himself to be ruled by his out-of-control passions. He paid a heavy price. Those pagan women brought their pagan religions into Israel and turned not only the heart of Solomon, but the hearts of the people, away from God. And God’s punishment was to split the kingdom upon Solomon’s death. Never again would Israel have the prominence, peace, and prosperity that God had given under David and Solomon. Holy Scripture makes it pretty clear just how important self-control is. Proverbs addresses it and so do the Epistles. St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And it’s a lack of self-control that he tells St. Timothy will characterise the “last days” – in the same passage we read last week that begins saying that men will be lovers of themselves. The church in Crete apparently had a big problem with self-control, because St. Paul exhorts St. Titus on three occasions to teach about it. Paul also wrote to Titus, saying “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). God hasn’t just given his grace to save us, he’s given us his grace to sanctify us – to help us live lives that are pleasing to him – and one part of pleasing him is having self-control. St. Paul also, when he lists the qualifications for bishops, lists self-control. St. Peter tells us several times in his epistles, that we should be sober-minded and self-controlled. The virtue of self-control is all over the pages of Scripture, but it’s a virtue that I don’t think gets much conscious attention from most Christians. I think that when we do practice self-control, it’s not so much because we’re wanting to please God, but because our church culture – and often even our secular culture – tend to restrain us from obvious sins. I don’t think many Christian men would every walk into a brothel, but depending on what survey you look at, four to six out of ten Christian men regularly surf porn on the Internet. I don’t think any of us would walk into the store, stuff our pockets full, and walk out with out paying. But how many of us would have no problem showing up to work late, going home early, taking a long lunch, or taking care of our personal business on company time? I doubt that any of us would go down to Staples and steal a box of pens, or a box of paperclips, or a ream of paper, but we have no problem taking those things home from work. When I worked for Hewlett-Packard we had our own office supply division on site. A site with 4000 employees needs to stock its own supplies. They had pens, paper, binders, erasers, tape, glue, paperclips, printer cartridges, floppy disks and CD’s. You name it, and if it could somehow be used there, they had it. You just took what you needed, wrote it in the log, and listed your name and department. But every September they’d have to bring in extra stock, because of all the employees who’d drop by after hours to get what was on their kids’ school supply lists – and a lot of those people were Christians. What kind of witness is that? You see, we avoid sin when there’s a risk of getting caught and when we know that it would damage our reputation, but if we can get away with it in secret we show very little self-control. There are obvious boundaries around us, but for the most part, within the boundaries we pretty much live as we please. We seldom say “no” to our desires and emotions. A lack of self-control is one of our more “acceptable” sins. And because we tolerate it, like Solomon, we become vulnerable to other sins. A lack of control of our tongue, often opens the door to all manner of defiling speech, like sarcasm, gossip, slander, or ridicule. What is self-control? I like Jerry Bridges’ definition: “It is governance or prudent control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful. It would, for example, involve moderation in watching television and absolute restraint in viewing Internet pornography.” Now, it’s important to understand that self-control and willpower aren’t the same thing – at least not natural human willpower. Anybody, believer or unbeliever, can practice self-control in specific areas of life if they’re trying to meet a certain goal, but in other parts of their lives, they may live with little or no self-control at all. An athlete might be strict and have a lot of self-control when it comes to his diet or his daily workout, but then be totally lacking in self-control when it comes to his temper. Sometimes our self-control may be situational. Think of the guy with a temper problem. He controls his anger and his temper when he’s at work and around his customers, because his livelihood depends on it, but when he gets home he gives up that control, loses his temper, and takes it out on his wife and kids. That’s a human-powered kind of self-control. Biblical self-control, in contrast, covers every part of our lives and requires an unceasing conflict with the passions of the flesh that, as St. Peter puts it, “wage war against our souls.” No one can do that on his own. This is why God fills us with his Holy Spirit when we come to saving faith in him. His goal isn’t just to redeem us – it’s also to make us like Jesus. Real, godly, biblical self-control depends on the work of the Holy Spirit to give us not only a desire for self-control, but the power to do it. You could say that real, full-time, biblical self-control is not control by yourself through your own willpower, but instead it’s control of yourself through the power of the Holy Spirit. I think it helps to remember that self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit. We don’t expect to put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness all on our own power – we know that this is the work of the Spirit in us. The same goes for self-control. I think that we often tend to think of self-control in relation to certain activities and not as a general way of life. As I said, we have no trouble controlling ourselves when it comes to certain things, but then we go nuts when it comes to others. Case in point: what and how we eat and drink. You guys all know what this is. [Hold up empty “Pringles” can.] Potato chips. Mmmm. Potato chips. Did you know that I ate the whole thing all by myself? Okay, so that’s not a big deal. In fact, that’s what I planned when I bought them. But here’s the problem. After they made it to my desk drawer the plan changed. They were supposed to be part of my lunch – for two or three days. But when I got them here they looked really good, so I opened the can and figured I eat one or two before putting them away. And you know, they managed to stay in the drawer for about an hour. And then, I’m ashamed to admit, they came out of the drawer…and I ate the whole thing…by 9:30 in the morning…while I was writing this sermon. [Hang head in shame.] That’s 163g of potato chips. According to the label that’s supposed to be six servings. 60g of fat. Yikes! And all while I was writing a sermon on self-control. Now there was a time when I used to do that several times a week. I’d take a break in the mid-afternoon to walk down the street to the grocery store and buy a can just like this. I’d take it back to work and it would all be gone in about thirty minutes. But you see, I learned a long time ago that when I open one of these cans I seem to lose the ability to stop until the thing’s empty. I don’t seem to have that problem with any other food. God used something as stupid a can of Pringles to show me my lack of self-control. He showed me that a lack of self-control with something silly and relatively unimportant weakened my self-control in more important areas of life. God taught me that self-control is a lifestyle – it’s not something you apply here or there – you apply it to everything. So how do I exercise self-control with Pringles now? I already know that an open can is too big of a temptation. I learned that sometimes self-control is simply removing the source of the temptation. I don’t have to worry about Veronica buying the things for me – she’d never do that. I just don’t buy them myself on any kind of regular basis. If I’m in a snack mood in the afternoon, I’ve learned not to go to the grocery store – because every time I do, even if I have the best of intentions, guess what I buy? Right. So I’ve learned how to avoid getting into the situation that challenges my self-control. My point isn’t to send anyone on a guilt trip for enjoying junk food, desert, or Starbucks. What I want you to understand is that we need to make sure that we control our desires rather than letting them control us. Maybe your problem isn’t with food. Maybe it’s your temper. I can attest from personal experience and from counselling that this is a big problem for lots of Christians. We all know people like this – or maybe we are people like this. You’ve got a short fuse and when it burns down you explode. Anger is the subject for another sermon, but a temper has to do with self-control. Anger can often be sinful, but if you struggle with being short-tempered, you compounding things by adding the sin of lack of self-control. We can blow up at anyone that does something to upset us. It might be another driver who cut us off on the highway, an umpire who makes a bad call, a wife who burned dinner, or a kid who didn’t clean up his room like he was asked. The worst thing is that it’s our family members that usually take the brunt. Natural, fleshly, and selfish self-control might keep us from blowing up at the boss, but it doesn’t stop us from coming home and kicking the dog or getting angry with our family. Scripture, especially the book of Proverbs, warns us against a quick temper: “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (14:17) and “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:32). St. James warns us in his epistle to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19). If this is your problem area, store up God’s word in your heart that you might not sin against him (cf. Psalm 119:11). Read Proverbs and make note of all the verses that talk about anger and tempers, and make note of the five or six that really speak to you – then memorise them. Let God’s words replace the words that you’re prone to speak in anger! Put off the old man and put on the new man by the power of the Holy Spirit! The final area I want to cover and that I think Christians tend to lack self-control is personal finances. I know it’s a problem because a lot of people have asked me how God can help them get a hold on this area of life. I know because one of my former parishioners wrote a book on the subject for Christians – and it’s one of his best sellers. I know because of men like Richard Barnard, who used to be the rector of one of our churches in Dallas. He’s seen that this problem so plagues the Church that he has a ministry in which he travels the country, going from church to church, leading a seminar that teaches Christians how to get out of debt and make Christ Lord of their finances. I don’t know what the numbers are in Canada, but the average household in the U.S. carries about $7,000 of credit card debt. I wouldn’t image that Canadians are that drastically different. That’s not low interest debt like you’d pay on a house or maybe a car – that’s high interest debt that keeps growing as long as you don’t pay it off. We spend beyond our means – way beyond. As a people we aren’t exercising financial control; instead, we’re indulging our desires for what we want: new clothes, a new car, expensive holidays, new computers, new televisions and stereos and all sorts of other things. It’s not just people who are in debt, though, who fail to exercise self-control in this area. There are a lot of affluent and wealthy people, including a lot of Christians, who can afford to indulge themselves in whatever they want. They’re like the writer of Ecclesiastes who said, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them” (2:10). Indulging ourselves in whatever we desire, even if we can afford it, is not a way to exercise self-control. Remember, again, that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. We could probably stay here all night listing other ways we lack self-control. How often do you sit down in front of the T.V. to watch one programme and end up staying there all evening? How often do you sit down at the computer to look at just one website or to look-up one piece of information and end up sitting for hours following one interesting link to another until the day is gone? How often do you throw yourself into sports while ignoring your family or your other duties? What about impulse buying – going out to “hit” the sales – or the garage sales – with no real goal in mind other than to get some good deals – and you come home spending more money than you should have on stuff you didn’t need before you saw it on sale? For us men a big need for self-control is over our eyes and thought lives in an age when many women dress less modestly every season. I’ve hit on some of what I’ve seen to be the more common areas of life over which we tend to lack self-control, but we’re all different. I urge you to examine your own life. Are there desires, cravings, or emotions that may be out of control to some degree? Remember that we’re talking about “respectable” sins – sins that are often so subtle that we fail to notice them. So look hard. Because this sin is so subtle, we all suffer from it somehow. As you work to stamp out this sin in your life, remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Don’t try to do it on your own. It’s Gods enabling power that give us the victory! Please pray with me: Father, we confess that in many areas of our lives we lack self-control – while you should be the Lord of our lives, we often hold back parts of ourselves. We confess to you that we do not have the power in ourselves to control the flesh, and so we ask you to put your Holy Spirit to work in our lives, showing us the places we’ve held back from you, and helping us to give them over that he might control us and use us in your service. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:10-12 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake St. Matthew 5:10-12 by William Klock As we come to the last of the Beatitudes this week I think it's appropriate that we sum up what Jesus has already described the Christians life is to be like. The beatitudes are interconnected – each one follows the one before – there's a logical progression that begins with a right understand of who we are before God. That knowledge shapes who we become and what we desire in life. Ultimately where we put our priorities and how we esteem ourselves before others and before God, gives direction to how we act. As I've said before, Jesus' point isn't that some of us are poor in spirit, others are merciful, and others are persecuted – the Beatitudes all together give us a portrait of the Christian life. First Jesus shows us the Christian humbly entering the presence of God, knowing his own poverty of spirit and mourning his own unrighteousness. Knowing that whatever status he has in life is a merciful gift from God, the Christian then treats others with the understanding that he's no better than they are – he puts himself and any of his own perceived rights last and puts others first. Because he knows his own unrighteousness, he hungers for what he lacks – he hungers for the righteousness of Christ that allows him to enter God's holy presence, but he also hungers for the transforming and life renewing work of the Holy Spirit to cleans him from all unrighteousness. His great longing is to grow in grace and goodness – knowing that he can never achieve Christ's perfection, but wanting to get as close as he can. That describes the Christian inwardly, but Jesus also tells us what the life of the Christian is like as he interacts with others. Jesus makes it clear that he expects us to “go out” – not cloister ourselves away. He calls us later in his Sermon to be salt and light, but salt doesn't do any good if it stays in the saltshaker and light doesn't do any good if you hide it under a basket. The Christian is called to meet the world head on, with all of its pain and all of its problems. He's called to show mercy to those the world has battered and to those whom sin has beaten down. He lives his life righteously in the power of the Holy Spirit, and because he's upright, he lives transparently and honestly, showing the world what God has done for him. He seeks to show others the peace that God has shown him. That's the kind of person the world is looking for, right? Well, you'd think that. Like the bumper sticker says, “Mean people...” well, you know. Nobody likes a mean person. Nobody likes a bad guy. Even as you talk to people in the world, most people like the idea of a Christian. Most people agree that Jesus was an all-around great guy. The world thinks it ought to welcome Christians, that is, until the first time they actually meet one, because the true Christian condemns the world with his very presence. And so Jesus says: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12) It makes sense that Jesus ends the Beatitudes here, because this is where the rubber meets the road. It's when we experience the reality of this beatitude in our own lives that we have the confirmation that we're actually living out all the others. If there's been any confusion so far, if anyone listening to Jesus has been missing the revolutionary nature of the Beatitudes, this is where it ends. The persecution of the believer for righteousness' sake is where we see the division and the difference between the Christian and the world. Notice that Jesus doesn't just say, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted” – he narrows it down and says specifically, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.” This is important. You can be “persecuted” for all sorts of things, sometimes even unjustly. Even Christians get this one wrong an awful lot of the time. We can use our faith to justify all sorts of things we shouldn't do and then scream “Persecution!!!” when other people hassle us for it. In his book of modern Christian parables, Joseph Bayly tells the story of The Christian Blimpand, I think, illustrates very well how Christians can often be persecuted for the wrong things. In the story some people from a church decided to evangelise their town by flying a blimp overhead. The idea was that the blimp could trail gospel messages over the town and periodically drop “bombs”– tracts and leaflets. Well, people in the town didn't complain much and mostly just ignored the blimp. Since their evangelism didn't seem to be working, the people from the church decided to start broadcasting over loudspeakers from the blimp. So it's shouldn't be any surprise when someone sabotaged the ground-based end of the blimp's sound system. And of course when that happened the church people screamed foul – they were being persecuted! What those people were experiencing might have been persecution, but it wasn’t persecution for righteousness’ sake! You can't claim persecution when you raise the ire of people by obnoxiously shoving tracts in their face or shouting at them about Jesus on the sidewalk. You can't claim persecution when your neighbour gets upset because you decided to protest Halloween by smashing his jack-o-lantern and destroying his yard decorations. You can’t claim persecution when you get arrested for confronting the local gay pride parade with angry, self-righteous shouting or for blocking the door of the abortion clinic and shouting angrily at the girls trying to get inside. When I was an undergraduate, our campus was visited each year by a guy who went by the name of Brother Jed. He'd show up on the student union mall with a portable sound system and quite literally stand on the modern equivalent of a soapbox and proclaim the Gospel to whomever passed by. He'd usually gather quite a crowd during his stay of two or three days – usually hecklers. There were always people there trying to sabotage what he was doing. He was obviously persecuted, but I don't think he was persecuted for righteousness sake. And I say that because Brother Jed didn't come – at least as far as I could tell from what I heard of his preaching – as one sinner sharing his new life with other sinners or one beggar showing other beggars where to find bread. He came as if he were one of the Old Testament prophets, to point his finger and declare “Woe to you, sinners!” I always thought he came across as more of a legalistic Pharisee than a disciple of Christ. I always wondered if he actually made any converts, because I didn't see much of what he was doing as exemplifying the Beatitudes. But approaching the world in Brother Jed style is often a lot easier than being the living witnesses Jesus calls us to be. It's easy to stand on the soapbox and shout to everyone who passes by that they're going to hell. It's easy to stand on the street corner and shove a tract in the face of a stranger you'll never see again. It’s easy to hold a protest sign outside the abortion clinic or at the gay pride parade. It's easy to join a campaign to pass legislation banning homosexual marriage. What's hard is living the way Jesus tells us and to be living witness of the Gospel. It's a lot harder to be a witness in the place where God has providentially put you – where you can live rightly and be a friend to those around you and show them the Gospel at work. It's easy to hold a sign outside an abortion clinic and shout “Sinner” to the girls walking inside, but it's a lot harder to befriend that girl with an unwanted pregnancy and help provide her with the home and family she'll lose if she has her baby. It's easy to work for moral legislation and then call it persecution when those around us give us a hard time because of it, calling us bigots or hateful, but it's a lot harder to actually work to build a Christian nation by truly sharing the Gospel in order to make more Christians. A few years ago I read a news story about a Christian man who was jailed for “hate speech” because he stood on a Philadelphia street corner quietly reading Scripture at a gay pride parade was passing by. Christians were appalled and cried “persecution!” And as much as I can find all sorts of problems with how that man was arrested and what he was charged with, I have to ask, was he persecuted for righteousness' sake? What was the point of reading Scripture in the middle of a gay pride parade? What was he planning to accomplish? It's not like anyone was going to listen to what he had to say in that kind of environment. It's not like that was even remotely some kind of effective evangelism. Like the blimp, he was another example of a Christian being persecuted for simply being obnoxious. He was standing in that parade and essentially being a Pharisee – taking a holier than thou attitude. It's like walking up to someone, giving them a Gospel tract and saying, “Jesus calls me to share the Gospel with you. I've done that and wash my hands of it if you choose to reject it.” That's not evangelism – that's the Christian trying to fulfil his obligation the easy way – that's the Christian being legalistic and Pharisaical. If we're persecuted doing that kind of thing, that's not the kind of persecution Jesus is talking about here. But we do see examples of what Jesus is talking about throughout the Bible. Abel was killed by his brother, simply for offering a righteous sacrifice to God. Noah was heckled by the people of his day for following God's command to build an ark. David was persecuted by Saul for being righteous. In fact, when David had the chance to kill Saul and didn't, it made Saul's persecution even worse! The prophets, like Elijah and Jeremiah, were persecuted for standing for righteousness when everyone around them was choosing to reject God. And in the New Testament we see the ultimate example of persecution for righteousness in the person of Jesus. Look at his example. Can you picture the man who said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” stand outside an abortion clinic in angry protest shouting “Sinner” or “Murderer” to the women walking by. Can you see him doing the same thing at a gay pride parade? Or can you see him walking up and talking with those people and sharing the good news with them by becoming their friend and finding out their needs? This was the man that ate with tax collectors and sinners so that he could show them the love and mercy of God toward sinners. The righteous person who seeks to live the Beatitudes – who is poor in spirit, who mourns over sin, and who is meek – doesn't do evangelism to fulfil some kind of obligation or so he can put a check mark by it and say he's done it for this month. The meek person who mourns shares the Gospel with fellow sinners because he truly mourns the fact that without Christ they're damned just as he once was. The religious people of his day didn't persecute Jesus because he brought a purer lamb to the Temple for his sacrifice. They didn't persecute him because he kept the rules better than they did. They persecuted him because his righteousness was more than an external righteousness. They had turned God's Law into a mechanical system of “do this, and God will bless you.” They had come up with a measuring stick that made them look pretty good. But Jesus stepped into their world and just by being there showed all their perceived righteousness to be filthy rags. He showed them that righteousness is ultimately about what's in the heart. What's insideought to be what motives the externals, not vice versa. Remember he was the one who explained that it was not what goes into a man, but what comes out of him that defiles. We condemn the world just as Christ did if we truly follow his example. In John 15:20 Jesus says, Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. Jesus reminds us of something that we tend to forget. I think we forget it because the world thinks that it likes Jesus, but that's because the false picture of Jesus that the world holds to doesn't convict them of their sins by its mere presence. We tend to think along the same lines, thinking that everyone should like us. We're nice people after all. And yet in St. Luke's Gospel Jesus tells us, Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26) When the man of he world comes face to face with a Christian who is truly loyal to Christ he really only has two choices: He can choose to follow Christ too or he can find some way to silence him. The Christian will always face persecution because our integrity, just as Christ's did, challenges the moral indifference of the world. And yet Jesus tells us not just to expect persecution, but to rejoice in it. The fact that we can’t just bear with the persecution, but actually rejoice in it serves to underscore even more that the Christian is different from the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the Beatitudes saying, “With every Beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciple and the people, and their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest.” We are different. Jesus calls us to new life. And as much as he calls us to be peacemakers, he does so understanding that our calls to peace will create division in this world. The same Jesus that brought peace also reminds us that he brings division, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The Christian is transformed and his new life is controlled and dominated by Jesus, by a desire to be loyal to our Lord, and out of concern that everything we do, we do ultimately for his sake. Again, we find blessing in our persecution when it is for Christ's sake. One of the comforting things I find here, though, is in Jesus words, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” I think that knowing we often have ulterior motives for doing things, we're usually concerned that when we do live righteously, that we want to do it out of a desire to please Christ – to be righteous for righteousness' sake. We're concerned when we hear hellfire and brimstone preachers turning the Gospel into something that's little more than fire insurance, telling people that they have a choice between an eternity in hell and eternity in heaven. Our faith needs to be more than something we put on because we're afraid of God's eternal punishment. But here Jesus tells us that we can rejoice knowing that we have a heavenly reward waiting for us. It's okay to have that motivation. Ours is the Kingdom of Heaven and our persecution, when it is truly for the sake of righteousness, is the proof of that promise. But knowing that persecution is inevitable and that we can still rejoice in it, how else are we supposed to react to it? The other beatitudes come into play here. The natural man is always looking out for himself. If someone accuses him or attacks him, he wants at least to justify himself if not make some kind of a return attack. But the Christian never seeks that kind of revenge as he follows Christ's example: St. Peter says of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). But the Beatitudes push us even further than that: we shouldn't be resentful either. As hard as it is to bite our tongue and not seek to justify ourselves – to get some kind of retaliation, the Beatitudes call us to do more. It's one thing to simply refuse to retaliate. It's another thing not to feel resentment. If you want to see how the Christian should respond to persecution, look at Philippians 1 this week. We don't have time to go through that whole chapter here, but in that chapter St. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians about his being jailed in Rome. He was truly a man who rejoiced in his suffering and there's no hint of bitterness in what he writes – in fact, as you read his words the severity of his hardship is tangible, but you can also see the smile on his face as he talks about the great encouragement he's found in the fact that his imprisonment has furthered the cause of the Gospel in Rome. This is where he writes: Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:19-21) We're called not to retaliate. We're called not to be resentful. But going even further, we're also called not to be depressed. And honestly, I can't think of any more depressing situation than being jailed for following Christ. But if we're going to follow Jesus we need to look to his example. The author of Hebrews writes: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) Jesus certainly mourned the sins of those whom he died for, but he didn't mourn his own persecution – he didn't mourn his own death. And he didn't mourn that death because he knew the results that it would bring – because he knew that his death would bring life to sinful men and women. Jesus promises us that the Kingdom of Heaven is ours. If we're truly living the Beatitudes we're going to look at everything around us differently than everyone else. Our lives will be influenced by the realisation of who we truly are, by the knowledge of where we're going, and by the knowledge of what waits for us there. This is what St. Paul sums up in 1 Corinthians 4:17-18. I'd like to close with his words: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Please pray with me: Our God, you are the strength of all who put their trust in you. Let us be strong in you, that we may follow your Son’s holy example: when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but trusted your just judgement. Give us the grace to rejoice in our persecutions and remind us of the reward that awaits us in heaven. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Selfishness Respectable Sins: Sermon Nine by William Klock What do we make of the fact that so many of the great men and women of the faith have had their faults? That so many of them have obvious feet of clay? When I was little someone gave me a child’s storybook about Martin Luther. I admired and looked up to him as a kid. When I was older I picked up a biography of him written for young adults and admired him even more. When I was in high school I started reading his sermons and he profoundly influenced my faith. And then when I was in college studying church history I read the histories and biographies for grown-ups that didn’t whitewash history and characters the way kid’s storybooks do. I learned that Luther, my great hero of the faith was temperamental and would often get enraged or would storm away from an argument in an enormous huff. In one instance, he and John Calvin were discussing the nature of Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper. Calvin said that Jesus was spiritually present and Luther insisted he was physically and bodily present. In the end Luther angrily scrawled the word “is” (as in “this is my body”) on the tablecloth and stormed away. That was the end of his talks with Calvin. When I studied United States history I fell in love with the character of General Robert E. Lee. To this day he’s still my favourite character in American history. He was a true Christian gentleman and a man of deep and profound faith that truly influenced the way in which he lived his life. And yet he was a slave owner despite his own personal reservations against the institution of slavery. What do we make of knowing that great men and women of the faith so often have feet of clay? Well, it ought to be a warning to us that despite our best efforts to uphold God’s truth and to live according to God’s precepts, we all have blind spots – we all fail to fully live the fruit of the Spirit. We can be orthodox in our theology and circumspect in our morality and yet still tolerate “subtle” and “acceptable” sins in our lives – sins like the ones I’ve been addressing for the last two months. Did Luther deliberately try to be angry and prideful. No, I don’t think so. The fact is that God created Luther as he was and gave him the ability to stand firm for truth in the face of persecution. Luther was the right man to stand before the papal prelates and the Emperor at Worms. But just as much as we may use God’s gifts for his service, we can also abuse them. Every personality trait can be used for God or can be abused and used wrongly for selfish gratification. We need to take our God-given personality traits captive to Christ and put them to use in his service. Selfishness can be one of our big blind spots – one of our tolerated “acceptable” sins. It’s something we inherited from our first sinful parents as part of our sin nature. Think about it. How many of you here had to teach your kids to be selfish? No, they come out of the womb selfish little savages with no thought for anyone but themselves! A baby has no capability of self-control at the start and when they don’t get what they want they scream themselves into a fury. Look at little kids. A brother and a sister were sitting on a rocking horse. The boy said to his sister, “You know, it sure is crowded here. If one of us would get off, there’d be a lot more room for me!” How many of us had to teach our kids not to share with their friends or their brothers and sisters? No, you have to teach them to share! As we get older we learn that obvious acts of selfishness are socially unacceptable and so we find more subtle ways to be selfish – but the problem is still there. Even as Christians we still struggle with the flesh that wars against the Spirit. And one of the manifestations of the flesh is selfishness. This is a hard sin to expose. It’ easy to see it in other people, but not always easy to see in ourselves. Part of the problem in seeing it is that there are different degrees of selfishness. Some people may be blatantly and openly selfish. Someone may steal things from other people or just make it plain by the way he treats them that he doesn’t care about them at all. I don’t think that’s a problem that most of us are struggling with. Our selfishness is usually more subtle and more refined. Are we selfish with our interests? Look at what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians in 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. By interests Paul meant not only the needs and concerns of other people, but also in a narrower sense, the things they’re interested in. Think about what interests you. When you get together with other people do you talk only about your interests or do the other people there talk about theirs too? I know a person that only talks on two subjects: herself and her kids and grandkids. If she stops talking about them long enough for you talk about something that interests you, she’ll quickly grab hold of what you just said and turn it around to point back at herself or her kids again. If your kids did something great and you bring it up, her kids have always done the same thing first or done it better than yours. I do it too. Veronica can tell you how many times I’ve come home from work and immediately started in on the, “You would not believe what I had to deal with today…” litany – not thinking to stop and ask her first how her day went and what she did. I know I’ve probably bored friends and family to tears talking about the things that interest me – probably theology, ecclesiology, or genealogy! We need to evaluate how we interact with others in this respect. A good test of the degree of selfishness in our interests would be to reflect on the conversation and ask yourself just how much time you spent talking about yourself compared to letting others talk about themselves and what interests them. Someone once pointed out to me, “If everyone else’s plate is empty and yours is still full, its time to start using your mouth for eating instead of talking.” Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m still learning to put that into practice. Now you might say, “Well, what you’re talking about might be rude or unthoughtful, but it’s not sin.” But the fact is that it’s a big indicator of our self-centredness. It shows that we’re mostly concerned about ourselves. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, St. Paul gives us a list of some pretty ugly sins that will characterise the “last days.” The first sin in that list is “lovers of self.” That’s a good description of a selfish person, because he’s first and foremost centred on himself. If he takes it to an extreme, he simply doesn’t care about others or their interests, their needs, or their desires. His only interest is himself, and his self-centred conversation is the evidence. How about this: are you selfish with your time? Time is a precious commodity that we only have a limited amount of. You can become wealthy and have extra money to spend, but not many folks have “extra” time. We’re all busy and it’s easy to become selfish with our time. A husband who says to his wife, “My time is more important than yours,” is being obviously selfish, but we can be more subtly selfish here too. No matter who we are, we tend to guard our time. Think of a student asking her roommate to help her with homework, but the roommate is busy studying for a final exam. Will she give up her precious time to help with the homework, or will she keep it for herself? Or will she give of her time to help, but do it grudgingly? For that matter, is the first student acting selfishly to ask her roommate for help when she knows she’s busy studying for the big test the next morning? We can be selfish by inordinately guarding our time, but we can also be selfish when we unduly impose on someone else’s time. Either way, we’re thinking of ourselves and not the other person. Think about this in the context of your home-life. Husbands, wives, and kids all have things they have to do, and much of the time we’re reluctant to step outside our own duties. We take a “that’s not my job” attitude. Kid’s are known for actually saying, “Hey, that’s not my job!” But even as adults we do the same thing – we’re just more subtle about it. Rather than saying, “I’ll take care of that for you,” we just ignore the help another person needs and go about our own thing. And yet St. Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Going beyond our normal duties to help someone is one way we can bear each other’s burdens. A third area in which we can be selfish is our money. I don’t know what the statistics are in Canada, but Americans give less then two percent of their income to charities or religious causes. The United States is the richest nation in the world with the highest standard of living and yet Americans give only two percent of their money away – and that’s the most of any nation in the world. I don’t know how far behind that number Canada falls, but it does mean we here give less than two percent too. We pride ourselves on our generosity when there’s a major natural disaster, but the statistics don’t lie. They show that on the whole we’re indifferent to the physical and material needs of people worse off then ourselves. This is especially important for Christians. St. Peter wrote that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). St. John wrote, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). The Gospel calls us to cultivate hearts of compassion toward those in need and then put that compassion to work through our giving. But what about giving to the Church? Less than four percent of North American Christians tithe. That’s the minimum standard for giving that Scripture sets for us, and yet 96% of us don’t meet that God-given standard. We’d rather keep our money for ourselves. But what does that say about our appreciation for what God has blessed us with? He calls us to trust him and to rely on him for our needs – “seek first his Kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you” – and promises that he will take care of us even better than the most loving parent. And he not only meets our most basic needs, he’s blessed us with an abundance from which he only asks for ten percent back. That ten percent is really a token amount that acknowledges that it came from him to begin with and that we trust him for our provision. And we treat our money as if we’re ultimately responsible for having received every last penny. Finally, what about inconsiderateness? Being inconsiderate can express itself in quite a few ways, but the bottom line is that the inconsiderate person simply doesn’t think about the impact of his actions on other people. The person who’s always late and keeps everyone waiting is inconsiderate. The person who talks loudly on his cell phone to the disturbance of others is selfishly inconsiderate. The teenager (or the husband) who leaves his mess on the kitchen counter for mom to clean-up is inconsiderate. Any time we fail to think about the impact of our actions on someone else, we are being selfishly inconsiderate. We are thinking only of ourselves. We can also be inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Think bout how often you’ve been rude or even downright mean to a waitress, a clerk at the store, to a customer service rep on the telephone when you’ve been on hold for half-an-hour, or to the anonymous person at the other end of an internet connection. Maybe we’re not mean or nasty, but we’re inconsiderate of their feelings. Instead of being rude or indifferent, we can with no more expenditure of energy brighten someone’s day with a simple thank you and a little graciousness. Think about the witness you have to people like that, who are used to taking the brunt of others’ frustration all day long. You may have all the reason in the world to be angry or upset, but sharing God’s grace by being thoughtful is one means by which we share Christ with the world. The person whose attitude is, “I just say what I think and let the chips fall where they may,” is selfishly inconsiderate. He’s indifferent to the possibility of embarrassment, humiliation, and hurt feelings. He may call it honesty, but in the end he’s only concerned with expressing his own thoughts and opinions. Scripture calls us to look not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others. If we broaden what that means to include the needs and concerns of others, as I think St. Paul did, then you can see that the unselfish person not only is indifferent to the needs of others, but actually expects them to meet his needs and desires. This is the sort of thing that kills a marriage: when the husband and wife get married to have their own needs met, rather than to serve and meet the needs of their spouse. Certainly the greatest example we have of unselfishness is Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says, though he was rich, for our sake he became poor so that by his poverty we could become rich (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul urges us, as Christ’s followers, to cultivate that same frame of mind (Philippians 2:5). Think of the many priests that died of plague in the Fourteenth Century. The bubonic plague wiped out 30 to 40 percent of Europe’s population because it was so contagious and so deadly. People were afraid. If a member of their family became sick, they would often leave that person to die rather than risk staying in the house with them and getting sick themselves. Many of the priests of the day stepped in to serve those who were dying and many of them in turn caught the plague and died themselves. It’s said that the best of the priests were killed by the plague, leaving the worst of the priests to live. In our cases, it’s unlikely that living unselfishly will result in our deaths, but it can be costly. It means giving up our time, our money, and our interests and investing in the interests and concerns of others. I suggest that the place to start is in our own homes and with our own families. Most of us tend to be on our best behaviour when we’re outside the home, but when we get home we tend to set aside our artificial restraints and truly be ourselves – to live out our true character. And because selfishness is something that’s often so hard to see in ourselves, we ought to start by asking our family members to point out our selfish tendencies. We should do this without being defensive. We shouldn’t retaliate by then bringing up the selfishness we see in that other person. Instead, we ought to humbly and genuinely repent, and start praying that the Holy Spirit will enable us to deal with those selfish characteristics. God fills every one of us with his Spirit for a reason – to open our eyes to sin in our lives and to help us to overcome that sin. This is an area where we need to ask the Spirit to make us “extra” sensitive, and then we need to seek his help set that sin aside. Please pray with me: Father, we come to you knowing that selfishness is one of our big problems. We engage in it so often that we’re often completely blind to it. Open our eyes to any place where this sin exists in our lives and give us the grace to overcome it, replacing it with a selfless love for others. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:9 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are the Peacemakers St. Matthew 5:9 by William Klock In Matthew 5:9, Jesus tells us: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. And in looking at the beatitudes, I think this more than any other has been misunderstood, misused, and misapplied by people both inside and outside of the Church. But even more, the way in which is has been misunderstood and misapplied really embodies the problems that men and women have with the Beatitudes as a whole. When I was a seminary student I was required to take a New Testament exegesis course – basically an in-depth, semester long, Bible study with an extra heavy focus on using the Greek text. One of the textbooks we used in that class was a summary of various modern approaches to the Sermon on the Mount. It described the “new,” “novel,” and “innovative” ideas that various – mostly liberal Christian – theologians took in interpreting what Jesus has to say in these three chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel. The most disturbing thing about the book was the fact that there was a chapter devoted to how one particular Hindu guru interpreted Jesus' Sermon – and not so much disturbing that a Hindu was included, but that the Hindu came closer to getting at the real meaning of what Jesus has to say than most of the so-called Christians did. The ultimate problem with most of these guys was that they either turned the Sermon on the Mount into a series of mechanistic promises – “Do 'this' and you will be blessed.” – or they applied these principles to the World instead of the Church, calling on unredeemed men and women with unregenerate hearts to live out the Sermon on the Mount in order to make a better world. They took the great sermon preached by the Son of God who came to redeem us from our fallen state and to restore us to fellowship with God, and they effectively removed God himself from its message. These men were the great scholars of the last century and yet they took one of the most important texts in Holy Scripture and gave the shallowest of interpretations. And so is it any wonder that if the Church gets it wrong here, so does the World? I don't think there's anyone in the world who doesn't want to be blessed. The problem is that the natural man wants that blessing on his own terms and not God's. In my mind the most prominent example of this man-centred and humanistic desire for the good things of God on our own terms is the United Nations. And that ties into our lesson today on Jesus' own statement that the peacemakers will be called sons of God. The U.N. was founded after the Second World War as a way to bring peace among the nations. On the wall across the street, in United Nations Plaza, are carved the words of Isaiah 2:4, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The whole point is to bring that hoped for peace. They want the promises of Isaiah's prophecy, they want that more than anything else, and yet they don't want the God who made that promise, and they don't want peace on his terms. People put bumper stickers on their cars that say things like, “Visualise World Peace” or some variation of the old 1960's “Peace” logo or “Peace is a Family Value.” I can “visualise world peace” and I do think that “peace is a family value,” but I can't help but think that the people driving around with those bumper stickers are, just like those who carved Isaiah's prophecy of peace at the U.N., visualising a peace without the redeeming and renewing work of God taking place in the hearts of sinful men. The World thinks of peace as the absence of war, violence, and hostilities. But if that's how we define peace, we've degraded it. To really understand what peace is, we have to look at Jesus, whom Scripture describes as the Prince of Peace. The whole point of Jesus' ministry on earth was to bring peace between God and man. None of the conflicts that have ever taken place on earth can compare with the conflict that has existed between God and man since the Fall. Imagine the atrocities that were committed by men like Nero and Hitler against their fellow men and women – terrible things that we can hardly imagine – and yet every time we sin we do even worse to God as we violate and offend his perfect holiness, his perfect righteousness, and his perfect justice. Every act of sin on our part is an act of treason against the God who loved us enough to create us, despite the fact that he had no need for us and despite the fact that he knew before he formed us that we would rebel against him. Every act of sin on our part is a wilful defacing of the image of God that each of us bares. Every act of sin on our part – every violation of God's Law – cries out for God's perfect justice and our own death! You see, we don't like to hear that. We don't usually think of our sin in those terms. We think of other people's sins in those terms – the sins of people in prison, or on death row, or the sins of mass murders and genocidal dictators – but not our own. We think of our sins as little peccadilloes. “Peccadillo” – it even sounds cute and harmless. “Sure,” we say, “we probably shouldn't have done such and such, but who's it gonna hurt? It was just a little bit of fun.” It hurts and offends God! When the words of peace from Isaiah were carved on the wall at United Nations Plaza, they missed what Isaiah described will come first: in order to bring that final peace, God has to deal with sin. “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the stormwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many” (Isaiah 66:15-16). St. John reminds us that at the last judgement “if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Those are some serious words that describe just how separated from God we are as sinners – how we stand condemned before our righteous Judge. There are a lot of Christians who don't want to talk about the wrath of God – we’re happy to talk about God’s love, but we avoid – sometimes even deny – his holiness and his justice! We’d rather forget the righteous wrath of God. But if we never talk about the wrath of God, if we never talk about the sinfulness of sin, and if we never talk about the fact that God condemns sin – our sin! – we can never fully understand the depth of love that God has shown us in Christ. We can never understand what real, godly peace is. Jesus came, St. Paul tells us, “to reconcile to himself all things…making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). God loved us enough that even though we had committed treason against him, rejecting him totally and replacing him with our own false gods and idols, he himself came to die so that we can be reconciled to him. Our sins demanded justice, but in the person of Jesus, God submitted himself to that perfect justice so that we wouldn't have to. God wanted us to be reconciled and restored to his fellowship so much that he gave us his only-begotten Son that we might have eternal life. That we might have peace. If we want to understand what it means to be a peacemaker, Jesus is our standard and our measuring rod. That's what the blessing part of this beatitude gets at: the peacemakers shall be called “sons of God.” Again, Jesus isn't suggesting that our adoption as sons and daughters of God is based on a mechanistic or legalistic observance of peacemaking. We need to understand it in terms of Christ-likeness. We are called as followers of Christ to conform to his image and to his example of life. Think of it this way. If you insult someone by calling him a “son of a dog,” you're not intending to insult his mother. The point of the insult is to liken the person to a dog based on the way he acts. In this case, Jesus is saying that those who make peace – his kind of peace, not a worldly or humanistic peace – will be called “sons of God.” Not only will other people see them living according to Christ's pattern and example and call them sons of God, but God himself will affirm us as his sons, as our works give evidence of our faith in him. The true peace that God gives is first and foremost reconciliation between God and man, but the natural outgrowth of that is also reconciliation between men. We don't come to the Father on our own seeking forgiveness, we all come through Christ, and we are all indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. This is why we can talk of the Church as the Body of Christ. We're all different, we're all individuals, but we all partake of the same new life in him. In him we have our communion. John Owen wrote about our unity using the illustration of a man going out into the woods to gather up kindling for his fire. As he picks up a stick here and stick there his bundle of firewood grows, but that bundle is made up of all sorts of different sticks – some are long and some are short, some are fat and some are thin, some are twisted and others are straight – but the man is able to bind them all together with one piece of rope so that he can easily carry them all home together. Christ has done the same thing in his Church. He's gathered all sorts of different people tied them together with his redeeming blood and Holy Spirit so that he can carry us home in peace. If you cut that bond of peace, you cut the cord that Christ tied himself. This is why this beatitude is important. It's not just some airy-fairy hippie ideal where we all walk around saying, “Peace, man” to everybody – it's the life that Christ has given us. This is a command. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians saying: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. (Colossian 3:15) and to the Ephesians: I therefore...beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3) St. Paul understood that peace is costly – it requires that we give up ourselves, just as Jesus did: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-8) Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about “cheap grace,” but I think we can also talk about “cheap peace.” In a lot of respects that's what the world wants. The world doesn't want true reconciliation in the biblical sense – it just wants to sweep all our differences under the rug. And that's sometimes an easy thing for us to do, especially in the Church. Think about a time when a brother or sister offended you or sinned against you, and instead of dealing with that offence, you just swept it under the rug and wrote that person off. You figured it was easier to simply remove that person from your circle of friends and get on with your life, fellowshipping with the people who haven't offended you and whom you still consider your friends. It's often easier to do that than to seek true reconciliation with the offender. Granted there are times when we can choose not to take offence at something that someone else does and to put the matter behind us, but most of the time that's not what we do. We go on with our business, but we write that brother or sister out of our life and continue to hold a grudge against them. But Christ's standard is higher than that. When we sinned against him, he lovingly and mercifully chose to die for us and to reconcile us fully with the Father – to bring us into full fellowship. He dealt with our sin and offence in a way that allows the Father to remember it no more – to blot it out of his record book. Christ never dies for anyone, and then says, “I never really liked that guy anyway, so it's fine with me if he just hangs out there on the fringes of the Church. I'm happy here at the centre with all the people I like.” If we write a brother or sister out of our lives, what we're doing is cutting that bond of peace that Christ has used to tie us together. Pretty soon the whole bundle of kindling will fall apart and pieces of wood will be scattered everywhere. And once the bond of peace is cut there’s nothing left to put new pieces of wood in – the bundle’s done, finished. It doesn’t work anymore. “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder” are words that can apply just as much to the fellowship we have in the Church as they do to the new husband and wife. And so we're called to seek out the offending brother or sister and seek reconciliation. This isn't always an easy thing to do. It may mean that we have to confront our fellow believer with his or her sin and call on them to repent. If they refuse, then it means the whole church goes to them and calls them to repent and come back into fellowship. We do what it takes so that Christ’s peace can be restored to the Body. And if we responded to the original offence with an offence in return, or if we let our pride get the better of us in the way we've been treating that brother or sister, it might mean that we'll need to eat some crow and go back to them humbly and ask forgiveness for our own offence. But this is the only way that Body of Christ can maintain its God-given unity and purity. Scripture calls us to live out our unity in Christ, but it also calls us to exhort one another to holy living. On the flip side, while we can all think of someone who's offended us in the past, I'm guessing that we can all probably think of times that we've been the offenders. None of us is perfect, but if we're to be peacemakers we need to remember that when we sin against someone else we also need to seek peace through reconciliation. We need to seek the forgiveness of the one we've offended, and if we've sinned in ignorance we need to be ready and willing to hear the rebuke of our fellow believers when they come to us seeking peace. All of this is hard to do. The natural man can’t do it – which is why the world is the way it is. The Spirit has to be at work in us first, bringing our lives around to conform to Christ’s example. You see, there's a reason why Jesus doesn't start the Beatitudes with “blessed are the peacemakers.” We can't be peacemakers until we know who we are before God. To be a peacemaker you first have to be poor in spirit, you have to be able to mourn over your sinfulness, you have to be meek, knowing that you're no better than anyone else in the world. The peacemaker has a new understanding of himself in light of the other beatitudes. He knows just how miserable and wretched he is before God. He knows that God owes him no favours, and that he can make no demands on other men or women, because he is no better than they are. He's the one who understands what Jesus meant when he said, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). He's the man with Kingdom eyes and with Kingdom priorities and who can have pity on sinful men and women knowing that he was once just like them: blind to their own sin and deceived by the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The peacemaker is the man who puts the glory of God above everything else in his life. Because he has a Kingdom perspective on life, the peacemaker puts the needs and right of others before his own. He deals graciously with others. I like Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ description of him as one who listens. Think about that: the man who is full of himself is always talking about himself – who he is and what he's doing – and not usually ready to listen. But to seek reconciliation and healing we need to know the needs of others. We need to stop and listen to the people around us. The man who listens more than he speaks is also less likely to offend. St. James tells us, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). But the peacemaker does more than simply seek to live out the unity of the Body of Christ. He also looks at the world, looks at things going on around him, and looks at every action he takes in light of the Gospel. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker and if we look at his life we never see him asking, “What's in this for me.” He sought the Father's glory and he sought to reconcile us with God. And so the peacemaker follows Our Lord's example and in everything he does he thinks of the implications it has or will have on the cause of the Gospel. And this is where we see peacemaking become something we actively pursue. We're inclined to be lazy about this. We think it's okay to be passive in our peacemaking – to do our best not to offend others. But if we follow Jesus example, peacemaking becomes something we're called to pursue as a vocation. He tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” We tend to think of peacemaking as walking away from a fight, but Jesus tells us that real peacemaking means blessing your enemy when what you really feel like doing is walking away smug in the knowledge that, if you didn't clobber him today, at least someday in the future he'll die and get his comeuppance in hell. A real peacemaker, who is poor in spirit, who mourns, and who is meek can take the abuse of another person and truly mourn the sin of that offender, saying as Jesus did, “Father forgiven them, for they know not what they do.” A true peacemaker understands what it means to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 KJV). Jesus' goal was to reconcile sinful men with God. Our goal is to spread that message of reconciliation. And so Jesus calls us to the work of peacemaking – not just being peaceful, and not just wishing for peace – but actually seeking it out and making it. Remember that you are the only “Jesus” many people will ever see – and so you have to ask, when people look at you do they see someone who has conformed to the image of Christ? When people look at you do they see a man or a woman who has found peace with God? When people look at you do they see God’s peacemaker? Please pray with me: Our Father, we thank you that in reconciling us to yourself through the blood of Jesus you have given us “that peace which the world cannot give.” Remind us daily that your peace is not something about which we can be passive. Remind us that it’s not something to squander or to keep to ourselves. Give your grace so that we will be bold enough to share it with others, that we will bring unity in your Body, and that we will share your reconciling love with the world around us. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Pride Respectable Sins: Sermon Eight by William Klock If we looked at all the characters in the New Testament, I think that maybe the most repugnant to us would be the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable: the one who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). We cringe to hear someone pray that way, but the irony is that even as we condemn that Pharisee, we ourselves fall into the same kind of self-righteousness. As Christians we all have blind spots – sinful parts of our lives that we’re totally oblivious to – and I think that pride, after ungodliness, may just be the most common of those blind spots. And so pride needs to be addressed, because it’s completely incompatible with the Gospel message itself. You can’t turn to Jesus for salvation, looking for a righteousness you don’t have, while at the same time being full of pride. I think that with this reminder you can see just why it’s so important that we deal with this particular sin. It really is critical. In fact, both St. James and St. Peter warn us saying, “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Pride manifests itself in all sorts of ways that we’ll never have time to cover, so tonight I want to look at just four specific ways in which pride is, I think, most likely to manifest itself in the life of the believer: the pride of moral self-righteousness, the pride of correct doctrine, the pride of achievement, and the pride of an independent spirit. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable shows moral self-righteousness. This is a form of pride that expresses itself in feelings of moral superiority over other people. It’s not just limited to believers. You can be morally self-righteous in the political and cultural arenas too. You can be liberal or conservative and be guilty of this. Anyone who believes he stands on the moral high ground in any thing like politics, economics, or even environmental policy is very likely indulging in moral self-righteousness. This is an easy sin to fall into in the world in which we live – where society at large is falling into and condoning gross immorality: abortion, drugs, avarice, easy divorce, and any and all sorts of sexual immorality. What used to be scandalous doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore – or worse, is even proclaimed as being virtuous. Because we don’t commit those sins, we tend to feel morally superior to everyone else. We look down on them with a certain amount of disdain. Sometimes I think this is the great sin of the orthodox Anglican community. If you want a perfect example of this sin, just point your web browser to Virtuosity – the conservative Anglican news website. Too many of the articles there show just this kind of attitude. They don’t stop at calling sin, sin – they take a Pharisaical and self-righteous position of superiority over those in the Church that have fallen into sin – name calling and just generally showing a lot of self-righteousness. And if you dare, scroll down to the comments left by visitors to the site – they’re even worse. It begs the question: What do we want to see happen? Because it would seem that these folks would rather see the liberals rot in hell than be redeemed. You see, there’s often a fine line between raising a prophetic voice against sin, and allowing ourselves to fall into a spirit of contempt toward sinners. We need to remember that we ourselves are sinners too. That without Jesus Christ, we stand before God just as condemned as everyone else. We need to remember that the Church isn’t a social club. It’s a lifeboat and our goal is to be proclaiming God’s message of redemption and gathering as many people as possible into the boat. Notice that St. Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable about he Pharisee “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). So what can we do to guard against the sin of self-righteousness? First, we need to seek an attitude of humility based on the truth that “there but for the grace of God go I.” We need to remember that at some point in the past, someone else rescued us and pulled us into the lifeboat. We need to remember that if we are morally upright, and especially if we are believers trying to live morally upright lives, it’s only because God has shown us his grace. No one is naturally morally upright. Each of us has to admit with David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). When we’re tempted to feel morally superior and to condemn those around us engaged in gross sin, we should instead feel gratitude toward God, that by his grace he’s kept us from those sins – or maybe even rescued us from them. I think it can also help us, too, to identify ourselves before God with the sinful society we live in. Ezra gives us an example of this. He returned to Judah with the other Jews who left Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. He was a scribe trained in the Law and he went back to Judah to teach his people God’s Law. We’re told that Ezra “had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He was a godly man who led an exemplary life. The Israelites he was supposed to teach had fallen into some big sins, and yet we read about Ezra actually identifying with their sin, even though he wasn’t guilty of it himself. He prayed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to life my fact to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Notice how he says, “our iniquities” and “our guilt,” not pointing his finger to everyone else and saying, “their iniquities” and “their guilt.” Especially in our culture, it would do much to keep us humble to do as Ezra did as he identified himself with the sin of the people around him. Closely related to moral pride is doctrinal pride: the assumption that whatever my doctrinal beliefs are, they are correct, and anyone who holds another belief is theologically inferior. Anyone who takes doctrine seriously is susceptible here. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Arminian or a Calvinist, if you subscribe to Dispensational or Covenant theology. Because “we’re right” we can be prone to look with disdain on those whose beliefs are different from our own. For that matter, lets round out the spectrum a bit: Even for those people who don’t consider doctrine important are prone to look with disdain on those of us who do. In other words, this form of pride is a pride in our particular belief system, whatever that may be, and an attitude that in our beliefs we are spiritually superior to those who hold other beliefs. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not at all meaning to say that taking a firm stand for doctrine isn’t important. I’m not saying that we can’t believe, and even assert, that our beliefs are right. Just as it’s critical that we take a stand for biblical morality, we must also take a stand for sound and biblical doctrine. I wouldn’t be an Anglican if I didn’t firmly believe that the Prayer Book, the Articles, and the Homilies promote the doctrine and practice of Holy Scripture – and I’ll fight for that doctrine and practice tooth and nail. But even when we know we’re right, we need to hold that truth in humility. In 1 Corinthians 8, St. Paul addresses this form of pride in regard to the issue of eating food that had been offered to idols. Some of the Corinthian Christians had concluded that this practice fell within the bounds of Christian liberty. St. Paul didn’t disagree with them, but he did rebuke them for the doctrinal pride that resulted from their belief. He wrote to them saying, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The Apostle agreed with their “knowledge” – but he charges them with doctrinal pride. Their “knowledge” had puffed them up. So if you’re Calvinism or Arminianism or Dispensationalism, if you’re view of the “end times” or of the Holy Spirit (or your disdain for all doctrinal beliefs) causes you to feel doctrinally superior to those who hold other views, then you’re probably guilty of the sin of doctrinal pride. Again, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t seek to know the truths of Holy Scripture or that we shouldn’t seek to develop deep doctrinal convictions about what Scripture teaches. What I am saying is that we should hold our convictions in humility. If we are “right,” it’s only by God’s grace – because he’s given us his Spirit to open our eyes to Scriptural truth – not because we’re so smart and everyone else isn’t. If you struggle with this sin, memorise and pray over 1 Corinthians 8:1 – the “knowledge puffs up” verse. Then ask God to help you pinpoint the areas where you tend to be doctrinally proud – and ask him to help you hold to your convictions with a genuine spirit of humility. Now I want to switch gears a little bit and look at how we tend to take pride in our achievements. The Bible does teach us that in general there is a cause-and-effect relationship between hard work and success. Proverbs 13:4 tells us, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” St. Paul exhorted Timothy in his ministry: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). And St. Paul himself went all out in his ministry. But the Bible also teaches us that success in anything is under the sovereign control of God. We read in 1 Samuel that, “the Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Samuel 2:7). We might have the brains to succeed in school or the savvy to succeed in business, but in neither case can we take the credit. We may have worked hard, but it was God that gave us the gifts in the first place. Paul wrote to the proud Corinthians, “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Think about that. What do you have that you did not receive? Nothing. None of us has anything that did not come to us ultimately as God’s gift. If you’re smart, if you’re talented, if you’re healthy, if you can work hard thank God, because it all came from him. So then, why do we boast? We do it in different ways. Sometimes we’re overtly proud. Other times we can boast more subtly. Either way, it’s because we’ve failed to acknowledge that success comes from God. Of course, we put ourselves into those successes and worked hard, but who gave you the ability and the desire to succeed? Who blessed your efforts? Ultimately it’s all from God! And yet we often boast to others of our accomplishments as if God had nothing to do with it. We often boast of our children’s accomplishments as if God had nothing to do with it? Or maybe our pride shows itself in our desire for recognition. We all like to be told when we’ve done a job well. But what’s out attitude when we do a job well and don’t get the credit or the recognition? Are we willing to labour in obscurity, doing our job as unto the Lord, or do we become disgruntled over the lack of recognition? There are two Scriptural principles that we can apply to our pride – to keep us on our guard. First, we should remember Jesus’ words in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” When we’ve done a job well or maybe served faithfully for a long time, our attitude should be, “I have only done my duty.” Second, we need to learn that all recognition, regardless of the immediate source, ultimately comes from God. It’s God who puts one down and lifts another up. Putting these two principles together should cause us to say, “All is of grace.” I deserve nothing, and all I do receive, including recognition, is only by God’s grace – so if I don’t receive it, I won’t worry about it.” Finally, I want to look at the sin of having a pridefully independent spirit. This kind of sin usually expresses itself in two ways: either a resistance to authority (especially a spiritual authority), or an unteachable attitude. Often both expressions go hand in hand. Think of the stereotypical teenage know-it-all. As I’ve heard it said, “We don’t know how much we don’t know!” I think most of us were like that to some degree. We had no experience, but we thought we knew it all. I remember that first opportunity I had to intern in a church. I was assigned to what was supposed to be a moderately evangelical little church over in Vancouver. Yet what the bishop considered evangelical or conservative and what I did were two different things. To top it off the moderately liberal rector was a woman. I went in there knowing that I knew more about ministry than she did just because I was theologically orthodox. (Yes, I was guilty of doctrinal pride too!). Was she wrong on a lot? Yes. But she also had a lot more experience as a minister than I did and knew a lot of things that I didn’t – things that had little to do with liberal vs. conservative debates. I was often unwilling to submit to the authority that was over me. I was often unwilling to receive the instruction I needed from someone who was more mature than I was. I wish I had been more familiar with what the Bible says about authority. Look at Hebrews 13:17: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. The writer of Hebrews was talking about the spiritual authority of elders in the church, but his principle of submission and teachability applies to any situation where someone is under the tutelage or training of a more mature believer. It’s our pride of an independent spirit that makes us unteachable or unsubmissive. Its not just young people – like me when I was a seminarian – older people can show a resistance to spiritual authority and an unteachable spirit too. In teaching and counselling I’ve encountered many people that will respond to something I’m teaching by saying, “Well, I disagree. I think…” There’s no appeal to Scripture – it’s just personal opinion or maybe based on experience as opposed to Scriptural authority. Sometimes they’ll even outright state that the Bible is wrong. In that person’s mind, their opinion is authoritative. There’s no willingness to grapple with the teaching of Scripture. But the Bible teaches very strongly the value of a teachable attitude. Proverbs in particular has a lot to say about this. Listen to these examples from the first few chapters of Proverbs: My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. (Proverbs 3:1) Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight. (Proverbs 4:1) My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding. (Proverbs 5:1) My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you. (Proverbs 7:1) Proverbs often talks about the father/son relationship, but the point is the principle of teachability: a willingness – even a desire – to learn from those who are more mature in the faith than we are. A person with a teachable spirit is a person who knows he needs the wise counsel of a more mature believer who can help his growth in the things of the faith. All of these manifestations of pride have become “acceptable” sins. Often I don’t think they’re even seen as sin at all. And that’s because they’ve become so common among Christians. They’re also sins that we’re prone to see in others, but not in ourselves. So I urge you to pray about the sin of pride and to ask God to bring to light any tendencies of pride in you life – and then confess them as sin. And as you do that, remember God’s promise through Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Please pray with me: Father, we confess that even though we ought to remember that you have given us everything – our talents and abilities, our desires to work hard and to succeed, our spiritual life – even what righteousness we do have has come from you – instead of giving you the credit, we take the credit ourselves and become sinfully full of pride. We confess, Father, that we do this so often, that we don’t even see it as sin anymore. Open our eyes, we ask you to the pride in our lives, and give us the grace to set it aside and humblty acknowledge that it all comes from you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are the Pure in Heart St. Matthew 5:8 by William Klock Jesus gives us our next Beatitude in Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. I’d like to tackle this one differently than I have the others. We’ve been looking first at the conditions in each case, and then the blessing that God promises. But this time I want to look at the blessing first; in this case:“for they shall see God.” What does it mean to “see God”? In the context of what Jesus is saying here, it means to be in the presence of God. And to be in the presence of God, I think we would all agree, is a wonderful and awesome thing. But do we really understand what it means to be in the presence of God, because if we really understand that we’ll really be able to understand what it means to be “pure in heart” – and why the two necessarily go together. You see, I think that we often have a very shallow understanding of what it means to be in the presence of God. I’d never given this much thought. When I thought of being in God’s presence I though, like a lot of people do of having a “happy-happy-joy-joy” or a “warm–fuzzy” experience. And then one day as I was praying through a passage from the Psalms, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of the presence of God. In that instant I threw myself prostrate on the floor – almost involuntarily – as the words of the Great Litany gushed out of my mouth: “Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.” That confession brought a feeling of peace, but it was a peace with an awesome and fearful presence of the Divine. It wasn’t warm and fuzzy. It wasn’t a shallow “happy-happy-joy-joy” moment, but I found that the only response I could give was one of praise of the Almighty saying the Gloria Patri. And as I thought the experience through over the week that followed I realised that my experience wasn’t weird – it was in fact the response of those in Scripture who saw God or had an experience of his presence. Think of Isaiah who threw himself down in the presence of God confessing that he was a man of unclean lips and of a people of unclean lips. Ezekiel’s experience was very similar. God spoke through Isaiah saying that one day, “Every knee shall bow.” That’s the experience of the presence of God – that even those who have rejected God will have no choice but to bow before his awesome presence. But I don’t think that’s the kind of experience we typically seek on our own. We want the warm-fuzzy and happy-happy-joy-joy. I was prompted to do my own Scripture study on this subject and couldn’t find any place where the happy-warm-fuzzy experience happened. But that’s what we go looking for. In fact you don’t even hear much about that sort of experience in church history until the 19th Century when American revivalists, like Charles Finney, got the idea to use music to get people worked up to the point that they’d “feel” God’s presence and be moved to conversion. But that’s not God’s presence – it’s emotional manipulation. And in a very real sense it’s a form of idolatry. Instead of looking for the experience of God that’s described in Scripture we look for an experience of our own making – an experience that fits how we think the presence of God should be. As a case study, think of Exodus 32. That’s where we read about what the Israelite were doing while Moses was upon the top of Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights receiving the Law. Moses had been gone for a long time and the people feared they had lost their leader, so they went to Aaron and demanded that he “make gods” for them. And so Aaron took their jewellery and made the infamous golden calf that Moses found them dancing around and worshipping when he came down from the mountain. Here's what I think a lot of people miss in that story. When they made the golden calf, the people weren't meaning or intending to worship another god. Their intent was to worship the God of their fathers who had led them out of Egypt. The problem was that they were looking for him in the wrong place, because they had, in a sense, reinvented or redefined him according to their own terms. The ironic thing is that the real presence of God was there in plain sight, in the dark clouds, lightening, and thunder surrounding the mountain, but the people were afraid of that awesome manifestation of his greatness. So they turned their backs on God, and remade him according to their own ideas of what was comfortable for them. Instead of worshipping him in all his holy presence there on the mountain, they were afraid of his presence and made a non-threatening golden image to worship and ask favours from. They turned away from the real image with all of it's manifestation of might, and power, and greatness, and holiness. They turned away from the holy God who condemns sin. They should have been driven to their knees, hiding their faces from the perfect and condemning holiness of God. But instead they remade God the way they wanted him. A God who didn’t care about their sin or about their spiritual well-being. They went looking for a false, feel-good experience of his presence. They were all dancing around that calf having emotional spiritual highs, asking God for all the things they wanted, and probably feeling pretty good about everything – no doubt believing really and truly that they were in God's presence and hoping that every time they came to worship his likeness in that gold calf, that they'd have that same spiritual high again. In contrast, when Moses came down from the mountain, having been allowed to see just the slightest part of God's presence while shielded in a crevice in the rocks, those same people cowered in fear because the glory of God was reflected and shining from Moses’ face. God’s presence was so awesome that it had left Moses’ face glowing. The people freaked out and were afraid. And that was only the afterglow of the reflection of God’s presence – not the real thing. You see, everyone wants to see God – to be in his presence. The problem is that we either forget or we don't understand what it means to be in the presence of his perfect holiness, righteousness, and purity. It's an overwhelming experience. The Israelites wanted to be in his presence as long as they could define what that presence was, but once they encountered his real presence and on his terms their only reaction was to cower from it in fear. We often do the same thing as we make an idol – a false image of God in our minds based on what we’d like, rather than who God really is. If you don’t believe me, think about how people respond when you share the God of the Bible with them. They’ll disagree with you and say, “Well, my god…” We remake God in our image and in ways that make us feel good! That’s idolatry! And we do it because we want to see God, but we want to come into his presence on our own terms. And since we can’t come into his the presence of the God of Holy Scripture as we are, we remake him as we want him to be – a god who is less than God – an idol. To truly be in the presence of God is to be fully aware of his perfect righteousness and holiness and our own sinfulness. It's to be reminded that without the righteousness of Christ covering us, we stand before him condemned to eternal damnation. It's to be reminded that we can never look on his perfection without first being pure ourselves and that the impure can never enter his presence. And so Jesus tells us here, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is what David was getting at when he wrote in Psalm 24: Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4) And David understood the kind of purity that God wants in his people. He prayed, “Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (Psalm 51:6) and “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). He knew that what God wanted was an inward purity – an inner desire for personal holiness, not just outward forms. A lot of what Jesus has to say in the Sermon on the Mount countered the popular religious ideas of the day, like those of the Pharisees. But men and women haven't changed in two thousand years – the spiritual problems of the First Century are the spiritual problems of the Twenty-first. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for observing only the externals of religion when he said: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity....you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:25, 27) Scripture tells us, that the heart is wicked and deceitful. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9). And Jesus reminds us that our unregenerate heart is the source of all our problems. He said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20). The Pharisees tired to mask over their impure inner selves with a veneer, a whitewash of good works. You see, it’s not that God doesn’t want us to show an outward righteousness. It’s that he wants that outer righteousness to be the by-product of an inner heart-righteousness. He doesn’t want us to beautify ourselves on the outside to disguise the ugliness on the inside. He wants inner beauty that shows through on the outside. He wants our righteousness to be real and through and through, not just a thin veneer. What does real righteousness – real purity – look like? We spell it out every week as hear Jesus’ summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” We are to love God with our totality of being. It's not just our emotions. It's not just our intellect. It's not just our outward actions – it's all those things rolled together as who we are in whole. The Greek word that St. Matthew uses 5:8 for “pure” doesn't just mean “clean” or “undefiled;” it also means to be “single-minded.” So to be pure in heart is not only to be clean or undefiled, it means that the desire of our heart toward inner purity is focussed on that one thing – that our loyalties aren't divided and that we seek after it with our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all our being. Our problem is that while we desire to be pure, and while we desire to be holy, we don't whollydesire to be pure, and we don't wholly desire to be holy. We're glad to find salvation in Christ, we want to follow his example, but we also don't want to give up all the sinful things in life that give us satisfaction. We want his salvation, but we only want to give up what we have to, and we only want to commit ourselves to those things that are absolutely necessary. If we think we can get to heaven without something, we'll try. This is the great danger of a Church that teaches what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Grace is free, but to be effective it can't be cheapened. Jesus can't be our saviour unless we also make him our Lord and Master. Our problem is that our hearts are divided. Sure we'll give up the sins that are easy to give up and that we won't miss that much, but we hold onto others – especially the ones that no one else has to know about. David prayed, “Teach me thy way, O LORD, that I may walk in thy truth; unite my heart to fear thy name” (Psalm 86:11). David struggled with the same problem that we do. He struggled with divided loyalties, wanting to follow God, but also wanting to serve himself – not entirely letting go of sin. This is the great struggle that we all face, including St. Paul. He describes it in Romans 7: We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. (Romans 7:14-20) Our struggle with in is a daily struggle. Our duty is to daily keep up the fight. But there are many people who call themselves Christians who give up the battle instead of fighting. They claim to have made Jesus their saviour, but they keep on living the way they did before. We have a churchy term for them: “Carnal Christians.” And yet how can we claim to be a Christian and completely blow off Jesus’ call to purity – this call to personal holiness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity is the one thing necessary for us to see God and to enter his presence. If we blow it off, what we're really saying is that we don't care to see God. At best we're acting like the Israelites did as they danced around that golden calf, trying to enter the presence of God on their own terms. But what they've really done in the process is to remake God according to their own false view of him – to give up their Creator and replace him with an idol of their own making. The Israelites literally made a golden idol, but we do the same thing spiritually every time we cheapen who God is by expecting to be able to come into his presence, to see him, without pursuing the personal purity of heart that he demands from us. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Fooling ourselves, making a false god who tolerates our half-hearted desire for purity is a dangerous thing. St. John tells us, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). We can't call ourselves pure and yet still be committed, even a little bit, to darkness and sin. We can never expect to bring even the tiniest bit of darkness into the perfect light of God’s heavenly throne room – if we do the only thing we can expect is his holy judgement. We need to examine ourselves and ask things like: What do I think about when I'm not preoccupied with other things? What goes through my mind when I put it in neutral? How much dishonesty am I willing to put up with? If I can get away with a little dishonesty here or there, will I? How do I respond to the typical “office humour”? What things command my obedience? What do I want more than anything else in the world? What or whom do I love? Are the things I'm involved in and the things I say a true reflection of what's in my heart? How much of what I say and do is just an outward mask that I wear to make me look like Jesus even when I'm not much like him inside? In light of the knowledge of just how far short we fall of God’s standard, we can thank him that he has sent his Son to be righteousness for us. Thank him that because of Jesus Christ, when he looks at you he sees not your lack of purity, but the perfect purity of his Son. And yet what Christ has given us of himself, we need to really and truly cultivate in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. Because of the cross, we can enter God’s presence and stand uncondemned. But it’s precisely because we can enter his presence that we should also be fully aware of his righteous standard and out of joyful gratitude for what he’s done for us, our greatest desire in life should be to conform ourselves to his holy standard. That’s God’s expectation. St. Paul reminds us that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And this should give us hope in our daily fight against sin, because it assures us that God's desire is to see us purified, and if he's here to help us, he'll always give us all the help we need. But we also need to remember that God's work requires our cooperation. As much as God does the work, St. James also reminds us that we have our part. He says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind” (James 4:8). It's two-sided. God calls us to wash our hands, but at the same time we're also told that “God is at work in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). St. John gives us the assurance that what God has started he will finish. He tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Jesus’ purity test is this: Do you see God? Too many people come to worship on Sunday looking for an emotional experience of God that they lack during the week – as if somehow they’ll receive a sense of his presence here when they haven’t had a sense of his presence all week. If that’s what you’re doing stop and take some time to think bout being pure in heart – about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – and about loving your neighbour as yourself. Think about where you fall down on the job of stamping out sin in your life. And not just purging sinful behaviours, but putting on righteous ones in their place. If we’re right with God and spending the other six days of the week serving him outside these walls, then there’s no need to come here seeking a sense of his presence – we’ll be living in that presence all week and will bring it with us. True worship is to love and serve God. What we do on Sunday mornings is the culmination of a week’s worth of that true worship. That’s Jesus’ standard of purity. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you are perfectly holy, perfectly pure. In your presence there can be no darkness. Renew us with your grace and fill us with your Spirit, turning our hearts wholly to you. Purify us as you are pure and make us holy as you are holy. Keep your awesome presence always in our sight, but give us purity of heart, so that we may enter your presence, not under divine judgement, but as your friends whom you have restored to your fellowship; through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Unthankfulness Respectable Sins: Sermon Seven by William Klock St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was making his final trip to Jerusalem – the trip that eventually led him to his crucifixion – he travelled along the road following the Samarian-Galilean border. He was on the fringe of Judea. And as he walked into one of the villages along that road he was stopped by a group of ten men. They stood at a distance from him, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The reason they didn’t just approach him directly on the road, but had to get his attention from a distance was because they were all lepers. Lepers were biblically mandated outcasts in Israelite society. We don’t necessarily know exactly what the Bible means when it talks about leprosy – it probably isn’t the same thing we know as leprosy today, but we do know it covered contagious skin diseases. The Law that God gave to Moses and that’s recorded in Leviticus says, “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’” And so these men and women lived on the fringe of society. They lived outside the towns and cities – outside the town gate – in poor and makeshift conditions and they lived mostly off the charity others. If they were somehow healed or got better, they could only be let back into society by going and showing themselves to the priest. The Law explained to the priest what he was to look for, and once the leper met the qualifications for health, the priest would then pronounce him clean. And notice that these people weren’t just kept out of society, but outside the House of God as well. They weren’t just contagious. They were also ritually unclean, which meant they weren’t allowed to come into the presence of God. These people were cut off in every conceivable way. And so they cautiously approached Jesus, staying at a distance, and calling out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” These people had heard that Jesus was able to heal the sick, and so they came to him in the hope that he might heal them too. Jesus simply tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” As they went off in faith they were healed. And yet only one of them made the choice to turn around, go back to Jesus, and thank him. Interestingly the one that did go back wasn’t a Jew, but a Samaritan – one who was not only an outcast because of his leprosy, but also because of his race and his religion. Assuming the others were Jews, they were being both physically healed and also made ritually clean again. This man was ceremonially unclean no matter how healthy he was – he was a Samaritan. I read that story and find myself thinking, “How is it that only one of those ten men came back to give thanks for their healing? And the one that did come back was the one with the least to be thankful for.” And yet I myself, and I think most of us as Christians, are guilty of doing exactly the same thing as those other nine men. As I said last Sunday morning, we’re prone to thinking of great need in terms of the starving people we see on TV or the terminally ill people we know – people with physical sickness like those lepers. And yet our spiritual condition leaves us in even greater need. Humanity isn’t just sick – it’s spiritually dead. We’re slaves to the world, to the flesh, and to the devil. By our very nature we’re objects of God’s wrath and of eternal damnation. But in his great mercy and love, God has reached out to give us spiritual life. Through Jesus Christ’s death he has forgiven us our sins. That Christ has given us spiritual life is a far greater miracle with infinitely greater benefits than the miracle those ten lepers received. And yet ask yourself, how often you give thanks to God for your salvation. Have you thanked God today that he has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of his Son? And if you did give thanks today, was it real and heartfelt thanks or just a nominal thing? This is yet another reason for which I’m so thankful for the Prayer Book as a devotional aide, in that it clearly directs our prayers away from ourselves to giving thanks to God for what he’s done for us. You see, the whole of our lives needs to be given over to thanks and praise. We need to heed God’s warning to the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 8 we read: “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18) It’s not that we don’t know that we should be giving God thanks for all he does for us. Our problem is that this knowledge in our heads doesn’t quite make it to our hearts. How often do we really give him thanks for our redemption? How often do we really give him thanks for dying in our place? And how often do we give him thanks for the “little” things in life? St. Paul, in speaking to the Athenians, reminded them that the very air we breathe is God given. How often do we give thanks for the skills, intelligence, training, and experience that God has given us to feed, clothe and shelter our families? Too many of us take all these things for granted too much of the time. We gripe about the rust-bucket in the driveway, wishing we had a new car, and forget to give thanks to God for the rust-bucket that still get us to work on time. We gripe about the simple food we can afford on our budget, wishing for steak and ice cream every night, forgetting to give thanks for the bounty God has given, forgetting that there are many in the world who would be thankful for what we’ve got. We even take the redeeming death of Jesus Christ for granted much of the time. Hear me when I say, that failing to continually give God thanks has become one of our “acceptable sins.” We don’t even think of it as sin anymore. Yet St. Paul gives a description of the Spirit-filled life saying, we are to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Note the words always and everything. That means that our whole lives should be ones of continually giving thanks. It’s not just a nice thing to do – it’s the moral will of God. If we fail to give him the thanks we owe, we’re guilty of sin. It might not seem like a big deal to us. We might think that it doesn’t really do anyone any real harm, but it’s an affront and an insult to the one who created and sustains us every second of our lives. Every Sunday morning we hear Jesus’ summary of the Law. If loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the first and greatest commandment, then failure to give him thanks as a habit of life is a clear and direct violation of the greatest commandment we have been given. Think about that. We think it doesn’t really hurt anyone, but look at St. Paul’s description in Romans 1 of the downward moral spiral of pagan humanity. That downward spiral starts this way, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). Again, think about that. Paul goes on to describe some pretty sick behaviour, but it starts with this failure to recognise what God has given and to give thanks to him. Their moral degradation was the result of God’s judgement on them as he gradually gave them over to more and more perverse forms of immorality. Not giving thanks is serious business. Is it any wonder that so many kids raised in Christians homes fall away as they get older. I’m convinced that one of the reasons is that we fail in this area of giving thanks. If our kids see us giving thanks to God in all things and for all things, it instils in them the same habit. But if we fall down here, we fail to communicate to our kids that all we have comes from God. Now maybe your problem isn’t with giving thanks for all the good things God gives. But are you able to consistently give thanks in all circumstances? Thanking God for the good things is sometimes hard enough. But giving him thanks for what we see as the bad things sometimes seems impossible. Just a couple of days before we moved the alternator in my car died. It wasn’t what I needed right then. I was dealing with enough things at the time. But when it happened, two things occurred to me: First, it happened at a time when the funds to make the repair were plentiful, and, second, I was sure glad that it happened when it did and not on moving day as we were coordinating an all-day trip across an international border, with two cars and a semi-truck and trailer. I got in my car that morning and headed down the hill to work and suddenly the alternator light came on. My first thought was, “Oh great! This is the last thing I need right now!” But fairly quickly those other factors came to mind and by the time I was driving back up the hill and homeward, I was able to give thanks that it happened when it did. Now don’t use my own example. I don’t want this to be purely theoretical. Think of your own situation – a predicament you found yourself in. Now ask again, “Are we to give thanks to God when the circumstances of life don’t turn out the way we hoped?” Yes! But this time I’ll give you a different reason. Earlier we looked at Ephesians 5:20, where the command was to give thanks to God for everything. I think that based on the context there, St. Paul is talking about developing a habit of continual thanksgiving for all the blessings of God – that’s one aspect of a Spirit-filled life: a thankful heart. But let me give you a different verse here. When we’re told we should give thanks even when things don’t go the way we’d like them to, think of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The context is different here. Paul is telling us to give thanks in all of our circumstances, even the ones we wouldn’t normally feel very thankful for. But even this needs some explanation. Having an alternator failure isn’t that big of a thing in the overall scheme of things. Think of some of the situations I described last week – big things in life: having a serious physical handicap or disease; being “stuck” in a low-paying or unfulfilling job; being in a difficult marriage; not being able to have the kids you want. Think of big things like that. And I think our response might be, “Okay, God, I’ll give you thanks, but only because I have to.” And so by sheer willpower we give thanks to God through gritted teeth – kind of the same way we sometimes drop our tithe cheque in the offering plate. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Look at what should by now be a familiar passage: Romans 8:28-29 and 38-39: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Verse 28 says that all things work together for good, for those who love God. In other words, God causes all things to work together for good. St. Paul’s not saying that circumstances work themselves out for good, but that God directs their outcome for our good. But we also need to look at verse 29. We may think, “That’s great, but I don’t see things working out for what Ithink is good.” And that’s Paul’s point. It’s not that they’ll necessarily work out the way wewant them to. It’s that God will work them out the way he wants – and what he wants is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s the “good”: for us to be more and more like Jesus. Paul’s telling us that God intends for all of our circumstances, both the good ones and the bad ones (and especially he’s noting in this context the bad ones), to be instruments of sanctification, of growing us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. The best example I can give is one involving marriage. The marriage relationship itself has been designed by God to teach us about our relationship with the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and the wife is to respect and obey her husband as the Church respects and obeys Christ. And not only that, but we’re called to be joined not for what we get out of it, but by what we give to another. If we see Christ as the ultimate example of love, we see that love isn’t about feelings – it’s about giving, even when we see no return. And I can’t think of any situation that teaches this better than married life. And an even better teach of this is a marriage to a difficult spouse. I’ve known many Christians over the years that have been through just such a “bad” situation with the end result that they came to appreciate what Christ had done for them and what true love is all about. So when things don’t go the way we want them to, we need to give thanks, not grudgingly, but truly thankfully. As I said last week, not resigning ourselves to the circumstance, but receiving it as God’s gift, confident in the knowledge that it really is a good thing meant to bring us closer to him. We don’t need to speculate about how God might use. Again, as I said last week, his ways are often mysterious and beyond our understanding. But by faith in the promise of God in Romans 8, we obey the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances. After all, we have not only the command to give thanks, but we also have God’s promise in verses 38 and 39 that nothing, including the situation we might find ourselves in, can separate us from the love of God. And again, this is another promise we have to cling to by faith. So we have dual assurance to enable us to give thanks in all our circumstances. First, by faith, we believe God is using or will use the particular difficult situation to conform us more to the image of Christ. And second, we have the assurance that even in the midst of the worst of difficulties we are enveloped by God’s love. In summary: we need to develop the habit of continually giving thanks to God. Above all else, we ought to be giving continual thanks for our salvation and for the opportunities he gives for growth and ministry. We should thank him for all our abundance of spiritual and material blessings that have come from his hand, but we also need to give him thanks when things don’t go as we planned and when things get difficult. That’s especially when we need to thank him for what he’s doing through those circumstances to transform our character into the likeness of his Son. I urge you, if you don’t have them memorised already, to memorise these two important verses we’ve been looking at tonight: Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18. When hard times come, they’ll remind you to give thanks by faith in the promise of God. It’s not a matter of willpower. If that’s what we do, we’re only giving thanks with our lips, but not with our hearts. If we cling to the promises of God, we can say, “Father, the circumstance I’m in now is hard and full of pain. It’s not what I would have chosen, but in your love and wisdom you chose it for me. You intend it for my good, and so in faith I thank you for the good you are going to do in my life through it. Help me to genuinely believe this and be able to thank you from my heart. Amen.”
Bible Text: Matthew 5:7 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are the Merciful St. Matthew 5:7 by William Klock St. Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me andgave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Why are Christians called to live like Christ? Because he lives in us. And yet how often do we try to live like Christ all on our own – by our own power? We get it all backwards. We think that as Christians we’re supposed to try to be Christians in this or that aspect of our lives. But you see, when we do that, what we’re doing is trying to earn the badge of “Christian” by acting like one. What the Gospel really calls us to do is the opposite. Jesus gives us the badge “Christian,” and we then act like one. We aren’t meant to control our Christianity. Christianity is meant to control us! Jesus now lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to let him live through us. To really understand the Beatitudes we need to understand this principle. We’re prone to pulling them apart and taking them out of context. But they all work together. The Beatitudes are like a chain that leads us from where we need to be in order to be redeemed by Christ all way through the life that he then empowers us to live once we’ve been joined to him. If we are poor in spirit, we will naturally be mourners. If we are mourners, we will naturally be meek. If we are meek, we will naturally hunger and thirst for righteousness. If we are those things – if they form our character – then the rest of the Beatitudes (the doing part) will come naturally. And so Jesus tells us: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7) Being merciful is the direct outgrowth of the new life we have in Christ – it's the evidence of our redemption. But what is mercy? I think the best way to see what true mercy is, is to look at how Jesus defined it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37) To show mercy is to give relief to someone who is in trouble. Mercy goes along with grace so much that I think we have a tendency to confuse the two. Mercy deals with relieving the results of pain, misery, and distress – the things that are the end result of sin. In contrast, grace deals with the sin and guilt itself. Mercy gives relief. Grace gives pardon. Mercy cures and heals and helps. Grace cleanses and restores. And mercy doesn't always have to relieve the results of our own sin. In Jesus’ story we see the Samaritan showing mercy to relieve the pain and suffering that resulted from the sin of the robbers. Mercy sees a need and doesn't ask what happened, doesn't point an accusing finger, but meets the immediate need. The point of Jesus’ story was to show someone performing a profound act of mercy. And so we don't see the Good Samaritan tracking down the robbers to get revenge or to haul them before a judge to hold them accountable for their crime – how would that meet the immediate need of the man dying in the ditch? We don't see him complaining about the fact that the priest and Levite passed the man by without helping him. And we certainly don't see him kneeling down next to the man and castigating him for doing something foolish: “Stupid! What were you thinking travelling on such a dangerous road all by yourself and without any kind of protection for bandits!?!?” It's not that there isn't a place for those things. The robbers did need to be tracked down and brought to justice. The priest and the Levite needed to be dealt with in terms of their lack of mercy in stopping to help the man. And the man himself probably needed to be told that he should be more careful when travelling in future. But none of those other things is mercy. None of them had to do with meeting the man's immediate need. Mercy is doing what you can to help someone in need – and especially to help someone whose life has been bruised and broken as a result of sin, even if that sin isn't their own. It's a willingness to set aside your own agenda, to get down on your hands and knees, to get a little dirty, knowing that another person needs help and needs it now. That’s what Jesus did. Look at Jesus’ example: He was a man on a mission – the most important mission that anyone has ever undertaken on earth. He was here to redeem us from our sins. If anyone could be justified in passing by the hurt and helpless and leaving them for other people to deal with, we could say it was Jesus – he was on his way to the cross after all and it would have been a disaster if he didn't make it there. But he didn't pass them by. And that's the second quality of mercy we see in Jesus’ parable: Mercy doesn't hide behind our own agenda or scruples in order to protect itself from costly service. Jesus described the other two men in the story as a priest and a Levite for a reason. If anyone could be excused for not stopping it was they. It would be a bit like setting it in the modern world and describing them as maybe a pastor on his way to church on Sunday morning or as an evangelist on his way to a revival. They're on their way to do God's work and maybe even running a little late. The priest and Levite were probably travelling for religious reasons related to ministry. They could have seen the man in the ditch and thought that they ought to help, but then, what if he was already dead – then they'd not just be late, but ceremonially unclean and unable to perform whatever religious duties they were on their way to do. But, you see, being late wouldn't have been a sin. Even being rendered temporarily unclean wasn't a matter of sin. Failing to show mercy was! What it boils down to is that they were unwilling to be inconvenienced; they were unwilling to die to their own plans in order to fit into the providence of God. Jesus ministry shows us exactly what mercy is all about. It shows us what it looks like to give of ourselves in order to meet the needs of others. Jesus, God's Word incarnate, the second person of the Holy Trinity, saw the brokenness of the world that came as a result of our sin – our cosmic treason against him, and he showed us mercy. St. Paul writes in the great Kenotic Hymn of Philippians: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8) Donald Barnhouse writes, “When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all of the work of God for man's salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us…All the mercy that God ever will have on man, he has already had when Christ died. This is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more…[he can now] act toward us in grace because he has already had all mercy upon us. The fountain is opened and flowing, and it flows freely.” Christ's humble birth as on of us, all he went through in his earthly life, and ultimately his death on the cross was all an act of mercy. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7) God's mercy is the source of our mercy. Did you catch that in there? God’s mercy is the source of our mercy. Being merciful is the result of our new life in Christ as we experience the mercy and grace that God shows to us. And this is important. In our natural and fallen state mercy is the last thing that characterises us. Lots of people misinterpret this particular Beatitude, thinking that God shows us his mercy only when, or because, we show mercy to others. And that's one way that we could take Jesus’ statement here. But to interpret it that way would go against everything else that Scripture teaches us. We can never earn or merit God's mercy. If he were to show us mercy because we earned it then St. Paul could never say in the next two verses: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus’ point is that our willingness to show mercy is the evidence that we have received God's mercy already. I think another of Jesus’ stories illustrates this point. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus tells us a story about a servant who owed his master a huge debt. Jesus says ten thousand talents – he's speaking in hyperbole. That would be like us saying that the man owed his master a gazillion dollars. To put it in perspective, Josephus tells us that the entire region of Palestine paid only 600 talents in tribute or taxes to the Romans in 4 B.C. That would have been a lot of money and Jesus is talking about ten thousand talents! It was a debt that could never be repaid no matter how hard he tried. And yet when the man went before his master and fell on his face and cried for mercy, his master was so moved that he forgave the entire debt. But then that same man, leaving his master's house, saw someone walking down the street who owed him money – Jesus says a hundred denarii, one denarii being a days wages. That's not a small amount of money, but in comparison one talent equalled six hundred denarii. This man had just been forgiven 600,000 times the debt that his fellow servant owed him, but instead of showing the same mercy he had just been shown, he demanded payment. And when the payment wasn't forthcoming he grabbed the man by the neck, choking him, and dragged him to the prison for not paying his debt. So it's no surprise that in Jesus’ story, when the master hears what happened he can't believe it. He just forgave a debt of ten thousand talents, yet that man failed to show the same mercy to his fellow servant. It's no surprise that the master calls the deal off and throws the first servant into prison. If we fail to show mercy to the people who wrong us, let alone the people in need who have never sinned against us, we're just like that man who was forgiven the gazillion dollar debt, but then violently went after his friend who owed him a few thousand dollars. If we fail to show mercy it's ultimately because we either don't understand the mercy we've been shown by God or because we haven't actually received his mercy yet and are still unredeemed. As Christians we want to do all sorts of good things, but I don't think mercy is as high on our list of priorities as it should be. I think that sadly too many of us think of it as something that's optional, but Scripture tells us the opposite. And in fact, if we ignore it we ignore it to our own peril! The Jews were condemned as a nation over and over again throughout the Old Testament for failing to show mercy. It wasn't that they weren't religious – they were very religious. The problem was that they did all the outward things that made them feel like they were doing the right thing. They were like the Christian who goes to Church every Sunday, who drops a big cheque in the offering plate each week, who steers clear of all the big sins, but who never really shows that he cares for anyone else but himself. God spoke through Hosea to his people saying: For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) Over and over the Old Testament prophets stressed that religious observance was worthless without mercy. In fact, Jesus, as we’ll see later in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us that reconciliation with our brothers and sisters is required before we come to make our offerings to God. Reconciliation is showing mercy to another. And as modern Christians we’ve really fallen down on this one. The Church would be much more effective if we could all live out this beatitude. We have the mistaken idea that when someone wrongs us, it’s enough to simply not be war with them – even if we never speak to them again. That’s not reconciliation. That’s not showing mercy. People hop from one church to another trying to avoid those whom they have wronged or have been wronged by. Even in the same congregation people with a history between them are satisfied to simply avoid each other. Children and parents, and husband and wives split up and disown each other rather than show mercy to those who have wronged them. Israel’s religion didn’t save her being condemned over and over for trampling over those in need. She was called to care for the widow and the orphan, but instead she exploited them and left them to fend for themselves. And yet how often to do we as Christians expect God to accept us because of our outward religious acts. If God’s Law is the standard we ought to judge a civilisation based on how it cares for its children, its women, and its elderly. And yet our civilisation kills its children before they’re even born, puts our women in harm’s way in the military and police, and we shut up our elderly in nursing homes where we can pretend they don’t exist. And Christians let it happen – even sometimes approve of it all. And where are we as the Church to then care for those in need by sharing the mercy Jesus has shown to us? We’re often just like the priest and the Levite. We’re so busy with what we think is the work of the Kingdom, that we forget that showing mercy is Kingdom work! We as Christians and corporately as the Church need to put being merciful higher on our priority list. This is the natural progression from being poor in spirit. When we look at the world around us I think our natural fallen proclivity toward pride and selfishness tends to want to forget that the righteousness we have in Christ is not our own. We take a self-righteous attitude toward the world and see the unredeemed sinners around us as lowly scum – as if we were never just like them. Instead of seeing those people as sinful scum, we need to look at them and have pity, knowing that they're still living their lives under the deception of Satan and knowing that unless something changes they're all bound for eternal damnation – just as we once were. That kind of merciful pity was what moved Jesus to plead to the Father as he was hanging on the cross, saying, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It was that kind of merciful pity that moved St. Stephen, the first martyr, as the crowd was hurling stones at him, to plead, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” We need to remember that the world is still blind and that our eyes are only open thanks to the mercy of God. A willingness to show mercy is the real sign of true conversion to Christ. Jesus has scary words for those who fail to show mercy: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (Notice they don't say, “Did we not show mercy in your name!) Jesus goes on, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:22-23). Notice all the “good” things these people appeal to. They prophesied, they cast out demons, and they did “many mighty works,” but because they never showed mercy, Jesus calls them “evildoers.” Mercy is the key. If we fail to show mercy because it's inconvenient, because it means getting a little dirty, or because it means setting aside our own “rights” we merely prove that we've never truly grasped the depths of the mercy that God has shown us. This is Jesus’ test: do you show mercy because even greater mercy has been shown to you? Please pray with me: Almighty God and Father, in your great mercy, you have graciously forgiven each of us a debt we could never repay. You gave up your only-begotten Son to be come sin for us, so that we could have the eternal life we have never deserved. Father we confess that all too often we’ve forgotten that our new life is not something we’ve earned. We too often forget that your grace is free and comes to us unmerited. Remind us, we ask you gracious Lord, not only that we are sinners, but that we are sinners with opened eyes. Let us se the world for what it is: unredeemed and blinded by sin and the Devil. Let us look at the world with the same pity that Jesus did. Move us to show the world the same mercy that you showed to us. Give us a desire to mercifully relieve the pain and suffering we see in the same way that your Son did when he was here. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Discontentment Respectable Sins: Sermon Six by William Klock Tonight I want to begin by reading what I think is probably a pretty familiar story to most of you: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursedGod in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have youconsidered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand andtouch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:1-19) Job not only had his servants and livestock – his livelihood – taken away from him, but even his sons and daughters. But that wasn’t enough. The story goes on: Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy himwithout reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. (Job 2:1-7) Last week I talked about how we respond to life’s difficulties – how we become anxious or worried about the troubles that come our way, and even how we get angry and frustrated with them. And last week I explained how when we respond to life with anxiety we’re being ungodly – we’re living our lives and responding to life’s circumstances as if God isn’t involved. But there’s another sin that can very easily creep into our lives that has ungodliness as its root too. It’s another way that we often resond to life. It’s discontentment. Look at Job. Here’s a guy who has it all. He’s rich. He has a big family. God has blessed him abundantly and he knows it – and so he lives for God. And then one day Satan comes along and says to God, “Job only serves you because of the good life you’ve given him. If you let me take all that away, Job will drop you like a hot potato!” And to prove a point God gives Satan free reign over Job. And now Job’s got nothing. In fact, we’re left with this absolutely pathetic picture of Job in mourning. He tears his clothes and shaves his head, which was the thing to do in his culture to show mourning for his children. And he sits down on an ash heap – maybe the remains of his house – and picks up a broken piece of pottery to scratch and scrape at the open and leprous sores that cover his body. Job knew that God was sovereign – that he was in control of all things. Even his wife knew. She saw him sitting there covered in filth and disease and said to him, “How can you still be faithful to God?!? Be done with it! Curse God and die!” I think Job’s a good example, because life just can’t get much worse than what we’ve just read. We all have problems. I don’t think most of us have ever had problems as extreme as Job’s, but we’ve seen our children die. We’ve had the good things in life taken away. We’ve dealt with sickness and disease. There are all sorts of things in life that make us discontent with our situation: being stuck in a low-paying or unfulfilling job; being single into mid-life or beyond; not being able to have the kids we’d like; having an unhappy marriage or being married to an unbelieving spouse; being plagued with continual health problems; or being stuck with physical disabilities or handicaps. My list isn’t all-inclusive. I’d be willing to bet that everyone here can probably add something different to the list. I think the most discontent I’ve ever felt was in my teenage years – the typical teenage angst that comes from not being happy with who you. God have me terrible depth perception, so I was no good at sports that involved fast moving and flying balls – which ruled out just about everything other than track and swimming. God gave me a love of reading and study, and if you’ve always got your nose in a book you’re labeled a nerd. But in hindsight I know that God gave me those things not as a teenage curse, but to prepare me for his service. We can choose to be discontent because from our limited perspective we see situations in life as a curse, or we can remember that our view is limited – we can’t see the big picture, but that God can – and we can accept that he knows what’s best in the long run. Now there are some situations in which we should be discontent. Not all discontent is sinful. We should be discontent with our spiritual state. We should be discontent about sin in our lives. We should be discontent with evil and injustice in the world around us. It’s discontentment with these things that’s drives us to grow and mature as Christians and that drives us to take action and do good in the world. But being discontent with the circumstances of life that God had given us is a sin. And that might come as a surprising statement. The problem is that we’re too used to responding to difficult situations with anxiety, frustration, or discontentment that we’ve reached a point where we consider them normal reactions to life. And so if we do find ourselves thinking this way, it just underscores the subtleness of these sins and the fact that they’ve become “acceptable.” When we fail to recognize these responses to our circumstances as sin, we’re responding no differently from unbelievers who never factor God into their situations. We’re back to ungodliness as the root cause of our sins. Job new better. His wife may have told him to curse God and die, but look at Job’s response to what might be the worst situation any man could ever be in: And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) Job’s attitude was one of trust in God – just like we talked about last week. I can’t think of a better Scripture to have stored away in your heart and mind that will help you to deal with difficulties in life – and because of this verse’s place in popular culture, chances are you already know it. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” This was the verse that was running through my mind over and over last December as the doctor held the ultrasound wand and told us that our baby had died. It was the verse going over and over through my head as the baby was delivered and as I held her tiny body in my hands. “The Lord gave. The Lord chose to take away. I choose to trust in him whom I know is the perfect embodiment of goodness. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” The psalms weren’t written yet, but Job understood the same principle that we saw last week in Psalm 136:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The truth that God has ordained all our days – and each and every hour, minute, and second – gave Job comfort and should give us comfort too. The world isn’t out of control. Our lives aren’t out of control. They may be out of our control. But they’re always under God’s divine control. He does nothing and he allows nothing without a purpose. And however mysterious or inscrutable his purposes may be to us, they are always for his glory and our good. St. Paul reminds us, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…. If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28, 31). David even says in that same psalm, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Even on the genetic level, God is at work in our lives. Its easy to give God thanks the physical abilities he gives that seem like pluses to us, but how often do we thank him for what look to us to be minuses? I never thought to give thanks to God for poor depth perception, but the fact is that it was as much a gift as anything else he gave me – I just had to have the right perspective to understand that. And bad depth perception. Big deal. There’s a multitude of people out there with serious disabilities and handicaps that they’ve learned to give thanks for and that have given them ability and reason for ministry. Whether we see something as a plus or minus really depends on whether or not we see God taking care of us as he promised, whether we trust him to work for our good or not. I think it needs to be pointed out that there’s a difference between accepting what God has given and resigning ourselves to it. How often have you simply thrown up your hands – given up and resigned yourself to forever having to deal with the things that make you discontent. This is often what we grudgingly do when we’ve realised that we have no choice and that the circumstance we’re dealing with isn’t likely to ever change. But when we simply resign ourselves to something, we end up harbouring a smouldering discontentment deep down in our hearts. If we resign ourselves to our problems, the usual result is bitterness and resentment – two more sinful thought patterns that poison our spirits. Has anyone here ever been to a Family Life marriage conference? If you haven’t been, you really should go – you’ll come away greatly blessed and inspired. We’ve been to couple of these conferences and I they do a good job of setting your perspective straight. All sorts of couples go to these conferences – there’re always even a few couples on their honeymoon. You can tell the latter because they’re practically sitting in each other’s lap. But there are also couples who have been married for years are at the end up their rope with problems – who are barely able to even talk civilly to each other. And the first night the conference leaders ask everyone to turn to their husband or wife and say the simple words, “You are not my enemy. I receive you as a gift from God.” And God doesn’t give bad gifts. The key is what we see in Job: receiving life’s circumstances as God’s gift. Are we going to reject what God gives, or are we going to accept it as something good, even when it doesn’t look good to us? It’s only in accepting our circumstances – even giving thanks for them (which may take time) – that we find peace. Acceptance means that you accept your circumstances as being part of God’s plan, that you put your trust in him, knowing that he unerringly knows what’s best for you and that in his love, he purposes only that which is best. If you can get to that point – and I think we can only get there by God’s grace and with the Spirit’s help – then we’re ready to use our difficult circumstances to glorify him. If all you do is resign yourself to your circumstance, you make yourself a victim, but when you accept it as a gift from God, you set yourself up to be a steward of that gift. You begin to ask, “God, how can I use what the world sees as a problem to serve you and to glorify you?” An anonymous poem says: Lord, I am wiling to – Receive what you give, Lack what you withhold, Relinquish what you take. That really sums it up. Are we willing to accept the hard things God puts in our lives? Are we willing to live without the things we want, but that God chooses not to give us? Are we willing to let go of the things he takes away? As I emphasised last week: We’ll always be fighting our circumstances and dealing with them sinfully until we understand the importance of a firm belief in the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God in all the circumstances of our lives. Whether our circumstances are short-term or long-term, our ability to respond to them in a God-honouring and God-pleasing manner depends on our ability and willingness to bring these truths to bear on them. It’s not easy, because these truths are contrary to the way the world sees things, but we can do it by faith. If you once had the faith to put your trust in God for the eternal destination of our soul, have faith now to put your trust in God for the things of this life and receive them all as good gifts from him – and give him thanks. Please pray with me: Our Father, you remind us in Holy Scripture that even an evil parent gives his child bread when he ask for it, not a stone. If we as sinful parents know how to give good things to our children, how much more do you, our holy, just, and righteous Creator know how to give good gifts to your children. Give us the grace, Father, to receive every circumstance as a gift from you, that we may set aside bitterness and resentment and put your gifts to use for your glory. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Text: Matthew 5:6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness St. Matthew 5:6 by William Klock I wonder how many here have really ever experienced dire hunger. A few here are old enough to have lived through the Great Depression. That was the last time of truly great hardship faced in this part of the world. But even as hard as times were during the Depression, starvation wasn't the norm – people made do and they got by. But in the ancient world – in the world where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount – hunger was a real threat – the kind of hunger that leads to starvation. It was desperate hunger, or at least the real and likely prospect of it, that drove Joseph's brothers to buy grain in Egypt. In 436 BC Rome was hit by a famine so severe that thousands of people threw themselves into the Tiber River, committing suicide the fast way rather than face a long, slow death by starvation. Historians tell us about major famines that hit Europe repeatedly in the Middle Ages that sometimes left whole countries decimated. In the Nineteenth Century, even as our technology advanced and new systems were developed to move goods, including food, all over the world, famine hit places like Ireland and Russia, and hit them badly enough that waves of immigrants from those countries crossed the ocean looking for a better life here. Even in our modern world, millions of people starve in the Third World because there's no practical economic way to get food to them or because corrupt governments direct food shipments elsewhere or sell them to line their own pockets. The pictures we see on TV of starving children and their parents are hard to watch, precisely because we see they're so desperate. Think of the images of starving children we see on TV. Think of the desperation of those people in ancient Rome who were so hungry they’d rather commit suicide than die by starvation. Think of their great need. And yet every person in the world has an even greater and more desperate need. It's a spiritual need that can only be satisfied by God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. This was what St. Augustine had in mind when he wrote, “Thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” And so Jesus tells us in the fourth Beatitude: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6) Each of us has two basic spiritual needs. In our natural, fallen, and sinful state we may not understand them, but they’re always there: First, we all, at some point, have to come to an understanding of ourselves. I'm not talking in the sense of some kind of pop-psychology self-awareness or self-actualisation. We have to come to an understanding of what we are as we stand in God's presence. This is why in our new service booklet I’ve put the regular recitation of the Ten Commandments back into the service. The liturgy communicates the Gospel to us, but none of us can be ready to hear and receive the Gospel until we understand that we stand condemned by God’s Law. The Gospel is for those who understand they need a Saviour – that they can’t be righteous enough on their own. And a regular remembrance of the Law that convicts us should make us all the more ready to bring our thanks and praise to the God who has saved us from the penalty of that Law. This is why God gave Israel the Law in the first place instead of simply sending Jesus to save Adam and Eve the day after they sinned. God wants his people to have a real understanding of the seriousness of our sin and the greatness of his mercy and grace. God gave his Law to the Israelites as a way to teach them how far they had fallen from his standard and just how incapable they were of saving themselves by their good works. The same lesson goes for us just as it did for them. God continues to speak to us and teach us through is holy Word. The writer of Hebrews tells us: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13) To the Hebrew mind the heart was the seat of a man’s passions and personality – it’s the breath that God breathed into Adam to make him a living soul. The heart is the inner man we tend to hide in contrast to the outer man that the world sees. So now picture God’s divine, two-edged sword, sharp as a razor cutting into your inner self, into your soul, into the seat of your passions, and laying it open, showing you all of your sin and all of your impure motives. God sees all the things we’d rather hide. And sometimes we’re even pretty good at hiding them from ourselves, but God's Word cuts deep and lays bare to us what he sees. This is why it’s so important that we spend time in God’s Word each day. It’s why we need to hear his Word preached and taught, because it’s through his Word that our eyes are opened and we’re made able to see ourselves as God sees us. This is what ultimately leads to our being poor in spirit – knowing that there's nothing good in us. God's Word shows us that everything we value and everything we thought was good, in the words of St. Paul, is nothing but filthy rags. But as I said, we have two great needs. Knowing our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves from the penalty of our sins is the starting point – the first need. But we also need something to fix our situation. We need something or someone who can take away our unrighteousness and make us right before God. His Word shows us our desperation, but it doesn’t leave us there – it also points us to the righteousness we need – the righteousness of another – the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This beatitude as well as the next, showing mercy, comes at a critical point in this list of Christian qualities and characteristics. We need to see just how poor we are and just how great our need is, but knowing our poverty of spirit isn't meant to paralyse us – it should move us to action. God’s intent isn’t to leave us condemned, but to save us. He shows us our unrighteousness so that he can then point us to the righteousness Christ. I think the problem for many of is that we don’t understand – we don’t get – the intensity what Jesus was communicating to the people who listened to him in First Century Palestine. As I said earlier, I doubt that any of us have really ever been truly hungry – to the point of starvation. But in a place where famine wasn't that uncommon, where water was a commodity, and where food on the table was only possible with hard work, and when times were tough there were no such things as food stamps and soup kitchens, these people would have understood what it meant to hunger and thirst – I expect that quite a few of them had probably experienced physical hungering and thirsting at some point in their lives. Jesus is talking about that kind of desperation. And the fact is that most of us have never faced that kind of physical desperation. And I think it’s also true that most of us have never experienced any kind of corresponding spiritual desperation. We've never experienced true desperation, and so when we hear him say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” we think, “Oh, isn't that nice. He's telling us that righteousness is a good thing.” No! He's telling us that we should be hungering and thirsting for righteousness with the same level of spiritual desperation that a starving and thirsting man in the desert, on the verge of death, longs for a drop of water or a little morsel of food. He’s saying that we ought to be desperate for righteousness the same way those starving kids you see in the TV commercials are desperate for a crumb of bread. It's not that we don't want righteousness in our lives, it's that we don't desperately hunger and thirst for it. Part of the problem is that the modern Church doesn't talk much about sin anymore, and if we don't talk about sin we'll never have a true understanding of what we are before God. And so we come to God wanting righteousness, but not coming desperately to him as the only source of that righteousness. In fact, the pursuit of righteousness isn't really the fashion in today's Church. If you do hunger and thirst for it, people think you're a fanatic. Too many Christians today hunger and thirst for things like spiritual maturity, happiness, the Spirit's power, or effective witnessing skills. Some people in the Church are looking for some kind of vague “blessing” from on high. They're hungering for spiritual experience or they thirst for a consciousness of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “We are not meant to hunger and thirst after experiences; we are not meant to hunger and thirst after blessedness. If we want to be truly happy and blessed we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. We must not put blessedness or happiness or experience in the first place.” But that's what we do. We want to be blessed and happy and so we try shortcuts or we try to short circuit the way God works. We try to find happiness through experience of spiritual “highs.” But Jesus tells us that it's not the blessing we're to look for – the blessing is what comes when our longing is for his righteousness. I think that we also fail to really understand what Jesus means when we talks about righteousness. Ultimately what we should desire isn't some thing or some activity or some practice in our lives – it's to be right with God. The problem with the world is sin. When sin entered the human race it cut us off from the perfect fellowship with God that Adam and Eve originally had. Blessedness is the state of having that fellowship with God restored. Sin is what broke it. The absence of sin is what restores it. And so our hungering and thirsting for righteousness starts with our poverty of spirit driving us to the righteousness of Christ. In a legal sense this is what righteousness is: our restoration to a right relationship with God – our unrighteousness being covered by the perfect righteousness of Christ. When Jesus talks about righteousness he’s not taking about anything in us or anything we can do – he’s talking about what he’s ready to give us. That’s how new life starts. But new life grows too. Even after God declares us righteous for Christ's sake, our all-consuming desire should still be to see righteousness in our own lives. We should desire to be free not just from the penalty of our sins, but from the power of them too. That's the problem for us – to put it another way, to hunger and thirst for righteousness also means a desire to be free from every desire for sin. It's relatively easy to mourn for our sin in general, but do we mourn it simply because it results in the breaking of our fellowship with God? Do we mourn our sin because it keeps us from being blessed? Or do we mourn our sin because we know that it's an offence against God? Do we mourn our sin because we don't really want to do it, but would rather be righteous? There's a difference. If we're mourning our sins because of the consequences, it's like being sorry for speeding on the highway, not because you know it's wrong, but because a cop pulled you over and wrote you a ticket. Being sorry you got caught or being sorry because you have to live with the consequences of your sins isn't what Jesus has been talking about. It's easy to mourn that we're sinful in general, but it's harder to mourn specific sins – especially our favourites. It's easy to give up the ones that result in obvious earthly and temporal consequences. It's not so easy to give up the ones that gratify us in private and that no one else knows about. This is the difference between a vague wanting to be righteous and truly hungering and thirsting for it. It's the difference between wanting Christ's righteousness as fire insurance – as a “Get oOut of Hell Free” card – and really wanting to live it. Too much of the time we're okay giving up the big public sins because they'd get us into obvious trouble anyway, but the real test is whether we give up those secret sins we love. If we're not willing to give them up, what we're saying is that we still don't trust God for the good. We're trying to find happiness and blessedness on our own, by our own rules. But in doing that we're telling God that we don't trust him when he speaks through St. Paul saying, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Our prayer should be, “O God, make me just as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.” Our hunger for righteousness should result in our own spiritual renovation, but it should also turn us outward to the world. Martin Luther wrote, “The command to you is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out…and to offer your hands and feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do.” The rest of what Jesus has to say about our character grows out of this desire not just to be restored to right relationship with God ourselves, but to see the world restored to that right relationship too. We ask for this every time we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That isn't a passive prayer we pray as we wait for God to come down from heaven and straighten everyone and everything out. It's an active prayer that asks God to show us what we can do to see righteousness prevail on earth. The result of our desire for God's righteousness is that he fills us. In the most basic sense, when we come to God, knowing our own sinfulness, contritely confessing it, Christ gives us his own righteousness. But that's only the beginning. Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”...Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14) After he had multiplied the bread at Galilee Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). But the fact is that we will hunger and thirst again if we leave the source of our spiritual nourishment. The amazing thing is that as God's renewing grace works in our lives, he keeps opening up new horizons. Beware the person who thinks he's made it and doesn't hunger anymore! As long as we keep coming to him, Christ will feed us, but our desperate hunger will always be with us, because as he satisfies what we're desperate for today, he shows us what we need to hunger for tomorrow. Perfect righteousness waits for us only in heaven where we “shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more...For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:16-17). Think again of those people in ancient Rome who committed suicide rather than live another day with starvation. Think of the starving kids in Africa and South America we see on TV. Think of that kind of desperation and translate it into spiritual terms. And now consider that our spiritual need is a million times greater than any physical need we can ever have. We live here on earth for at most maybe a hundred years, but Jesus is talking about eternity. He gives us a very simple promise: where there is this kind of desire for righteousness, there will be a filling – and the filling will be Christ himself. He is the living water. If we drink from his well, we will never thirst again. He is the bread of eternal life, who promised that, “he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Have you drunk deeply at that well and fed on that bread? Or are you still feeding on the things that can never fully satisfy? This morning we come to Our Lord’s Table, and here he gives us the sign and seal of the new life, of the perfect righteousness, that only he can give. As we come to his Table here’s something to think about. When you bring a starving man – a man desperate for food – to your table, does he take a little nibble, maybe even a whole mouthful, and then wander away because there’s something else more engaging: family, sports, fishing, golf – something else that he’d rather be doing. No he stays at the table as long as there’s food and he eats until he’s full. Because we so often fail to see just how desperate we are – maybe because we don’t spend enough time in prayer and in God’s Word – but because we fail to realise our desperation, we often become part-time Christians. We come to Christ and take a nibble, then head off to do our own thing. The Lord sets his Table here and invites us every week, but we go off and do the things we’d rather do, not realising we’re spiritually in need. Worse yet, we may come here every Sunday, but we leave our new life in Christ at the door. We’re Christians here, but the rest of the week we live with little thought for God. You see, he’s the vine; we’re the branches. But we forget that once we were dry, brittle, dead wood. It’s only because Christ has grafted us into himself, the living vine, that we have been given new life. We are his body. We have been made one with him and find our life as part of that body. As members of his body, it’s his flesh and blood that give us life. And so he gives us physical bread and wine here at his Table, but this bread and this wine are the outward and visible sign of the inner spiritual life he has given us. He is the only one who can satisfy our hunger and our thirst. We ought to be coming to him desperately. When we’re sent off to love and serve him in the world outside these walls, we ought to be doing so out of joy for what he’s done. We were spiritually starving and he fed us. How can we not go out with joy to serve him. And if we go out to joyfully serve him all week – and that’s what true and realworship is all about. How can we tell him, “No thanks,” next week when he calls us back to his Table. If that’s our response to what he has done for us, we’re falling far short of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Again, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The Divine Son of God has set his Table and invites us to partake of his spiritual food. He invites us saying, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Come and eat. Go out joyfully to serve. And come back again in joy to give God thanks and praise for what he’s done. Please pray with me: Gracious Father, we give you thanks and praise for your great mercy. When we rebelled against you, it was you who came after us, sending your own son to die so that we can be reconciled to you. Father, gives us an understanding of the desperate spiritual situation we’re in. Forgive us for so often being blasé about righteousness. Fill us with your Spirit that we may truly hunger and thirst for the righteousness you offer to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and give us a great hunger and thirst to see that righteousness in our lives. We ask this, Father, in the name of the one who has come to give us the righteousness we do not have, Jesus Christ. Amen
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Anxiety & Frustration Respectable Sins: Sermon Five by William Klock Life is full of difficulties. Cars and computers and refrigerators die. Water heaters explode. Planes and ferries run late. And life is often full of pain. Our bodies are frail. They get injured. They get sick. And when life gets hard, our natural tendency is to get anxious, worried, or frustrated – or all three at once. So tonight I want to talk to you about how the Bible tells us to deal with life. First, I want to share with you an interesting fact. We tend to get caught up in our own ideas about what the Bible says, or what the Bible emphasises. Maybe we know the Bible says something, but we don’t ever realise just how strongly it says it or just how often. Think about Christian character traits. Jerry Bridges says that he sat down, New Testament in hand, to look at all the examples of places where Christian character traits are taught by precept or example. It’s no surprise that love came up as number one, with fifty instances. But it might be surprising that humility was only barely behind with forty instances. But what may be even more surprising is that trusting in God in all of our circumstances came in third place. In a way it makes perfect sense that these three things would be so strongly emphasised in the New Testament, after all, the Gospel is rooted in God’s love for us and our reception of it is based on the Spirit moving us to humility as we recognise our sinfulness – and that leads us to put our trust in him for our salvation. Trust in God is important. And yet those of us who once put ourselves in God’s hands, trusting in him for redemption, so often fail to trust him with our daily lives. The opposite of trust in God is either anxiety or frustration. And sadly anxiety and frustration often describe our character better than the idea of trust in God. But Jesus had a lot to say about anxiety. His best known words on the subject are in the Sermon on the Mount, the words that made up our Second Lesson from Matthew 6:25-34. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 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 you 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 after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxiousabout tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Jesus uses the word anxious six times in those verses. We’re not to be anxious about anything; not what we have to eat, not what we have to drink, not what we have to wear, not even about all the unknowns that the next day might bring. In other places Jesus says, “Fear not.” This is one of the foundational principles of the Christian life. St. Paul got it, and it’s in his writings too. He wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). The same goes for St. Peter. He wrote, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). When we talk to someone who’s struggling with pain or difficulties in their life we might say, “Don’t be anxious” or “Don’t be afraid,” but we’re just trying to give them some encouragement – just trying to be helpful. But when Jesus, or St. Paul, or St. Peter tell us in the pages of Holy Scripture, “Don’t be anxious,” it has the force of a moral command. That means that it’s the moral will of God that we not be anxious – and that means that when we are anxious, when we do worry, and when we get frustrated we are sinning. Anxiety is a sin for two reasons: First, as I already said, anxiety is really just another name for distrust of God. Think about the passage we read from St. Matthew’s Gospel. If our heavenly Father takes care of the birds and the flowers, how much more will he care for us. That’s exactly why St. Peter tells us to cast our anxieties on God: because he cares for us. So when you and I give way to anxiety, what we’re doing, in effect, is believing that God doesn’t really care for us and that he won’t take care of the circumstances that have triggered our anxiety. Imagine if your child came to you and said, “I don’t trust you. I don’t believe you love me and will care for me.” That’s exactly what we’re saying to God by being anxious. Second, anxiety is a sin because it shows a lack of acceptance of God’s sovereignty or providence in our lives. The idea of providence is just the idea that God is sovereign over all – that God orchestrates all circumstances and events in his creation for his glory and for the good of his people. Our problem is that we lose sight of this and end up focussing on the immediate causes of our anxiety instead of remembering that those circumstances are under the sovereign control of God. One of the reasons why I think anxiety has become one of our “respectable” sins is because it can be so subtle and can involve such seemingly insignificant things. Think about it in terms of your trying to make an appointment or trying to catch a ferry. Do you ever run late and get anxious? It happened just about every time we drove up here from Portland before the move. We’d deliberately get up early and leave by 6:00 so that we could catch the 12:45 ferry from Tsawwassen. But it never failed: either we’d get stuck in Seattle traffic or we’d get stuck in the line-up at the border. And so we’d turn on the radio and listen to the ferry report, and I’d find myself getting more and more anxious. And yet when it came down to it, on all but one occasion we made it in time and God even spared us from having to wait at the terminal – we just drove right onto the ferry. Each time I did have that knowledge in the back of my mind that God was in control. But what was in the front of my mind was my plan and my timing. (Remember our sermon on ungodliness last week – living with no thought for God.) Even after years of experiences have told me that God knows best, I was still thinking in each instance that traffic or border security was somehow conspiring against me. Even in the instance where we did miss the ferry (we got there in plenty of time, but it was already full), I wasn’t thinking in terms of God’s sovereign plan. God had a reason for my missing that ferry, and I know his reasons and plans are always good, but at the moment, all I could think about was how my plan wasn’t working out. Anxiety tends to be our response to smaller things in life. Worry is what we tend to about the bigger things – with long-term or even permanent problems where we don’t see a solution or an end. These are the problems that keep you awake at night. This is the kind of thing that can come up when you were hired by a church eight months ago, but still haven’t sold your house – and on top of it the market where you live is dropping while the market where you’re moving to is rising. I like J.B. Philips translation of 1 Peter 5:7, because it makes that verse even more applicable to the times when we’re prone to worry: “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern. Again, Jesus said that God doesn’t forget a single sparrow. How much more, then, is it true that you, his child, are indeed his personal concern. When I think about this kind of thing I think of both my grandfather and Veronica’s dad. Both of them fought in World War II – just on different sides. My grandfather was in the Army Corp of Engineers and was scheduled to be in the first wave to storm Normandy on D-Day. But he ended up with a hand injury the week before the invasion and was kept behind in England. While most of the men in his unit died that day, God chose to spare my grandfather. Similarly, Veronica’s dad was in the German Artillery. His unit was entirely wiped out, but he was spared because not long before that, he was captured and placed in an American POW camp in Italy. Both men were unhappy, even worried, about the change in plans that happened in their lives, but in the end, in both cases, God used those unexpected and unwanted circumstances to spare them. Now it’s nice to know that God is in control. The problem we face is that when the problems come – when they’re looming large – they get in our way and we don’t see around them to remember the promises of God. (This is why I said that a deep knowledge of Scripture, and especially Scripture memory are important. If you’ve got it stored away in your heart and mind, it’s less likely to be pushed aside by life and more likely to become your life.) When our problems seem bigger than God’s promises, we should remember the words of the father of the demon-possessed son in St. Mark’s Gospel. He said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). There’s a big difference between stubborn and real unbelief that refuses God and the struggling faith of that boy’s father. God honours struggles and promises the Holy Spirit to help us. We need to remember that even if our faith isn’t perfect, even while we struggle, what God wants to see is that we seek to honour him through our faith, even when it’s weak and faltering, instead of dishonouring him through deliberate unbelief. The more you practice your faith, the more it will grow and the more trust in God becomes second nature. I like the way John Newton puts it, “How happy are they who can resign all to him, see his hand in every dispensation, and believe that he chooses better for them than they possibly could for themselves!” But accepting God’s sovereign and providential will doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to pray about the outcome of the things happening to us and around us. Notice that St. Paul not only says, “do not be anxious about anything,” but that the verse continues with him saying, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Even Jesus prayed as he was dreading the suffering he saw coming on the cross. That was something with greater potential for anxiety and worry than any of us is likely ever to face. He cried out to God, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). God calls us to bring our worries to him in prayer, but when we do so, we need to come to him with an attitude of acceptance of whatever God’s providential will may be and a confidence that, whatever the outcome, God’s will is better than our plans or desires. I also want to look at the sin of frustration. I find myself badly convicted here. As I was doing this study I realised that I often replace the anger I might otherwise feel at a situation with frustration. I mean, anger is an obvious sin, but frustration? But you see, whereas anxiety and worry involve fear over a situation, frustration involves being upset over that situation – even angry. There are a lot of situation in which we have no reason to be anxious, but lots of reasons to get frustrated. You’re working on the car and that bolt just won’t come loose. You’re working on the computer, it crashes, and you lose the last hour of your work. You’re trying to put the kids to bed and they keep getting up. None of those situations is likely to make you anxious or to make you worry – we can still see the outcome and in the end we know that it’ll all work out, but in the meantime we get frustrated with that rusty bolt, the crashed computer, or the kids that won’t sleep. Like anxiety, frustration has its roots in ungodliness. When you get frustrated by a situation, at least for that time, you’re living as though God’s not involved in your circumstances. You’re failing to recognise the invisible hand of God behind whatever’s triggering your frustration. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget about God and focus instead on how our plans aren’t working out. I like what David writes in Psalm 139:6: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” When David writes “days ordained for me,” he’s not just talking about the length of his life, but also all the events and circumstances of each day of his life. This is a tremendous encouragement for us. No matter what happens, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God is in control – that what’s happening now has come from him. We can say to God, “This circumstance is part of your plan for my life today. Help me to respond in faith and in a God-honouring way to your providential will. And then please give me wisdom to know how to address the situation that causes the frustration.” Now you don’t have to pray those exact words, but look what we’ve done to address the sin and the circumstance causing the frustration: we’ve brought up specific applicable Scripture and dependence on the Holy Spirit expressed through prayer to enable us to respond in a godly way. And then we pray for practical wisdom to know how to deal with the situation. After all, the bold does need to come off the engine, the computer does need to be fixed and the document retyped, and sometime the kids really do need to go to bed. We also ought to have in mind the possibility that God’s wanting to teach us something through the frustration. Remember that when I talked about how to deal with sin, I said that often God orchestrates situations so that we can learn to deal with specific areas of life in godly ways. I used the old example of praying for patience, because if God wants you to learn patience, he’s more likely than not, going to start putting you in situations that teach it to you. We need to remember that there are no events in our lives that do not ultimately come to us from the invisible hand of God, even though they come through some visible cause. In closing let me stress again: anxiety, worry, and frustration are all sins, and because they’re sins, they aren’t something we can take lightly or brush off as common or acceptable reactions to difficult situation in a fallen world. Think about it, can you imagine Jesus ever getting anxious or frustrated – stressed out about where his next meal or rent payment was coming from or frustrated because he couldn’t find his car keys – or because his children were almost constantly disobedient. In a lot of ways we’ve actually come to see anxiety and frustration as part of our temperament – if not ours, then other peoples’. We call someone a worry-wart or a grouch, almost as if that’s just how they are. Maybe we even think of ourselves that way, as if that’s how God made us. But anxiety and frustration don’t have any more of a part in our temperament than other sins. Imagine someone saying, I’m an adulterer – it’s just how God made me, it’s my temperament. If we say that about anxiety or frustration in our lives, we’re doing exactly the same thing. It might not be as serious, but it’s still sin. And all sin is serious in the eyes of a holy God. Please pray with me: “Our Father, we give you thanks for taking care of us. We give you thanks that we can have confidence that you know what’s best for us and that you are sovereignly in control of all things, working them out in our best interests and to bring glory to yourself. Forgive us, Father, for the times we forget that you care for us and forgive us for the times when we insist on being in control and become anxious or frustrated over our circumstances. You have give us your grace and your Holy Spirit dwells in us. Help us to remember to rely on you and to look for you in all of our circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:5 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are the Meek St. Matthew 5:5 by William Klock As we've been looking at the first of the Beatitudes, I hope you've seen that these are all connected. As I said in the first sermon, Jesus isn't describing natural virtues here – he's describing his people – people who have been transformed by God's grace. And he's not describing these virtues as if one person is characterised by one and someone else by another, as if one person is poor in spirit and another is mournful. All eight of these characteristics should describe each follower of Christ. Jesus began with those words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We enter the Kingdom by the recognising that we are nothing – that we can't save ourselves and that we have nothing good of our own to claim before God. The door is through the righteousness of Christ, not any supposed righteousness of our own. And poverty of spirit then leads us to mourn. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, he's not talking about a natural mourning over the bad things that happen in life – he's talking about our mourning our own badness, our own sin, our own unrighteousness, and the unrighteousness of the spiritually perishing people and world around us. The greatest comfort in the world is in God's pronouncement of absolution on the contrite sinner. As I said last week, poverty of spirit should move us to confess our sin, and our mournfulness leads us to the contrition that has to follow if our confession is to be meaningful. Mourning is the emotional counterpart of being poor in spirit. These two naturally lead to meekness. Jesus tells us: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) All along we've seen just how counter cultural Jesus’ message is. He was speaking to Jews when he first preached this sermon and we've seen him countering all the popular ideas of the day. He's been telling the people that God's Kingdom isn't for the strong, it's for the weak; it's not for the rich, it's for the poor; it's not for the soldier to take with his sword, it's for the child who can't even defend himself. Jesus turns the world upside down, and now he tells us that it's the meek people who will inherit the earth. By the world's thinking that's all wrong. Think about it. How does the world tell us to get the things we want? The world tells us that to get to the top you have to step on a few toes here and a few fingers there. To make it in the world you have to put yourself first. To get the things you want and to have the good life you have to put Number One first. In the business world the conventional wisdom says that you have to undercut everybody else. Try working around a sales environment for a while and you'll see just how cut-throat the world can be. Meekness isn't at the top of the list of qualities they promote at motivational seminars. The world is all about taking as much as you can and leaving everyone else in the dust. The Jews of Jesus' day were no different than we are. His preaching was just as shocking to them, and probably even more shocking to those who came to hear the Messiah preach. They were sure that he had come with a sword, to raise a mighty army, and to throw out the Romans the way their ancestors had destroyed the Canaanites under Joshua's leadership and the way the Maccabees had overthrown the Greeks. And now the Messiah stands before them talking about the meek inheriting the earth. God's Word stands in opposition to the conventional wisdom of the World. St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28) The world struggles along thinking it's everything, but God's people find they have everything because they know that they are nothing. Why don’t we understand this? St. James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17). Note the emphasis on “good” and “perfect” -- those things don't come from us. We can't get them on our own, we can't make them, we can't produce them, in fact, man's whole problem since the Fall has been that we've put ourselves in the place of God, trying to determine what's good for us. The end result is that God's values have become foolishness to us. We've become so corrupt and contrary to God that we don't know which end is up anymore. St. James goes on later saying, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). St. Peter urges us to meekly respond to the world: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense of everyone who asks you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15 NKJV). St. Paul lists this with the other fruit of the Spirit in Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 RSV). For Paul, meekness was one of the key things that went into dealing with problems within the Church. He oversaw a lot of churches from a distance, even telling about the stress that it caused him to see all their problems, but never do we see him railing against them in angry rants, instead he wrote loving letters urging them to live by God's grace. We come to faith in Christ by meekly hearing and receiving his Word, but meekness should continue to characterise our lives forever after that. The world has ungodly values, but it also doesn’t help that the world gives us false understanding of what meekness is. I think the first image that comes to most people is the stereotypical sappy painting of Jesus that seems to hang in just about every Sunday school classroom. We think of the words of John Wesley's hymn, “gentle, Jesus meek and mild,” and we put the worst possible spin on them. The world associates meekness with spiritlessness, with weakness, and with cowardice. But the fact is that John Wesley's words are right on the mark. Jesus described himself saying, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29 RSV). Think of the Messiah that the prophet Zechariah described: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, ayour king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9) Jesus was without doubt gentle, meek, and mild, but he wasn't spiritless, weak, or cowardly either. The world looks at a man who allowed himself to be crucified for a crime he didn't commit and calls it foolishness, calls it weak and cowardly, but the world calls it those thing because it doesn't understand, because the Gospel is foolishness to those without the renewing grace of God. The World doesn't understand a spiritual strength that allows itself to be sacrificed for another. Take another example: When I say the name, Moses, what comes to mind? I'm guessing that no one here would think of Moses in connection with the same Wesley hymn I mentioned earlier: “gentle Moses, meek and mild.” Thanks to Hollywood I immediately picture Charleton Heston in all his gritty toughness: taking on the mighty King of Egypt today, tomorrow he’s the Omega Man, and on Tuesday he’ll be ready to take on Dr. Zaius and an army of angry super-evolved gorillas! And so it's a little bit surprising that in Numbers 12:3 we read that “the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” His most noticeable quality was meekness. And that should tell us something about what it means to be meek. First, it's not something that is natural to us. Acts 7 suggests that when Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, he was thinking that a great Israelites slave revolution would begin with him taking matters into his own hands. He had been raised as a prince, to think he was a big shot, and even after finding out he wasn't the great Egyptian prince he thought he was, he was still thinking like a big shot – like he could do it on his own. It took forty years in the wilderness tending sheep to teach him that God's the only real big shot and that without God's grace he, Moses, was a nobody. It took forty years of living a simple life that allowed him to reflect on and mourn his own sinfulness. I think Moses teaches us, secondly, that the way the world defines meekness is wrong. If there's anyone we can think of in Scripture who was no cowardly weakling it was Moses. If we understand what biblical meekness means, then we can see why Jesus puts it here between mourning and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Meekness is truly a gentleness of spirit. It's a humble and gentle quality that we show to others, that itself is rooted in a true understanding and estimation of ourselves. It's the quality of character that comes not just from being willing to declare ourselves sinners, but to allow others to declare us sinners. The Beatitudes get more difficult as we progress through them. Remember that this is the mountaintop that Jesus has told we have to reach, but it's also the mountaintop to which we can never climb. It's only God's grace that can carry us to the top. Knowing our own nothingness and being willing to confess it privately to God, or even confessing it as we do corporately each Sunday morning is one thing, but mourning those same sins is another. To mourn demonstrates that we really are sorry for our sins. But meekness goes beyond this. Meekness goes beyond calling ourselves sinners, and allows others to see us as sinners. We don't naturally like that. Think about it. For most Christians it's not that big of a deal anymore to acknowledge that we're fallen – that we're sinners in a general sense. But it's a lot more difficult to publicly acknowledge our specific sins. There's a reason why confessions are heard in private – while it's true that not everyone needs to know the private sins of everyone else, it's also true that we don't want others to know them. It's easy to say, “I'm a sinner.” As Christians we may even, unfortunately, take pride in admitting as much – a false humility. But it's not so easy to tell our brothers and sisters specifics sins – the things we struggle with in secret and that we'd rather keep secret. Our natural pride won't let us openly admit those things. Meekness is exactly the opposite – it allows us to humbly admit exactly what we are. To be meek is to have a realistic view of ourselves and that view is seen in how we treat others. Meekness drives us to be gentle, humble, sensitive, and patient with other people. A proud person who isn’t willing to admit his sin treats everyone else like dirt. But a person who knows he’s sinner and stands before God only by grace, treats other people with that same grace that God has shown him. But because meekness is rooted in our being able to see ourselves as God sees us, it isn't something that we can put on by willpower. You can't get up in the morning and choose that from today on you're going to be meek. You might be able to put on a good show for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, but if it’s not who you really are, you won’t live it for long. If your character is meek, it's because you're finished with yourself. Your life isn't characterised by wanting to make sure your rights aren't infringed. This is hard for us, because everything about our modern western culture goes against this. We live in a world where everyone has rights. We know what's ours and we're ready to fight to the death for it! And while the meek person may fight for the rights of others, he never put up a fight for his own, because he knows that in Christ he has all he needs. Look at the example of Jesus again. St. Peter encourages meekness in us by showing us Jesus: Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 St. Peter 2:21b-24) Meekness grows out of the grace of God, and having experienced that sustaining grace we can put our trust in him and leave our cause, ourselves, and our rights with him. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes it saying, “The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.” Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. But this isn’t new, this is the principle that God has taught his people from the beginning. Look at Psalm 37 with me. In verses 3-7 we read: Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! It's hard to be meek, not thinking about our own desires and our own rights, when we see other people having what we want. The world tells us to grab everything we can while we have the chance. It's especially hard when see the evil prospering the way the Psalmist describes here. But the Psalmist goes on in verses 10 and 11: In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. That's where we see the promise in this third beatitude. That line, “but the meek shall inherit the land,” expresses the hope of the Jews all the way back to Abraham. It rests on God’s promise to the first patriarch. God convenanted with Abraham and pledged that if Abraham would faithfully follow him, he would provide him with an inheritance: the land of Canaan and the blessing of children who would become a great nation. The immediate promises to Abraham were kind of a sacramental sign, a foretaste and a type, of the full inheritance that God gives us when we become his adopted sons and daughters through the atoning work of Christ. Like Abraham, the meek are those who delight in the Lord, who commit their lives to the Lord, and because of that find their rest in the Lord. Think of what the world thought of Abraham. He followed God and, while most probably would have seen him as a rich man, the idea that his little enclave would one day possess all of Canaan was a crazy idea. And if you want to talk crazy, look at Jacob. He had the inheritance that had been passed down to him from Abraham, his great-grandfather, but he died in a foreign land living on Egyptian hospitality – and yet he died not only content with what he had, but confidant that God would give the promised inheritance to his children. The world is constantly trying to get ahead, to get more, and to hold onto what it already has. The world looks for blessedness – for happiness and contentment – in things and never finds it. And so the Christian, having nothing that the world values, finds himself truly blessed with everything that matters – and not just everything that matters, but everything that lasts. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:2 that when Judgement Day comes, the things that the World values will go up in smoke, but that we’ll stand by Christ and “judge the world.” So here’s the practical application: The message that we carry to the world is dependent on our being meek. Too many Christians have forgotten this today. The modern Church wants to fight the influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil on our own strength. We've become good at holding rallies, establishing institutions, and putting together pressure groups, but as a result we're out of practice in doing the real work of building God's Kingdom. We need to rely more on Christ, on grace, and on the plain message of the Gospel instead of our own rhetorical skill or sheer numbers at the polls to influence the world for Christ. We've become like the Pharisees, who wanted to bring the Kingdom of God by legislating his morality, forcing everyone to live by a legalistic code of ethics whether their heart was in it or not. We've become like the Zealots, trying to bring the Kingdom with the sword or with political power. Don't get me wrong. We're called to be salt and light – to be a preserving influence in the world around us, and that does call for our political involvement and for our social action. But I think we too often lose sight of the fact that our main calling is to share the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection with the world, not as I said last week, ranting angrily about the sins of the people around us, but taking it humbly and meekly to others, sharing it one beggar to another. We want the world to be different, but we forget that we’re different because we have Jesus. The world needs Jesus too. So we need to pay more attention to what our witness is like to the world. Are we humbly and meekly carrying God’s good news to those who need to hear it because we care for them, or are we proud, moralising, Pharisaical, Christians looking down our noses at the very people whom we were once like before we found Jesus ourselves – looking at them as if we’re better because of our own merit. We need to be less concerned with our own rights and with justifying ourselves to the people around us, and more concerned with edifying our brothers and sisters and sharing God's message of redemption with the world. That’s what meekness is all about. Please pray with me: Our Father, you alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful people. We ask you to grant to our foolish hearts and minds a measure of your grace that we might see our nothingness in the light of your great holiness. Move us to be poor in spirit. Move us to mourn sin, so that we can then see the importance of clothing ourselves in meekness, putting away our own perceived rights, putting others ahead of ourselves, and ultimately raising your Gospel above all else; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Ungodliness Respectable Sins: Sermon Four by William Klock The Old Testament prophet Joel, looked at the fallen nation of Israel and asked, “Why should they say among the people, ‘Where is their God?” You see, God’s election to salvation is always for a purpose. As the Westminster Catechism says: the chief end of man is the glorification of God. When he chose and redeemed Israel it was so that his people would be a witness for him – they were called to be a divine light to the Gentile nations around them – a light that shone in the darkness. And yet God’s people stumbled and fell. They failed to be the witness they were called to be, and looking at them the nations asked, “Where is their God?” Israel was living for herself, as if she had no god. But ungodliness wasn’t just the problem of the Old Testament Church – it’s the problem of the New Testament Church too. We’re all guilty of ungodliness to some extent, and it’s this sin that’s at the root of all the other sins we struggle with. This is one of those sins that we’re often prone to overlook. After all, when you think of ungodliness, you probably think of atheists or the truly “wicked” people out there. We’re Christians. We can’t be ungodly! And yet we’re all guilty here. St. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Do you see how he makes a distinction between ungodliness and unrighteousness? Unrighteousness describes sinful actions in our thoughts, words, and deeds, but ungodliness describes an attitude toward God. An atheist is the epitome of ungodliness – he doesn’t even believe God exists – but that same atheist could very easily be an otherwise morally “decent” person – at least as the world sees it. As Christians we should be motivated to good works by love of God, but there are a lot of selfish and ungodly motives that can move us to do the right thing, like staying out of trouble with the law or the pride that comes from knowing others look to you as an upstanding person. Ungodliness is really living your everyday life with little or no thought for God, his will, his glory, or your own dependence on him. I think if you understand that, you can see how someone can lead a more or less respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is pretty much irrelevant to them. Of course an atheist is going to live as if God is irrelevant to him – he doesn’t believe God exists – but think about the definition I just gave and think about how you live your own life. The sad fact of the matter is that we Christians often tend to live our daily lives with little more thought for God than our atheist friends. Maybe we read our Bibles and have some prayer time each morning, but when we put our Bibles away and head out to start the day we basically live out our lives as if God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. We might go for hours without ever even thinking about him. What’s the difference between us and our atheist neighbour? God isn’t in his thoughts at all and is seldom in ours. The New Testament is really convicting when it comes to our ungodliness. I said that it’s often the case that we seldom think about just how dependent on God we are. Look at what St. James writes in his epistle: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) James’ issue with these people wasn’t in their making plans. What he condemns here is that they don’t acknowledge God in their planning. They don’t acknowledge their dependence on him. Think about your own life. How often do you make plans – plans for big things and plans for small mundane things – without included God or thinking about your dependence on him. When I met one of my good friends a number of years ago, one thing that struck me was that he was always finishing his sentences saying, “Lord willing.” I’d say, “See you next Sunday,” and he’d saying, “Yep! Lord willing.” I’d ask if he was still planning to take a trip that he’d told me about and he’d say, “Yep! Lord willing.” It was like that with everything: “Yep! Lord willing.” And then not long after that I discovered the English Puritans and started avidly reading the books written by those great saints. And suddenly I understood the whole “Lord willing” thing. You see, the Puritans understood Providence. They understood the sovereignty of God. They understood their utter and total dependence on God. (They understood that because they, perhaps better than anyone before or since, understood the concept of grace.) And so I started to understand just how much they saw God at work in their daily lives and just how much I didn’t. To live our lives with little or no thought for God’s sovereign activity in even the small things is to be guilty of the sin of ungodliness. I think that similarly we’re also often guilty of not thinking about our accountability to God and our responsibility to live according to his moral will as Scripture shows it to us. It’s not so much that we live blatantly sinful lives; it’s just that we seldom think about God’s will, and for the most part are content simply to avoid gross and obvious sins. But look at what St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10) That’s a God-centred prayer if there ever was one. St. Paul wanted the Colossians to be full of the knowledge of God’s will for them. He wanted them to live lives worthy of God and that were pleasing to him. That’s what God-centre prayer is all about. Paul’s great desire was that they be a godly people. Now compare that prayer for the Colossians to your own prayers for yourself, for your family, and your friends. Do your prayers show that same concern for God’s will and for God’s glory? Do they show a desire that your life be pleasing to God? I think that sometimes we hit the mark, but an awful lot of the time the focus of our prayers is on a litany of temporal needs. God does tell us to bring even our smallest concerns before him, but we also need to be careful lest we start to pray as if he’s some kind of genie. Too often we come to God with the attitude of “my will be done,” when Jesus tells us to pray to the Father saying, “Thy will be done.” When it comes to our lives, St. Paul doesn’t cut us any slack. His clear exhortation is that we live our lives before the face of God. If there was anyone in an unjust and unfair position in the ancient world, it was the slaves. They made up a huge part of the population. And we know that a lot of the members of the Colossian church were slaves. Look at what Paul writes to them: Slaves obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24). If anyone had a right to be unhappy and unfulfilled in their jobs, it was these folks. If any could be justified in doing their work in half-hearted way, it was them. And yet St. Paul tells them to faithfully serve their masters as unto the Lord. None of us is that bad off, but the same principle applies to us in the context of our vocations and professions. But how many of us approach our work with this principle in mind. To understand this, it took my getting fired from a good and well-paying job. I ended up having to take a $4.85 minimum wage job watering and dead-heading plants in a retail garden centre, and one day as I was grumbling about it I realised this was what Paul was talking about. God is sovereign. He puts us where we’re at, and if he puts us there, then we need to do the work he’s called us to do, no matter how unpleasant or menial it may seem and no matter what the earthly compensation is. The next day a coworker asked me why I was suddenly so happy. God gave an opportunity to say, “I just realised that no job stinks if you’re doing it for God!” But God wants more than just our jobs. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are about as mundane as it gets, but that’s Paul’s point: do all – everything – to the glory of God. That means that in everything we do, our desire should be first to please God, and second, that all our activities will give honour to God before other people. Just like Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The mark of a godly man or woman is that they do everything, from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep, to the glory of God. In contrast Paul blasted the self-righteous Jews in Rome when he wrote, “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:23-24). Those are strong words. Paul’s saying that if we claim to follow God and yet fail to obey his law, we’re guilty of blasphemy. We’re supposed to live in such a way that we draw people to God, but our ungodliness ultimately drives people away from God. But so far I’ve been talking mostly about how we relate to the world. How about how we related to God? Our godliness or ungodliness can be measured, more than anything else, by our desire to develop an intimate relationship with God. David wrote in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (42:1-2). The Psalms are full of this sort of desire for closeness to God. In Psalm 63:1, David writes of his thirsting for God and earnest seeking of him. In Psalm 27:4 he expresses his desire to leave the world behind, only wanting more than anything else to dwell in the presence of the Lord and gaze on his beauty. These are the expressions of a godly man, and yet how many of us can honestly say that this is what we truly desire more than anything else? For the godly person, God is the very centre and focus of life. Every circumstance, no matter how big or small, whether it’s earthly or spiritual, is viewed through the lens of this God-centredness. But we can only develop that kind of God-centredness in the context of an ever-growing intimate relationship with him. There’s no way anyone can genuinely desire to please God or glorify him without that kind of relationship. Each of us falls somewhere on the spectrum between godliness and ungodliness. We need to ask ourselves where we are on that spectrum. Jesus was the only person ever to live a completely godly life. We’re not talking about righteous versus unrighteous living, we’re talking about living our life as if God is relevant or irrelevant. The sad thing is that survey after survey shows us that there’s not much difference between the way Christians and non-Christians live their lives. It’s a sad state and it exists because we give so little thought to God and how we can please and glorify him. I really do think that this is what lies at the root of so many of our other sins. Pride lies behind a lot of sins, but how much would it curb our pride to live each day with the awareness that all we are, all we accomplish, and all we have comes by the grace of God? How many other sins would we put an end to if we lived our lives with the constant understanding that we live them before the face of God? Look at the big oaks right outside our windows here. Sin, like those branches, is rooted in a big trunk that supports them. And that trunk might be the sin of pride, but the trunk can’t stand without a big root system. Ungodliness is the root system that feeds our pride and all our other sins. So how can we deal with ungodliness in our lives? St. Paul wrote to Timothy, telling him, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). The word train comes from the athletic culture of the Greek world and refers to the rigours of the athletes in their contests. It carries with it the ideas of commitment, consistency, and disciplined training. You see, St. Paul wanted Timothy – and all of us – to be totally committed to godliness – to be committed to it the same way that a trained runner is committed to his temporal prize. He wrote to the Corinthians and to Timothy describing the Christian life in relation to a foot race. You don’t run in a competition without running for the prize. We need to run the course of the Christian life in the same way. But I don’t think that a lot of Christians really ever think about how they can grow in godliness. We’re committed to all sorts of things, but not often to this. When the new Ikea opened in Portland last year, there were people who camped out for a week in anticipation of the opening. I kid you not! A week. There were so many people waiting in line overnight on that last night before the store opened that the parking lot was actually full! Imagine that kind of zeal and devotion just for another big-box store. Now the question is, would any of us have anything close to that kind of zeal for godliness? The goal in our pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in the awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we’re responsible to him and dependent on him. If were striving for that goal we should be growing in our desire to please and glorify him, even in the most ordinary things we do. Each of us needs to ask, “What would I do differently if I were seeking to do all to the glory of God?” Ungodliness is all-encompassing, so we need to look at specific areas of our lives where we tend to live without regard to God. Is it your work, your hobbies, your playing or watching sports, your entertainment choices, what you do on the internet or when you’re driving or shopping? Take some time to meditate on and pray over some of the Scripture passages that I’ve given here tonight. And above all, pray that God will make you more conscious of the fact that you live every moment of every day under his all-seeing gaze. You may not be mindful of him, but he’s certainly aware of you and sees every deed you do, hears every word you say, and knows every thought you think. Even beyond that, he even knows every motive. Let us then seek to be as mindful of him as his is of us. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you have created us for yourself and for your glory. Remind us of this each day, when we’re so tempted to live our lives for ourselves and for our own glory. Plant a desire for you deep in our hearts and make it our instinct to seek you in all we do and say and think. Give us a soul-thirst for you, our living God, we ask in the name of our blessed redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:4 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are those Who Mourn St. Matthew 5:4 by William Klock Have you ever seen sin in someone else and taken a superior attitude, knowing that that sin wasn't in your life? Maybe someone wronged you – they gossiped about you, stole from you, hurt you in some way – and you just couldn't image how they could have done what they did. You found yourself saying, “I could never do that to someone. I wouldn't have done that to them!” Maybe it was someone you saw who had committed one of the “biggies.” Their sin was a real whopper and you found yourself looking down on them, knowing you'd never stoop that low. Being a minister I've begun catching my own thoughts when I see a story on TV or read an article in the paper about the latest pastor or church leader caught in adultery, leading a double life, or embezzling money from their church or ministry. As a fellow minister I realise just how easy it is for someone to stumble and fall into those kinds of sins. It's an eye opener to the fact that “but for the grace of God, there go I.” I was reminded of this earlier in the week as I was reading about the reaction of one of the holocaust survivors who was present at the Nuremburg Trials. This man had been a prisoner at Auschwitz, and when he entered the courtroom during the trial of one of the most notorious guards there, and came face to face with this man who had committed so many atrocities, he started to weep uncontrollably, then fainted. You might think that he was overcome by emotion as all the horrors of what he had seen and what had been done to him came rushing back to him. You'd think that in seeing that guard, he was probably overcome by hatred and anger. But when he was asked what happened in that courtroom, this survivor said that he was overcome, because there sat his former guard, not some terrible, god-like, beast as he had seen him years before; no, there he sat, an ordinary, normal man. And he was overcome as he realised that that German officer was no different from him. That he himself, given the right circumstances, could have done the same thing. And when he realised that he began to weep and eventually collapsed. I don 't think that most people would be willing to admit something like that. This man was able to admit it, because he wasn't afraid to admit that he knew he was a sinner. I think he knew that there is something wrong at the core of every human being on the planet. As I said last week, most of us want to ignore our sins, or at least compare our sins to those of others so that we can feel better about ourselves. We rob our employers when we take a long lunch, come in late, or leave early, but when we think about stealing we don't think about what we're doing – we think about the guy who's in prison for stealing cars or robbing a bank. We men may spend a little too long on that second glance at the woman walking down the street, but when we think of adultery we think of the last pastor we heard of that was caught with his secretary or choir director. While we're hating our neighbour's guts, we think about the murder on death row who killed his. If you think about the terrible things other people do, you can almost write-off your own sins. Almost. But the fact is that all of us, on some level, know there's something wrong. David saw this “wrongness” and prayed for deliverance, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far off, I would lodge in the wilderness, I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest” (Psalm 55:6-8). We’re all looking for a way out. David found it in God. In the same Psalm he writes, “But I call to God; and the LORD will save me.... Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:16, 22). The answer is there in those words, “call upon God.” Last week we looked at the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That's where it starts – this recognition of our own inadequacy. Being poor in spirit means we acknowledge that we can't fix our own problems, that we can't save ourselves, and that we have no righteousness of our own. The man or woman who is poor in spirit turns to Christ, who alone can offer us a perfect righteousness. And now Jesus says: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4) Mourning over our own fallenness is the emotional counterpart to being poor in spirit. This isn't just a promise that one day there will be an end to our suffering. It isn't just a promise of healing to the hurt. I think we can find those promises incorporated into this, but what he's really talking about is something far deeper. Just as he wasn't talking about the physically poor when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he's not talking here about those who mourn because of the natural circumstances of life. Remember that he's talking about life in the Kingdom. It's one thing to know our sin, and in acknowledging it, to be spiritually poor, but it's a whole other thing to actually mourn for it – to be truly sorry for what we've done and what we are. Confession is good, but confession without contrition is worthless. As Christians we have to learn to confess our sins, but it's not just a matter of confession – we have to be contrite too. We have to be sorry for them. We have to desire to be free of them. When I was elementary school-age, I can remember sneaking goodies from the pantry that my mom had very clearly said not to eat. I knew it was wrong. I remember standing in front of the pantry, knowing that eating that cookie or piece of candy was wrong, but also thinking to myself that I could simply confess my sin to God afterwards and every thing would be fine. Yes, that's confession, but there was no contrition involved. In fact I remember at least once making my silent confession to God as I munched happily away, only to grab another cookie and make another confession. I wasn't sorry. I wasn't mourning over my sin. My confession was totally meaningless. But when we each come to that realisation of just how bad we are – when we eventually do find ourselves to be poor in spirit – our first reaction is to grieve because of it. Grief is the natural result of seeing our own sinfulness in contrast to God's holiness and then realising that in his love and mercy he died in our place and took the penalty for our unrighteousness on himself. Grief is the natural response to knowing that we deserve eternal death and separation from God, yet that same God who could terminate our very existence with a thought, truly loves us and wants to be reconciled with us. The Christian has to be of a different mind from the World. The world does everything it can to excuse its sins, to make light of them, to ignore them, and to redefine them as virtuous. You might be able to bottle up your feelings of guilt and temporarily forget them if you do those things, but the guilt of your sins is still there. The Christian acknowledges that guilt openly and mourns over it. The Christian cries out with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And in the following sentence the Apostle reminds us why it is that those who mourn are comforted: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) When Jesus talks about mourning, he isn’t talking about being depressed – that’s just another manifestation of pride. He’s talking about the natural result of a face-to-face encounter with the Holy One. And he’s talking about the grief that comes from knowing that Jesus died in our place. I cried when I saw the movie The Passion of the Christ a few years ago, not because it was hard to see another man so brutally treated and killed, but because it grieved me to realise that what I saw being done to the perfectly righteous Son of God was what I deserved. He suffered so that I could be reconciled to the Father. That’s the kind of mourning that Jesus is talking about. We stand not on our own, but by God’s great mercy. If you have your Bible or Prayer Book, turn over to Psalm 130. Look at what David prays there: Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:1-3) This is the grief of a man who knows his own sin and who knows that a holy God cannot tolerate it. He knows his offence. And yet it's through being in the presence of that holy plaintiff, that David, the unrighteous defendant finds his deliverance: But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4) As a sinner, David grieved over his sins – he desired an out from his fallenness more than anything else. This is the man who wrote that more than anything else, he wanted to dwell in the Lord’s house forever so that he could be in God’s presence. He knew that his sin separated him from God. He grieved over that, but even more so he grieved in the knowledge that the God whom he had sinned against was also the one who had forgiven him and provided an out. If there's anything that a lot of us have trouble understanding as Christians, it's the fact that grace is what makes us mourn. The Law convicts us. The Law shines it's bright spotlight on all of our flaws and shortcomings. But it's grace that then melts our hearts and brings us to the point of feeling sorrow and shame for our sin. Every Sunday morning we kneel before God in prayer and confess our sins, but we don’t just throw a trite “I’m sorry” heavenward. We acknowledge with shame the sins that we’ve committed. We earnestly repent. Why? Because we are heartily sorry for all of our misdoings. In confessing our sins we also express to God our contrition and ask for mercy through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Do we just pray that or do we really mean it? Are those just words or are they the conviction of our hearts? If they're just words, if they're nothing more than the “liturgy,” if they're nothing more than “tradition,” then we can take no comfort in the absolution and comfortable words that follow them. St. John reminds us every week that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.” We're able to claim John's words when we've first humbled ourselves before God and have come to him mourning what we are and what we've done. In keeping with King David’s psalms, Richard Lenski writes, “The greatest of all comforts is the absolution pronounced on every contrite sinner.” This is the ministry of the Messiah that the Old Testament prophets described. Isaiah wrote of him that he was to comfort the broken-hearted and declare liberty to the captives. This was why the godly Simeon spent his days in the Temple waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” The consolation of Israel came bearing a cross, and on that cross we find our comfort. We who are unrighteous to the core find undeserved righteousness in him. He makes us acceptable to his Father, and in doing this he fulfils what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in their heavenly chorus over the fields of Bethlehem on the night he was born: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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. (Luke 2:10-11) But there's more to the comfort that God gives as we mourn than just saving us from the penalty of our sins. Remember that David was truly looking for a “way out” – not just from his guilt, but from the domination of sin. Part of our comfort is deliverance from the power of the sin that's in our lives now. If we are truly in the Kingdom, then the Holy Spirit is truly in us. The work of the Holy Spirit is to unite us to Jesus Christ. When Jesus rose from the grave he rose victorious over sin. Remember that we who have been buried with him have also risen with him. His victory is our victory! As long as we live here on earth, we will always struggle and fight with sin, but we shouldn't be defeated by it. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” We have victory now! And we also have the comfort of knowing that we have a future victory waiting for us too. Someday Christ will remove all sin and all its effects. St. John wrote, Beloved, now we are God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that, when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) St. Paul tells us “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). In telling us that those who mourn their sins will be comforted, Christ reminds us of the gracious reconciliation he offers. And yet being reconciled to him ourselves, we still have so much to mourn in the world around us. We need to understand the whole idea of mourning as individuals, but what about when we come together as Christ’s Body? What does this mean for us as the Church? What would the Church look like if it understood its poverty of Spirit and mourned its sins? Our tendency is to look at the world with a condemning eye. We're more than happy to walk with Jesus as we hear him pronounce judgement on the Scribes and Pharisees: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees!” When we hear his condemnation of the hypocritical behaviour of those religious leaders we cheer Jesus on. When he calls them blind guides and whitewashed sepulchres we take pride in him as if he's scored one for the team. We think, “All right, we’re gonna follow this guy all the way.” But when we see Jesus mourning the sins of his people, weeping over Jerusalem, we stop short. This isn’t what we expected. We like to read about his condemnation of the Pharisees, but we forget that he mourned for them too. We need to mourn more for the sins of those around us. I think that if we did, the Church would be doing a better job of reaching the lost in our world. I think that if we truly mourned, we'd approach the lost people of the world not just with righteous fervour, but with compassion. How often do we rail about the evils of sin, but have to deliberately stop and insert into the conversation the old “hate the sin, but love the sinner” line. It's true, we are called to hate the sin and love the sinner, but if you have to explain that in your conversation with a sinner, it's probably because you don't really love them – you’re just indignant over their sin. How self-righteous is that? One of the greatest problems the Church has is this self-righteous attitude. True evangelism is something that's awfully hard for self-righteous people to do. Self-righteous people do evangelism because they know they have an obligation. Or self-righteous people go out with the mistaken notion that proclaiming to the unsaved, “Woe to you...(insert applicable sinful behaviour here), is actually evangelism when it's not. The person who is poor in spirit and who mourns does evangelism because they want to. I think that if we truly mourned, we'd go out into the world and meet people “beggar to beggar” to share the Good News with them, instead of going out to make loud and angry tirades. The Church as a whole needs to recover what it means to mourn. We've lost it. We think that the Church is okay and that all we have to do is go out and evangelise the world. But it doesn't work that way. We need to mourn first. Our evangelistic efforts should grow out of our mourning. There have been times when Christians truly understood all this, and out of that grew a true and genuine piety. I think that the last great wave of real pietism was probably that of the Puritans. The problem is that generation after generation has tried to mimic that pietism with a false piety – a false Puritanism. I think we've seen a lot of this in the last 150 to 200 years. Christians deliberately went around acting sad and dour, not because they really were, but because they thought that was what it meant to be poor in spirit, to mourn, and to be meek. Christians often equated salvation with avoidance of “worldly” activities like drinking, smoking, dancing, going to movies, or listening to certain types of music. Eighty or ninety years ago there were a lot of Christians who treated the signing of a temperance pledge card as if the person had just professed Jesus as their Lord. The world sees through those sorts of shenanigans. People aren't stupid. They know when we're genuine and when we're fake. And so the Church has responded to that culture of false piety by doing the opposite and becoming slap-happy all the time – never mourning. Evangelism is now all about telling people how life with Jesus is one big perpetual party. Even as individual Christians we do the same thing. We think that people will only be attracted to us if we're happy all the time. We've collectively forgotten what sin is. We've got a defective view of it and a defective doctrine of it. We've also got a superficial understanding of joy. If Christians are going to be Christians and if the Church is going to be the Church we need to mourn before we find the joy of salvation. We can never find true joy without first being convicted of our sins. For Christians to really be Christians and for the Church to really be the Church, we need to be realists. We need to see sin in the light of God's purity. We need to see this all as a matter of life or death, pardon or condemnation, heaven or hell. That’s what will make the difference not just in our own lives, but in how we see and reach out to the world. Please pray with me: Almighty and everliving God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that as we mourn our sinfulness, we may also be open to your great outpouring of grace and mercy. Fill us with a gratitude for that grace and mercy, that will move us to serve you with joy and share your Good News with the world. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Directions for Dealing with Sin Respectable Sins: Sermon Three by William Klock Last week Alexandra got a nice big whiteboard for her birthday, and with it she also got an easel for it to sit on. Veronica came into the room the next day as I was trying to get both of them setup. One of the problems was that this is no ordinary three-legged easel – it’s collapsible and adjustable. And so it’s got all sorts of clamps on it and legs and arms that extended up and down and out. I was having trouble making heads or tails out of it all. My dad had setup a similar one for my niece not long before and sort of told me how it worked, but once I had it in my hands his instructions just didn’t add up. And then Veronica came into the room as I was fighting with it and trying to figure it all out – and not having much success – and, just like a wife and sounding utterly perplexed, she just asked, “Did you read the instructions?” Well, in my defence, I didn’t know there were instructions – and at least initially, it seemed like something easy enough not to need instructions anyway! You know how kids are when they open a present – everything goes everywhere and everything but the actual toy gets shoved aside. So we managed to locate the instructions and setup the easel without much more ado. Now there is a point to my story. You’ll remember that in the first sermon in this series we looked at what Holy Scripture tells us about the fact that we are sinners, and last week we looked at the good news of the Gospel for us sinners. And last week we looked specifically at how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, as Augustus Toplady put it, the “double cure.” The Gospel doesn’t just save us from the penalty of our sins, it also saves us from sin’s power. And I think that’s the really good news for those of us who have been redeemed by putting our faith in Christ: sin no longer has dominion over us. But last week we talked in general terms. And I know how frustrating it is to hear in general terms that sin no longer has dominion over me and that Jesus has conquered sin and death, because for a lot of years that’s all I ever heard. And as I continued to struggle in my fight with sin I just got frustrated – “If I’m no longer under sin’s power, why am I still struggling with it? Where’s the Gospel’s power?” I’d ask. I felt a little like I did with the easel. I could see the picture on the box showing me what it was supposed to look like, but I was having trouble getting there. When we hear generalities about overcoming sin, we see a picture of what we ought to be like. The problem lies in getting there. We need the instructions. Without them we’re left to struggle on our own. We may or may not figure it out. And, of course, there’s an awful lot of bad advice out there that muddles things up. So tonight I want to look at THE instruction manual that God’s given us, and in doing that I want to give you seven directions for dealing with sin as a Christian. First, we need always to address our sin in the context of the Gospel. What happens a lot of the time is that God shows us a sinful pattern in Directions for Dealing with Sin 1. Apply the Gospel 2. Depend on the Holy Spirit 3. Recognise your responsibility 4. Identify specific sins and sinful patterns 5. Memorise and apply appropriate Scriptures 6. Cultivate the practice of prayer 7. Involve one or a few other believers with you our life that we need to deal with, but as soon as we start working on overcoming it, we forget the Gospel message. We forget that God has already forgiven that sin through Jesus’ death. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “[God has] forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13b-14). God hasn’t just forgiven our sins – sort of balancing our righteousness account to zero – he’s also credited Christ’s perfect righteousness to our account. Remember that Jesus was perfect in everything when he was here on earth. Do you struggle with unrighteous anger? Jesus never sinned in his anger. Do you struggle with anxiety? Jesus always trusted perfectly in God’s provision. Do you struggle with gossip or unkind speech? Jesus never once sinned in opening his mouth. For his entire three decades here, Jesus was always perfectly obedient to his Father, even obedient to the point of death as he died for our sins. Because of that, his righteousness has been credited to us. So in our fight with sin, we need to remember first and foremost that God, through Jesus Christ, has already forgiven our sins and that he accepts us as already being righteous because of the sinless life and death of Jesus Christ. We need to remember this for two reason: first, keeping this in mind will keep us from turning our fight with sin into something through which we try to earn God’s favour – we already have his favour through Jesus. And second, knowing what God has done for us, and knowing we already have his favour, this should motivate us to serve God out of joy and gratitude instead of slavish duty. Second, we need to learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we fight to overcome the sin in our lives. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Just as we tend to forget the Gospel message, we also tend to fall back into our old “fleshly” ways in this respect too. We see sin in our lives and we try to overcome it by sheer willpower – but that’s only going to work for a limited amount of time. Trying to overcome sin without relying on the power of the Spirit is like trying to go someplace in your car with an empty gas tank. You might be able to push the car for a little while, but you’ll never make it to your destination. From the moment of our conversion, God pours his Spirit into us and gives us everything we need to be holy people. And this is where there’s been a lot of bad advice out there. The whole idea that started with the Methodist revivals in the 18th Century, that became the “Holiness” Movement in the 19th, and gave rise to the Pentecostal movement in the last century, is all based on the idea that God doesn’t fill you with his Spirit until you’ve earned it by overcoming sin – that because he is holy, the Spirit can’t fill you until you’ve emptied yourself of sin. There are two giant problems with that: First, we can never overcome sin without first having already been filled with the Spirit, and second, we can never be holy enough on our own to merit anything from God – our righteousness – our holiness – is not our own, it’s Christ’s! The New Testament assures us over and over and over that from the moment of our conversion, Christ has given each of us the fullest measure of his Spirit completely regardless of our merit and that he’s given us that Spirit to enable us to follow him. We need daily to cultivate an attitude of continual dependence on the Holy Spirit. Third. Even though we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, we also need to realise that we have a responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the sin in our lives. Think of it this way: Going back to the car imagery. The car won’t get you to your destination if it doesn’t have any gas in it, but by the same token, if you don’t get in the car, turn on the ignition, put it in gear, and step on the accelerator, you’re still not going to get to your destination. Imagine someone sitting in their car, with the ignition off, going absolutely nowhere, but oh-so-proud of himself because, “Woohoo! Yeah! I’ve got a full tank of gas!” It sounds silly and stupid, but think about it. How often do we as Christian do the same thing spiritually. We’re full of joy because we have the Spirit. We thank God because we have the Spirit. We tell people we have the Spirit. But we live our lives as if we don’t have him at all. Number Three: You have the Spirit. Live accordingly! Fourth. We need to regularly examine ourselves and identify sin in our lives, big and small. The big ones are usually pretty easy to identify, although not always easy to overcome. But often we don’t even realise the “small” ones are there. As I said last week, as we live in the Spirit, God applies his divine microscope to our lives. He has us to look into the eyepiece and as we look he shows us our sins so that we can deal with them. The thing is that as we deal with sin and as we grow closer with him in our walk, he continually increases the power of the lens. Just as you think you’ve dealt with everything, he ups the power and focuses in on new sins you didn’t even know were there. My hope and prayer is that this series of sermons on our so-called “respectable” sins will help us all to identify some of the sins we need to deal with. Fifth. We need to apply Scripture to our sins. This really goes for every aspect of the Christian life. David wrote in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” This is some of the best advice in the entire Bible, yet it seems to be the least followed. People tell me that they don’t feel like they know God. They tell me that they don’t know what his will is for their lives. They tell me that they’re not always sure how they should deal with situations that come up in life. And more often than not, these are the same people who tell me they don’t regularly read and study their Bible. The bottom line is that you can never know God if you haven’t read his Holy Word and read what he tells us about himself. You can’t know God’s will if you haven’t read and studied the very book in which he tells us his will. And you can’t very well live the Christian life if you haven’t read the divinely given instruction manual! People tell me they don’t have time to study the Bible. The fact is, you don’t have time not to! We need to read and study it on a regular and hopefully daily basis to get a general idea of what Holy Scripture tells us. But we also need to memorise it. It’s not always possible to get out your concordance and lookup a topic when life throws something at you or when temptation comes. You need to have as much Scripture as you can stored away. You all remember “Y2K.” People were afraid of what might happen when the clock rolled over to January 1, 2000, because too many computer systems weren’t properly programmed to deal with the date. Unless they were upgraded, all the computers, we were told (except Macintosh!) would suddenly think it was 1900 and the entire world would virtually come to an end. And in the end it was a hiccough that we barely noticed. But there were lots of people who were really panicked by it. I knew a guy that bought some remote property in northern Idaho, built a fence around it, cashed in his bank account in exchange for Gold Eagles and silver dimes, armed himself to the teeth and stored up a five year supply of food and ammunition. As crazy as that might sound – and at the time it really didn’t sound that crazy. That’s what it means to store up. We need to store up God’s word in our heart, so that when the hard spiritual times come, it’s there for us to draw on. But memorising a lot of Bible verses isn’t the end goal. There’s a reason for it. We need to then apply those verses to our lives. Part of what the Holy Spirit does is to bring that Scripture to mind so that you can apply it in specific situations. If you struggle with anger, store away Scriptures that deal with anger and how to deal with it righteously. If you struggle with lust, store away Scriptures that talk about how to overcome lust. You get the idea. Sixth. As important as Scripture is in overcoming sin, we also need to confront it prayerfully. It’s through prayer that we consciously acknowledge our need of the Holy Spirit, and it’s through prayer that we acknowledge the persistent presence of sin and sinful patterns in our lives. This is why I love the Prayer Book so much, because all this is right there. The invitation to confession reminds us saying, “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father, but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart…” And in the absolution the priest declares, “Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy…” We need to come before God daily, asking him to reveal our sins to us, and then asking him for the grace and power to overcome them. In Romans 12, St. Paul appeals us to offer ourselves to God has living sacrifices. That means offering our lives up to him. It means daily climbing onto his altar. The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to climb back off the altar. Consciously come to God every morning and prayerfully place yourself on his altar, and ask him to keep you there with his loving hands. But don’t leave it there – be prayerful throughout the day too. With the help of the Spirit, cultivate a life in which you respond to situations, especially the ones that tempt you to sin, with prayer. Seventh and last. We need to be accountable. There are a lot of reasons why God never calls us to be loner Christians and this is one of them. As we walk with God we need to do so holding the hands of our brothers and sisters. We need to establish relationships with each other in which we can not only exhort and encourage one another, but in which we can also be open and honest about our struggles with sin – even specific sins. One of the greatest barriers to true holiness often comes as a result of not having this openness. If we don’t know about each other’s struggles with sin, we can’t pray for each other and give the support we need. If we aren’t open about our sin, and I think this is maybe even more dangerous, we create a church culture in which everyone looks at everyone else and thinks, “Wow, I bet those other people don’t struggle with what I’m struggling with.” It’s an easy way to inadvertently cultivate a holier-than-thou group mentality in which those who do struggle with sin are afraid to bring it up for fear of being looked down up. It inadvertently establishes a culture in which some people are made out to be “super” Christians and others somehow feel like they’re lacking something, when in fact, we’re all in the same boat, all sruggling with sin. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to life him up!” (Eccles 4:9-10). This is part of why God had put us in fellowship with one another – so that we can provide mutual support as we follow Christ. And that’s what it’s all about: following Christ. He’s redeemed us by the shedding of his precious blood and that should move us to follow him, conforming to his image and doing those things that please him, out of gratitude for what he has done. We were his enemies, yet he loved us so much that he was willing to die the death that we deserved so that we could be reconciled with the Father. We just need to remember that we don’t do it on our own, he’s given us his Word, he’s opened up for a us a clear and direct channel to the Father as we pray, he’s given us his Spirit to empower us, and he’s placed us in fellowship with other believers, who are here to give us support and to pick us up when we fall. I want to close with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13). Please pray with me: Gracious Father, we acknowledge that it is through your Son, Jesus Christ, that we come to you. We thank you that you have applied his perfect righteousness to us. Give us the grace to offer ourselves to you each day, as living sacrifices, and remind us that you are there beside us with your loving hands to keep us from falling off your altar. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.