Bible Text: Matthew 5:3 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Blessed are the Poor in Spirit St. Matthew 5:3 by William Klock I want to start this morning by jumping straight into our text and reading the first part of the Sermon on the Mount – the part that we know as “The Beatitudes.” If you have your Bibles with you, open them to the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel and follow along with me: Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-10) These are some of the most familiar words that Jesus ever spoke. Even the non-Christian sees that there's something important here, even if he doesn't really understand it all. When Jesus tells us, “Blessed is so and so...” and “Blessed is such and such...” even the ears of the natural man, still living in his fallen state perk up. Even if we were only to consider Jesus as great teacher or spiritual leader of the past and not the Son of God, there's something here that catches our attention. On the most basic level, to be blessed is to by happy – and that is, after all, what we all want. And so when Jesus says that this is the way to be blessed, or to be happy, even the natural and fallen man or woman gives him their attention. But what does Jesus mean when he uses the word “blessed”? A lot of modern translations use the English word “happy” to translate the Greek word used by St. Matthew – and happy does carry across some of what it means, but it's really too shallow of an idea. The problem is that “happy” is a subjective state. Remember that Jesus is talking to his disciples here – to people who have heard his message and taken it to heart. He's not describing what they might feellike. What he's doing is making an objective judgement about them – about the state that they're in and about their standing before God. When he calls someone “blessed” he’s not talking about what they might think of themselves; he's describing what God thinks of them, and on account of that, what they truly are. And in the end that’s what really matters: not what we think of our selves, but what we actually are in God’s eyes. This wasn't an idea that was new with Jesus. He's preaching here and as he preaches about being blessed, what he's really doing is expounding on an Old Testament concept that every Jewish person would have already understood. Look at Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2) Whether or not Jesus might have actually quoted a verse like Psalm 1:1 to the people gathered to hear him, when he started with those words “Blessed are...” everyone's mind would have immediately remembered those Old Testament passages like Psalm 1:1. The whole idea of “blessing” was at the heart of the Jewish identity. Going back to the time of the Patriarchs and to the Exodus, over and over God had called his people into a covenant with himself. His promise was that if they followed him, he would bless them, and that if they turned their backs on him, he would curse them. His original promise to Abraham started as a call to follow him and grew into a pledge to bless him, to make him a blessing to others, to bless those who blessed him, and that through him and his children the whole world would be blessed. At Mt. Sinai, after he had rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt, God repeated his promise and his covenant, this time to the entire nation that had descended from Abraham. In Deuteronomy 28 we have his promise to bless them in their obedience (28:1-14) and then his promise to curse them in their disobedience (28:15-68). What he was telling them was “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The whole point of his covenant was to restore them to the fellowship with him that had been lost since Adam and Eve's first sin. And so when Jesus says, “Blessed are...” the people there on that day two-thousand years ago didn't just think of being blessed as being happy; they understood that Jesus was talking about fellowship with God and covenant grace. The problem was that the Jews had forgotten what it meant to be God's covenant people. They were taking a mechanistic view of the Law – obeying the letter, but not the spirit of it. They were following God in externals, but not in internals. People were looking for a Messiah who would usher in God's Kingdom by rebelling against the Romans and throwing them out, re-establishing the old glory days of David and Solomon. And now Jesus comes and says, “Bless are...” And everyone listens, because everyone wants that blessedness. Jesus begins with the Old Testament idea that they all knew, but then he crushes all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about what it means to be blessed and how we become blessed. Even Jesus' closest disciples didn't get his message at first. Jesus' message can be just as difficult for us today, because even as modern people – even as modern Christians – we still look to be blessed or to find happiness in the wrong places just as so many of the ancient Jews did. When Jesus says, “Blesses are the poor in spirit” or “Blessed are those who mourn,” we want to say, “Wait a minute, Jesus, those people by definition aren’t what we think of as blessed or happy?” J.B. Philips described our worldly idea of how to be happy this way: Happy are the pushers, for they get on in the world. Happy are the hard-boiled, for they never let life hurt them. Happy are they who complain, for they get their own way in the end. Happy are the blasé, for they never worry over their sins. Happy are the slave drivers, for they get results. Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world, for they know their way around. Happy are the troublemakers, for they make people take notice of them. In total contrast, Jesus tells us that the way to be happy or blessed is to remember our sins, to mourn, to be meek, and all those things that go contrary to our nature. It's as if Jesus sneaked into the display window of life and changed all the price tags. Everything's the opposite of what we think it should be. But that's part of the key to God's Kingdom. It's telling that Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes with the Kingdom. He begins with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” and he ends with “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus reminds us that all of this is a Kingdom mindset. The Christian is different from the non-Christian because his citizenship is in a different kingdom and because he follows and lives under a different constitution. The Kingdom of the World tells us that our sins aren't really that bad and it tells us that we're really pretty good. The World tells us that we can be happy and content by either ignoring and squashing the guilt we incur for our sins or by trying to make up for them by doing good. But in the Kingdom of God the first thing you have to do in order to be blessed and happy is to remember your sins and mourn for them. We have to acknowledge that our sins are far worse than we're inclined to think of them, and that because of that we can never make up for them with good works. The man or woman entering the Kingdom of God says with the Psalmist: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2) The Beatitudes describe a Kingdom People. We need to understand that the Beatitudes are for Christians. These are the norms for Christ’s Kingdom. So if you’re a Christian, that raises the question: What do you really desire? If you went home this afternoon and made a list of the thing you really want for yourself how would it compare to these eight characteristics on Jesus' list? This is an important questions, because what Jesus is telling us here is that the only life that he blesses is the one that's characterised by these values. And not just one or two – all of them. Each one of these Beatitudes that we'll be studying is tied to all the others. When it comes to gifts and talents, God has made us a diverse people, but when it comes to our character, all eight of these Beatitudes apply to each of us. This is the character that is blessed. This is the lifestyle produced by God’s grace within us. And so when you wonder why your life isn’t characterised by the Beatitudes, it’s probably because you’re not living in God’s grace. We're like a bottle with a cork in the top bobbing around in the water. God's grace is all around us, but we aren't letting it in. We’re still trying to meet God’s standard on our own. But that’s not grace. We need to pull the cork out – then and only then can the grace get inside. Then God's grace won't just surround us, but it will fill us and the more we're filled the more we'll sink into that saving and sustaining grace and be overcome by it. Lets look more closely at the character Jesus describes. The first three Beatitudes focus on who we are before God – it's the natural place to start since the whole idea here is how we live in God's Kingdom. Jesus begins: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If we have the right understanding of the nature of the Sermon on the Mount to start with, it makes perfect sense that Jesus starts here. He's not talking about being materially poor. He's not talking about having a bad self-image or anything like that. Again, the Jewish people hearing him say this would have immediately understood what he was talking about. “Poor” in Israel was almost a technical term with theological implications. When Jesus talked about being poor, his words would have immediately brought to mind the words of the Psalmist: This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.(Psalm 34:6) or As for me, I am poor and needy; but the Lord takes thought for me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God! (Psalm 40:17) To be poor in Old Testament terms is to be weak and helpless, to be dispossessed, and to be unable to defend or take care of yourself. But more than that, the poor are those who know their own need. The Psalmist also says: Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds. (Psalm 69:32-33) The poor know they're poor. They know that that they're bankrupt, and because they know their own poverty they trust in God as their only hope. They're driven to him because they know they have no hope in themselves or anyone else. But Jesus isn't talking about just being materially poor. He's talking about being poor in spirit. In some cases it may be easier for a poor person to be poor in spirit too, because their material situation helps drive them to God, but the two don't necessarily go together. It may be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but it can be just as hard for the poor. We all know people who are materially poor and yet trust only in themselves, who are full of pride, and whose only care is for the money or things that will lift them out of their poverty. To be poor in spirit isn't the opposite of being rich, it's the opposite of being rich in pride. The person who is poor in spirit is the person who knows his sins and knows that he can do nothing but cry out to God for mercy. Jesus illustrated what it means to be poor in spirit when he told the story of the Prodigal Son – the young man who demanded his inheritance so that he could go off to a foreign city and live it up, but who ended up penniless and feeding pigs so that the farmer would at least let him sleep with the pigs at night in a warm place. When he hit rock bottom he realised that the only place he could go was back to his father, but he also knew that he could only go back to beg for mercy – he could never go back and demand his rights as a son, because he had proven himself unworthy of that sonship. Augustus Toplady described what it means to be poor in spirit in his well-known poem: Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die. In the idea of being poor in spirit we see the paradox of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' Sermon is only for those who know that they can never live by it. Later in this same chapter Jesus tells us, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then he tells us, “you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The only way to do the Sermon on the Mount is to first understand that we can't meet its standard and that the only way we can be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees and to be perfect as our Father is perfect, is to make Jesus' perfect righteousness our own. I like to think of poverty of spirit as being an empty vessel. Like that bottle in the water, we need to pull out the cork and let it be filled by God. In our natural state we're full of ourselves. I think of someone like St. Augustine, who was a man of the world. He was a student of the great philosophies as he tried to figure everything out, but he also tried to find satisfaction in all the things the world points to for success and happiness. He was a Fourth Century party animal, but when God reached out to him he emptied himself and was filled by God's grace. Martin Luther was a totally different sort of person, but he was full of himself too. He became a monk in his pursuit to please God, and through his life as a monk and as a young priest he spent his days trying to make up for the sins he was so ashamed of. He understood the holiness and justice of God, but he was convinced that he could earn God's approval through his good works. As humble a show as he put on, at it's core was the fact that he was rich in pride – he was full of himself – until the day he finally realised that he couldn't earn God's grace. Then he emptied himself and God filled him back up. I think that Luther especially, serves as a reminder of what every true saint has experienced: that the only way to find ourselves poor in spirit is through a direct confrontation with the holy, just, and living God. We can't do it on our own. We can't force ourselves to be poor in spirit. Our tendency is to compare ourselves with other people, instead of to Jesus and instead of to the pure holiness of God. And if we're comparing ourselves to other people, it's always easy to find someone less holy than we are. We need to look at Christ. We need to be overcome by his example of holiness and say, like Isaiah did, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips... for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” C.S. Lewis described our problem when he wrote: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small dirty object. It is better to forget yourself altogether.” If you feel anything in the presence of God other than true poverty of spirit, it means that you've never truly faced God and been in his presence. There's a danger here for Christians. Even when we don't intend to become prideful over our own religious or spiritual achievements, it's our natural tendency to do so. I don't think there's any pride more deadly than pride that's rooted in our religion. It's easy to be proud of our knowledge – how many people do you know who are Christians, but lord their theological book-learning over everyone they know. It's easy to be proud in our external piety – how many people do you know who have to tell everyone they know what their prayer or devotional life is like. For some Anglicans it may take the form of a showy display of excessive manual acts in worship, but depending on your churchmanship, it could just as easily be taking pride in the simplicity of your worship. It's easy to be proud in our defence of orthodoxy – and I think this is probably the place where we find the most danger. We have preserved and defended God's truth, but have we defended it so that we can have a superior attitude and treat everyone else uncharitably? Pride that's based on real virtue has the greatest potential for self-deception. And so we have to be careful. What's the point of great learning, or great piety, or theological orthodoxy if we end up forgetting this most basic point because of it! What's the point of right theology, if it doesn't point us to righteous living. What's the point of preserving the Gospel, if we ourselves forget to live it. What's the point of proclaiming that salvation is by grace and faith alone, if we end up proud that we've done so and think that in doing so we've somehow merited God's favour! Jesus condemned the Church at Laodicea because they had ceased to be poor in spirit. In Revelation we read: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:17) Jesus reminds us at the beginning of his great Sermon that we need to start with the understanding of where we truly stand before God. The Kingdom is for the poor, not the rich; it's for the feeble, not the mighty; it's for the children humble enough to accept it, not to the boasting soldier who takes it by force. Jesus ruled out the Pharisees who thought that they were spiritually rich and full of merit. He ruled out the Zealots who thought that they could establish God's Kingdom by force and the sword. Jesus ruled out the “religious” people of the day and turned instead to the “publicans and sinners” – to the rejects who knew that they were unworthy – to those who knew that all they could do was cry for mercy. Charles Spurgeon said that “The way to rise in the Kingdom is to sink ourselves.” We need to see that same kind of helplessness in ourselves too – because we're just as unworthy and just as helpless as those “publicans and sinners.” And so we need to ask ourselves if we're truly poor in spirit. We need to look at ourselves and ask how we really feel about ourselves and how we approach God. What do we say? What do we do? What things do we pray about when we enter God's presence? Do we come before him humbly, acknowledging his holiness and thanking him for his mercy and grace, or do we come before him with nothing more than “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” And once we've examined ourselves, we need to turn to God's Word. We need to learn his Law. We need to see his character as Scripture shows it to us. And then we need to contemplate standing in his presence. Calvin tells us, “He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.” Only God's Law and the example of Jesus Christ can reduce us to that nothingness. Only they can teach us that we can never stand in God's presence without the righteousness of another. But in that reduction to nothingness we find not only our salvation, but also our hope. Remember that Moses began his ministry standing before the burning bush with his shoes off and protesting that he was incapable of doing God's work on his own, yet once he had emptied himself, he was filled with the Spirit and led God's people out of Egypt. Remember that it was the humble Gideon who insisted that unless the Lord were to go with him, he'd rather stay hidden in his winepress threshing grain, but in humbling himself before God he made himself useful. He was filled with the Spirit too and with God's help led his people to victory. We need to be like Moses and Gideon. We need to empty ourselves and humbly submit ourselves to God's sovereignty, falling on his mercy, for truly this is the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Please pray with me: Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly life. Hold him always before us as your holy standard. But, we ask you, remind us always that his is a standard to which we can never attain. Let us be humbly driven to receive his righteousness as our own. Empty us, Father, we ask you, that being empty ourselves, you may fill us back up – fill us with your grace and make us into vessels worthy of your service. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Good News Respectable Sins: Sermon Two by William Klock I’m wondering if any of you have seen the recent movie, Amazing Grace, about the life of William Wilberforce. If you’ve seen it, good for you. If you haven’t, you really should. The movie tells the story of Wilberforce’s efforts to pass legislation in Parliament to ban the slave trade. Wilberforce’s priest should be a familiar name: John Newton. Among other things, he’s famous for penning the words of the favourite hymn, Amazing Grace. And there’s a spectacular scene in the movie, where the aged Newton proclaims to Wilberforce, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” Those words come from a man who made his living in the slave trade as a ship captain, taking slaves captured in Africa to trading ports in the Americas. It was only after health problems took him out of that career, that he began to study theology and later became a priest. In a lot of ways Newton is not very different from St. Paul. We don’t know all the specific things Paul engaged in to persecute the Church, but we do know that he was a zealous persecutor of Christians. Acts 7 gives the account of his standing by to hold the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first martyr, and in Chapter 9 we read some more about his hunting down Christians so they could be brought before the Jewish authorities. And looking back on his pre-conversion days, St. Paul wrote to Timothy describing himself as “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:13). But only two verses later he also says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1:15). St. Paul and John Newton clearly saw the sin in their lives. In fact, the older they got, the more both of them came to see the seriousness and heinousness of their sins. I would think that most or not all of us here have been in church services where people shared their stories of coming to Christ. On two occasions, a long time ago, I had to give my testimony before the congregation in order to join a church. And in both cases, the people who stood up before me to share what had happened to them, told dramatic stories of redemption – how Christ had saved them from a life of drugs, crime, and violence. Those were the sorts of stories that make you realise that Jesus really does go after and save sinners. By comparison my story is pretty boring. And that’s the case for many of us. We’ve never committed what we think of as the “big” sins. We’ve never lived lives of crime. But the fact is that Jesus saved each of us just as much as he did the mafia hitman or the drug dealer. You don’t have to commit the “big” sins to be just as much a sinner. You’ll remember that last time I made the point that to transgress God’s Law in event the smallest part is to be guilty of the whole thing. Gossip, resentment, worldliness, anxiety, or even making an idol of your favourite sports team are all sins for which Christ is the only cure. The problem with our more subtle sins is that we don’t notice them. Sometimes they even become acceptable. It’s relatively easy for the murderer to give up murdering when he comes to Christ, but it’s not so easy to give up our “small” and “respectable” sins. Each of us should be saying with John Newton: “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Saviour.” You see, it’s easy to look at the troubled kid into drugs that drops into the Bridge, the person at the AIDS clinic, or one of our politicians and think, “Boy they sure need the Gospel.” But the fact is that each of us, you and I both, need the Gospel just as much as they do. Notice that both St. Paul and John Newton talked about themselves as sinners in the present tense. In fact, if you look at Paul’s epistles he saw himself in a worse light as time went on, first writing to the Corinthians and describing himself as “the very least of all the apostles,” then five years later writing to the Ephesians and saying that he was “the very least of all the saints,” and finally a few more years later to Timothy describing himself as “the foremost of sinners.” Both of these godly examples, as the years went by and as they grew more and more in their Christ-like character, also came more and more to see that they were still sinners. The more we mature in our faith, the more the Spirit will magnify the existing sins in our lives. The remedy is in the Gospel itself – in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through him we are saved not only from the penalty of our sins, but also from the dominion that sin once had in our lives. We sang about this two-fold aspect of sin just a few minutes ago in the hymn Rock of Ages: Let the water and the blood, From the riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power. The Gospel is for sinners. We’ve got the first part of the cure down pretty well – Christ has paid the penalty for us and removed our guilt – but the second part – saving us from sin’s power – isn’t always as easy. But that’s exactly what the Gospel does for us. It reminds us first and foremost that we are sinners. It prepares our hearts for the bad news, but it also gives us the good news. It prepares us to face up to our sin, because the Gospel reminds us that God has dealt with our guilt. It assures us that our sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven. St. Paul gives us assurance when he writes: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sons are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8) Last week we read Isaiah’s description of what was to him to be the future work of the Messiah: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6) The key is for us to understand, as we saw last time, just how much our sin offends against he holiness and justice of God. We need to understand just what it was that Christ did for us in dying in our place. And if we understand the magnitude of what God has done so that we can be reconciled to him, we can have confidence that God is for us. He’s no longer our enemy. And in fact, knowing that we were his enemies and that even though we despised him, he chose to redeem us, the Gospel message should motivate us to serve him out of gratitude. There’s a story of a young woman who was sent to assassinate Elizabeth I. She knew that her only chance of getting close to the queen was while she was asleep. And so she managed to get into the palace, into the queen’s quarters, and hid in a wardrobe with a knife. What she didn’t know was that the queen’s guards searched those quarters ever evening. When they found the assassin they dragged her before the queen, who had every right to have her put to death. The young woman pleaded with the queen for her life, and the queen chose to spare her. The story goes that out of gratitude, that young woman became one of the queen’s most loyal, devoted, and trusted servants. She deserved death, but because she had been spared she was motivated to faithful service out of gratitude. God has done the same for us, and we ought to respond the same way. We know our duty, but duty without desire only makes for drudgery. We need to daily preach the Gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of what God has done for us and motivating ourselves to serve him out of gratitude. Let me put it another way: I think everyone knows just how hard earning living can be. A lot of us have taken jobs we never intended to be in, that we didn’t like, and that were sheer drudgery. Many of us could work through our entire career and never earn a million dollars, no matter how hard we work and no matter how many hours we put in. But imagine that your boss, on your first day at a job you didn’t want to do, simply handed you a million dollars. I guarantee you’d jump into your work and you’d do it with a smile on your face. That’s what God’s service is like. We can never work hard enough to earn his favour. Imagine being given the job of cleaning all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station – alone – and with your tongue. Trying to earn God’s favour is even worse and more impossible than that! But the good news is that we don’t have to earn God’s favour. Jesus already did that for us. This is why we need to have an understanding of how bad our sin is and how much it offends God – if we understand that, our gratitude will be all the greater. And instead of the drudgery of trying to earn Gods favour, we’ll spend out lives serving him joyfully out of gratitude for what he’s done! In Romans 6 St. Paul tells us twice that we have died with Christ. Because of our union with our Saviour, not only has our guilt been forgiven, but sin’s rule in our lives has been broken. This is true for every believer and it’s accomplished in full from the moment of our redemption, when God delivered each of us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Son (Col. 1:13). If we’re in Christ, we’re dead to sin. It’s done and it’s done forever. We can’t add to or subtract from it. But at the same time, St. Paul also urges us to “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Rom. 6:12). The reality we experience daily is that sin is still at work in us. So why is that if we’re dead to sin? The problem is that while Christ’s work has dethroned sin in our lives – we’ve put Jesus on the throne – sin still does everything it can to shove Jesus off and put itself back on. It’ll never happen, but that doesn’t stop sin from trying! Paul describes it as spiritual warfare: The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:17) We struggle daily, even sometimes so much that we wonder if the Gospel really does break sin’s dominion. I think this is especially true when we look at the more respectable sins in our lives. They can be so subtle and so tenacious that we have to battle them daily – maybe even hourly. We think we’ve turned the corner and are winning the tide, and then a few days later we stumble and fall back into that sin. I know there are times I’ve wanted to ask Paul, “Okay, so if sin no longer has dominion, why am I struggling to progress in this battle against sin? What’s your answer, Paul?” Well, St. Paul does have an answer in Galatians 5:16: “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The key is to “walk by the Spirit.” That means we need to do two things. First, we need to continually expose our minds to and seek to obey the Spirit’s moral will for us as he has revealed it in Holy Scripture. And second, we need to live totally dependent on him through prayer, continually crying out to him for his power to enable us to obey his will. What this leads us to is the understanding that we are both dependent on the Spirit and at the same time responsible to him. He have an obligation before God to obey his Word and to put to death the sins in our lives. But at the same time, we don’t have the ability within ourselves to fulfil that obligation. We’re totally dependent on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why God fills us with his Spirit at the moment that we receive the Gospel message and have faith in Jesus Christ. It’s this infilling of the Spirit that brings the Gospel’s power into our lives. Without it we’d be merely forgiven, but still under the dominion of sin. God promised his Spirit, his Helper, his Comforter, the One Who Comes Alongside to make us more than conquerors. That’s part of the Gospel promise and it’s comes immediately and freely when we make Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. That Spirit does three things for us as he fills us and helps us to conform to the image of Christ. First, he convicts us of sin. Our lives are full of it, but it takes the bright searchlight of the Spirit for us to see it sometimes, even when it’s obvious and right in front of us. Sometimes the Spirit works through his inspired written Word. Paul wrote to Timothy that the Scriptures are good for reproof and for correction. He also works through our conscience, but that means that first our conscience must be informed by that same inspired Word. This is why it’s so important that we be a people that study the Bible. If you feel like you don’t know God, the Bible is the first place to go. It’s his book and his chosen means to tell us about himself. But it’s also just as true that if you want to know right and wrong, you need to be daily in his Word. Your conscience is only as good as what you put into it. If you steep it in the philosophy of the world long enough, you’ll stifle the Spirit’s voice there, but steep it in Scripture and the Spirit will use it to speak God’s truth to you. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us our sins by putting us in circumstances that single them out for us and that sometimes show us the whole sinful pattern of behaviour that fosters them. The second thing the Spirit does is enable and empower us to deal with our sin. St. Paul exhorted the Romans: “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.” And he wrote to the Philippians saying, “work out your own salvation…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). He’s not calling us to work on our own. He’s calling us to work, confident in the knowledge that God is already at work in us. Maybe most importantly, St. Paul gives us these reassuring words in Philippians: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). And finally, the Spirit works in us through our circumstances. I think this is especially apparent when we understand that God is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens by chance. And so the next time you’re in a difficult situation, consider that it may be the Spirit’s work, giving you the chance to exercise some spiritual muscle. Just like our physical muscles, our spiritual muscles atrophy if they aren’t used. And so the Spirit puts us in places that give us the chance to overcome evil by his power. You know the old saying, “Never ask God for patience.” It’s funny, because we know how in granting us patience, God usually teaches it to us rather than instantly bestowing it on us – he puts us in circumstances that teach us how to exercise this particular fruit of the Spirit. But the same is true with overcoming many sins. If we struggle with anger, the Spirit may just repeatedly put you in situations that test you and expose the sinful pattern that leads to that kind of anger. St. James reminds us that God never tempts us to sin, but it doesn’t mean he won’t work with us to overcome sin through that temptation. Romans 8:28 is a familiar passage that gives us comfort in difficult circumstances: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But often we fail to read on. That “good” that St. Paul writes about is defined in the next verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The good that God is working for in us is our own conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. So the next time you find yourself in a circumstance where you’re tempted to sin – especially when the same circumstance keeps coming up repeatedly and often – stop and think about how the Spirit may be helping you to deal with that specific sin. So, to sum up, the Spirit does three things for us: he works in us to convict us of sin, he works in us to enable us to put those sins to death, and he works through circumstances to exercise us in the activity of dealing with sin. The Spirit works in us giving us the power to overcome sin, but that’s just it – he works with us. We have an obligation to work with him. We’re not called to just sit back and let God sanctify us and make us holy. But lest we sin by becoming prideful in our Spirit-enabled victory over sin, we need to remember that the Spirit does more than just help us – he is the one directing our spiritual transformation. Remember the words of that hymn written by Augustus Toplady: Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power. God delivers us from both the guilt of our sin and its power. Please pray with me: Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the gift of your Son. We thank you that while we were deep in our sins – enemies of you and your Kingdom – you sent your Son to die in our place so that we could be reconciled to you. Help us to remember, Father, that Jesus is the double cure – that he not only cleanses us from sin’s guilt, but that he also removes its power that we may serve you in joyful gratitude. In his cleansing name we pray. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5-7 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount The Sermon on the Mount: An Introduction St. Matthew 5-7 by William Klock We’ve now had flyers around the church for a few weeks noting that today we’re starting a new series of sermons on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” So what is the Sermon on the Mount and why is it so important that we need to devote a whole series of sermons to it? The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, in chapters five through seven, coming right at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. It's probably the best-known part of his teachings. I would imagine that most, if not all of you have heard Jesus’ words, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” – they’re now the most often quoted words of Jesus in our current culture. It's a favourite quote of the Postmodernist and it comes from the Sermon on the Mount. But more than just being the best-known and most familiar part of Jesus' teaching, I think the Sermon is arguably the most important part of his teaching. And so that's why it's tragic that this most important sermon of Christ is also probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted. If we want to truly understand what Jesus was all about – and what we're supposed to be all about as Christians – it's critical that we not only know the Sermon on the Mount, but that we also understand it. When he preached on the Sermon on the Mount back in 1629, John Donne described it saying, “All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity, is in these three chapters, in this one Sermon on the Mount.” That's an overstatement, but I think Donne was right in a very real sense. You can have everything else right, but if you don't get this one thing, everything else is pretty much pointless. If you've got your Bible out, open them to Matthew 16:13. This is another familiar passage. Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13-18) “On this rock I will build my church.” Jesus was telling Peter that it was this confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God that is the rock, the foundation stone, on which the Church is built. Peter picks this up again in his own epistle later, where he writes: Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:4-6) Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and he as the “living stone,” calls us to be “like living stones” ourselves. His Sermon is the core of his teaching on the new life that he gives – in it he tells us how to be living stones – how to be like him. St. Augustine made the natural connection between Christ the Rock who is the foundation of our faith and the Sermon on the Mount as Christ's description of what the life of one with that faith should look like. I don't think it's insignificant that Jesus ends his Sermon this way (again, another familiar passage): Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25) And so as I said a bit ago, if Jesus' Sermon on the Mount describes what the life of his followers is supposed to be like, it's critical that we know it, and that we understand it. But the reason that we have to know and understand it is because we're also called to do it – to live it. Jesus' Sermon tells how to be a Christian and how to live as a Christian in a world that isn't Christian. It shows us the difference between Kingdom people and everyone else. But it doesn't show us how to be different for the sake of being different – it tells us how to be different so that we can be the “city on a hill.” If there's a “Christian Manifesto,” this is it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the “constitution” of the Kingdom. Jesus probably preached this Sermon a lot of times. Biblical critics argue that since St. Luke records a similar sermon, but puts it in a different location, then neither account is really reliable. I'd point out the obvious: if you've ever known a travelling preacher, you know that he has one sermon or one presentation that he takes with him everywhere. My preaching professor, who was from the South, used to say that every preacher has his “candy stick” – his on finely polished sermon on his favourite subject that he can preach better and with more passion than anything else. This was Jesus' “candy stick,” if you will. If this was his manifesto, it only makes sense that he would have preached it a lot of times in a lot of different places. This would also account for the differences in content and length between Matthew's and Luke's accounts. Matthew strategically records Jesus' preaching of his Sermon just after the beginning of his ministry and the calling of his disciples. Matthew says that “he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (Matthew 4:23). Matthew says, “from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He attracted a lot of attention, and so people naturally began to follow him around, waiting to see what he would say next, waiting to see what new miracle he would perform, and, I'm sure, many of them believing his message, just wanted to soak up every little bit of wisdom that he taught and wanted to bask in the glory of the Messiah. And so Matthew records Jesus' Sermon here, as the crowds gathered and Jesus went up a mountain or hill to address them. Look at Matthew 5:1-2: Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them...” The mountain wasn’t just a convenient place from which to be heard – there's something symbolic in it. Remember that Moses went up to Mt. Sinai where he was met by God and given the Law, while the people were forbidden from even approaching the holy mountain. Here God goes up the mountain and gathers the people to him while he teaches them a “New Law.” I don't like describing the Sermon on the Mount as “Law,” but we need to see the connection with Moses that Matthew makes here. This is the fulfilment of the Law that was given to Moses, and, in fact, in Jesus' Sermon we find not Law, but grace. God had spent close to a millennium-and-a-half preparing his people by means of the Law, to hear what Jesus would teach in fulfilment of it. And so here Jesus goes up the mountain, and as the crowd gathers in front of him, he sits down, taking the teaching stance of a rabbi, and begins to teach by opening his mouth – again Matthew uses a description that was used in Jewish culture to describe the deliberateness and seriousness of what Jesus was doing here. Jesus has been travelling all over Galilee, telling people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now he tells them what it mean to repent and to be a part of that kingdom.” Of course, we have to ask, what does Jesus mean when he talks about the Kingdom? By definition a “kingdom” is the territory over which a king reigns and has authority. And so when the New Testament talks about the Kingdom of God it's talking about the sovereign and gracious will of God. The Kingdom is present wherever God's will reigns. (And, I should note, St. Matthew always refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven. He was the evangelist who wrote as a Jew for a Jewish audience, and so he tended to avoid naming God – something the Jews were afraid to do.) At the same time, the Kingdom exists wherever the king is – and in the New Testament we see Jesus as the King. And so we can know that wherever Jesus is present, the Kingdom of God is also present, and that whoever makes Jesus their Lord and prays, “Thy will be done,” and means exactly that when they pray, is a part of the Kingdom. We have a tendency to get stuck on the idea of a Kingdom being something physical or something geographic. The Jews had the same problem. For a thousand years they had heard the prophecies of the Messiah who would come and usher in God's Kingdom. A lot of those people who cheered Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and waved palm branches to honour him, were waiting for a revolution that week that would overthrow the Romans and restore the glorious days of David and Solomon to Israel. Jesus did bring a revolution, but it was one that happened when he died on the cross and the veil that closed off the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two. But most of the people never realised it and today the Jewish people are still waiting for their Messiah to usher in an earthly kingdom. (We also need to be careful. There are a lot of Christians who are waiting for the same thing, all the while missing the point that the Kingdom of God is here and now in his Church!) Jesus was telling people that the Kingdom of God had come, because he himself had come; he was here in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. This is the emphasis of St. Matthew's Gospel: the person of Jesus Christ. Remember that Matthew was telling the Gospel story for the Jews. He quotes Old Testament prophecy more than any of the other Evangelists and he does so in order to show how those prophecies were fulfilled in Christ – to show that he was the promised Messiah. Matthew tells us who Jesus is, he tells us what Jesus says, and he tells us what Jesus does. If we read the Sermon on the Mount in this context – that Matthew's Gospel is all about telling us about Jesus himself – the Sermon should tell us more about Jesus. And here's where I think this all comes together. The fact that the Sermon puts a spotlight on Jesus – who he is, what he says, what he does – is important, because the Sermon on the Mount is something we can never separate from a right relationship with Jesus. This isn't just another sermon about being a do-gooder. It's not just another sermon that teaches us doctrine or Bible. I like to read old sermons by the great preachers of the past. I've never met John Chrysostom or Nicholas Ridley. I’ve never met Charles Spurgeon or George Whitfield. I don't know them. But I can read their sermons and I can understand them – I can even put their applications into practice. But Jesus' Sermon doesn't work that way. I can't do it – I can't even understand it – unless I know him. We can only live out what he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount when we have first been given the Gospel message and in response submitted ourselves to Jesus’ sovereign and gracious reign as Saviour and Lord. This is the problem with all the wrong applications of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is the foundation of the Social Gospel, but the problem with the Social Gospel is that it applies the Sermon to everyone and assumes – wrongly! – that all we have to do to make the world a better place and to bring the Kingdom of God is for everyone to live out what Jesus teaches here. But it doesn't work that way. You can't live righteously without first having Christ as your righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount isn't so much an ethical system as it is a description of character. Mechanistically living it out doesn't bring the Kingdom any more than the Pharisees mechanistically living out the letter of the Mosaic Law brought the Kingdom. The Law was meant to show our inability to live righteously on our own. The Pharisees failed to understand what the Law was all about and thought that they were actually living up to it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does show us what truly righteous living is and blows the Pharisees out of the water. He sets an even higher standard. If the Pharisees couldn't live up to it – the most “religious” and “upstanding” people of their day – how can we expect the entire world to live up to Jesus' even higher standard if they don't first know him? The Law is a schoolmaster that pointed to the Messiah through externals: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, don't covet, don't blaspheme God's name. And yet still people thought they'd achieved righteousness on their own. People thought that because they'd never murdered anyone they had fulfilled the Law, all the while never realising that holding that grudge against their neighbour and wishing he were dead was just as much a violation of the Law as if they had killed him. They may never have blasphemed God's name in a vulgar way in their speech, but they blasphemed him every day as they announced themselves to the world as a “Believer,” while always showing an ungracious spirit toward others. And then Jesus came and preached his great Sermon and shows us that even more important than externals is whether or not our heart is in the right place. Since the fall the heart of every man and every woman has been in the wrong place. The Sermon on the Mount calls for a pure righteousness that flows out of a regenerate heart, and only in Christ can we find that regeneration. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Living the Sermon on the Mount means to bow to the authority of Jesus our King, to take his yoke on our shoulders, and to live for him. It doesn't mean that we make him King. It doesn't mean that we make him Lord. He's already King and Lord. It's his Kingdom that we're entering. Either we submit to his reign – to his lordship and his sovereignty – or we don't. The entrance to his Kingdom is in our submission to him. We can never enter it if we refuse to bow before him. St. James gets at this in his epistle in the familiar passage about faith without works being dead. We can claim to be in his Kingdom, but if being in his Kingdom means submitting to his authority, we aren't really in it if we're still doing our own thing. The character described in the Sermon on the Mount is the character of a heart renewed by Christ and living it is the evidence of the faith we proclaim. When God called the Israelites out of Egypt he gave them a charge that we read in Leviticus: And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. Notice that the call God gave to his people to be different – to be holy – begins and ends with his reminder that he is their God. Their covenant with him was the foundation of their difference. They were a holy people because they belonged to him. The Law was their rule, but, as I said, it applied to externals. The Sermon on the Mount fulfils God's command to be different. Finally, in Christ we have the changed heart that desires to please him. Where the Israelites served God out of fear of punishment, Christ calls us to serve him as a loving response to his own love for us. This isn't an impossible ideal as some people have said that it is. It's not a divine guilt trip that gives a sense of hopelessness. Jesus' Sermon is a glorious vision of what God wants us to be and what he has promised we will become. The hard part of all this for us is the fact that we want the easy way out. On the one hand the Kingdom is here and it's now as much as we, the Body of Christ, find our life and regeneration in him. But it's also true that there's a “not yet” element that we're waiting for. We are not of the world, but we are still in the world. We're aliens living in a land that isn't our own. And that world constantly temps us with its own ways. It tells us that submitting ourselves to the reign of Christ will get us nowhere. Even in the Church itself, people point us to other things and other places. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that, “The trouble with much holiness teaching is that it leaves out the Sermon on the Mount, and asks us to experience sanctification.” But Jesus' Sermon is what that sanctification is all about. The Sermon on the Mount reminds us that our sanctification – our being made holy – begins and is rooted in finding our new life in him and only in him. New life isn't found in keeping the Law, it's not found in good works. New life is found when we give ourselves over to the lordship and sovereignty of Jesus. And so we have to fight the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. If our King who was perfect was tested, how much more can we expect to be tested? I don't think the battle ever gets any easier. The more we rest on Christ the harder the world, the flesh, and the devil try to draw us away from him. But I do think that the more we rest on Christ the easier it becomes to rest on him even as the battle gets more intense. As we fight we should find encouragement in Jesus' message. He reminds us that this world is not our own. But that hope and that knowledge that our home is somewhere else can't take us out of the world. The monastics of the Middle Ages tried to live holy lives by withdrawing from the world and living in their own little isolated communities of faith, away from temptation. The Sermon on the Mount doesn't call us to move into a Christian ghetto. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. Jesus tells us: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16) Jesus has put us in the world for a reason. Just as the Israelites were meant to be a light to the gentiles around them, we're meant to be a light to the people around us. The Church has come up with all sorts of programmes to evangelise the world. We have plans, we have tracts – you name it and you can find all sorts of man-made ways to share the Gospel with people. And I'm not saying they're bad or wrong. But what if we actually lived the Sermon on the Mount? The Sermon is about Christians being Christians. That's the ultimate way to evangelise the world around us – by showing them what it means to be followers of Christ – by letting them see inside the Kingdom of God. We can shout the Gospel from the rooftops. We can legislate morality and tell people how they should be living. We can share the message with words until we're blue in the face. We can be the loudest people on the planet, but if we aren't living it, no one's going to listen. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to shut up and show the Gospel to the world. It's amazing how many people will listen when we're not actually saying anything! I think the problem is that we know the Kingdom will be fully and finally consummated when Jesus returns. We know that when he comes back the Kingdom will no longer be something in our hearts, because when he comes back he'll transform the entire creation into his Kingdom and put everything and everyone under his authority. And that can make it easy to justify not really living up to his standard while we wait. We know that we'll never be perfect this side of heaven, and so we don't really try. We try to be holy only insofar as being holy doesn't really inconvenience us. But if that's what we're doing, are we truly submitting ourselves to Our Lord? The Sermon on the Mount isn't really so much about the future. It's really all about here and now. Jesus isn't asking us if we'll live the Kingdom life in the New Jerusalem. He's asking us if we'll live it now in the hope of the New Jerusalem. Jesus' Sermon isn't about living an ideal life in an ideal world. It's about living the Kingdom life in a fallen world. Let us pray: Almighty Father, you gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification. Give us the grace to follow his example that we may always serve you in purity and truth, always through the merits of your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen
Bible Text: Acts 2:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd Bill Hedges | Series: The Church Year
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Bad News Respectable Sins: Sermon One by William Klock Once upon a time there was a church, and that church was made up, like all churches are, of a bunch of people. But these people had problems. The leaders in the church turned a blind eye on gross immorality on the part of the people. They tolerated all sorts of gross sin – even some pretty serious sexual immorality. The people in this church abused the freedom they had in Christ in order to justify their engaging in worldliness and other sorts of sin. They got into disputes amongst themselves and dragged each other before the civil courts. They were proud. They were factious. When they gathered to receive the Lord’s Supper they abused the Sacrament. They took the spiritual gifts that God had given them and abused them, using them to further their own pride and ambition. And to top it off, they were grossly confused when it came to theological issues. Anyone have any ideas what church I’m describing? We could probably rattle off a lot of churches that fit this description. But as much as we might be led to think that this is a modern church, its not. What I described was the Corinthian Church of St. Paul’s day. If you want to look at a picture of a messed up church, all you have to do is look at the Apostle Paul’s letters. And yet what’s so amazing about the whole situation is that Paul didn’t write his letters to Corinth and start out by addressing these people as if they were the worst of sinners. No. In fact he does just the opposite. In 2 Corinthians he starts his letter by addressing it to the Church of God in Corinth and all the saints in Achaea, and he addresses his first letter to them calling them “those who are called to be saints.” So at first look we might be taken aback. When we think of the word “saint,” we think of someone who wrote one of the Gospels, or a New Testament Epistle. We might think of some of the old folks we know that are mature in the faith. But when we think of every-day, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christians who struggle with their faith, who sometimes fall into sin, we don’t often think of saints. And we hardly ever think of the sorts of people St. Paul addressed at Corinth as “saints.” These are the kinds of people in other churches that we point our fingers at and wonder if they’d know Jesus at all if he walked into the room. These are the people, who when they show up at our church and cause problems or tarnish our reputation, we hope will find the exit as quickly as they found the entrance. But the fact is that St. Paul addresses these messed up people as “saints.” In fact, throughout the New Testament, he addresses people just like these as “saints.” The key to understanding why not just “super” Christians, but even folks like the Corinthians, can be called saints is to understand what a saint really is. We tend to think of it as a title we earn by our good works. Think about it. When we refer to someone as being saintly, we’re describing their character. We see them as a mature Christian and as someone who is known for their good works. But the Greek word that the New Testament uses, hagios, doesn’t refer to someone’s character. It literally means “one who is separated unto God.” If you look at 1 Corinthians 1:2, St. Paul writes: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” We usually associate “sanctified” with holy and righteous living, but it comes from the same Greek root word as “saint.” Being hagios, being set apart to God isn’t something we do. It isn’t something we earn. It’s something we are. It’s a state of being. So we have to ask ourselves what it means to be set apart. Christ’s ministry tells us something about being set apart. In Titus 2:14 it says: “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). A man or woman who is set apart, who is hagios, is a person whom Christ has purchased with his own blood and whom he has separated for himself – someone who is now Christ’s possession. Think of the story of Esther in the Bible. King Ahasuerus was looking for a new wife and gave a decree that his men would go out and bring all of the most beautiful women in the land to his harem. Before they even saw the King, those women spent an entire year being trained on everything there was to know about the court: how to act, how to dress, all the right manners and etiquette. In fact the Hebrew text literally says that they spent that time being made beautiful: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics. All that before they even went into the King’s presence so that he could choose one of them. That’s what it means to be set apart. Just as they were called out of their culture and transformed for their King, so God has set us apart so that we can be conformed to the image of his Son and leave behind our old sinful ways. I think that if we look at our calling in this sense, we can see that sainthood isn’t something we earn or attain to – it’s a state of being – it’s what we are by the merits of Christ’s death and passion and by the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Again, to quote St. Paul: we have been “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Regardless of what the popular culture says, you can’t earn sainthood. We’re made saints immediately by the action of the Holy Spirit when we make Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. I like the way Ezekiel describes the work that the Spirit does: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26) I told you this morning, tonight’s sermon topic was “The Bad News” and so far this is all good news. This is the good news, but the problem is that we can’t just leave off here. Anyone who’s been a Christian for twenty-four hours knows that God had called us to one thing, but we still do another. He calls us to holiness, but we still desire unholiness. The ugly truth is that saints still sin. Paul puts the example of the Corinthian church right in front of us. They were saints by the work of Jesus Christ and his Spirit, but they were still sinners. And so we ask ourselves why does God promise one thing, while the reality we experience daily is something different. In Galatians 5:17 we read: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Even in the renewed heart there’s a daily battle that goes on. This is why St. Peter warns us to stay away from the things that give ammunition to the “flesh” – “I urge you…to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Sanctification – the actual business of being set apart – is an ongoing process. Esther was as much set apart her first day in the king’s harem as she was the day before he selected her as Queen, but that didn’t mean that she was as ready to be Queen when she first got there as she was after a year of training. God has called us into his Church where he has set us apart. It’s as part of his body that we learn what it means to be set apart, that we learn how to follow Christ, how we learn to be a holy people, all in preparation for our own wedding feast with Our Lord when we get to heaven. When we live in the Church as set-apart people, but don’t wage the battle against the old ways, we’re like some of those young women Esther may have been with. Country bumpkins maybe, who may have been very beautiful, but were diamonds in the rough, who might have been turned off by all the fuss, all the pomp, all the formality and didn’t really avail themselves of the year’s training. But if that’s what they did, they wouldn’t’ have been ready for the king. The same goes for us. We’re set apart for the King, but are we learning what that apartness means? That was the Corinthians’ problem. St. Paul starts his first letter addressing them as ones set apart by God, then he spends the remaining sixteen chapters telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to act like people who are set apart – that they need to act like saints. In the military there’s an expression: “conduct unbecoming an officer.” If your accused of such behaviour, it doesn’t mean that you’re not an officer, but it does mean that your conduct is not what’s consistent with and expected of an officer in the military. We might do well to have a similar expression in the Church: “conduct unbecoming a saint.” I’m sure there are military officers who think twice before doing something shady, knowing that a lot is expected of them, and I think as Christians we’d stop short before gossiping, getting unjustly angry, or becoming frustrated and impatient if we had the reminder always before us that such conduct is unbecoming a saint. But the fact is that we already have an expression for this. The Bible calls it sin. And sin is broad. It covers what we think of as the “small” stuff like gossip, impatience, and anxiety to the “big” stuff like adultery and murder. There are degrees of seriousness, but the bottom line is that sin is sin and no matter what the degree, it’s all unbecoming a saint. And this is why I think this subject is so important. One of our worst problems in the Church is that we can easily see the gross sins that are committed by non-Christians, but we’re totally blind to our own “little” sins. In fact, we become so blind to them that they’ve become acceptable – even sometimes respectable. It doesn’t help matters any when the Church starts taking its cues from the world around us. Our culture has largely forgotten about sin. In fact many have turned it all upside-down, and what was once known as sin is now proclaimed as virtue and vice versa. But even in many conservative and evangelical churches sin isn’t addressed as it should be. I try to read a couple of books on preaching each year, and I’m always shocked at the way some of them actually say that a preacher shouldn’t use the word – because its “churchy” and scares people away, because it makes them feel guilty. We’re also guilty of putting so much focus on things that are, for the most part, outside the church, like homosexuality, abortion, and other “big” sins, that we fail to focus on our own sins like gossip, pride, lust, bitterness, and even our frequent lack of the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve sat in a lot of prayer meetings where the people gathered there spent the whole time praying about the sins of the world around us and never thought to pray for the spiritual needs of the Church – we’re blind to all of our faults, when we should be coming to God like the tax collector in Luke’s Gospel, praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” We have a growing tendency as Christians to take a very self-righteous attitude. We look at the world with a very prideful attitude and condemn it for its sins, while forgetting that “but for the grace of God there go we.” Think back to how outraged we all were when the Diocese of New Westminster and her bishop decided to approve blessings for same-sex unions. As Christians we were justified in our outrage. But why do we not become just as outraged over our own selfishness, our critical spirit, our impatience, and our anger? Why do we mourn the fall of another part of the Church into sin, but not mourn our own? We sort of let ourselves off the hook, because our sins aren’t as bad as the big ones we see elsewhere. But the fact is that God never gives us the authority to put different values on sins. In fact, St. James tells us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). You see, it doesn’t matter if you commit a murder or if you use your speech in an unloving way that cuts someone down – either way, you’ve broken God’s Law. There’s no curve when God grades the test. 99% is still a failing grade. Some sins are more serious than others. The earthly consequences of some sins are great than others. I’d rather be guilty of being angry with someone than of murdering them. I’d rather be guilty of lustfully looking at a woman than actually committing adultery with her. But Jesus said that whoever murders and whoever is angry with his brother both stand under God’s judgment. As I said, some sins may be less serious, but that doesn’t mean they’re not serious. All sin is serious business, because all sin breaks God’s law. God’s Law outlines his moral will for us – it’s how he expects us to live. It doesn’t matter what part of it we break, if we break any of it, we’ve gone outside what God’s will is for us. God’s Law is different from civil law. By the standards of the civil law, you can get an occasional speeding ticket and still be considered a law-abiding citizen, but God’s Law doesn’t work that way. Break one part of it, and you’re guilty of the whole thing. Temptation to sin may come from all sorts of different sources – which is why St. Peter tells us to do as much as we can to avoid those sources of temptation – but when it really comes down to it we’re the ones responsible for the decisions we make. The Devil might tempt you, but the Devil never “makes you do it.” Ultimately St. James is right when he tells us, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. We get unrighteously angry because it satisfies our sinful desire for vengeance. We gossip because it satisfies our desire to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. What’s really dangerous when we as the Church turn a blind eye on these “respectable” sins, is that they spread. Sin is spiritual cancer. If one part of the Body of Christ has it, it’ll spread to the rest if its not treated. St. Paul had to have had this in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). What we say, no matter whom it’s about, will either tear people down or build them up. What we say will either corrupt the minds of those who hear it, or will show God’s grace. If I gossip I tear down another person and corrupt the mind of the person listening. If I complain about my circumstances, I impugn the sovereignty and goodness of God, and in modeling that sinful behaviour I tempt my listener to do the same. I have a friend who is struggling with cancer. It started out as Prostate Cancer, but he didn’t even know there was anything wrong until it had metastisised and got into the bones of his pelvis. Cancer tends to be like that. Sometimes it’s treated, you think it’s gone, and it pops up later somewhere else. I cant think of a better analogy to sin in the Body. I think this is especially true when we talk about these “respectable” or “subtle” sins. These sins are subtle in the sense that they deceive us. We start to think they’re not so bad – especially when compared to the sins of others. Sometimes they deceive us to the point that we don’t even think about them. Some of our subtle sins are so refined that we never even realise they’re in our lives. We live in the “feel good,” “I’m okay, you’re okay” world where “sin” has almost become a dirty word, because it might make someone feel bad. Put that into perspective by looking at the Puritans. They understood their own sinfulness and they understood just how serious their sin was. They really feared the reality of sin still in their lives. Think about the titles of the books they wrote. These are just a few in my own library: The Mischief of Sin, The Anatomy of Secret Sins, The Sinfulness of Sin (there are at least two different books by that title), and The Evil of Evils or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin. Ralph Venning, who wrote one of the Sinfulness of Sin books, describes sin in just a few pages as vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, villainous, abominable, and deadly. Think about those words and then think about whether or not you think that way about your own sins. It’s easy to think that way about gross sin we see in the unbeliever’s life, but what about sins like impatience, pride, resentment, frustration, and self-pity? The fact is that to allow these “small” sins in our lives is the spiritual equivalent of letting that “small” tumour keep growing instead of removing it. Small sins tend to lead to big ones. Lustful looks lead to addictions to pornography, which often lead to adultery. Anger leads to bitterness, then to hatred, and sometimes goes as far as murder. Now I said earlier that this is the bad news. It gets worse. I think we’ve seen now how our sin affects others around us, but what’s even worse is how it affects God. I like R.C. Sproul’s definition of sin as “cosmic treason.” The Bible talks about sin as “transgression” and if you look at what that word really means, it refers to a rebellion against authority. In this case we’re talking about God’s authority. That means that when we gossip, we’re rebelling against God. It means that when we become resentful, we’re rebelling against God. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet has a vision of God in his absolute majesty in the heavenly court. And Isaiah heard the angels there calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah’s Jewish audience would have immediately understood that the repetition of that word was meant to convey the highest possible degree of holiness. God is infinitely and perfectly holy. But holiness also speaks of God’s infinite majesty and his sovereignty over all of his creation. And so when we transgress – when we sin – no matter how small the sin might be to us, it’s ultimately an act of cosmic treason against the majesty and sovereignty of God. Remember how David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then tried to cover it up. When it didn’t work he murdered her husband and then tried to cover that up too. God was righteously angry and sent the prophet Nathan to confront David. And what’s interesting is how God, through the inspired prophet, talked about David’s sin. He says, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in his sight” (2 Samuel 12:9). In violating God’s Law, David was showing that he despised both God’s Law and God himself. Now think about that in terms of our own sin. Our “small” sins show just the same despising of God’s Law and of God himself. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to speak an unkind word. Now think about what it means to God when we, his redeemed and set-apart people, despise him by sinning. St. Paul describes it, warning the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30). Our sin grieves the heart of our heavenly Father. And so not only do even our small sins show that we despise God, they also break his heart. Not only do we grieve God’s heart when we sin, but we also presume upon his grace. We can take great comfort that he has forgiven our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, but sin in its subtle deceitfulness, suggests to us sometimes that our sins really aren’t that big of a deal – that they don’t matter – because God has already forgiven them. What we forget is that forgiveness doesn’t mean overlooking or tolerating our sins. God never does that. In fact, God always – always – judges sin. It’s just that in our case, he has already judged our sins in the person of his Son, as Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). So should we then presume on God’s grace by tolerating in our lives the very sins for which Christ was nailed to the cross? Finally, I want to remind you that every sinful thought, word, and deed we are guilty of is done in the presence of God. Look at Psalm 139:1-4: O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. God knows our every thought, let alone our every word and deed. Paul reminds us that he even knows all of our motives. When the world sees good works, God is able to see the selfish ambition behind them: “He will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). We might as well be committing every sinful deed right in front of his throne. Going back to Ralph Venning: in his book, The Sinfulness of Sin, he makes this point: “As God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful.” In the end, it doesn’t really matter if our sin is big or small, gross or respectable, all of our sin is sinful, only sinful, and altogether sinful. It might be small in our eyes, but it’s all heinous in the sight of God. God forgives our sins by the blood of Christ, but he doesn’t tolerate them. And for that reason, every sin we commit, even the small and subtle sin that we don’t even know we’ve committed, was laid on Christ as he took God’s curse in our place. More than anything else, here’s the real malignancy of sin – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God suffered because of our sin. So this is the bad news. What you need to do now is think about how you respond to it. My prayer is that you will be prompted to examine your own life and drive you to your knees before God in repentance and contrition over the sins that you – that we’ve all – tolerated in our own lives. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re ready for the good news. Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we came before you earlier tonight confessing that we have “followed to much the devices and desires of our own hearts,” “that we have offended against they holy laws.” We thank you that your desire is not for the “death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.” Let us truly mean that when we pray those words, Father. Work in our hearts by your Holy Spirit, that we will be able to see the subtle sin in our lives and by your grace put an end to it, that we would no more presume on you grace. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11, John 15:25-16:6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Waiting Expectantly 1 St. Peter 4:7-11 & St. John 15:26-16:4 by William Klock This past Thursday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension – one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year. It’s really sad that we don’t do more with it, because it really is just as important as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter when we look at the great events in the life and ministry of Jesus. It really ought to be our great festival here in this parish. We bear the name of Christ, who is the true, incarnate, and Living Word of God. Without the Ascension, Whitsunday has no meaning, because the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfilment of the promise made by Christ at his Ascension: “I’m leaving you, but I will send one to help you.” On Friday of this week one of you came by the house and left some flowers, but because we weren’t able to receive them in person and didn’t know who they came from – at least for a few hours – there was, for that short time, a certain ambiguity about the gift. They were appreciated and welcome, but not knowing the source made it difficult to know what to do. Just so with the gift of the Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the Church the Church, it’s the Holy Spirit that works in us to renew our hearts and minds and turn them to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit that actively works in us to stamp out sin and set us apart for God. It’s the Holy Spirit that bears witness of the divine origin of the Gospel message itself. The Spirit is a great gift. But that gift would never have come had Christ himself not Ascended, and without Christ’s promise to and commissioning of his followers at his Ascension, we wouldn’t know what to do with that great gift. The Ascension promise gives us hope. It tells us that Christ is not leaving us alone to do his work. He isn’t leaving to establish a merely heavenly Kingdom. He’s going to his heavenly throne, but he’s doing so, so that he can rule over his spiritual kingdom here on earth. But lest we become complacent, the Ascension promise also reminds us to get busy building our Lord’s Kingdom. He’s is coming back and he’s coming back soon. We have lots of work to do! And so here on this Sunday that sits between the Ascension and Whitsunday, we remember not only the promise of the Spirit that will be fulfilled a week from today, but we also remember the promise Jesus made of his sure, certain, and soon return to come back for his Bride, the Church. As we sit here in this season of waiting, the Lessons remind us of what it is Christ calls and prepares his people to do here in the world as representatives of his heavenly Kingdom. Look with me, if you will, at our Epistle Lesson from St. Peter’s First Epistle: The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7) I don’t know about you, but I find it really interesting that the Apostle Peter tells us this first. “The end is near, so keep sane and keep sober.” First, this is a caution. Don’t freak out just because the end is near. Don’t run around like you hair’s on fire, screaming that the end is coming tonight, tomorrow, or next week. St. Peter also wants us to keep things in the proper perspective. He’s telling us that the end is near, that Christ will return soon, because he wants us to understand that this gives urgency to our mission. Think about it. If there’s no deadline, there’s not much incentive to get the work done. He’s saying, “The end is near. No don’t go running off in a crazed frenzy. We have work to do.” It’s just like the two angels we read about in the Ascension Gospel: Jesus ascended into heaven, and while the disciples just kept standing around staring up into space – I would bet for a pretty long time – two angels suddenly appeared with them and basically said, “Hey, why are you guys standing around staring into the sky? Don’t you realize he’s gonna come back. You have work to do!” There are a lot of preachers and teachers who seem to have missed the point of this. St. Peter’s point isn’t the precise timing of Jesus return, it’s that he’s going to return so we need to get busy doing what he told us to do. But a lot of preachers, instead of getting busy doing what Jesus told us to do, get fixated on the “time is at hand part.” For two thousand years we’ve had men missing the whole point, misreading books like Daniel and Revelation, trying to fit the current events of their day into what’s already come and gone in the past, and ultimately getting Christians side-tracked from the real business of the Kingdom. These off-base preachers get Christians all fired up, but not about our Gospel call – they get them all fired up about the end of the world that they think is going to happen tomorrow. But then it doesn’t happen tomorrow. Think of all the wasted energy that could have been put into just being the Church. That’s why Peter says, “Stay sane. Stay sober!” Look at the next verses: Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. (1 Peter 4:8-9) People who are looking for one Lord need to draw closer together, encouraging one another, as the writer of Hebrews says, Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25) I find this really interesting. If it were up to me, I’d be saying, “The end is at hand. Get busy sharing the Gospel with the world out there.” But Peter says, “The end is at hand. Get busy loving one another. Show each other what grace is all about. Don’t be afraid to give of yourself to help others.” But you see, before we can go out into the world, the Church needs to be what it is called to be in and of herself. I think this is what St. John gets at in his First Epistle: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, especially after what St. James told us last week about being doers, not just hearers. It’s love and light that gather in the outcasts. It’s love and light that keeps the flock from straying away. It’s love and light that feeds the sheep and tends the lambs. It’s love and light that are important to the Good Shepherd. If you think about this from the perspective of our Epistle last week, when our Good Shepherd returns he won’t come looking for his Church based on our right belief. No, he’ll come looking for us and will find us by seeing the evidence of our faith and belief worked out in practise. He’ll be saying well done, good and faithful servant based on our having shown hospitality, based on how we’ve treated each other, and based on the love we’ve shown. A master doesn’t reward his servant for knowing what he was supposed to do in the master’s absence. He rewards the servant for actually having done it. It’s just so for us when our Lord and master returns. And that leads us into the rest of the Epistle: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11) As we await our Lord’s soon return we really do need to see ourselves as servants – more specifically as stewards of what God has given to us. But we’re not just stewards in respect to God, were also stewards in respect to each other. As Christians we all make up the Body of Christ and God gives each of us gifts and abilities to use to build up that body. And not just to build it up, but to make it active so that it can do the work that God wants it to do. This has got to be the number one reason why the Church is so often ineffective. I’m glad this isn’t the typical Church, but neither is it perfect. In the “typical” Church 10% of the people do 90% of the work. It’s also usually true that 10% of the people give 90% of the financial support. Here’s something to ponder: What would happen if 10% of your body did 90% of the work. You wouldn’t survive. Thankfully God is gracious. Thankfully God has built his body in such a way that it doesn’t die if only 10% of it is working. But at the same time, the Body of Christ is crippled if the person gifted to be an ear is also forced by necessity to also be an eye and a finger, because the people gifted to be eyes and fingers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. St. Peter’s telling us here, if God has gifted you – and he’s gifted all of us generously – don’t hold out. He’s gifted you for a reason. Not using your gifts to build up the church is just as much a sin as anything else. We need to ask ourselves if we’re willing to give back to God for his service some of our time, talents, and treasure. All those things came from him in the first place. If we’re not willing to give a portion of them back to God, then we’ve got a big problem – not just personally, but the entire body – because were missing what God expects us to be using to fulfil his Great Commission. If we’ve got it all sorted out what we’re supposed to be doing internally as the Church, Christ’s Great Commission follows naturally. The waiting Church is called to be a witnessing Church. Look at our lesson from St. John’s Gospel: But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27) When the Counsellor comes. In the Greek the word is parakletos. It literally means, the one who “comes alongside.” This is the Holy Spirit, who was sent into the world once Christ had Ascended to heaven. He is the Spirit of Truth. The disciples had been with Jesus through everything, and most importantly, they were eyewitnesses to his death, resurrection, and ascension. They were called to go out and share what they had seen as witnesses, but Jesus says that the Spirit will “come alongside” as a witness too. And the Spirit did exactly that. The most profound instance was on Whitsunday itself. Pastor Bill will be preaching on this next week, but we all know the story. St. Peter got up to preach. He talked about what Christ had done in his life, death, and resurrection. He talked as an eyewitness, but it was when the Spirit came that the real work was done of changing hearts. There was a great sound like wind, tongues of flame came down and rested on their heads, and the believers there started speaking in other languages. Peter gave the message, but the Spirit backed it up with the authority of God. The Spirit gave the signs and wonders to prove the divine source of the message. And we see this throughout the New Testament. You always see the Spirit providing miracles to accompany the Gospel message of the apostles. The Spirit served as a witness to convince men and women of the truth of the Gospel. The New Testament period was a special time with a special need. Those early disciples were sharing a message to a world that had never heard it before and had no historical witness. They had the Old Testament, but the inspired books of the New Testament weren’t written yet, and so the Spirit manifested in ways and to an extent that it never has since. And this is why it’s so important that the inner life of the people of God be right, as we see St. Peter saying in our Epistle. We still do sometimes see the Spirit work those amazing miracles, but today the greatest miracle of all – and the greatest of all witnesses to the world – is the regenerated and renewed heart of the believer. We have the authoritative Word of God written to share with the world, and to back up its truth, the Spirit renews our sinners’ hearts and puts in them a love for God that should show the world the power of the Gospel. If the fruit of the Spirit are missing from our lives, half of our message is missing – we become hypocrites. And as we go out with our message, Jesus also give us a warning and an encouraging word here: I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 15:26-16:4) Jesus promised the Spirit would come alongside. The disciples might not have understood why they needed a divine helper, so Jesus warns them, telling them that there will come a time – not very far off – when they’d not only be thrown out of the synagogues, but that Jewish and Roman leaders alike would put them to death. In his death and resurrection, Jesus had won the victory over Satan. Yet in his fury Satan, like some kind of Hitleresque madman out for world domination and learning that his chances have just been shot, goes on a wild rampage of fury just before he’s finally caught and dealt with. We see just this happening in the early years of the Church. The Jewish nation rejected the truth of God for a lie. They rejected God’s Messiah and turned on his people with a fury that can only be described as demonic. They not only threw the Christians out of the synagogues, but rounded them up and brutally put them to death. Saul of Tarsus was just one such persecuting Jew. But even after the Jewish nation was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Roman Empire rose up against the next generation of Christians in much the same way, until God brought about his judgment on them as well, ushering in his Kingdom. The blood of the martyrs became a witness of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’ve been spared the great tribulation that those early Christians experienced, but it’s still not always easy to confess Christ in every aspect of our lives. We can expect to be ridiculed for giving witness to him by what we are, by what Christ has done in us, and by what we do for him. But Jesus tells us here not to lose faith because our success comes slowly. He predicted this from the beginning. Jesus tells us that we run into opposition because the people around us don’t know him. And when that happens, what we need to do is to show those people Jesus. They need to see Jesus in us. They need to hear about Jesus from us. And that means being consistent followers of Christ. The need to see the Spirit bearing witness – backing up our message – through our own changed lives. Today as we gather at our Lord’s Table, we need to remember that here Our Lord gives us a foretaste of the marriage feast that waits for us in heaven. Those faithful martyrs of the Early Church built their hopes and future on and around the confident expectation of their Lord’s soon return. But we today still have the same hope. If anything I think we have even more reason to be hopeful, confident, and eager, remembering the final message of our exalted groom, “Behold, I come quickly!” For two thousand years the Church through all the ages has been kept conscious of her status as the bride of Christ and has hopefully looked forward to his return. What’s kept her hopeful is that each Sunday the faithful are able to gather here at his Table and remember to whom we belong. He says to us here, “Take and eat this, my body. Take and drink, this my blood. Do this in memory of me until I come again.” Each Sunday we see and hear him again – we hear him remind us of his soon coming in glory, and as we hear him, we trust in his promise and wait expectantly for the hour of his return. We are his people. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we you for sending your Son to redeem us from our sins. We thank you not only for his coming, for his death, and for his resurrection, but also for his glorious Ascension, through which we have the promise of his soon return. We thank you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit as we await his return. As we wait, Father, let us put your gifts to use. Let us not be a complacent people, but instead let us be a people that puts your gifts to use: loving one another and showing your love to those around us in the world, that we may build your Kingdom in anticipation of your Son’s soon return. We ask this in and through his name. Amen.
Bible Text: James 1:22-27 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Being a Doer St. James 1:22-27 by William Klock In our collect this morning we prayed: “O Lord, from whom all good things come, grant to us your servants that by your holy inspiration we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practicethrough our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” “That we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practice.” How often do we get some great idea in our head, but never follow through on it? We tell ourselves that we’re going to go on a diet or start an exercise routine in the new year and forget about it within weeks. We tell ourselves that we’re going to break that bad habit, but we never make it past the first day. Maybe we make it a whole week before we give up. Sometimes we never actually follow through at all. Several years ago I joined a health club. When I went in to sign up I noticed that they give all sorts of discounts if you’re willing to pay for six months or, better yet, a whole year in advance. But even if you’re not willing to pay for the whole year in one lump sum, the club didn’t offer any way to just come in and make monthly payment. I ask them, “I come in here three or four times a week – consistently – so why can’t I just make a payment each month?” They just told me the don’t do it that way. If you weren’t paying in advance, they required either direct and automatic debits from your chequing account each month or automatic monthly credit card billing. You see, the people in the health club industry know that ninety percent of the people that join stop coming within a month or two. In fact, of the people who join, an extremely high percentage never even come back after the first week! When I was lap swimming the pool always got crowded during January, but by February the crowds always disappeared and I was back to having a lane all to myself. The health clubs don’t care so much whether or not you actually show up, they just want your money. In fact, after being a member of one for years, it’s pretty obvious that they oversell memberships big-time in the knowledge that most people will quickly drop out. As human beings we’re very fickle. It’s part of our fallen human nature. We make grand and glorious plans, but we’re very prone to forgetting about those plans. And even though our fallen nature died with Christ on the cross and was buried with him in the tomb, we still have to fight the desire to go back and dig it up. And so even more disastrous than forgetting about the fitness plan or diet we planned to start after Christmas or the credit cards we never quite got around to cutting up, is our tendency to listen to what God has to say to us in the Holy Scriptures but never actually putting those words into action. In a very practical sense this it what we’ll be looking at on Sunday nights starting next week. Maybe more than anything else, this is our biggest problem as Christians. It’s not a lack of knowing the right thing to do. It’s a lack of doing it. And so St. James addresses this in our Epistle lesson. Look with me at St. James 1:22: Become doers of the Word and not only hearers, fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 CCNT). Have you known people that seemed to know it all when it comes to the Christian life, but they never actually seemed to live it out? I think we all know people like that. They’re walking encyclopaedias of theology. They know every Bible verse from Sunday school that you’ve forgotten. They beat everyone at the Bible Edition of Trivial Pursuit. They read all the right books. But somehow all that head knowledge never quite makes it out into the way they live their lives. If you were to talk to their co-workers about them, you’d never know they were a Christian. I remember years ago being in a Bible study at our church. It was part of a new members intake group, so there were mature Christians there and some who had just been baptised and hardly knew anything. One guy in our study group always had the right answers, but he consistently belittled and was verbally abusive to the people who gave the wrong answers. On one occasion we were looking at Colossians 3:20 (“Children, obey your parents.”). One young girl who was a new Christian asked, “What if you’re parents tell you to do something you know is wrong?” And before anyone else could respond he jumped in saying, “Duh! St. Paul assumed that the people reading his letter had half a brain! Of course you shouldn’t obey your parents if they tell you to sin!” We were all taken aback and not sure how to respond to someone like that – it wasn’t what anyone expected to happen in a Bible study! But this is exactly what St. James is talking about. It’s not enough to know the right things – we’re obligated to do them too. The example of the guy in our Bible study is pretty extreme, but only so because even a non-Christian would consider what he did to be just plain anti-social behaviour. But most of us – probably all of us – do the same thing on a regular basis, cutting people down. We just wait to do it until they’re not around or until we’re in a group setting where we can get away with it. Part of our problem is that we’re prone to relying too heavily on our emotions. Have you ever heard a really good sermon that got you fired up about something, but forgot about it before you got up Monday morning and had a chance to apply it to your life? How many times have you read a good book on growth as a Christian, but the longer you put off doing what it said, the less enthusiasm you had for it? St. James warns us against just this. If you’re enthused by the Word of God, do something about it NOW and take advantage of that enthusiasm, but by the same token, don’t let it die as your enthusiasm wanes. Remember that our faith has as much to do with the head as it does the heart! But whatever the cause for our being hearers only and not doers, the real danger here is that we deceive or fool ourselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging our spiritual maturity based on what we know instead of how we apply that knowledge and live it out. Knowing that I have to change the oil in my car every 5,000km is easy, but it takes some commitment to caring for my car to actually take it down to the shop and fork over the money to have it changed. I had a friend who never bothered to change his oil – he just dumped another quart into the engine whenever it got low. And he wondered why his cars only lasted two or three years while I was still driving mine after twenty years. It wasn’t that he didn’t know he needed to actually change the oil, he just didn’t care to make the commitment to do it. And so his car didn’t take him very far. Just so, it’s easy to talk about the ideal Christian life, but it takes real commitment to Christ to give up our old ways and live a Christ-like life that is pleasing to God. If you don’t make the commitment and do in your life what you know in your head, your walk with God is going to be just like my friend’s car – it won’t get you anywhere. The Apostle gives us an apt illustration of this: Whoever is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like man who sees the face he was born with in a mirror – he sees himself, and goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. (James 1:23-24 CCNT) James gives us this very apt illustration of a man looking in a mirror. It works. My guess would be that everyone here probably took at least a quick look in the mirror this morning. The mirror warns us if we’ve got bed-head or hat hair, bags under our eyes, or if we need a shave. The mirror helps you ladies to make sure your makeup goes in the right places and it helps us men make sure that we don’t miss any spots as we shave. Our mirrors show us what we look like when we get up in the morning and help us as we do whatever it takes to look the way we really want to. The whole point of looking in the mirror is to make sure everything’s okay, but St. James says that the man or woman who hears God’s Word, but never applies it and never does anything about it is like a man who looks in the mirror, sees that he’s got green bits of spinach stuck in his teeth, that his hair’s a mess, and that he desperately needs a shave – that he sees all that, but then walks away and forgets how unkempt he looks. You see, just as the bathroom mirror shows us everything that’s physically wrong with us and helps us make it right, the Word of God shows us what’s spiritually wrong with us and how to make it right. You know how there are days when you’ve been out and about all day thinking nothing was wrong, but wondering why everyone was looking at you funny, and you get home only to pass a mirror and see that somehow you only managed to shave only half your face that morning or you’ve got something really gross stuck in your teeth or hanging out of your nose. It happens to the best of us. There we were thinking everything was fine when there was really something terribly wrong. Well, God’s Word should do the same thing to us spiritually. We go through life thinking that we’re in good spiritual shape, thinking that we’ve got out spiritual hair perfectly combed and our spiritual teeth just bleached and regularly brushed – and then God jumps out at us from the pages of Scripture and shows us a giant spiritual wart right on the end of our spiritual nose – a big flaw that everyone else has been seeing for years, but was too embarrassed to tell us about – or worse yet, the same spiritual wart that everyone else has and that we’ve all come to see as perfectly normal. Scripture shows us all of our sins and, worse yet, just when we’re inclined to see those sins and start comparing ourselves to someone else who looks even worse than we do, Scripture holds up before us the example of Jesus Christ and says, “Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to him.” And we look at Christ, and no matter how good we look and no matter how much grooming we do, we know that we can never compare to the perfect image of the Word Incarnate. The mirror of God’s Word condemns us by showing us what we really are, but in doing that it also shows us what we really ought to be. It shows us what real righteousness is as it shows us God’s holy Law and it shows us an ideal of righteousness as it holds before us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. This is a pretty bad spot to be in, but God doesn’t leave us condemned – his whole point is our redemption. The mirror of Gods Word doesn’t just show us to be the sinners that we are and it doesn’t just show us the perfect image of Christ to which we can never fully live up. God’s mirror also shows us what we can be. St. James goes on: But whoever looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues to do so, becoming not a hearer who forgets but a doer of deeds, will be made happy in the doing. (James 1:25) The key is in the doing. God doesn’t leave us condemned because of our sins. When we make Christ our Lord and Master, God extends to us his grace. And so now we have Christ’s perfect image in the mirror and the grace of God to help us along as we imitate the example. It’s not that following Christ isn’t hard work, but it’s a work of love and one that eventually sets us free as we throw off the bondage of sin. Have you ever tried doing something you’d never done before and without the instructions? Last week the movers took apart quite a few pieces of our furniture. The problem was that we didn’t keep the assembly instructions for any of those pieces and the guys who had to put it together here in Courtenay weren’t the ones who had taken it apart. They were only able to do it because they’d reassembled so much furniture in the past, that they were used to how it all works and could figure it out. But imagine how frustrating it would be to have all those pieces in front of you and no idea how they go together. Imagine putting together a puzzle with no box-top to look at to see what you’re doing. Imagine trying to paint a painting with no knowledge of how the paint works or trying to play a musical instrument with no idea how it works or how to read music. How would you play the piano if you didn’t know which key played C or which played an A – its not like they’re labelled. How do you pick up a trumpet and get multiple notes out of three valves, or multiple notes from just four strings on a violin. In each case it’s knowledge that sets us free. It’s an intimate knowledge of his instrument and of music that sets the musician free. It’s an intimate knowledge of colour, lighting, and shading that sets the painter free. And it’s the intimate knowledge of God’s Word and of the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, that set us free to be the people that God calls us to be. We need to stare long and hard into that mirror, looking into its pure surface and allowing the Holy Spirit to convince us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. I think it’s important to notice that James says that we “will be made happy [or blessed] in the doing.” The blessing comes in the doing, not before. We’re often prone to sit around waiting for God to give us what we need to do a task we know he wants us to do. Sometimes we even make our waiting sound spiritual and saintly. We tell people we’re waiting on the Lord’s timing. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to wait on the Lord’s timing, but when it comes to conforming to the image of Christ, the Nike slogan, “Just do it,” is very applicable. Remember that God’s already given us everything we need to do what he calls us to do. His grace is with us all the time and so is his Holy Spirit. St. James drives his point home in closing as he gives us a very practical example: Whoever thinks he is religious and doesn’t bridle his tongue but swindles his own heart, his religion is worthless. (James 1:26) I think those are Words that convict us all. How often do we forget that we’re called to imitated Christ and end up letting our mouths run, saying stupid things, things that hurt others, things that blaspheme God, or even things that suggest we wouldn’t know Jesus if he was sitting right next to us. James says it doesn’t matter how religious you may be or think you are, if you’re characterised by an unbridled tongue, you’re only deceiving yourself. An unbridled tongue is just one example – it just happens to be one that should hit home for many of us – but he could have used any number of ungodly and un-Christ-like behaviours. If you call yourself religious – not matter how many Bible verses you have memorised or how much theology you know – if you’re not a doer of that Word and if instead your life is characterised by sin and un-Christ-like attitudes and characteristics, you’re only fooling yourself. Your religion is worthless. You’ll be like the men Jesus described who will stand before his judgment seat pleadinging, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name.” Our Lord’s response is a truly frightening one: “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Jesus said that his followers would be known by their fruit and that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire. And so in contrast James shows us that good fruit with the example of charity: Clean and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself from becoming spotted by the world. (James 1:27) The Apostle makes a clear reference to the message God gave over and over through the Old Testament prophets: that worship, sacrifice, and all the externals of religion are worthless if the heart is not turned toward God. A heart turned toward God is a heart of compassion. It’s a heart that looks out for others instead of trampling anyone who gets in the way of its own ambitions. A heart turned toward God doesn’t make excuses, saying, “He’s down and out because he’s a sinner.” It doesn’t say, “Welfare is the government’s job.” It doesn’t say, “I don’t have enough.” A heart turned toward God is one that says, “What can I give in the knowledge that my provision for those in need reflects my trust in the God who also provides for all of my own needs.” It’s a heart that humbly says, “How can I show the grace of God as one sinner to another.” Finally, a heart turned toward God is one that is totally committed to him. It doesn’t flirt with sin. It doesn’t flirt with the world. It doesn’t peek around the corner at what the world does. It doesn’t sit on the couch with a girlfriend or boyfriend pondering how far is too far. It doesn’t ask how far I can bend the tax laws without actually breaking them. A heart turned toward God doesn’t ask, “How far can I go without actually sinning” when it comes to the temptations of the world the flesh and the devil. A heart turned toward God seeks after righteousness. It doesn’t skulk in the shadows on the fringe of darkness – it desires the glorious presence of God that dispels all darkness! And so let us be reminded as we once again come to Our Lord’s Table this morning, that what is offered here in the bread and wine is the sign and seal of his gracious promise of new life. Here we commemorate not just the death of the perfectly righteous Word Incarnate, but also his Resurrection and Ascension. Through his blood sin has been conquered and in knowing that he reigns as King we have confidence in our own victory. Here at his table we see him face to face. Let us look at his perfect image and the example he has set, knowing that his Father has given us the grace to conform to the Divine image we see staring back at us in the mirror. Please pray with me: Again Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that all good things have their origin with you. It was your Holy Spirit that turned us to you in the first place when you regenerated our sinful hearts. Let us now not only be renewed in our minds as we study your written Word, but let us also be always mindful of the grace that you have given us, so that what we hear we will also do, as we conform ourselves to the image of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. We ask this confident inyour promises and in the name of that same Incarnate Word, your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 John 5:4-12; John 20:19-23 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year The Easter Life 1 St. John 5:4-12 & St. John 20:19-23 by William Klock Just two weeks ago we celebrated the feast day of a British teenager, who in the early 5th was kidnapped from his home by Irish pirates. His name was Patrick. Those pirates took him back to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. When he escaped he travelled to France where he entered the priesthood, following in the steps of his father and grandfather. He studied and about AD 432 was appointed to be a missionary bishop to Ireland. His great desire was to return to the people who had kidnapped him and who had made him a slave so that he could share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. As word of Patrick’s ministry spread people began to seek him out. One of those people was Findcath mac Dego, one of the Irish kings. Patrick shared the Gospel with this pagan king and with his whole entourage of warriors and druids. The king and his men took the message of Jesus Christ to heart that day and were baptised by Patrick. His instruction to the newly baptised men went something like this: “Today you have put on Christ. You have bound him to you like the armour on a Roman soldier’s chest, a lorica, is tied to him. Now you belong to Christ. As you have been washed in the well of washing and poured and sprinkled with water from above, so have you received the Spirit from Heaven. You are surrounded by Christ as the waters swelled around you in the regeneration of new life.” Patrick’s parting advice to the King was this: “My King you now belong to Christ and Christ belongs to you; go and live your Baptism.” Martin Luther described Findcath when he left Patrick that day as going out “to swim in his Baptism.” I think Luther’s words describe our new life in Christ very well. We’re to go out and swim in our Baptism. The Sacraments are the outward and visible signs of the grace that God has worked in us through his Son. Next time you go to a Christian bookstore, look around you at all the books that aim to tell us how to successfully be a Christian. Some of those books are good and lots of them are trash, but how many of them start where Patrick started – with the Sacramental sign of our being grafted into the Body of Christ? It shouldn’t be any surprise to us that Jesus forever linked Christian discileship to the sacrament of Holy Baptism when he gave his Great: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” One of the great errors of the modern Church has been to separate the very Sacraments that Our Lord ordained from his call to discipleship and our sanctification. Too often the Sacraments have become something optional. You get baptised if and when you feel like it. Holy Communion has been taken from the main gathering of God’s people on Sunday morning and has been moved to a small, optional, and poorly attended Wednesday or Sunday evening service. Jesus didn’t give us a whole lot of direct commands, but he did tell his people to do these two things: to be baptised and to receive his Supper until his coming again. These two Sacraments should be the starting point of our faith, but they aren’t just ceremonial points in time with a beginning and an end. Our baptism marks a new life – one that continues. Baptism isn’t a “been there, done that” sort of thing. It’s “been there, still there.” It’s done that, still doing that. The same goes for Communion. It’s not just something we do on Sundays. What we do on Sunday is to be a reminder to us that we live our lives in perpetual Communion with Christ. He is our spiritual nourishment. As we go down the road of discipleship, we start with our baptism and continue in Communion with our Lord as we make the journey. As modern people we want to segment or compartmentalise our lives. We go to work and live in the “work sphere.” We go home and we live in the “family sphere.” We go to church and live in the “church sphere.” A lot of us have a hard time putting it all together and realising that they’re all ongoing and part of one life. We tend to look at things as isolated events. Easter tends to be that way. We celebrate Easter one Sunday and the next we’re on to something else. But the Church knows better than that. That’s why we celebrate Easter for fifty days. It’s a reminder that Easter is the reality of the Christian life – that every day is an Easter for each of us as we celebrate and live in Christ’s resurrection. The Resurrection is supposed to have a lasting effect on us. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). We need to rebuild our lives on the grace of Easter and that means building on a solid foundation of faith. The Sacraments are signs and seals of Gods grace. As they communicate God’s promises to us they confirm and strengthen the faith that God calls us to live daily. Our Epistle lesson tells us that the victory that overcomes the world is that faith. In the Gospel lesson Jesus says to Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Our faith is what gives us the desire to put into action what God has taught us. Faith should never stop with head knowledge or intellectual assent – our faith has to go into action. The problem is that our human nature is inconsistent. We stumble and fall. But God knows we’re prone to getting weak as we journey with him. He knows that and he gives us the grace to persevere. In the Epistle we’re told that Christ comes to us in both water and blood and by the Spirit. All three are there to encourage us. Our baptism is a reminder that we are not of this fallen world – we’re a part of Christ’s Body – and the Holy Communion reminds us that we receive our life from Christ. These are what give us strength to persevere when we’re spiritually tired. In Romans 6, St. Paul tells us that all who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. As Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, should walk in newness of life. Last Sunday our focus was on the Resurrection. But it’s important that we remember that the resurrection isn’t something that just relates to Jesus – it related to us to. St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11). So we need to ask, “What does it mean that we partake of Christ’s resurrection too?” Look at our Epistle lesson, 1 John 5:4-5: For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The power for the risen life comes from union with our risen Saviour. We know that we’re citizens of God’s Kingdom, but until we either die or Jesus comes again, we all have to spend our earthly lives living in a sinful and fallen world. If you remember back a few weeks, the lessons of the first three Sundays in Lent put our focus on how we’re assaulted by the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We might be God’s children, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still face very real temptations and struggles with what we’ve been called away from. The only way that we can overcome the ways of our old lives is by a life and an energy from a higher source. The Christian must be “born from above.” It’s not enough to have head knowledge, as I said earlier. It’s not enough to accept Christ as a teacher who came to show us a higher and better way for living. If that’s all we do, then all we have is a higher standard than others, but no real power to rise to it. The difference comes when we believe that our Teacher and Master is the Son of God who was resurrected and has triumphed over sin and death. We can find the grace and power to live according to his commandments when we understand Jesus is the Son of God. Through faith we receive the grace of God. Our old selves are buried with him in the grave and we born again through his Easter Resurrection. Because he has already conquered sin and death, he gives us the power to do so to. As citizens of his Kingdom, living under his victorious reign we live the new life that he gives – we overcome the world. The bringer of life is Christ. Look at verse 6: This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. Christ came by water and by blood. First, he came to cleanse us from our sins by the washing of water. The baptism that he commanded is the outward sign of the remission of our sins and his relieving us of our guilt and punishment. In him every sin we have ever committed is washed away. Because of Christ’s cleansing us, we can stand before a holy and just God and not be condemned. Jesus received our condemnation. He is our life. Because of that, every remission of sins after our baptism is only the renewal of the grace that has been given to us. St. Paul also wrote to Titus about baptism being the washing of regeneration the means by which we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, which then works in us to renew our hearts and minds and make us fit servants of God(Titus 3:5. Baptism incorporates us into the living Body of Christ. It grafts us into the living Vine and makes old dead wood that could produce nothing to be alive with the Spirit so that it can bear new fruit. We are taken into a new covenant with God, being baptised into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because Christ died for us – he took our punishment on himself – we have a new standing before God. When the soldier pierced Jesus side as he was hanging on the cross “there came out blood and water,” to signify the cleansing power of his blood. Secondly, St. John emphatically adds: “Not with water only but with water and the blood.” The blood is the life. Remember all the way back to Genesis: God warned Noah “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). God taught his people over and over that blood is life. The old sacrificial system taught that blood – life – had to be shed to cover sins. When a sacrifice was made in the Tabernacle of the Temple, the point wasn’t to symbolise an offering of death. The shedding of blood on the altar was a symbolic offering of life to atone for sin. The whole point of the Old Testament sacrificial system was to teach God’s people that innocent blood must be shed to cover sins. Those imperfect sacrifices of dumb animals pointed to the perfect sacrifice that Christ made for us in his own death. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He gives us that abundant life through is blood. Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58). We are grafted into his Body and we receive our nourishment from him. The Holy Communion is the outward sign and seal of that grace. Through his blood we abide in the living Christ and he abides in us. Finally, look at verses 7-12: And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. St. John’s train of thought is plain. The life given by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood is the ongoing and perpetual witness to the Son of God. The Holy Spirit creates new life in us, which is seen outwardly in our baptism, and then the Spirit feeds and strengths that life through our communion with Christ as we receive his body and blood, our heavenly food. The very fact that we live – and when we’re all gathered together, that the Church lives – is the evidence of the claim that Jesus has made to be our Lord. This isn’t the testimony or witness of men; it’s the witness of God the Holy Spirit living in men. It might come through men and women, but that’s because each believer lives again in Christ and can witness him. Life comes from life, and the risen Christian proves a risen Christ to be the source of our Christianity. In fact, the growth of the Church – of the Body of Christ – is the ongoing growing and strengthening witness to Christ in the world. St. John Chrysostom wrote: The Chruch consisteth of these two together, and those who are initiated know this, being regenerated by water and nourished by the Blood and Flesh. Hence the Sacraments take their beginning” (Homily 85). The Church fulfils her mission and grows as she abides in Christ and he abides in her. To be the Church means that we stress this new life above all else. In our Gospel lesson this morning we see Jesus giving his divine commission to the disciples. They were laying low and hiding out from the authorities when Jesus appeared in the room before them. And yet Jesus gave these men calm assurance. He came into the room and simply said, “Peace be with you.” They saw his pierced hands and his feet and that was all they needed. St. John says that they were glad to see their risen Lord. But notice that Jesus didn’t just come to give a little bit of reassurance to a group of men who feared that the authorities might come for them next – to crucify them the same way their Lord had been. No, Jesus reassured them and gave them a commission: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Think about it. Those disciples were scared. When Jesus was before the Sanhedrin Peter had been identified as one of his followers. They were afraid to show their faces in Jerusalem. Jesus came to give them reassurance, but that’s not all – he and call them to go out and boldly proclaim that the Kingdom of God had come, just as he had spent the last three years proclaiming that same Kingdom. They just wanted to hide and Jesus said, “No! God out and boldly proclaim the message I gave you!” You see, too often we as Christian are happy to receive Christ’s comfort. We’re happy that we’ve been saved from our sins. We’re happy to leave sin behind and live our lives, by the help of the Spirit, in ways that are pleasing to God. But does that involve actually going out into the world to use those Spirit-given gifts to proclaim the Kingdom of God? The Father didn’t send the Spirit just to make us feel warm and fuzzy. He sent the Spirit to empower his people for service and ministry. Pentecost wasn’t about feeling warm and fuzzy or about having nice feelings about God. It was about boldly proclaiming a message of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The early Christians understood what it meant to be Easter people – to be people united with Christ in his Resurrection. But Jesus breathes on each of us too. To swim in your baptism, as Luther used to put it, means to live the Spirit-filled life. God fills each of us with his Spirit just as he did those disciples he breathed on as he commissioned them. Jesus empowered his disciples and said to them, “I send you.” And he does the same to each of us. Take those words in our Gospel lesson as if they were spoken to you. This is where we start. We find our risen life in our risen Saviour. We have been joined with him and we find our spiritual food in him. When Christ died and rose from the dead he crushed the head of the Serpent. St. John described in his vision, how the angel chained that old Serpent, the Devil, and threw him into the pit. On the cross, Christ bought not only his victory, but our own, and now he sits in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he reigns over his Kingdom. His disciples huddled fearfully in that room with the doors and windows shut, fearing the world outside and what might happen to them if they showed their faces in Jerusalem. They didn’t realize that they had nothing to fear. Our Lord and Master is ruler over all and has won the victory for us. Too often we’re just like the disciples. Jesus says to each of us, “I send you,” but we’re afraid. We just need to remember that he reigns and that we have nothing to fear when we go out in his name. That was what drove those early Christians, even when they suffered martyrdom. They understood what it meant to be an Easter people. They understood what it meant to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. They knew what it meant for their Lord to have already won the victory. I’m reminded of the chorus of a popular hymn – it’s not a typical Anglican hymn – but I think the words really sum up the life we find in our risen Saviour: O victory in Jesus, My saviour forever, He sought me and he bought me With his redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew him, And all my love is due him, He plunged me to victory, Beneath the cleansing flood.
Bible Text: Revelation 7:9-17; Philippians 1:3-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year True Worship Revelation 7:9-17 & Philippians 1:3-11 by William Klock Earlier in this morning's service we prayed in our collect: "Father in heaven, keep your household the church firm in godliness, so that it may by your protection be free from all adversities and may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." Think about those words: “Keep your household – the Church – firm in godliness” that we “may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name.” The collect sums up our essential duty: to be steadfast in conforming to the nature of God, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he works to set us apart as a holy people, to sanctify us, so that we can do the good works that God calls us to do – to leave behind the works of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to put on the character of Christ. And we do this not selfishly for our own benefit, but to give glory to God. This is what the Prayer Book refers to as “our bounden duty and service.” The post-Communion prayers remind us, saying: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all partakers of the Holy Communion, may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him. And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Again, it's the Christian life in a nutshell: God gives us his grace so that, through Christ, we can be restored to fellowship with him. And while that restored fellowship doesn't instantly make us perfectly righteous on our own – we still have to rely on the righteousness of Christ for our redemption and ultimately to please God – that restored fellowship does do a work of sanctification in us. It takes a heart that was devoted totally to sin, and turns it gradually and bit by bit toward God. It's only by the assistance of God's grace that we can continue in that “holy fellowship” and that we can do the “good works” that God has prepared for us “to walk in.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this when it asks its first question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And that's the tack that I want to take with this today. The “chief end of man” is to “glorify God” and “enjoy him forever.” That's what we were created for. So we have to ask: what's our problem? Birds were created to fly and fish were created to swim, and that's exactly what both of them do naturally and without any problems. But the last thing that we're inclined to do as men and women is to glorify God. In fact, St. Paul reminds us in Romans that in our natural state we're all enemies of God – not just indifferent to him, not just not caring about him, but really and truly in complete and total opposition to him and to his plans. God created us to be in close fellowship with himself, but in our natural state we're far from him and can never come close – in fact our desire is to stay away, as far as we can, from him. That's what sin does. Light and dark can't exist together, because one drives the other way. Righteousness and unrighteousness can't exist together for the same reason. In our case, our unrighteousness drives us away from God – just like most of us wanted to run and hide from our parents when they found out we raided the cookie jar, broke the window, or got in trouble at school. We know we displeased them, we knew that we were eventually going to be punished, and so all we wanted to do was run and hide. And for God's part, his perfect righteousness calls for perfect justice. He can't just overlook our sins. Our darkness can't be allowed into his presence without first being covered by the the long robe of Christ's righteousness – until we've been washed clean by his blood. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived in that perfect fellowship that God created us for. But I don't think that's the first aspect of their lives that we think of. No, the first thing we think of is the beauty and perfection of the garden into which God had placed them. For us, paradise means no weeds, no thorns, no pain, no back-breaking labour, and natural beauty all around. We're not so inclined to think about paradise in terms of the full fellowship Adam and Eve had with God. The author of Genesis gives us a great picture of the closeness they had with God when he talks about them actually hearing God as he came down to walk with them “in the cool of the day.” It's interesting that throughout Holy Scripture we see this idea of “walking with God” over and over. Adam and Eve really did, literally, walk with God – they were that close, they had that kind of intimate fellowship. And so it's not surprising that we still talk about someone “walking” with God when we want to stress both the closeness of the fellowship that that person has with God and the uprightness of character and life that person has. But since the fall, none of us can ever walk with God the way that Adam and Eve did. Not even Enoch. Enoch “walked with God” and was so close to him that one day God simply took him home with him. But even Enoch's close “walk” with God wasn't like Adam's walk with God – in order to be that close God had to take him home. Enoch was a “righteous” guy, but he was still a sinner. The only way for him to be restored to that full, whole, and open fellowship with God was for God to take him and perfect his righteousness in heaven. I think that heaven was the real hope of Adam and Eve more than it is for anyone who's ever lived after them. No other human being has even had the fellowship with God that they lost when they sinned. I can't imagine how pained they must have been when they realised that fellowship was broken. All they knew of God was his perfect holiness, his perfect love, and his perfect peace. They walked in that presence every day. And because they knew the perfection of God's holiness so well and so fully, when they sinned they understood better than we ever can the full magnitude of what it means to offend God – to commit cosmic treason against our Creator. They knew the perfection of his holiness, and the moment they sinned I think they knew that they had suddenly thrust themselves out of his presence. They knew what real holiness was and realised that they were no longer fit to be in its presence. The rest of us are a little like chickens. A chicken doesn't know what it means or what it's like to fly – that's not something they're capable of doing, so it doesn't make much of a difference to them that they can't fly. But clip the wings of an eagle and ground it, and you've effectively killed the bird. It's no longer capable of doing what it was created for and it knows it. All of us who have come after Adam and Eve are like the chickens. We're born sinners living outside the presence of God. Adam and Eve were born eagles – they lived in God's presence and then clipped their own wings. God creates all of us as eagles, but because of our sin we live like chickens. Adam and Eve knew what it was like to be grounded, but since none of us can soar like they once did, we sadly fail to miss what it is that God created us for. To be restored to God, Adam and Eve put their hope in the promise of the righteous one who would come – in the hope of the Messiah. But heaven was their only hope for the full fellowship with God that they had before they sinned. And just like we're not usually inclined to think of life in the Garden of Eden as a time of perfect fellowship with God, we're also not used to thinking of heaven in terms of the restoration of that prefect fellowship. Ask most people what they think they'll be doing in heaven and they'll tell you about being restored with loved ones, not being crippled anymore, or being able to do all their favourite things whenever they want. What most people don't seem to mention is the restoration to fellowship with God that we'll have there – being able to be in his presence all the time, never hindered by sin. I'm sure that Adam and Eve looked forward to heaven because there'd be no more pain and suffering there, but even more I think they yearned for it because, more than anything else, they missed being that close to God. In Scripture God puts our view of heaven where it should be. In the Epistle lesson from All Saints, St. John tells us about his vision of God's heavenly court and the saints there. Notice he doesn't talk about the things we normally associate with heaven: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-17) The main focus that Scripture puts on life in heaven isn't all those other things – it's on being in the direct presence of God. St. John wasn't given a vision of the saints of God embracing their long-lost friends and family, leaving behind crutches and wheelchairs, or just having fun all the time. John's vision of heaven was of the saints gathered around the heavenly throne in service and worship, while God takes care of their every need. All those other great things happened too – God promises to take care of us – but that all happens so that we can devote our lives – devote eternity – to the service of God in praise and worship. And I think John's vision should be a reminder to us of just how wonderfully amazing it will be to be in God's presence and to worship him if all those other great things we expect pale in comparison! The beatific vision of St. John the Divine ought to sound familiar to us, because what the saints do in heaven is the same thing that we ought to be doing here on earth in preparation. John tells how God cares for the saints so that they can worship him eternally. Jesus tells us the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount, but relates it to our lives here and now. In Matthew Six Jesus speaks his familiar words: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Jesus' words are hard for us to follow, because it's so often easier for us to trust in those things we can see and hold in our hands, and so Jesus then goes on to remind us that God takes care of the birds of the air and lilies of field. They don't put in any overtime. They don't stress about paying bills. They aren't worried about “keeping up with the Joneses.” And yet God cares for them – and if God cares for birds and flowers, how much more does he care for the men and women he created in his own image: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6:30-33) This is the whole point of our life here on earth: to learn to trust God, and to devote ourselves to a life of service and worship to his glory. He promises to meet our needs so that we can seek first his Kingdom. That's worship. One of our problems is that too much of the time when we think of “worship” we think of what we do at church on Sunday morning. That is what we do here on Sunday morning, but worship is a lot more than gathering to sing, to pray, and to hear God's Word read and preached. St. John doesn't tell us that the saints in heaven go about their business six days of the week and then gather around the throne for a couple of hours on Sunday morning. No, St. John tells us that the saints are gathered around God's throne in worship day and night. If all you do is set aside from ten to noon on Sunday to worship God, your not living the life of the Spirit that God has called you to – and I'll add that if that's all you're doing, your Christian life isn't going to feel very alive and you're not really going to feel the reality of that restored fellowship with the Father that Jesus gives us. I really think this is why so much of the modern Church has turned to an entertainment oriented model for doing church and turned from true worship to emotional manipulation and “feel good” gimmicks. Much of the modern Church has been slack in calling people to a life of true and full devotion to God – to a life of true worship 24/7/365, because today's conventional wisdom says that if you ask people to be fully committed, they'll walk away. After all, we can't ask too much of people. But if we don't call people to wholly devote their lives to Christ, they won't. And then they come to church on Sunday morning, not expectantly, not with the idea in mind to gather with their brothers and sisters before the throne of God as the culmination of a week of worship in the more mundane aspects of life, but they come seeking to “experience” God and to have a feeling of his presence that's lacking the rest of the time. The problem is that if it's lacking the rest of the time, it's going to be lacking on Sunday morning too – and so too many churches fake it with worship-tainment that manipulates the “worshippers” into feeling happy and good about themselves and about God. But our “bounden duty and service” isn't just coming each Sunday to celebrate the Holy Communion – it's to continue in his “holy fellowship” and to “do all such good works as [he] has prepared for us to walk in.” If we live a life of worship all the time, we don't need to come on Sunday seeking God's presence having missed it all week. Instead Sunday becomes a celebration of thanks and praise with our brothers and sisters and where we find sacramental refreshment and promise of life at the Lord's Table. Christian maturity is what happens when we seek the Kingdom of God first and always. That's why St. Paul writes in today's epistle from Philippians: For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 3:8-11) Paul's great desire for the Christians at Philippi was for them to abound – to grow – more and more in their lives. His prayer was for them to conform more and more to the image, the example, of Jesus Christ so that they could show the world what righteousness looks like, and finally to be able to stand before God as blameless and full of the abundant fruit of the righteousness that Jesus gives us. What I find really strikes me is how Paul ends that prayer: not that they would do all this and grow in righteousness for their own benefit, but that through them God would be glorified. What Paul desired for the Philippians is what God desires for all of his people. And it's a daunting thing. No matter how often we're reassured that God will look after the worldly things that otherwise bog us down and consume our resources, it's still really easy to let that happen. We do get bogged down in the cares of the world. We do become consumed with worldly things. But this is why God gives us his grace – that with his help, because we can't do it on our own – we can persevere to the end as we put him and his Kingdom first in our lives. In that same passage from Philippians, Paul gives us some of the most reassuring words in all of Holy Scripture: I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:6) If he was certain of nothing else, the Apostle Paul was certain that what God started he would finish. God does nothing for nought. God doesn't waste his grace on any of us. If he has seen fit to call us to himself, if he as seen fit to send his only-begotten Son to die on our behalf, if he has poured his Holy Spirit into our lives, and if he has blessed us with an overabundance of grace, he will never, never abandon us in our struggles. God never looks down and says, “I sure did pump a lot of my resources into Bill, but boy did he blow it big time. I think I'll just take it all back and put all that grace and Holy Spirit power into someone else who will take advantage of it better than Bill did.” No! When God sees us stumbling and falling behind, he gives us more! Paul also tells us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. If we struggle with devoting our whole selves to the glory of God, he will give us the grace we need to overcome those things that are holding us back. When we sin and drive ourselves away from his holy presence, he pours out his grace to draw us back. When we have trouble handing over that certain area of our life that we just don't want to let go of, he gives us the grace to find assurance in him so that we can put our trust in him and hand it over. The key is to live in God's grace. We don't want to be like the man in today's Gospel lesson. You'll remember that he owed a huge debt to the king that he could never repay. By all rights he should have been sold as a slave so that the king could at least recoup at least some of the money owed to him. But the king was merciful and gracious enough to forgive the debt when the man came before him humbly asking for it to be forgiven. But then that same man, who had shown so much humility before the king and who had been shown so much mercy and grace, went out into the street to find a man who owed him a relatively small debt. He grabbed that man by the neck and demanded his money back, and when he didn't get it he had the man thrown in to prison. I think that a lot of Christians are like that man that the king forgave. God offers his grace and mercy to us and maybe we even approach him humbly, knowing we're sinners. We take God's grace for our own benefit, but all we ever use it for is as a “get our of hell free” card. We fail to apply that grace to our lives and we don't consistently share it with others. We forget that God didn't save us from his wrath for our benefit alone. He saves us so that we can be restored to fellowship with him and so that he can work in us to change and renew our lives as a witness to the world around us of what God is and what he can do. There really is no excuse for what so many of us do. Christianity is more than just “religion.” It's more than just a “Sunday thing.” Christianity is to be a “Christ follower,” and Jesus didn't leave his spirituality at the church door – he lived his life in the grace of God all the time and every day. He gave himself and everything he had over to his Father in heaven – even to the point of giving his life. He's our example, showing us the way to heaven. But are we living in a way that will get us ready for a life of worship in eternity, or are we living more or less like we always did – yes, we're redeemed, yes we've been saved from our sins – but we're still living in a way that serves self instead of God. We really need to be living in anticipation of what awaits us in heaven, wanting more than anything else to live in such a way here that a life of heavenly worship won't shock our systems when we get there. Have we given every aspect of our lives over to God, obeying him and letting him use us for his own glory? And so each of us needs to ask: “Am I living a life of worship and service to God?” God calls us to be living sacrifices. St. Paul writes in Romans 12: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2) This is the key to true worship. In response God continues to assure us of his presence with us as we come to his Table. Here he gives us the downpayment on eternal life. Here he reminds us in the bread and the wine, that he is the one who will take care of us, not just in eternity, but this side of heaven too. So I urge you this morning, if there is some aspect of life that you haven't given over to God, that you haven't trusted him with, bring it with you to the altar this morning. Receive God's promise of grace here at his Table and as you do that, lay your cares here, at the pace where he reminds us of his promises. As he gave himself, body and soul, for you, give yourself, body and soul, to him and live for his glory alone. Please pray with me: “Our Father, we prayed earlier that you would protect us from all adversity so that we may devoutly serve you in our good works. Help us to understand that what you desire of us is true worship done by the devotion of every part of our lives to you and to your service. Give us the grace, Father, to hand everything over to you and to devote every aspect of life to what will bring you glory. We ask this confident in the Spirit that brings us life and by the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.