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Sunday, October 8, 2017
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Sermon – Reverend Jack Arnold - Time and Action
Church of the Faithful Centurion - Descanso, California
Today’s sermon tied the Collect, Epistle and Gospel together and talked, as is oft the case, of the need for action, not simply diction.
Consider the words of the Collect, “… thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works …”
The first thing to consider when you look at today’s Collect is a word: prevent. Prevent is a word that has many uses, and at least one has fallen out of general usage as time has gone on. This is one of them. In this case the word prevent means to go before. Before you object to archaic words, consider this is a current word, it just has a use you may not have been aware of and now you are! What a bonus for this week!
So, we ask God that His Grace, His Love, His Power, His Help may go before and after us to protect us and guide us that we might desire to do what He wants us to do. Pretty much a re-wording of a lot of the Collects. Why would that be? Pretty simple, our biggest failing is we are wont to do what we want! This is a very common theme in the collects and lessons in the lectionary, for a very good reason. Our sinful nature causes us to want to do what we want. We need His Help to go before and after us to guide us through life, doing what we need to do, not necessarily what we want to do. There is a big difference between need and want, that sometimes we get mixed up. What we need to do is not usually as fun as what we want to do, but it is better for us in the end. More importantly, what we need to do is aligned with what God wants for us. So, we need His help if we are to do the things we need to do. We are creatures with free will and are not wont to exercise it for God or good. That is a very dangerous combination, as my father says often. That is not the same as doing what will provide us with the best result.
The difference is God truly knows what is best for us. We tend to sometimes think we know ourselves better and thus we know what is best for us. However that is incorrect thinking. God designed and built each and ever one of us. Do we truly think we know more than our Creator? That is the foolishness of our natural inclination talking. However if we stop to think, we realize, with the help of the Holy Ghost, God truly knows what is best for us and that it will be a lot better for us if we listen to hIm. If we follow what He wants for us, we are guaranteed to have good results in the long run. It does not mean that we will not suffer in the short term, however it means if we follow God's will for us, then we will come out ahead in the end, when we have eternal life. If we follow our natural inclination, we will not like the end result, that is eternal separation from God. In the end will it be our will that is followed or God’s will? The people who desire eternity with God and follow that desire by doing their best to follow him will get that eternity with God, but the people that want to be separated from God for all eternity with their actions and desire not to follow His Commandments will be separated for all eternity. The latter choice is the result of following our natural inclination, the former is if we fight our natural inclination with the help of the Holy Ghost.
We are like disobedient children, and God is the ever patient Father. But, from time to time, we will make mischief and or trouble, some of us more than others. God has to gently warn us and allow us to experience the consequences of our inclination to sin, in order to learn not to do it. This is His form of discipline in a way. When bad things happen as a result of our doing, it is not His fault that's it happened, but our fault for not having done what we were supposed to be doing because it was “too difficult.”
The other part of the collect talks about asking God to make us be continually given to do good works. This means to put His Will into our heart and give us a desire to continually do good works for others, by given, the collect means to put a desire into our hearts to do God’s Will here on Earth and part of doing His Will on Earth is performing good actions or otherwise known as good works. If we are followers of Christ, as a matter of course, we will perform such good works as those of which we are capable. However, we cannot perform these good works of our own accord; we need His guiding spirit, so we ask Him to shine and come into our hearts and help us have the mindset to do those good works for Him.
Through consequences of our sinful actions, we know that we shouldn’t do it again. We know, often very clearly, what we want. For example, while I was studying for my WGU degrees, I found if I didn’t read the textbooks and study, I did not do as well on the tests as if I did read the texts and study for the test passed. Like the rubrics, God knows, always very clearly, what we need. But we do not often know what God wants for us, so we have to first pray to Him to find out what He wants, then the most critical step of the communications is that we have to listen to what He says. He is there, like the rubrics to guide us along our paths in our daily life. So, we need to ask God every day, every time, for help to do our duty. And every day, every time, He will answer our questions, we just need to open our hearts, souls, minds and ears to Him, and after hearing His Answer, then acting upon it. We just need to remember to ask Him when we need help and not just try to do everything on our own. Because when we try to do that, we set ourselves up for failure and not success. However, if we ask Him and listen to Him truly, then act, we are setting ourselves up for success.
So, what does Paul tell us in his letter to us? Once again, he calls us to a new life, different from our old life. We shed our old clothes, as it were, like reptiles shedding their old skin and put on the brand new armor of light, new helmet, new boots and new everything. We throw off the manner in which we acted before, brashly, and sinfully, and put on a new cloak, that of righteousness. A life in which we act in a manner worthy of the better life to which we have been called by Christ and for which He gave His life. We are to act in accordance with the new way in which life, to desist from sinning and to do good things for people and for Him. The part about ceasing and desisting from sin is one of the most difficult aspects of putting aside one’s old life. But it can be done. Paul, formerly Saul, did it and went on to become one of the greatest apostles who served the Lord. So if he can do it, so can we.
This is made possible by the Holy Ghost, who is our lifeline to God our Father. Paul, of all people, knows the importance of setting aside your old life, as Saul did; as Paul he asks us to put God first in our lives, to put ourselves last. He even changed his name to reflect his state as a new man under Our Lord’s leadership. He reminds us, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” The key to a successful life is to put the important things at the top of your To Do List. And, notice it is a To Do List, not a To Think About or To Wait a While List. It is not a I’ll Get a Round To It List, or What I Don’t Want to Do List. What is more important than God? It is all about prioritization, putting God ahead of your wants and desires. We have to make it so that serving God is our want and desire, then and only then are our desires aligned with His. We have to accept the Holy Ghost into our lives to do this, then when we truly have faith, it will show in our actions. Action and not diction is what truly counts in the end. It is a phase that shows up in the sermons a lot, but that is only because it is very true.
When Luke relates the parable of the feast, it is more than just a seating diagram. I liken it to the tale of the publican and the Pharisee. When Christ talks about the man who exalts himself and sits too high at the wedding and thus must be abased. That would be the Pharisee. When Christ then talks about the man who sits low, and is raised to the higher station, I think of the publican, who smote his breast and would not even look up his eyes to heaven. We have to be the publican in our dealings with God, rather than our natural tendency of being the Pharisee. We should not be one of those selfish individuals who always causes grief for others because he is blind to his own faults and only thinks of himself. Again as with the ceasing from sin, this is one of the hardest things we have to do. But it must be done, no matter how we feel about it. So let us turn to our Lord to help with it, because He alone can help us. He can only help us if we are truly willing with our hearts, souls and minds. We have to be willing to act and do actions, and not just say it. No other expert can help us, no “theologian” or prosperity preacher can truly provide for our needs better than Our Lord. If we do what God asks, we will not become like those people. If we put God’s will before ours, the welfare of those we encounter before ours, if we hold open the door as gentlepersons are wont to do for others, we will find we are doing what God would have us do and enjoying it. And that is the best gift of all, the joy one gets from serving others is true happiness.
It is very possible to do the good deeds and have fun doing them. The time we spent in worship with the other ministers and their wives at the AOC Convention proves this. Doing good things for other people and being with other believers gives me some of the greatest happiness I have ever felt. This comes from the Holy Ghost, from being inspired by Him, around other believers. Wherever two or three or gathered, Christ is there also. It is a wonderful feeling wherever He is.
Heaven is at the end of an uphill trail. The easy downhill trail does not lead to the summit.
The time is now, not tomorrow. The time has come, indeed. How will you ACT?