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Sunday, January 7, 2018
First Sunday after Epiphany
Sermon – Reverend Jack Arnold - Time and Action
Church of the Faithful Centurion, Descanso, California
Today’s sermon ties together the propers, that is to say the prayer and readings for this week. Consider these words from the Collect:
…grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same…
As imperfect creatures with free will, we will never figure out what we should be doing, let alone do it, on our own. We are confused beings who will get into trouble left to our own devices. Without an external source of help, we will never be able to follow God on our own. That is the part of the reason God sent the Holy Ghost; that we might listen to Him and understand. He will give us the ability to figure out and know what and how we are to do the things we need to do here on Earth for Him. Not just understand The Word spoken to us through Jesus and the Scriptures, but to understand what we should do; hence the prayer to figure out what we need to do, then give us the power or strength to do what we are supposed to do. He will help us to understand how to implement the concepts found in Scripture in our day to day lives and live the Word. We might have some difficulties, some nervousness, some stumbling; but in the end as long as we do our best to follow His will, and not worry, things shall be ok. We may not perform perfectly, but as long as we are striving to be on the road to perfection and to do our real best, then that is all that God asks of us. Because then we will be on the path to eternal life and happiness, as he wants us to be happy. To actually be on that very real and difficult path and not just think or talk about being on it. We need to actively follow Our Lord and not be passive about it, but actually physically do it. We need to act, using the Scriptures as our Holy Handbook for our actions within our lives. He did not mean for us to simply read it only, but to digest it and use what we learned in the real world.
After all isn’t that what the school system was supposedly put in place for? University, the words comprise it are “Una Veritas”, meaning “One Truth”, as it was supposed to be a place of Godly learning, where one would learn the “One Truth”. The school system was intended that we might have Godly children growing up in the faith, therefore strengthening them as men/women of great moral character. If we put back the Scriptures in our schools and held the kids to the standards of those Scriptures, then we would find ourselves on a moral higher ground. The Scriptures are the only true truth, as they are based on the Word of God, who is truth in every sense of the word. It is something should use to help develop ourselves in life, to use a term from the Japanese, kai-zen, or continuous self-improvement. This word describes the essence of the Christian faith. To live the Word requires this self improvement each and every day of our lives. We need to ask ourselves at the end of each day, what did I do right today and what did I not do right? And figure out with the help of the Holy Ghost how to correct our wrongs and go on to the next day and do our best to do better.
The first thing tsunami watchers would tell people, is at the first sign of a tsunami approaching, go to higher ground. That same principle applies to our lives. At the first sign of any sort of evil, temptation or sin, head to the higher ground God lives on and seek Him out, rather than wait for the wave of evil to envelop us and get over our heads. We also have to recognize the signs we are in trouble and immediately consult Him and His Word and figure out an action plan according to the principles in Scripture.
We are asking God to help us know what we should do and then help us to do it right. Seems pretty simple. That is the root of almost all our problems. It is harder to do what is right than what seems easy to us. First, even if we ask God what He wants us to do, “There are none so deaf as those who will not hear.” Then, if we hear what He wants us to do, and hear it correctly, we often find it “too hard.” Do you recall this quote from GK Chesterton:
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
So, once we find out what God wants, we often try to rationalize our way around it. Note the word try. There is no good way to rationalize our way around what God wants in the end. It is impossible to rationally get around the concepts found in the Summary of the Law. Think about the 613 Mosaic laws and the Pharisees who made a good living telling people how to comply with them to the letter and still do just what they wanted to do. So, then even if we find out what God wants and decide to actually do it instead of avoid it, we are faced with the often huge problem of where do we get the strength to accomplish this task. The answer is circular, from God. He never asks us to do anything we cannot do good enough for Him if we rely on Him. Never. End of that discussion.
Now, once you have managed to get this far, you gain the power needed to become one of Paul’s New Men, a person who has accepted God’s Grace, turning to God and relying on Him for guidance, strength, courage and perseverance. To do that, we need to turn outward. Not think of ourselves, but of God and our fellow Christians. Speaking of that, one of the tools God gives us to get things done is a Team; that Team is fellow Christians. So, we need to work together as a Team. Think not of your glory, but that of God. President Reagan had a sign on his desk which read:
“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.”
Paul tells us not to concentrate on our status, position or grandeur, but to see what we can do to help. Just like our body would not function if all parts were brains, neither will Christ’s Team function if everyone is concerned about their position.
When we look at the Gospel today, aside from the historical function telling us that Jesus was in the temple bringing the light of the gospel to the rabbis, I am reminded there are other lessons. It is not that we want to micromanage your life, but keep your friends and family informed of what you are doing and where you are going. Jesus’ earthly parents risked life and limb going back up the road to Jerusalem at night. But, that was their duty as parents. A duty must be done, no matter the cost. The lesson here is to keep your family and friends well informed of what you are doing, rather than going off on your own, figuring you can handle it. However, if we get into emergencies or serious trouble then we will have wished we had informed others of where we are going. That is why it is usually good to keep your family and friends informed of where you are going and what time you are expected to be back.
Except most times, we cannot, as we are not like Jesus, we are not the Son of God, but rather mortals adopted into God’s Family. There are some things we cannot do on our own without His Help and without the help of our family and friends.
Duty means to do what you are supposed to do, then count the cost. There is no sense of duty if you are merely doing what is easiest for you at the time. While doing your duty will in the end be the right thing, thus the easiest thing, it may not seem so at the time. Doing one’s duty can result in one’s temporal death, the end of their time here on earth. Not an easy way. But, recall that what seems like that easy downhill path leads to The Pit, it does not lead to the summit. Our country is where it is today because of those who preceded us, those who did their duty. It will not keep going up if, as a country we stroll down that wide smooth downhill boulevard. We must struggle to stay on the narrow path, which leads to the summit.
Look back at those who stepped forward when the country called, Concord, Veracruz, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Chateau Thierry, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Peleliu, Bastogne, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Chosin Reservoir, Ia Drang Valley, Khe Sanh, Hanoi, Laos, Cambodia, Basra, Kabul, Bagdad and countless unfamiliar names in Southwest Asia. In them, you find a unifying theme of Duty, doing what you have to do, no matter what it takes, then count the cost. Those who fought for our country did it out of duty to their country and God and to protect their family. We must emulate their purpose and serve God dutifully. Christ is the ultimate example of this, the only begotten Son of God, yet doing His duty to die for us, which is what God wanted Him to do, to save us from eternal hellfire. So, it was His Duty and He did it with honor.
Through duty, we too might have a noble death and welcoming in heaven. We must do our duty to God, to Honor, to Country and Family. Sometimes we will fall short, for we are imperfect creatures with that darn free will. Thus, at times we choose the wrong path or our strength falls short or we just cannot do what is needed of us. Then, we need to reset and restart towards the goal God has set for us.
But, back to the Gospel and the parents’ arrival at the temple, where lo, they found him. He was among the learned men “both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” His parents were amazed and confounded. He asked them why they worried and why they did not understand that he was about his Father’s business. It is noteworthy to see Jesus at twelve was able to “hold his own” with the learned scholars of Judah. He was able to out reason those who lived to dissect the Law. “A little child shall lead them,” (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God
 Note also the tremendous advantage that God has over the Devil. Not only did God make both man and the Devil, but He has actually been a man, the Devil only read about men and thought about men and contemplated men. In Jesus, God has been a man. Note - in this instance, He learned about the compassion, worry and duty of parents towards their Son! The Devil, not so much.