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Sermon - Rev Jack Arnold
Church of the Faithful Centurion - Descanso, California
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
LORD, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is on Page 90:
The First Sunday in Advent
LMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
¶ This Collect is to be repeated every day, after the other Collects in Advent, until Christmas Day.
As is oft the case, today’s propers all tie together to reinforce a point and build our understanding of what God wants and expects from each of us. The Collect asks for God’s help for us to accept His Help and do it His Way. We are asking for this because of our natural infirmities. By natural infirmities, I mean our sins. Our natural infirmities do in fact handicap us from running the race of life that is set before us. We are asking for His Help in removing that handicap of our infirmities, of our needless worries and sinful behavior that only hurts us, that we might be able to run ably and swiftly the race of life.
This is a thought that is constantly resonating throughout the Collects and not only them but all of Scriptures. That is because it is a constant truth that without the help of the Lord, we are doomed to fail to follow Him. This truth is constant through history. Whenever a group of people have strayed from doing what God asks, they have never prospered in the end. From the very beginning of time to the very end of time this will always stay true. That is why we must continually rely on Scripture and the Holy Ghost for inspiration and guidance and comfort in our lives.
It is oft supposed Christians are dour souls, with no sense of happiness or humor. Perhaps this thought comes from those who have heard from others what the Bible says, but have never actually taken the time to read it and understand it. For if they understood it then they would not be thinking that we are dour at all! Reading the Bible as a whole proves this often popular train of thought to be patently false. That may or may not have been the way the Puritans thought, but then again, the Puritans were not holding to the consistent truth of the Bible. After all God commands us to make a “joyful” noise unto the Lord! Not, a dour, grumbling and solemn noise, but an exceedingly JOYFUL noise unto the Lord! There is nothing in the Bible that says you cannot have fun whilst worshipping our Lord; in fact that is the preferred way to worship Him! If we enjoy worshipping the Lord, then we are most apt to do more of our best to follow Him, if we are enjoying ourselves whilst doing so!
After all, the one said to be the most dour of all, Paul, tells us to be happy. In his Epistle he mentioned rejoicing in the Lord always. Not just happy, but to REJOICE. REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS and AGAIN I say REJOICE! How much more fun can you have? At the same time though Paul cautions us to be moderate in everything we do, no excesses, an even keel. Work hard, but maintain a time and space for our family, honor our country, and above all honor God. Maintain an even balance between work and play so to speak and moderation in both areas. However, that is nowhere near being dour; just being happy, but a cautious people. After all, if we eat too much, we end up paying the price for the gluttony. So, too, do we pay both spiritually and physically for exceeding moderation in all things. Paul is not trying to stop us from having fun, he is trying to help us use common sense in all things, so that we can be able to use our full faculties as God intended. He goes on to tell us if we think we need something, simply ask God for it!
In the Gospel John recounts John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for Jesus. The Pharisees were troubled with the simplicity of his message. They were looking for something more complex, less straightforward, something more like themselves. We have heard this often about the Pharisees; what they are looking for is something that people tend to look for instead of following God’s actual message. For it is easier to get around this sort of message than God’s very simple and straight forward one. In the end however, it is always easier to take God’s way then to try and find away around God’s way (which there is not).
The Pharisees were not willing to accept the change in the status quo; the New Testament would break their role in finding ways around the commandments Jesus gave. They were much like modern day lawyers and liberals, always searching for a loophole in the law so they can do what they want to do without following the law. They failed to realize that there is no loophole behind loving God and loving your neighbor as thyself. They could not comprehend of this. They feared what they couldn’t understand and that is why they wanted Jesus to be put to death. They didn’t understand God’s plan for Jesus and His Ministry.
If the world would do what God asked, our lives would be so much better, we would all be living together in happiness. Peace on earth will not be possible until the world accepts Him into their hearts. All of the problems on earth stem from the world not accepting Him into their hearts and souls. This is the perfect season for those who haven’t yet, to accept Him, to acknowledge Him at His first true appearance amongst us, at His Birth. Up until the end of our time here on earth, there is always time to accept Him, but do not wait until it is too late to do so!
Jesus also tells us to put our trust in the Lord, then not to worry. He knows how counterproductive, indeed, how destructive, worry can be in our lives. We know it not only cannot, but will not do good, we know it will only hurt our cause; yet we do it. Is this not a proof positive of how much we need His Help? How hard is it to Trust in God and Dread Naught? Very! Extremely difficult as a matter of fact. I myself struggle with this constantly. I know that it does no good but it comes so naturally to me that it is super hard to overcome. The solution to this is to turn to God and let Him carry my/our worries on His Back. Worry is a really powerful negative emotion. We need to fight this emotion as nothing good comes from excessive worrying. The best cure to worry is to pray for God for guidance and to act upon that guidance. Even though it is very hard to trust somebody you can’t see physically, you must trust your spiritual sense and follow Him anyway! Knowing you will see Him physically one day is one of our great rewards. This greatly eases at least my worries and should ease yours as well.
When Saint John is recording the actions of John the Baptist, he tells us when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? They got an answer they neither expected nor really understood, he said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias … I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. They had no clue what he was talking about. All they could see was what they expected, a king of this world. Yet, John the Baptist knew the kingdom was not of this world, for the King was not of this World, but the Eternal King of Eternity. John the Baptist later says He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) This is true of us, also. We must let Jesus permeate us and become the dominant force in us. But, it does not happen in the twinkling of the eye. Jack Lewis tells us, We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Jack Lewis suggests you try his plan; I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’
The world is extremely complex; it is full of problems, temptations and difficulties. It is full of obstacles for us, yet all Christianity offers is a few simple solutions. We often hear there are no simple answers to complex questions. Actually, that is not true. There are simple answers to complex problems, they are the only ones which can and will work. The problem is they are not the answers people want. Most people do not want to know what they are supposed to do, lest they have to do it. They want to be told what they want to do is at least okay, even though it is clearly not okay. But we need to know what we are doing is actually “Okay”, not what Joe on the corner claims is Okay. To do that, we have to read the Scriptures and listen to what God says is Okay, because He really does know the best in this matter for us.
Once again, when you think about being a Christian, think a bit about these quotes from GK Chesterton:
· Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
· The word good has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.
· The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.
· Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.
· A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
We are called to a new and different life, we ask the Lord to both lead us and follow us, to keep us always. Our goal is to do the Lord’s will, not to avoid 613 laws. To do what is right and be humble.
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?
It is by our actions we are known.
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God