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Sunday, September 25, 2016
Eighteenth 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, “…grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God …”
When you hear the word GRACE, what do you think of?
· Heavenly dispensation;
· A gift freely granted;
· The free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
The word can be any of these, it comes from Middle English: via Old French from Latin gratia, from gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’ and is related to grateful.
In this case we are asking God’s help, for which He charges nothing, except our faith and loyalty to Him, to withstand the temptations of this world. We ask for help to withstand what? Actually, what we are looking for is help to not follow our own devices and desires. We are asking for help to withstand temptations that not only come from external sources, but also from internal sources, namely our hearts and minds. This seems like an odd request, until one considers the fact that our own devices and desires are the root of all of our troubles. We are naturally inclined to the sinful things which separate us from Our Lord. We are simply requesting help in combating the evil desires of our heart that would separate us for all eternity if they were left unchecked. We are simply asking for help to make His Will our will. To help us to do what will make us happy and not just what we think fun, but to be permanently happy, which boils down to following His Word. For we know that we ourselves will not do what His Will is on our own volition, but rather we must ask that God plant the seed of His Will on our hearts so that we will do it.
Paradoxically, we are asking for help to do not what we want, but what is best for us. There is a difference between what we want, and what is best for us, as there is a difference between the words want and need. What we want and what is best for us are not necessarily interchangeable. We often confuse wanting something with needing something, when that something we want is not something we truly need and or is good for us. We are asking God’s Help to make us want to do what He wants us to do, so that not only will we have “fun”, but be happy! We are also asking His help to discern what is good and needed for us, to help us clarify the difference between things that are needed and those we want, and to see what is bad and not helpful.
We are in short asking for His guidance to guide us to the path of being truly happy and not just having a fun time. For, being happy is far more important and helps our spiritual lives more than the temporary state of fun. Fun will only last a few moments, happiness will last forever. There is a distinct difference between the two states of being. Fun is short lived while happiness can carry on through periods of time be it days, months or years. On the surface, it does not really seem all that reasonable, but here we are imperfect creatures with free will! The free will sometimes, or rather most of the time, seems more like a curse than a blessing, at least to me.
Using it properly to follow God’s will is what free will was intended by God to lead us to. He intended for us to follow Him willingly without any coercion whatsoever. He wants each and every one of us to come to His throne willingly and with all of our heart souls and mind for Him. He will give us the tool of the Holy Spirit, His guidance to withstand all the trials and temptations this world throws our way. We have to have confidence in Him and be able and willing to listen to that guidance to help us through these periods of temptation and difficulty in our lives.
So, when Paul writes the people of Corinth, it is not just them, but us for whom he thanks God we have been the beneficiaries of His Grace, that through Jesus we might have salvation, that through Jesus our sins would in the end be forgiven. We are not made perfect by Jesus. That is a common misconception among non-Christians. It would be convenient if we were made perfect. This is an issue which sorely needs addressing in today’s church, to combat the misperceptions of the non-Christians. The common complaint most non-Christians have of Christians is that we have a holier than thou attitude. There may be some indeed that have this attitude.
People who have the misconception that Christians are made perfect are shocked when Christians act less than perfectly, so they just presume the faith is false. But this is not so. They fail to realize Christians are no more perfect than non-believers, as we are all human and all are sinful creatures. They fail to consider although we are not perfect, our faith is in the One who is perfect and we seek guidance from Him. We may fail from time to time, but as long as we keep returning to Him, it will be all right. They fail to realize we are just trying to be perfect the best we can, but we won’t be perfect, but that does not mean we can’t give up. They are blinded by not having the Holy Ghost’s guidance in their heart.
The world confuses our righteous judgment of the world’s behavior with a holier than thou attitude. But they do not see we realize we are not perfect, but we are striving for perfection. And there would be no point behind Christianity if that we had been made perfect. Would we have to have a “New Testament” if we were molded into cookie cutter perfection? If this was so, then there would be no need for the letters of Saints Paul, James, Peter and John to the early church, for they as us, would have no need of them. If we were made perfect, then there would be no strife in the word today I believe; thus no reason to even have any of the parables that Jesus gave. This is simply not so! While we are accounted as perfect before God in the final judgment, we are not perfect at all. If anything, we are more conscious of our imperfection.
As a side point, none of us is perfect, none of us is better than others; however, some of us are clearly worse than others. We certainly know more than those who do not believe that we are fallen far short of the goal that He expects from us, being in our fallen state, and we know how far we have to go to as get close to perfection as we possibly can. We need the help of the Almighty to travel on this path!
Which takes us to Paul’s next point; if we follow Christ in both out words and deeds, as the testimony of Christ is confirmed in them, through our actions, we will be “In every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge…” For by acting on Christ’s words, we not only gain eternal salvation, but are far more likely to prosper here on earth. This prosperity is not the mega wealth sometimes associated with “prospering”, but rather the surplus of resources over our worldly desires and the true happiness that comes from loving and helping others. It will make us far more happy than say for instance people like Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, etc, who have far more money than even they know what to do with, and money cannot provide true happiness. Only God and Jesus can step in and fill that role, if we let him into our hearts.
But, not everyone is content to take Jesus at His Word. After the Sadducees lost their round with Jesus, the Pharisees, feeling they were superior to the Sadducees, came together to trip Him up. However, as we know ourselves, one cannot trick God, and if you try, you will come out looking the fool. An expert in The Law, of which Pharisees were very fond, asked Him a question, trying to trick Him, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Thus, He provided the Summary of the Law we hear every Holy Communion.
The Pharisees made their earthly living by providing guidance on how to get around the 613 Mosaic Laws with as little inconvenience as possible. They were astounded when Jesus boiled the intent of those laws down to two sentences. They were much more comfortable getting around laws than complying with ones which might inconvenience them. They could be closely compared to lawyers today as a matter of fact, in the striking amount of dishonesty that is in their profession (no offense to the good lawyers!).
Boiling down the intent of the laws into those two sentences, gave the Pharisees a hard fast law that for once, they could not find a loophole in. There is no way to get around the basic intent of the Summary of the Law, Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. The Pharisees would much rather follow the complicated system of the 613 laws than the simple, basic Summary of the Law. They could or would not see that it was far better to follow the Summary of the Law than try to get around all 613 laws.
Apparently tiring of the game with the Pharisees and wishing to confound them instead, Jesus asked them, saying, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?” They say unto him, “The son of David.” For the scripture is clear that He should be of the House of David. As God, Jesus has been from the beginning, so he queried them, “How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” Not grasping the concept that God was, is and always will be, they could not answer and “from that day forth” no one would “ask him any more questions.” Like I mentioned earlier, the result of their attempt to trick the Son of God made them look like absolute fools.
There have always been and always will be people who want to pick nits with the intent of avoiding doing what should be done, thus making it seems acceptable to do what they want to do. You can see people every day who fill the shoes of the Pharisees, insisting on complying with arcane and useless rules and regulations while studiously avoiding doing what God so clearly asks, that is to be a Christian and do as Christ asks us to do. People are always going to avoid doing what God wants us to do, that is in our nature. You can see this as the government attempts to replace the Rule of God with the rule of man. When a group of men believe that they have the right to control other humans with the rule of man and disregard the rule of God, you know that a society is in trouble. Ask Sodom, Gomorrah, Rome, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan how that worked out for them in the end. No country has ever fared well when it replaces God with the rule of Man. We are to be Christians, not “good”, to do what God asks, not Go with the Flow! 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, in His Grace, to lead us and follow us, to keep us always. Our goal is to do the Lord’s will, not to avoid 613 laws or to replace Him altogether. To do what is right, no matter how hard that may be and be humble. This is the summary of what the Christian life should be all about.
Action, not diction, is what counts. It is by your actions you are known.
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God