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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.


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Psalm 46:1-11

Trinity XVIII

October 4, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“Be Still… and Know That I Am God”


Be still… and know that I am God.


Perhaps no wiser counsel, nor rewarding promise, nor majestic words are to be found in all of the Sacred Scriptures!


Be still… and know that I am God.


We have all heard the beautiful “sounds of nature” CDs on which are recorded the pleasant and comforting – mesmerizing – sounds of soft raindrops, rustling leaves, insects, and even the whisper of the wind.  But little do you and I appreciate the monumental task production crews face in finding quiet and still settings in which to record these faint sounds, without the distracting background noise generated by mankind.


Ultra-sensitive recording equipment is set up in the outlying regions of suburbia only to be interrupted by the honk of a distant car.  One account tells of a producer who hiked by backpack into the wild only to record the sound of a hunter’s rifle.  He was then flown by helicopter to the furthest outreaches of civilization where isolation and seclusion are almost assured – only to record the unwelcome roar of an overhead jet!


Be still… and know that I am God.


Nor is stillness to be found in the “natural” temperament of men, women, children or young people!  As the fallen sons of Adam and the fallen daughters of Eve, our souls are all too often filled with the din of the world’s blare to enjoy any shade of “stillness.”  Conversations here, there, and everywhere!  Violent emotional upheavals!  The press of deadlines!  With people on the right and left flowing like a river in the race to nowhere! 


And yet the word of the LORD to us this day remains unchanged.


Be still… and know that I am God.


These are most intriguing words for the sophisticated members of 21st century mankind!  They are without doubt most instructive words for those who will listen to them and who will learn from their rich counsel.  They have been with us for three millennia, penned during the challenging days of Israel’s history when the Almighty delivered her from her fierce enemies through the hand of King David.


This psalm begins with a reminder that God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble, and ends with the words, The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  These majestic words, by the way, inspired in the German Reformer, Martin Luther, the lyrics of his famous hymn:


A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper he amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing…


Of all eleven inspired verses of this psalm – which speak of earthquakes and floods, the disorderly conduct of nations and the unruliness of mankind, accounts of wars and rumors of wars – these are the only words uttered directly by the Ancient of Days!


Be still… and know that I am God.


We might well ask ourselves the question: Were these eight remarkable words written for God’s benefit or were they written for our benefit?  Since God is without any need or needs, totally self-sufficient and self-capable, we may safely conclude they were certainly written for our benefit!  He loves us and desires that we understand and follow His ways!  Indeed, much benefit accrues to us if we will hear and heed.


Consider First, to be “still” is to “relax” (in the vernacular, to “chill out”)… to calm down, something very foreign to modern man.  It comes from the Hebrew word rah fah’ which means to “let fall.”  Let all angst and worries and stress fall – fall away… fall to the ground!   


Be still… and know that I am God.


This verb is furnished as a command!  Be still!  To “be still” is contrary to our nature. So the Almighty furnishes us the command, “Be still.”


To “be silent” is to cease from speaking words.  But to “be still” is something more.  It is not only to cease from speaking words, but in addition, to cease from all actions! 


Thus to “be still” is to be silent and calm to the point of being motionless.


Several of us here this morning were trained according to a philosophical seam in American and Canadian education that yet understood and considered this command to “be still” as an implicit component of the educational curriculum.


Beginning in the first grade, children were thus taught to “be still.”  To practice this, their hands were placed on their desks and their feet placed squarely on the floor.  Their heads were bowed and there were to be no words.  There were to be no actions.  The teacher would walk quietly around the room and touch the top of each child’s head in recognition that he or she did well.  This began first for five seconds, then the next week for ten seconds, and so on, until at the end of the year all of the students could easily “be still” for long periods of time!


Those who were taught such simple control of their mouths, their bodies and their emotions were granted one of the greatest gifts of all – to be “still” on command – something that does not just come naturally to us!  Some may say, “I was never taught this!”  It is never too late to learn!  It is always within the reach of all of us!


There is an old saying: Sometimes God stills the storm.  Sometimes He lets the storm rage… and calms His children!


It might be good for us to remember that our Lord knew how to be still.  We can see Him asleep in a boat caught in the midst of a wild storm!  The Twelve had to wake Him up to ask for His help!  Peace be still, He cried out – and it was so!


We also might remember that the Solomonic Temple was constructed in utter silence – by Solomon’s command (read I Kings chapter 6 for the details) – reminding us of the reverence that should mark God’s House!  But also reminding us that we -- as the temples of God – should also possess that same tranquility!


How many people play back in their minds the hasty words… the ill-advised actions that led to their downfall – because they never learned to be “still”?


I am amused, but even more, astounded and humbled at the wisdom of the old nursery rhyme:


A wise old owl sat in an oak.

The more he saw, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard.

Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?


Second, to be “still” before God is to define true worship. 


It does not say to be still and “find yourself”…

It does not say to be still… and emotionally healthy…

It does not say to be still… and seek nothingness!! Nirvana…

It says… Be still… and know that I am God.


Much has been said, much has been written, and much has been endlessly debated, regarding the proper worship of Almighty God. 


The eight words before us this morning teach us something regarding true Christian worship that is irrefutable.  They link knowing God with the practice of being silent and reverent – and still.


Be still… and know that I am God.


In fact, these words, if completely thought through are eventually recognized as an irreducible axiom.  To know God requires in some manner the practice of being still. 


We can certainly thank the Almighty for the many, many gifts He has lavished upon this humble parish!  We all dress appropriately, knowing we are assembling before the King!  There is a readiness to kneel and joyfully participate in the service!  There is Christian love with accompanying actions!  But above all there is a reverent and silent tenor that marks and fills this House of Worship – people talking silently to God before the service, letting God talk to them during the service, then talking to one another after the service.


Third, and last, to be “still” defines God’s Presence amongst mankind.  Be still… and know that I am God.


When the LORD’s prophet, Elijah, found himself in trouble – deep trouble – with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel on account of the Word of the LORD which he had declared, indeed, when they sent secret agents after him to seize him for execution, do you remember what he did?


He fled into the wilderness below Beersheba to the south, and continued for 300-miles on foot until he stood in the mouth of a cave at Mt. Sinai.  We are told a great and strong wind rent the mountain and broke the rocks – but God was not in the wind!


We are told an earthquake shook the earth and made the mountain tremble.  But God was not in the earthquake!  We are told a fire passed by, consuming everything in its path.  But God was not in the fire!


But finally, a still small voice came to Elijah.  And God was found in the still small voice. 


It is like the old adage states… When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!  When we are silent and still, the Lord will appear!  Our Heavenly Father makes His Presence known to us in stillness.  ~He always has!  He always will!  When we have been made “still” through injustice and the humility of heart-wrenching events, it is then that He comes to us like the evening dew to calm and soothe our troubled souls.


When we are silenced through injuries and illnesses and debilitating weaknesses and the threat of various inescapable maladies that afflict our tabernacles of clay -- when we find ourselves still in a mantle of darkness -- it is then that He comes to us to sanctify our burdens.


Our Heavenly Father makes His Presence known to us in stillness.  He always has!  He always will! 


This is why regular, reverent, exalted public worship is so important.   It is when two or three are gathered in His name that He says He will be in their midst!    


Be still… and know that I am God.


These words are too important to let slip away!  Let us therefore hold them close – and better yet, put them into practice!


So it was in the beginning.  So has it always been.  And so shall it ever be, world without end.



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Psalm 10

Trinity XVII

September 27, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“The LORD Is King For Ever and Ever”


There are many statements in the Bible which are offensive to fallen Man!  But probably none of them are as offensive as the unyielding statement found in the psalm read together this morning!   It is a phrase which the church, in its smug sophistication, cozy friendship with the world, and attempt to be more compassionate than God Himself… needs to hear!  It is a phrase which the fallen sons of Adam and fallen daughters of Eve need to hear in hope and faith they will be converted by God’s grace and live.  It is a phrase, indeed, which you and I need to hear often and “live out” consistently in our daily lives!   


It is found in verse 18. 


The LORD is King for ever and ever. 

The LORD is King for ever and ever.


Why was it written?  It was written because the psalmist, of old, had seen so much pervasive and unrelenting evil in his day – he could no longer keep silence and hold it in!  The psalm is really a lamentation written to God, as it were, from his heart!  Note how it begins…


Why standest thou so far off, O LORD, and hidest thy face in the needful time of trouble?  In modern parlance, “How come You don’t help us?”


And then follows a litany of very real contemporary issues – each insulting to the faithful – but even more so, to the Almighty Himself!  Pride (verse 4), injustice (verse 5), arrogance (verse 6), fraud (verse 7), theft and murder (verse 8), secrecy (verse 9), deception (verse 11), heresy and sacrilege (verse 12).


And then he calls out to God!  Arise, O LORD God (v. 13).  Take the matter into Thy hand (v. 15).  Break the power of the ungodly (v. 17). 


Finally, he offers words of comfort to all the faithful in their distress. 


The LORD is King for ever and ever. 


It does not say: The LORD is a king (small k) – although some would wish it so to be!  It does not say: the LORD is one king amongst many kings – although that might indeed be what many think!  It does not say: Hope for the LORD to be King for ever and ever!  What it says is:


The LORD (all capitals letters – Tetragrammaton -- the Name of Eternal God: Yahweh, the Great I Am) is King (present tense with a capital K) for ever – and then repeats once more -- and ever.


The LORD is King for ever and ever.


As we sang in the processional hymn this morning:


Under the shadow of Thy throne

Thy saints have dwelt secure

Sufficient is thine arm alone

And our defence is sure.


Just how is it, we ask ourselves, this reference to Almighty God as King has almost disappeared from Christian vocabulary and prayers?  How is it that our role as His enlisted soldiers has drifted from the consciousness of His troops -- the Church militant -- until it is now almost AWOL?  How is it that His mighty army – once a colossal juggernaut and force that brought about Christian civilization – has, like a chameleon, blended in with the world to such a degree they are now almost indistinguishable?


Some say the “adversarial nature” of armed conflict is passé (out of date).   But St. Paul, in II Timothy 2:3 tells us: Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  Lest we have forgotten, we are in the midst of a spiritual war which requires spiritual armor and discipline (Ephesians chapter 6)!  We dare not lose sight of the King Who commands us!


The LORD is King for ever and ever. 


The Christian hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers, has been the backbone of Christian Hymnody for 150-years.  But through a development in 1986 which reveals much more than intended, the 9.1 million member United Methodist Church considered the lyrics of Onward Christian Soldiers too militaristic, and so it was voted out of their hymnal along with another hymn that refers to warfare -- "Battle Hymn of the Republic." 


Yet, we should recall, the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers was sung at the funeral of former American president Dwight Eisenhower at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC (March, 1969).


I would like to remind you of an event on August 10, 1941 most would think fictional, were it not documented as being historical!  At the signing of the Atlantic Charter (which was a broad statement of U.S. and British war aims through a joint declaration released by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill even as Germany was inflicting humiliating defeats upon their enemies).– the British Battleship Prince of Wales sat in harbor in Newfoundland.  On its wide deck a crowd of British and American sailors were gathered before the two famous men.  And they did the unthinkable!  What did they do?  They sang!  Sang what?


Onward! Christian soldiers,

Marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus

Going on before.

Can you believe it?  Both Churchill and Roosevelt had chosen the hymns that day -- when American and British sailors stood shoulder to shoulder before the start of WWII.  The specter of war and destruction changes outlooks!


Churchill had selected as hymns O God Our Help in Ages Past and Onward Christian Soldiers.  Roosevelt selected Eternal Father Strong to Save.  And so the three great hymns filled the air that memorable morning.


What – almost 75 years later -- has happened to our world?  Why can we not see and respond to the great wickedness of our days?  Prayers can no longer be prayed to Him at public school graduation services!  Leaders cannot find the will to stop the sale of organs and tissues of aborted babies.  There is the legalization of same-sex marriages.  And Christians are told to keep their religion to themselves; their voice is just one among many in an America that is now no longer Christian but pluralistic! 


I was hoping the pope – known as the “vicar of Christ” -- in his recent address before the U.S. Congress might remind our leaders of Jesus’ role as King of kings, but he did not mention the name of our Lord once!  He mentioned the environment, illegal immigration, and social justice – in the same manner that politicians do.  But not one reference to the Savior of the world… and the Redeemer of Mankind!


And so we ask ourselves, “Does the Almighty no longer have any say in the matters of this world? Or has 21st century man been deceived?


Indeed, 21st century man has been deceived!


St. Peter warned the people of his day, Save yourselves from this “untoward” generation. Or in more modern language, Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.


It is fine to talk about Eternal God as our Friend, but we dare not forget that He yet remains King (capital K)!


The LORD is King for ever and ever.


It is fine to talk about Eternal God as immanent (near us), but we dare not forget that He yet remains “wholly other” (transcendent).


The LORD is King for ever and ever.


It is fine to remember and honor the dignity and office and function of civil magistrates, but we dare not forget the Almighty still sits enthroned over them – judging them according to His Royal Decrees!


The LORD is King for ever and ever.


It was Thomas Jefferson who said: Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.


And it was Thomas Jefferson who also reminded us that if we forget the paths of wisdom so carefully set before us by the Ancient of Days... and the founders of this nation – the children of the land will (and I quote): wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.


May you and I carefully and reverently – conscientiously -- take to heart the inspired and timeless words God has given us, His soldiers,  through His psalmist, of old:


The LORD is King for ever and ever. 


Psalm 18:1-20

Trinity VII

July 19, 2015

“I Will Love Thee, O LORD”

Life is full of decisions!  They clamor for our attention from the moment we wake up until we retire for the night. 

Decisions with too little information to go on.  Decisions touching life and death.  Decisions concerning the health and well-being of others.

Deminimus decisions -- those with little in the way of consequences.  And absolutely critical decisions which touch upon the fate of nations and civilization itself!  

Life is full of decisions!  We are, as one dear poet put it so well, essentially “infinite decision makers.”  At every fork in the road of life, we must make decisions before we may proceed – and these decisions, individually and collectively, shape our lives and our very existence!

Life can’t give us joy and peace;

It’s up to us to will it.

Life just gives us time and space;

It’s up to us to fill it.

The Bible furnishes us a wealth of information about decisions and concerning how to make them.  God details bad decisions for us -- such as when our first parents decided they were ultimate with God and chose to partake of the forbidden fruit.  God also details good decisions for us, such as when Solomon asked for an understanding mind and the gift to discern between good and evil.  

Life is, indeed, full of decisions!

We must remember that man is not entirely free in this decision-making process!  He is limited.  One of the great contributions of the Reformers in this regard deals with man’s limitations.  It was Martin Luther who wrote his great work, Bondage of the Will in which he reminds us that we are all bound by our natures.  The unregenerate are free to act and decide – humanly speaking -- only according to their fallen nature.  The regenerate are free to act – indeed they are reminded and encouraged to act – in the power and development of their new natures!  

And this morning, you and I are very, very privileged to learn from King David, the psalmist of Israel, an inspired lesson regarding decision making!

The ordeals of his life and of his “ministry,” if you will, were so real, so difficult, but also so beneficial!  And they can be so helpful to us, as well, if we will listen and learn!

His troubles, when in hiding from his father-in-law, King Saul, and the entire military apparatus of Israel that hunted him down as a criminal, he likens unto an overflowing flood.  Like a huge wave that would bury him… a tsunami!

David had unending concerns whether or not he would even live to see the next day!  And he knew he must follow a wise course if he were to survive!  So what did he do?  What was his solution?  What was his path to maintain sanity?  Hear the first six words of this morning’s psalm. They reveal it to you and to me!

I will love thee, O LORD.

I will love thee, O LORD.

This was his pathway to emotional health when traveling through deep waters!  He does not say, “I love thee, O LORD.”  He does not say “I desire to love thee, O LORD.”  He does not even say, “I would like to love thee, O LORD.”  No.  He makes a decision – the all-important decision – and then he articulates it, I will love thee, O LORD.  

I will love thee day and night!  I will love thee through thick and thin.  I will love thee when things go well!  I will love thee when things go from bad to worse!  I will love thee when I have no control of the situations around me!  I will love thee when I have full control of the situations around me!  I will love thee, O LORD.

This was his first and foremost decision of all!  I will love thee, O LORD!  The love he mentions is not a syrupy, saccharine, sentimental love.  It is a robust love of mind, emotions, and volition.  

Like a rope tied to God, the only immovable reference point in life, his prayer offered sanity and psychological well-being when all other human resources failed him.  

To pull himself out of the slew of despair and the quicksand of despondency and the mire of bitterness, he repeated the healing words, I will love thee, O LORD.  When he gasped for the breath of life and for comfort of soul and for the assurance that someone cared for him, he intoned the words, I will love thee, O LORD.  And in so doing, he soon found that he had pulled himself back to safe and solid ground!

Many elements in life are truly out of our control!  But we should remember that our response to each of them is fully in our control!  Many people and events and trials and vicissitudes of live – which bring us difficult and painful and demanding lessons – we cannot control.  But it is fully given to each of us to control how we respond to them, and to wring victory from them for us and for those around us.  

I will love thee, O LORD was the touchstone of David’s life!  And it should be ours as well!  It reflects the first and great commandment given us by Christ: to love God with all of our hearts and all of our souls and all of our minds and all of our strength.  Are we surprised then to find them at the forefront of David’s life?  I will love thee, O LORD.  

The story is told of a very dear, old, and wise man who was once approached by a group of nasty teenagers who approached him to have some fun with him!  One of the boys had caught a small bird and was holding it in his hand.  All that could be seen was its frightened face and beak!

“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” he asked.  The old man looked, trying to figure out what was happening.

“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” he taunted.  And then finally the old man figured out the nature of the game they were playing.  

If he were to say, “The bird is dead,” then the boy would simply open his hand and let the bird fly into the sky – and he would be made to look foolish. If he were to say, “The bird is alive,” then the boy would simply break the bird’s neck and drop it on the ground in front of the old man, again making him to appear ignorant.  Either way, he would be the loser.

“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” came the final taunt.  

He carefully and slowly and gently replied, “The fate of the bird is with you!  It is you who will decide whether he lives or dies!  His outcome will be as you choose!”  And with that, he walked away.

And so it is with us!  All matters will be – humanly speaking -- as we decide.  They will end up as we decide – for good or for evil.  For righteousness or for wickedness.  For faith or for folly.

He has placed our response to the issues of life in our hands.  It is a great privilege.  But it is also a terrible responsibility.  It will be as we decide.

There are many decisions in life!  May they all be colored by the primary decision always before us – stated so well by King David, of old: I will love thee, O LORD.


Psalm 71

Trinity VI

August 12, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

“A Safe Place”

Everyone needs a safe place in life.  To sleep.  To work.  To worship.  To think.  And we should thank the Almighty that we have all been entrusted with such safe places -- for we all too often take them for granted.

I recently read the endearing and spellbinding story of a dear woman named Renata Calverly who escaped Nazi Germany when she was two years old – because of a safe place offered her by her Christian nanny after her mother and grandmother had died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

“Where was the hiding place?” you ask.  You would never guess… not in a thousand years!  Her hiding place was located under her nanny’s long, loose skirts!  It was an audacious plan from the start that worked to perfection because the little girl had been taught to obey!  O-B-E-Y.  And not to be afraid!  And to follow instructions promptly!  They practiced walking together as one… silently – and little Renata learned to feel warm and safe and secure in her dark little hiding place under her nanny’s skirts!  And thereby she found freedom!  She still dreams today about those hard days 74 years ago permanently tucked away in the early cells of her memory bank!

David was clearly looking for such a safe place in the psalm read together this morning!  Several clues are woven into the text which lead us to conclude it was written when he was being pursued by his own son, Absalom.  David tells us twice that he was then old, which accords well with the chronology of the detailed events leading up to what has come to be known as “Absalom’s Rebellion.”  And David mentions his own enemies, who presumably took advantage of the situation to lead Absalom in such a dark and daring deed – and thus satisfy their hatred against King David!

In verse two King David cries out to God for a “safe place” in life!  He employs three key words.  First…  Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may always resort.  Not a weak “fall apart” place, but a strong “hold together” place!  A stronghold!   Second and third… Thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defenceand my castle.

So there you have it – strongholdhouse of defencecastle.  This to me is absolutely spellbinding… fascinating… incredibly attractive, if you will… to see the aged King David on the run figuring out “Plan A”… “Plan B”… Plan “C” – while calling upon the Ancient of Days to be to him what rulers today sneer and scoff at – a stronghold… a house of defence… a castle of protection!  It is inspiring… it is humbling… it is inviting… it is appealing… it is absolutely priceless!

It is David at his finest under God’s providence!  

These words all fall under the reach of the term “sanctuary” – a place of refuge or safety.  Today we have bird sanctuaries, animal sanctuaries, and even plant sanctuaries!  From the Latin sanctuarium… which comes from sanctus --  holy!  A holy place of protection.  A holy place where those accused of crimes are protected from injustice.

This most assuredly is shaped to a large degree by God’s provision in the Old Testament of six Cities of Refuge which He commanded for the Promised Land where those guilty of manslaughter could escape “blood vengeance” and obtain the right of asylum – a place of safety -- until their case could be heard by the city elders in the gate.  This also shaped America’s practice of guaranteeing her citizens a fair trial by a jury of peers. 

The Medieval Church continued this practice of furnishing sanctuary toward the establishment of justice for hundreds of years until it was finally abolished in Europe at the end of the 17th century.

This has once again been in the news of late – except this time churches are not furnishing the sanctuary – but cities… American cities (roughly 200 of them) – are furnishing sanctuary… immunity from what?  Immunity from United States immigration laws.  Instead of the Biblical emphasis on preserving justice, the humanistic imitation emphasizes lawlessness.  And a very sad brand at that!  Its lawless nature – and lawless outcome -- were recently on display in San Francisco when a young woman walking with her father on Pier 14 was shot dead by a felon who was protected by San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.   

How far we have -- regrettably -- wandered from the Biblical model.