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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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Sermons from St. Paul's Anglican Church

Here you will find the transcripts of our most recent sermon and those that were delivered in the past.


27 Sermons:

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Joshua 1;1-9
February 12, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Formula for Success"

 This past week, we saw those mysterious Magi return east across the desert sands and endless dunes to their homes – yet richer... more noble... more wise, on account of having worshipped the Christ Child in spirit and in truth! They, in a very real sense, are the paradigm for you and me in the worship of our Lord!

This morning we pivot to take one last look at the Holy Child and His parents, but they, too, are gone! The house in Bethlehem now used by others. We gaze toward Egypt, but He is not to be found there! We scan the Judean hills, but He is nowhere to be found! He can be seen as a Holy Child no more! Time has had its way! Days have turned into weeks... weeks into months... months into years... years into decades!

As we change Church seasons, we see that He is now in the prime of His life... and He is preparing for the great tests He must endure – first in the wilderness, then finally along the Via Dolorosa -- which we remember and study during Lent. He has several tests in between!

This morning we are privileged to have read together one of the greatest of the many famous Old Testament passages! Joshua, son of Nun also had great tests of faith and the Almighty likewise prepared him to succeed. The name, Joshua, we might want to recall, in the Greek is Ιησους, which in English is translated Jesus (meaning Jehovah is Salvation)!

There are four key words in this stellar text before us this morning. Four words, which if understood, move us rapidly down the road to our own success in the great tests we all face both individually and collectively.

The first word is SUCCESS. Verse 8: …for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

“Success at what?” we ask. For Joshua, it was success in moving roughly three million people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land following their 40-year wilderness wandering.

It was General Douglas McArthur who famously and unabashedly declared: “There is no substitute for victory.” And that is the spirit of this word “success.” That is the spirit of the text. There is no substitute for success. There is no substitute for succeeding at what we are called to do!

Does this word apply to us? Most definitely! God calls all of us to perform some unique work for him – regarding ourselves… regarding family members… regarding friends… regarding strangers… regarding His Church and His Kingdom! We may think our calling is small and inconsequential, but He does not! He has called us to it... and it is He that helps us find success in accomplishing it!

By the way, the Joshua text read together this morning is quoted in the New Testament when the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that God will never leave us nor forsake us! So it does apply to us!

God certainly calls us to accomplish labors for Him – and sometime they seem impossible! Indeed, humanly speaking, they often are impossible! The formula for success for the people of God is found in the three other key words of this text!

There is the word MEDITATE. Verse 8: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein…

It is one thing for us to read the Bible; it is quite another to meditate upon what we have read! To meditate has been likened to the chewing of a cud. God has equipped certain animals, such as the white-tailed deer, with a rumen to store food when it is gathered in haste. Once the animal then finds a safe and quiet place, it simply brings up its “cud” (clump of food) from its rumen to chew on it slowly, extracting all of the flavor and nutrition it possesses.

This is a great description of meditating on the God’s Word! If you and I are not doing this daily, we are – to put it frankly – dysfunctional! Meditating on God’s Word is how we obtain insight into life. It is how we gain a wise perspective concerning the challenges which would block our way to success in our callings.

The Word of God has been aptly called the “Instruction Manual” of life. Elsewhere the “Blueprint” for life! Everyone needs guidance and help navigating through the many issues of life! But we cannot truly have success in our callings unless we are meditating on God’s Word to us in the Bible.

Then there is the word COURAGE. Verse 6: Be strong and of a good courage. God encouraged Joshua three times with this word “courage.” Why? Because He knows how much we need it! We are all fallen, and often – when walking by sight – we only see the problems and the challenges… and have not the courage to wrestle our way to the solutions!

The armies of Israel could only see Goliath and his size and his shield and his sword and his spear; they could only hear his voice. But David could see God behind him… over him… beside him… in front of him – it gave him courage to gain the victory!

Courage requires faith because -- when it comes to man -- nothing in life is ever a “sure thing”! It was dear old St. Augustine, 5th century Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) who stated it so well. Faith is believing what we do not yet see. The reward for such faith is to see what we have believed!

St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: If God be for us, who can be against us? Courage from God is indispensable in life!

Lastly, there is the word NEARNESS (the nearness of God). Verse 9: …for the LORD thy God [is] with thee whithersoever thou goest.

So where is God? Good question. He is Spirit and has not a body like man. In the final analysis, He is everywhere (Omni-Present) but in some places more present than others!

Draw near to God, wrote St. James, and he will draw near to thee. As a dear old radio preacher used to close his daily program which I listened to growing up: Walk with God and he’ll walk with you! And it is true!

There is a very dear poem regarding the nearness of God…

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there was only one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.

But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there was only one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"

The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."

The nearness of God! The nearness of God has always supported the saints of God, including dear Elijah in his many and great struggles! He traveled 40-days and 40-nights to Mt. Sinai to be near God when his life was hanging in the balance – hunted down by Jezebel!

So here we have the formula for success in doing God’s work in life! SUCCESS = MEDITATION on God’s Word + COURAGE to obey and act + the NEARNESS of God.

How do you and I score? Take away any one of the three requirements and success is in jeopardy!

How important is success to us? Important enough to follow God’s instructions?

My how we do need success among Christians in our day! And my but how far short the average Christian falls when it comes to an honest evaluation.

Let us therefore make a new resolve – to meditate on God’s Word daily… to exercise faith that reveals itself in God-centered courage… to walk near to the Lord so that He will walk near with us…

To find the success which is so critical in our day!

This is the Word of the LORD... and may it endure world without end.

Amen.

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:4,9-14
February 5, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Just Shall Live by Faith"

The subject of this morning’s Old Testament Lesson is Faith…

How many of us ever met our great great grandparents? Not many, I suspect.

Yet we believe they existed and walked this earth, for you and I are here today… We believe… we trust… we have faith… that we came from their loving union and are thus shaped in some manner by their genetic makeup.

There is an expression which we have all heard: Seeing is believing. But there is much in life we cannot see… and yet we still believe…

You and I, for example, were not in Belgium on June 18, in the year of our Lord 1815 (over 200 years ago), when the French commander, Napoleon Bonaparte, lost his final battle to the Duke of Wellington – a famous battle known to us as the Battle at Waterloo. Yet we believe it happened!

You and I have never seen an atom… a proton… an electron… a neutron – yet we believe they exist by the trillions and quadrillions… and we have a healthy respect for them, for we have seen the monstrous power they can unleash!

When we board a 747 bound for Europe, a flight that extends thousands of miles across deep, frigid ocean waters, none of us can say we saw first-hand the fuel in the tanks… yet we had faith it was there!

Most people have never physically seen a bacterium… or a virus… but we all surely believe they exist…

Faith is an important aspect of everyday life.

Since God cannot be seen (for He has not a body like men) He has graciously revealed Himself to mankind at many times… and in many places… and in many ways – always with a view toward the establishment of faith in Him as a loving Father!.

In the Old Testament, He revealed Himself through the inspired Word of Moses… and the prophets… and the poets. He further instituted meaningful elements of worship – object lessons, if you will – to promote and to explain this Faith.

Six-hundred years before the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Habakkuk was brought onto the scene by the LORD as “His man” in a terrible hour of national crisis and severe judgment upon His people. For they had rejected the Faith and the God Who had given the Faith… and had wandered into unparalleled apostasy. The chronicler tells us their behavior fell below that of the nations He had driven out of the Promised Land 800 years earlier…

Habakkuk carried a terribly heavy burden for the LORD…

And he asked the Almighty for divine enlightenment: ”Why are the wicked not punished for their wickedness?” God replied, telling him that swift judgment was approaching. He was raising up a fierce people known as the Chaldeans – ruthless… merciless… whose horses were swifter than leopards… who were fiercer than wolves at dusk… who laughed at fortified cities as they built earthen ramps to allow final entry… They would advance like the desert winds and gather prisoners like sand…

This then led to a second probing question – a greater quandary on the part of Habakkuk – for which he again sought divine illumination… Why? Why are you going to use the Chaldeans? How can a righteous God use such a profane – and much more wicked people – to judge and punish His Own? God replied that their proud conquerors… would in turn be judged themselves…

As Habakkuk saw the land stripped of its people... stripped of its remaining Levites and priests… stripped of its young and old… stripped of its men and women… stripped of its gold and silver… stripped of its sacred articles used in worship… the temple demolished and burned… the land lying in great ruin as the haunt of jackals… he was led by the Ancient of Days to make one of the great observations in the Bible:

The just shall live by faith.

The Hebrew word translated by the English term “faith” in chapter 2 (verse 4) e-mu-nah’ – which means firmness with the sense of stability! And this makes sense because at the root of our lives we find a basic governing presupposition! And this faith forms the firm and stable foundation for our entire world-and-life view!

As this dear prophet watched all aids to Faith disappear… evaporate… vanish… As this faithful prophet saw the tide of calamity wash away the Temple sacrifices and all associated prescribed rituals… the teaching ministry of the Levites… ...indeed, the entire nation floating off into the distance with the receding Chaldean tide… he reached out and was given a great discovery by the LORD:

The just shall live by faith.

I once read the account of a man imprisoned in the death camps of Germany over seventy years ago. And I remind you that not all who perished were exclusively Jews… Among their number were also many Christians…

This man’s parents… his brother… his wife… were sent to the death camps and to the gas chambers…

He never knew from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens… or if he would be amongst the “saved” who would be forced to shovel the ashes of the ill-fated… One day, he was placed in solitude – in humiliating nakedness – and he discovered that all he had left upon this earth was his faith in God

The just shall live by faith.

Faith is everything! Jesus often told those He healed, “Your faith hath made you whole.” That is something worth considering! And to the Twelve, He asked, “Where is your faith?”

The just shall live by faith.

We now complete the Epiphany Season and leave the Magi behind... moving into Pre-Lent. And we are given to understand that Faith was perhaps their greatest assets!

What else would have impelled them upon seeing a strange star in the heavens to leave everything behind and embark on a thousand-mile journey to find a Newborn King? Faith moves mountains!

True Faith always finds Christ! Faith emulates Christ! Faith serves Christ!

The just shall live by faith.

World without end... Amen.
 

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Isaiah 61:1-11
January 29, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Rebuilding the Ancient Ruins"

Which of us is not in some way captivated by the mysterious Magi whose camel-borne figures so gracefully traversed the desert sands of the ancient world in pursuit of the newborn King?

Which of us is not in some way fascinated by the silvery night-journey of these nobles emerging from the east through the leading of a strange star in the heavens?

And which of us is not in some way entranced by the dangers they faced, the rare and distinctive gifts they bore, the complex pathway they traveled, and the dauntless mode of their approach?

Even their names, according to sixth century tradition – Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – pique our curiosity and arouse our interest, adding to the mystique that shrouds this remarkable narrative, making Epiphany such a delightful and captivating – and satisfying -- season of the Church year!

Certainly one of the great lessons delivered to us by the Magi, of old, has to do with the necessity of a worthy “work ethic.”

By all accounts, these gallant voyagers “had it made,” as they say, in their home countries! They had as much as they needed. They were secure in the prestige enjoyed amongst peers, in all probability comfortable among the “necessities” of life! Yet when their “call” came, they were ready to drop everything for this once in a lifetime – yea, once in the history of the world – journey.

Just imagine the decision-making required to take enough with them, but not too much! To travel light – but not too light! To prepare to manage the risks posed by contingencies – but not too much in an attempt to eliminate all risks. How much food for themselves... for their animals? Water! How to defend against possible aggression? What supplies to include for first aid, if required. How many funds for the purchase of necessities along the way? To whom would they speak? When would they remain silent?

And behind all of these considerations an incredibly refined work ethic that lifted them out of the comfort of their libraries and routines out into the rigors of the trail, the blaze of the sun, the sting of desert sands, the chill of night.

As the old saying goes: “Great men cease to be great when they cease to do great things!” “Great women cease to be great when they cease to do great things!” “Great children and young people cease to be great when they cease to do great things!”

And so they carefully and joyfully embarked on the great work God had so graciouslygiven them to do...

Was it any different than the great work given to Noah who spent decades preparing the ark? Instead of traveling across a desert, he and his family floated across a flood!

Was it any different than the great work of Nehemiah – rebuilding the broken-down walls of Jerusalem? Not just the physical labor required... but the mental toughness... and firm resolve of deep character to overcome all of the opposition, including that of the arch-villain, Tobiah and his ilk?

The Isaiah passage before us this morning speaks of rebuilding the former desolations. Yet more work! When the captives returned from Babylon, Isaiah said, they would have a lot of work to do! Rebuilding everything that had been destroyed and laid in waste... that had become the haunt of jackals!

But this passage also (at one and the same time) looked forward to the days of our Lord. It spoke of Him as bringing good tidings, of helping the brokenhearted, of proclaiming liberty to those in bondage. In fact, Jesus read this morning’s text from the Prophecy of Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth where He had been brought up. And He then famously stated, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

Certainly He and the Twelve a great work to do – and they did it! They started a redemptive work of such gargantuan proportions – and with such a breathtaking outcome... we can really only stare with bated breath in silence at the scope of accomplishment... and the worldwide outcome!

John Milton, called by some the most gifted of all the English writers, who was blind when he dictated his magnum opus, the poem Paradise Lost, 1658-1664 – and then its sequel Paradise Regained, could still see by faith the enormity of the undertaking involved! His famous quote regarding the rebuilding of the “ancient ruins” is taken from this morning’s Isaiah passage. He saw the undertaking in Jesus Christ as reaching all the way back to the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ terrible choices.

We have all been given lots of work to do in our lifetimes! And He has equipped us for our tasks. We have Jesus as our perfect example... and behind Him, our Heavenly Father, whom Jesus said is always working!

We also have the Magi of old, whose great work of faith we remember and strive to emulate each Epiphany season.

As John Milton wrote (and I quote): “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him to be like Him...”

May the Almighty continue to grant us His wisdom and His blessing in our repair of the ancient ruins as well! The last verse of this morning’s Isaiah passage tells us the outcome will be glorious, indeed!

For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Let us repair the ancient ruins... world without end. Amen.
 

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Isaiah 41:8-10,17-20
January 22, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Be Not DIsmayed"

Many years ago, we passed an intriguing sign at the entrance of a Church. It read: “Happy Hour – Sunday Morning 09:00.”

The sign does speak volumes for Christians… because the hour spent each Sunday morning in God’s House is a happy time! It is a reverent time… It is a solemn time… It is a worshipful time! But it is most definitely a time of happiness … a time marked by joy… a time to manifest gladness… because we gather together as part of God’s Family to worship the Blessed Christ Child like the Magi of old… to hear His Absolution of sins… to be fed from His Holy Table… and to hear His Sacred Word…

The Epiphany Season is a particularly joyful time of the Church Year for it is marked by brilliance… radiance… illumination… and the shining forth of great light! For that, of course, is the literal rendering of the word Epiphany – to “shine upon”…

The Bible tells us, does it not, that the Magi rejoiced with exceeding great joy! It is one thing to simply rejoice! But it is something else... as the Bible tells us “to rejoice... with joy.” But in between the words “rejoice” and “joy” the Scriptural account adds the word “great” (mega), so that it reads they rejoiced with great joy. But the expression is even stronger! An adjective is added which in the Greek implies a degree of violence! So that they rejoiced with a great violent-type of joy!” It was violent because it controlled them; ,they were not in control of it! And it was a delight to experience! I have sensed it at times! The Magi rejoiced with exceeding great joy!

I am so glad that C.S. Lewis wrote his book entitled “Surprised by Joy” – which explains the growth of joy which came to him from God through his escape from atheism and conversion to Christianity.

In the Old Testament verses read together this morning the Almighty reveals Himself as kind beyond measure – and the source of joy for His people!

First, He says that when the captives God earlier sent into exile would return on their way to repatriate the Holy Land, the Ancient of Days would be watching. And when they became thirsty, He would hear them and not forsake them! He would, indeed, open rivers in the mountains... He would open springs of water in the valleys... He would furnish pools of fresh water in the barren wilderness.

There are countless people who in a colorful evening sunset see only stunning colors; others at the same sight feel the violent joy of the Magi assuring them it is a sign from the Holy One that He loves them and wants to fill them with joy!

Others, when beholding a beautiful flower, stop and say, “My, how interesting!” While others see the very same flower and understand it as a gift from God’s own Hand placed in their path to encourage them after a long tiring day!

What is it that you see – at such times?

Second, He reminds us that Abraham was His “friend.” If we were to say on our own authority that God is our Friend, it would be pure presumption. But if God says it, it can be understood that He is not only transcendent... but also immanent. He is not just far away, but also very near. He tells us that his Son is to be called Immanuel – which means “God with us.”

Others set this on the proverbial shelf for later consideration. But there are always those few who accept it as a pathway to joy – and carefully... reverently... humbly... feel the warmth and nearness of God – so immense and so powerful and just and holy – as someone incredibly kind and friendly toward them! And it changes them!

We might remember that St. Paul the Apostle in writing to both the Romans and the Galatians opened the door to personal joy when he explained the Holy Spirit helps us to address the Almighty with the very personal and respectful term Abba, “Father” – the very same term Jesus employed when in the Garden of Gethsemane He was seeking help in His time of preparation for the rigors of Golgotha!

Third, and lastly, some of the most beautiful words in all of the Bible are freely rolled out to us – as yet another ligament... tendon... muscle... binding us to Him with a joyful outlook and optimistic worldview!

Two beautiful and priceless commands are given to us by the Prophet Isaiah... which rest upon five supporting pillars.

The two commands... Do not be afraid! And do not be dismayed. The Hebrew word translated dismayed comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to gaze.” As in stare – like the stare of a deer in headlights!

We all face situations now and then which are so otherwise discouraging, all we can do is stare in shock or concern – while our courage melts... our resolve evaporates. When the Philistine warrior, Goliath, challenged the armies of Israel to face Him – all they could do was gaze – stare – in disbelief... shock... trepidation. But not David! Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?

Our Lord tells us not to be afraid... not to be discouraged. And we might want to take this to heart! Why? Because He is with us! He is the God Whom we serve! He will give us the courage we lack. He will help us! He will uphold us with His strong right Hand of justice and righteousness! Five comforting pillars holding up these two gifts of infinite worth!

This is almost too good to be true! Yet more evidence that our Creator loves us and is concerned with our well-being. That He wants us to be marked by “joy.”

The Magi had every opportunity to be afraid in their thousand mile trek across countless obstacles. They had more opportunities to lose hope when they lost sight of the star while in Herod’s palace. Yet they rejoiced with an almost violent type of great joy which seized them, we are told, when they found it again!

May the same joy support you and me personally – and us as a church family -- as we continue through 2017! God is with us... He is our God... He will strengthen us. He will help us... he will uphold us with His righteous right hand!

Happy Hours – Sunday Mornings 10:30 AM at St. Paul’s Anglican Church!

World without end. Amen.
 

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Zechariah 8:1-8,20-23
January 15, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Seek the LORD"

Zechariah was one of the last of God’s Old Testament prophets. The period of the Judges had passed. So, too, had the period of the Monarchy. The 345 year-long Divided Kingdom had passed by, and both the North and the South had been sent into exile!

Seventy years had elapsed when God decided to raise up Zechariah (a faithful and talented prophet and priest) to perform His important work for His people as they returned from faraway places to repatriate their homeland! Incidentally, the name Zechariah was a popular name on account of its meaning: “God remembers.” And that could be a helpful sermon in its own right! God always remembers his people... even if we might temporarily forget Him! What does He remember? He remembers that we are dust! And he remembers our sins no more!

So what was Zechariah’s important work? His important work was to encourage God’s people in the rebuilding of the Temple! God’s people – weak on their own... and all-too-often prone to discouragement – always need encouragement! Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Christian dissident, at the low point of his incarceration in the Gulag Archipelago, was profoundly “touched” (encouraged) when his friend saw just how “low” and hopeless he felt. They were forbidden to communicate, so he simply marked a small cross in the courtyard dirt with his foot, then quickly “erased” it. And Alexander was lifted; he was changed! This is what Zechariah did each and every day for those under his “cure” – encourage them! It was not just for them... but especially for the Almighty that he did this... Who always watched out for him. So Zechariah worked tirelessly for spiritual transformation in the returning exiles.

This brings to mind the vivid image of what America looked like one century ago when Europeans were streaming into America – not to get on welfare… not to get a free lunch... not to get access to free health care... not infiltrate and destroy the land – but to have an opportunity to work and to save… to be free and to forge a future in a Christian land guided by the light of God’s justice.

The peak year of immigration was 1906 when over 1-1/4 million Europeans found their way to the shores of America. And whom did they first meet when they landed? Christian tithe agencies! The Church still believed in tithing! And they were ready to help them find their way in settling America. Ready to help them with health issues, to help them with language difficulties, to help them to learn marketable skills, how to cook foods of the new land – and help them to find Jesus Christ! Just like Zechariah, of old, they worked to bring spiritual transformation to the new immigrants who continued to populate the land.

In the case of Zechariah, there were also very old men who had returned who had seen the glory of the old temple as boys! When they saw the new temple being built – and how modest and simple it was by comparison – they cried, we are told. It is a sad thing to see any person cry... but especially to see an old man cry! It speaks of profound sadness and discouragement... strength given way to feebleness. I have seen it more than once and I will never forget what I saw. Zechariah encouraged these weeping old men, as well!

In the lesson before us this morning, the Almighty stoops down to encourage Zechariah in the great task and burden he carried, for He shows him what great work all this would lead to in the future! Over 500-years distant he could see God revisiting the very Jerusalem he himself walked through every day -- in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He could see, we are told, the inhabitants of many cities coming there in search of Him. Yea, many people from strong nations – just like the Magi... including the Magi, of old -- would come to Him.

He goes so far as to say that there would come those out of all languages of the earth to find God in His Son, Jesus Christ! This is a remarkable and beautiful vision so wide in its scope that it reaches all the way to you and me this very day – in our pursuit of God through Christ here at St. Paul’s! Through the Blessed Sacrament... through three Bible readings each service... through our collective prayers...

And what is the verb he employed in speaking of this great spiritual transformation? In verses 21 and 22, He two times employed the Hebrew verb ba-cash’ – to “seek”... to “desire”… to “search for”…to “inquire”...

We are rapidly approaching the 170th anniversary of the discovery of gold at John Sutter’s sawmill northeast of Sacramento! When all of those three-quarters of a million pounds of gold flakes and nuggets were found, it was only because prospectors were seeking them – searching for them... desiring them...! Had they not sought them, they would never have been found! And so we, too, must seek if we would find!

David wrote in the 63rd psalm: Early will I seek thee… my soul thirsteth for thee… my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is… And that is what we are called to do, as well. That is what we are privileged to do as well! To seek the LORD! To thirst for Him!

In all of our other occupations of life, we must not forget this – to seek God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that there will be those in the judgment at the end of time who will try to convince Him that they should be permitted into Heaven! They will call Him Lord... twice for emphasis – Lord, Lord… – and recall things they “did for Him!” But He will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”

Seeking the Lord is a lot different than giving intellectual assent! It is a lot different than sliding downhill with the world! Sixteen hundred years ago, dear old St. Augustine in his commentary regarding this word ba-cash’ (“seek”) used by the Prophet Zechariah, put it so well: “The whole life of a good Christian is a holy longing to make progress.”

This is, of course, the very thing the Magi, of old, did! See them contending with heat by day... cold by night... sand whipping them as they sought to “make progress” traversing the desert in the most important and monumental quest of their lifetimes! Seek and ye shall find, promised Jesus.

And the Scriptures remind us to seek Him while he may be found! Do we understand such desire... such a quest... such pursuit... such truthful seeking of Him in this manner? We all have room for improvement and growth! May we all “make progress” (to quote St. Augustine) as we move through Epiphany and this New Year!

This is yet another lesson from the Magi of old – Gentiles who had God’s favor in the day His Son entered the world He created! There are things worth seeking in life; and there are things worth letting go by in life! And we are wise if we perceive and know the difference!

Wise Men Still Seek Him!

World without end.

Amen.
 

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Epiphany I
January 8, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

" They Shall Bring Gold"

There are many characters in the Bible we would all want to meet – Noah surrounded by animals in his great rustic ark… Abraham and Sarah with Ur of the Chaldees fading in the distance… Job sitting so silently and humbly on the ash heap… Moses with his rod extended over the Red Sea… David hiding in the Cave of Adullam… the prophets… the apostles… and many others!

But the Wise Men, of old, would certainly be right near the top! There is something so dignified... so appealing... so incredibly “solid” about Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar! Something that immediately draws you to them... and to their thousand mile trek across the desert sands! Fighting off sandstorms, blazing heat by day, frigid cold by night! They planned their work perfectly; they worked their plan flawlessly!

I am reminded of the lines penned 300 years ago by Alexander Pope – among the greatest of the English poets:

A wit’s a feather,
And a chief’s a rod,
An honest man is the noblest work of God.

Have you ever thought what their neighbors and relatives might have said about them after they had departed? I can hear them now… Crazy old Gaspar looked at the stars too long! Silly old Melchior on his wild goose chase! Cracked-up old Balthazar -- I don’t suppose we’ll ever see him again! And in some sense, these criticisms target all who would pursue the Christ... and take Him seriously... and understand His unique role – not just as Savior, but also as Lord... and as King! Who would willingly want to become His loyal disciples! Discipleship always comes with critics and nay-sayers!

And yet these Magi moved forward – and were rewarded by the LORD God for their faith and their intrepid courage! They have been accorded a place in the sacred annals of history in the Holy Bible! The first dignitaries to greet the Redeemer of mankind and the Savior of the world were the Magi – the “crazy” old Magi -- of old!

I believe we all can deeply appreciate the lessons these Magi furnish us in how to properly approach the Son of God in worship – best attire… best manners… best reverence… best gifts! And note how they genuflect --- bending the knee and bowing their body in humility! They did not come to be entertained... to promote themselves... to receive anything in return or their gifts! They came to worship the Christ! That is a rare thing in churches today! Every movement of theirs had profound meaning before the Son of God!

And in their hands was something the Prophet Isaiah foresaw 700-years earlier – gold and frankincense! Verse six tells us Isaiah saw camels as well – and their riders were bringing their gifts – in order to show forth the praises of the LORD!

And here is something worth noting as we move further into the New Year 2017! The wise men owned gold! Yes! That barbarous relic from the past vilified by modern man! That does not bear interest. That cannot enjoy a “stock split.” But yet they had it in their possession. It was not some “promise to pay” at a later date! It was rather in their possession! This may not sound earth-shattering, but it should be very instructive to each of us in the Year of our Lord 2017! Never before in the history of the earth has all money been detached from gold – and resting on the faith and credit of civil governments! This is an experiment that will certainly not end well!

Gold has a special place in God’s mind and heart! As early as Genesis, chapter two, He informs us of the land of Havilah where there was gold. And over 400 times – 419 to be exact! – He references gold in His Book, the Bible! It is revealed there as money itself, with the warning that it is not to be weighed out using unjust weights and measures!

We might quietly reflect this morning upon what this certainly means for America as a nation which has somehow over the last century managed to exchange its gold-backed currency for paper dollar bills (“fiat” money)! Fiat is Latin for “let it be” – let it be whatever modern man – enlightened man – the “would be god” wants it to be! This sorry slide came about in many steps, each one of which is most displeasing to the LORD God! In fact, what has happened through the “cleverness” of fallen man is described in the Bible as an abomination before the LORD.

We certainly do well to remember that the Magi owned gold! And that they gave it to the Christ Child as their worthy tribute!

The Founding Fathers of this Christian land were wise and knew all about fraudulent money. They sought to shield this land from its pernicious effects. Article I, Section X of the U.S. Constitution therefore from the very start required that coins be made only of gold and silver! I would venture to say that not one in a thousand Americans today knows this fact.

Have you ever heard of the strange name, Old Copper Nose? As an interesting historical sidebar from the 16th century, King Henry VIII issued the same manner of fraudulent money. Coins bearing his own image were made of copper which were then plated with silver to make them look more valuable! Well, the first point to wear on each coin was yes, indeed – Henry’s nose. With such coins floating throughout the realm, this earned him the name, “Old Copper Nose.”

When we stop and consider the gold carried by the Magi, of old… then consider the paper (money) carried and valued by Americans today, we can only bow our heads in silence and ask the Almighty for forgiveness!

Why? Because over the last century the U.S. dollar has lost 98 percent of its value! How? Through “managed” inflation! Theft. Stealing. It is a sad chapter in the history of America! It is contempt for God and His commands!

The Wise Men bring us so many lessons! Let us carry them with us through the New Year.

We should note they were savers and had some asset to offer our Lord at His Nativity. In our day of debt as a way of life, we might closely follow their prudent pattern – and avoid hand-to-mouth living!

We should note they traveled to worship the Christ! They traversed a thousand miles in order to kneel before Him in mannered eloquence! In our day of cars (with heaters)... paved roads... public transportation... and now self-driving cars – how is it that those made in His Image no longer assemble before Him? Have we become more foolish... deluded... moronic as a people than we might possibly imagine?

We should note they willingly gave back to the Christ of their bounty with which He had blessed them – joyfully and ungrudgingly! For God loveth a cheerful giver!

Let us do the same – and in so doing once again regain the wisdom of the Magi so obviously lost to our day! After all, the Almighty was most pleased with their pilgrimage – for He protected them from Herod – favoring them with a dream of warning... to steer clear of the “puppet king.”

This is the Word of the Lord to us at the start of Epiphany! May we hold it close – world without end. Amen.

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Deuteronomy 30:11-20
January 1, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Faith in the Balance"

Christian Faith always hangs in the balance.  It always has. It always will.

Christian Faith is always “at risk” because it has real enemies!  But it has the remarkable property of always seeking to prove itself victorious!  

Christian Faith always hangs in the balance.  It always has.  It always will.

This was certainly true 3,400 years ago when God’s people were found encamped along the eastern shore of the Jordan River.  The last page of their forty-year chapter – titled The Wilderness Wanderings – had just closed.  And the first page of another new chapter in their history – titled Entry into the Promised Land – was just opening.

Roughly three million in number, these men… women… young people… and children… were poised and ready to follow the morning sun’s first golden rays across the Jordan into the land of milk and honey.  But before taking a single step, the Almighty furnished them His final instructions – words recorded for our benefit in this Morning’s Old Testament Lesson!

They were entering the land of sevennations which He had personally judged and condemned – the Hittites… the Girgashites… the Amorites… the Canaanites… the Perizzites… the Hivites… the Jebusites… 

His people would be tempted to adopt their vile ways... embrace their repugnant customs… worship their strange idols… frequent their detestable groves… seek the entertainment of their condemned culture.

They would also be susceptible to the ravages of pride – inheriting houses they did not build… lands they did not clear… fields they did not till – forgetting these to be a gift from their Father’s gracious Hand.

In a nutshell, their Faith hung in the balance.  In order to avoid disaster, they would need to hear and to heed God’s Voice – remember His Words… internalize His Cautions… follow and obey His Precepts…

Some wrote His words on the doorposts of their houses.  Others placed them on their walls – in the same way that many of you still display them on your walls… as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD, Joshua testifies.  They endured and proved faithful…

Others, however – weaker… less careful… with undeveloped powers of discernment – forgot God’s Voice and were absorbed by the enticing calls of their degenerate neighbors!  The downhill path is easy to travel, but exacts a dreadful price!

When in the fullness of time Jesus Christ was born over 1,400 years later, Christian Faith still hung in the balance – perhaps more at risk than ever… The Evangelists tell us the land was full of darkness… The Voice of God had all but disappeared…

The Greeks, under Alexander the Great, had conquered Palestine two centuries earlier… and their cultural voice definitely dominated the land.  Many sons in Israel were no longer named after the great patriarchs and holy prophets… but rather after the conquering kings of Greece.

And the deafening voice of Rome had also entered the Promised Land… along with her tax collectors… merchants… procurators… tribunes… political puppets… imperial troops… her pantheon of gods!  The Promised Land was dominated by spies… quislings… and moles.

Some sons of the Faith rebelled against the foreign occupation and paid the costly price of servitude, and sometimes gruesome death.  Some daughters of the Faith entered mixed marriages… and found themselves sadly compromised…

This morning -- despite all of the voices to the contrary -- we see a beautiful picture!  Here are Mary and Joseph quietly and consistently training Jesus in the old ways… bringing Him along in the proven ways… the ways belonging to the Ancient of Days…  walking along His tried and worn paths…  They taught the Son of God to hear His Father’s unchanging Voice!

In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, we thus read of Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day and His entry into the Covenant of Faith – according to the Laws of God through Moses.  We discover Mary’s observance of the Days of Purification – once again, according to the Laws God kindly gave.

Indeed, in Jesus Christ we discover the perfect Example of One Who kept the Faith… following it masterfully as an unfading Example for His followers…  In Jesus Christ, we observe the Perfect One Who endured all the compromising voices and forces and currents of this world – visible and invisible – that would have unleashed their pernicious effects on the purity and continuation of the Christian Faith…

The final hours of 2016 expired last night.  Its gates were closed and locked forever.  This morning, we stand like God’s people of old on the threshold of a new year – the Year of our Lord 2017!  Its expanse opens up before us full of wonderful possibilities… full of magnificent opportunities!

But the wisdom of the ages is still proclaimed in this morning’s Old Testament Lesson.  Christian Faith always hangs in the balance…

This morning, we acknowledge together the disconcerting truth that there are those in this world who are intent upon removing God’s Name from it!

They are intent upon removing His Fingerprints from sacred history… intent upon removing His Voice from our ears and minds and hearts.  

By way of example, consider the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.  On the Pacific side of the memorial, are recorded the words which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt employed to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor.  And I quote…

 

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked.  With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph.

But the memorial intentionally omitted his final four words!  And what, pray tell, were those final four words? 

so help us God.

 He said:

…we will gain the inevitable triumph…so help us God.

You see, the Jebusites of our day… the Canaanites of our day… the Hittites of our day have proclaimed God to be dead… non-existent... to be politically incorrect and therefore no longer relevant for the superstitious weaklings of the land… who call themselves ”God’s people.”

The Perizzites and the Girgashites of our day are busy at work to remove His Name from the coins of the realm… to keep the simple statement of His Government (“one nation under God”) from the pledge of allegiance with which we all grew up. 

If the Hivites and the Amorites of our day have their way, you will never again mention the phrase “Creation” or “Intelligent Design.”  And you will dutifully bow down – when told to do so – at their altar of Evolution…

There is very little in this world friendly to the Christian Faith.  The media are not.  Nor are those who promote and encourage that which God hates.  The abortions industry is not!

Those who continue to engage in the dreadful practice of eugenics – or by its newer, friendlier sounding name – “population scientists” – are not!

Even inside Christ’s Church – where one should find his Holy Orders and sacred doctrines in place – one finds instead the most bitter opposition imaginable to His proven paths of old!  When a Church ceases to call itself a House of Worship – instead terming itself a Center of Compassion – you know the shift is well along toward its ruinous conclusion… 

Wherever the words of men are exalted above the words of the Almighty, there the great compromise has been initiated… Like a standing string of dominoes which begins to fall, there will be consequences.  Woe to the wicked tenants who destroy the vineyard of our LORD.

The word of salvation, we are instructed, is not far from each of us… In the Providence of God, it is much closer than we are to ourselves…

To love the LORD our God… to walk in His ways… to keep His statutes of life… to love one another... all remain within reach…

The eternal Word has been spoken and preserved for our learning…

The Living Word Who was born and dwelt among us full of grace and truth... by His holy example lights our way…

This New Year’s Day, make it your objective to keep the Faith through 2017… but give it away, too!  For Faith still hangs in the balance.  

Remember the words of Ambrose, the great 4th century Bishop of Milan:

Christ with the Father ever one,

Spirit! the Father and the Son,

God over all, the mighty sway,

Shield us, great Trinity, we pray.

Amen.

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Isaiah 9:2-7
December 25, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Prince of Peace"

We have assembled this sacred morning (on Christmas Day) to celebrate a miracle --when God took our form... and revealed Himself to us as a little Child.  This is as close to an oxymoron as we might ever find!  God, the greatest (and source) of all beings and without beginning or end... ineffable (totally indescribable by words) – becomes the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable member of the human family!

He tabernacled among us in human flesh – full of grace and truth.  He Who measures millions of light-years of interstellar space with His span Himself became a span long and slept in a wooden manger – a feeding trough -- full of hay!

His arrival was hailed by the Prophet Isaiah --the Fifth Evangelist -- as the turning point of human history!  He likened His arrival to the shining of bright cheerful, healing light – which silently overcomes impenetrable darkness!  His birth would bring those waiting for Him joy like that of the harvest when the efforts of sowing… watering… tending… guarding crops finally – and silently – brings forth its precious yield!

And just as Gideon’s defeat of the Midianite overlords freed God’s people from dreadful servitude – breaking a powerful yoke of bondage that had almost become permanent -- so, too, Christ’s coming into this world signaled the final shift in the battle against the forces of darkness! 

Whereas other battles find their outcomes through deafening noise and commotion, the blast of trumpets and the glint of swords on shields... the great conflict with sin and evil would be resolved silently by fire!  By the cloven tongues of flame Christ sent us in the Person of the Holy Spirit!  

The Savior came not as a royal dignitary with fabulous retinue.  Nor did He appear as a mighty conqueror under the blare of silver trumpets.  His coming was – quite the contrary – as an humble, helpless Child on a moonlit night under the watch of unblinking stars and beasts of burden! 

Animals knew more of His austere arrival that serene evening than the “great ones” of this earth!  And we can learn from them – not to always take what we want... or think we deserve.  A self-imposed degree of austerity is very healthy.  The greatest among us often grew up with the least!  They felt the cold breath of deprivation and austerity. 

Then come some of the most famous words in all of the Bible!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given...

Here Isaiah points out Jesus’ two naturesChild speaks of His descent from Adam through His mother Mary!  And Son speaks of His divine descent from His Heavenly Father!

For non-Christian religions generally, and especially so before Christ’s arrival, all “being” was understood as “un-divided being” with our differences as “degree” or “position” on the “chain of being.”  At the top were those “deified” individuals – the philosopher-kings – who were understood to be “divine.”  This was certainly true of the Egyptian Pharaohs... the Assyrian monarchs... the Babylonian leaders... especially was it so with the Greek pantheon of gods... as well as the Roman Caesars...

In 17 B.C., Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) proclaimed himself as the “world’s savior” with a twelve-day advent celebration!  

In her humble, beautiful hymn of praise known as the Magnificat, dear Mary could see the outcome clearly – for Jesus and for the philosopher-kings.  She prophesied that He would put down the mighty from their thrones and raise those of low degree.  Why?  Because Jesus – with His two natures (human and divine) is alone the unique link between heaven and earth!  He Himself is Lord of all!  Of His government there will be no end!

We read of four meaningful titles proclaimed on behalf of this Child!  Wonderful Counselor… Mighty God… Everlasting Father… Prince of Peace!  Each could be the subject of a sermon!  This morning, however, let us briefly direct our attention to His title Prince of Peace.  

…and his name shall be called… The Prince of Peace.

We all know that a prince is the son of a king.  When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He came among us not only as a son of Adam!  He also came among us as the Son of the Highest -- Who rules this Universe.  

We all know what the word “peace” means – or, at least we think we know!  The general connotation in our day is solitude, summed up in the phrase made famous by the Swedish-born actress, Gretta Garbo, almost 75-years ago: I want to be left alone…

Another common meaning for the word “peace” in our day is absence of conflict -- summed up eloquently in the dear letter written by a Civil War soldier over 150-years ago to his family on Christmas Day while positioned in a frozen trench at Fredricksburg – thousands of dead soldiers on the fields before him:

“Oh, that peace may soon be restored to our young but dearly beloved country and that we may all meet again in happiness.”

But the Biblical meaning of the word “peace” is much greater than just solitude!  It has a much fuller meaning that even absence of conflict!  The word employed by the prophet Isaiah and applied to Christ -- translated by our English word “peace” -- is the famous Hebrew term shalom.  It is a mighty word, indeed, possessing majesty all its own!

The true meaning of (SHALOM) peace is healthwell beingsoundness (of mind, of soul, of body)… happinessprosperitysafetysecuritywholeness… 

The Prince of Peace is the only One Who possesses such healing powers… and they are His Alone to dispense as He sees fit.  

This is why Charles Wesley, of old, showed such great insight in the lyrics:

Ris’n with healing in his wings,

Light and life to all he brings,

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

This concept of the healing powers of kings and princes has been well-established in literature for thousands of years -- and most recently made popular once again in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  The concept rests squarely upon the cherished title before us this morning concerning the Christ Child – Prince of Peace… 

It is our great privilege to kneel before Him and to worship Him this sacred morning of His Birth! 

He came to bring vertical healing – between God and man… He also came to bring horizontal healing between men and women… brothers and sisters… sons and daughters.

  

Many received healing from the Prince of Peace during His tireless earthly Ministry.  Many have received healing by His grace and unmerited favor ever since.

He is the soothing balm of Gilead…

The consolation of Israel…

the healing salve for all that troubles the soul…

...and His healing powers reach far beyond medicines and therapies...

He has come into our sphere to heal you… to heal me...

... to heal all who seek it from Him…

The Prince of Peace has come with healing in His wings…

And today we worship him at His Birth…

…unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given... and his name shall be called… The Prince of Peace.

World without end… Amen.

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Isaiah 40:1-11
December 18, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Comfort for God's People"

The Advent Season is a stunning pilgrimage – of sorts… A spiritual  journey in which we together approach the quiet hills of Bethlehem… the serene, humble stable… the Holy Family… the unpretentious manger -- the Blessed Christ Child!  And the fate of the world rests upon this newborn Baby!

The pathway leading there is not easily traveled.  Hills of pride... mountains of arrogance must be leveled.  Deep valleys of remorse... ravines of gloom must be filled.  Briars of sin must be cut and cast aside… 

  

And in some places we only make headway when kneeling close to the ground in humility... crawling beyond the thicket of self-will… its grasping arms of greed… its long clutching fingers of covetousness.  In other places, nettles of sloth must be trampled underfoot… the meandering trail of apathy made straight…

Each inch of the way, however, brings us closer to the indescribable well-being we find in the presence of the Christ Child on Christmas Day!  A warmth that heals and strengthens our souls.  Not one step of our venture is in vain.  

All who complete this demanding pathway find themselves flooded with the overpowering impact of Isaiah’s oracle, of old…

 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Everyone needs comfort -- even the Gadarene demoniac of Jesus’ day.  Comfort is an indispensable aspect of life.  We need not be reminded what a killer stress has proven to be in our day.

We should note first of all these words of comfort were written originally for the exiles in Babylon – 150 years before they ever were ever deported there.  Isaiah calls upon them to flee their exile and return to the Promised Land!  

John the Baptizer, 700 years later, as the forerunner heralding the coming of Jesus Christ, applied them to our Lord!  When asked by the religious leaders of his day just whom he was, he replied, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”  A clear reference to this morning’s text!

The Early Church took these words and included them in their service books (just like our missal on the Holy Table) as part of the Advent Bible lessons.   And this has come down to us.  We are no different!  The Christ Child may be found!  And we are to travel that same path as exiles to such an holy place!

Second, note the verbs are plural!  You (plural) comfort my people!  God is addressing His heavenly court... His prophetic messengers... all who would be His heralds and set forth His good news!  It is an APB (All Points Bulletin)!

In childhood there is the soothing comfort of a mother’s voice.  To the burden bearers of the earth the comfort of a warm meal... and a peaceful sleep!

I recall a dear saintly woman on her deathbed years ago who derived profound comfort at the end of her days in just a clean pillowcase under her head… the smell of a fresh sheet tucked under her chin…

These all pale into insignificance, however, when compared to the comfort that warms and heals the soul… lightens the step… quickens the pace… cheers the way of all beleaguered saints from ever of old…

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

As strange as it may seem, there have always been those in God’s family who actually resist – refuse – push away this comfort offered by the Almighty – in favor of self-inflicted pain and dis-comfort!  

Hermits… ascetics… monks… who all too often believe they are actually paying off debts they owe to their Maker through self-mortification… self-flagellation… Some do not forgive themselves of their sins... thinking this somehow atones for them.  But our LORD’s kind words this day are...

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

 

If we would represent our Heavenly Father as He truly wishes His children to represent Him, we would be the happiest… most joyful… most pleasant… contented… peaceful of all who walk His earth – finding our greatest joy in the boundless comfort He lavishes upon all of His Own…

…comfort ye my people…

This is certainly a comfort which the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve do not possess… For they look for it in all the wrong places!

This world offers much in the way of comfort… but delivers none.  For the world has none to give!  Look at the headlines each day – they never seem to change!  Sorrow… despair… misery like the restless waves of the sea!

A former famous National Hockey League defenseman had it all, as they say!  Incredible talent… great career… beautiful wife and family… popularity… money… possessions… 

But in his biography, he describes his elusive quest for what?  Comfort!  Comfort from the many hockey injuries which constantly nagged him.  He first turned to pain killers… then without satisfaction, he turned to alcohol… and then once again without satisfaction, he finally turned to drugs… And guess what?  No comfort… No. Bigger problems!  He was trapped in the world’s way!

His wife and family left him.  His coach informed him his career was over – unless he could straighten out his life.

It was then he realized he was alone… without a single thread of comfort in his dark, cold world.  He had hit rock bottom…  

Then he remembered God!  Falling to his knees, he humbly confessed his failures and weaknesses – seeking relief… begging comfort from the unbearable weight of a ruined life... God heard… God forgave…

He found peace and comfort in the Christ!  His life was restored… as was his marriage and his family…  It is quite a story!  His name – Blake Wesley – if you would ever like to read about it!  

God’s comfort can guide us through the most severe challenges!  One of the favorite book titles I ever ran across came to me as a child – speaking of the courage of Christians undergirded by God’s comfort -- Giants in the Land!

During Advent, we repent of our follies!  We confess our misdeeds!  We amend our ways!  We travel light!  We leave behind our madness, our infatuation with this world.  Our focus is on Christ.  His pardon.  His comfort.

Can we feel God’s purpose for us in these famous words?  Do we get it? 

…comfort ye my people…

Is it not enough to know that we are even in His thoughts?  That He has preserved for over 2,700 years this His purpose for us -- that it might once more come into our ears... enter our minds and hearts this morning? 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

These words are given to comfort all who remember Him and quietly make their way to the silver-draped hills of Bethlehem in worship!  No entertainment!  No posturing!  No self-proclamation!  But with all His angels... only love and adoration for the Christ Child!

Comfort from the sun’s first rays…

Comfort till the end of days…

Comfort from heaven’s rich store…

Comfort for evermore…

We are almost to Bethlehem.  We are almost to the stable.  

We are almost to the manger.  We are almost to the Christ Child!  

Know and cherish the comfort He gives. 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Amen.

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Isaiah 35:1-10
December 11, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Way of Holiness"

Often with Old Testament prophecy, the message concerns not just the days of the prophet – but also events far in the future.  The lesson before us this morning is a clear example of this.
Isaiah was writing first of all about the return of the exiles to their homeland from Babylon.  But there was also a more profound message which saw the coming of Christ into the world – a day when mankind would physically behold the glory of the Lord!  When Jesus would give sight to the blind... and hearing to the deaf!
In describing the joy of the former exile who finds his bondage broken, Isaiah employed a number of metaphors – the desert wilderness transformed into a fruitful land… barren wasteland watered and covered with lush growth like Los Altos  after all of the beautiful recent showers.  Like Corrie ten Boom when released from the Ravensbruck concentration camp, he feels all anxiety released… he sees all fear evaporate.
And the LORD, we are told, will clearly mark the road from Babylon to Judah!  The exiles would be protected on their way home; no danger would overtake them, they would not be led astray.  This was the meaning given by the Prophet Isaiah regarding God’s people in the 7th century B.C.
But a more profound meaning was also involved!  This deeper truth – 700 years yet distant – concerned Jesus Christ, God Incarnate!  Verse eight: And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
Jesus Christ is that new and living Way Who leads us to our True Home.  The path is prepared and ready for us because He has walked it and marked out every step of the way  – just as He did for the exiles of old!
When Jesus was near the end of His earthly ministry, He said to His disciples: whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.  Thomas, completely bewildered, said: Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?  Jesus answered I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
The Greek term – hodos’, the Way – was used by first century believers to describe the Christian Faith.  It is a very descriptive and appropriate name.
Of this “way”— this hodos’– the Prophet Isaiah has many beautiful and comforting things to say... which are most helpful for us in our preparations for Christmas.
First, it is a PLAIN (P-L-A-I-N) WAY!
The LORD’s Highway is a plain path!  It is simple!  Not confusing!  It may be narrow, it may be demanding, but it is sharply defined!  It is not impassible because of intellectual problems, nor tangled over with philosophical issues.  It is not designed so that only the erudite and sophisticated can trace it out.  On the contrary, it must be followed as little children would follow.  It is so plain a path, we are specifically told, that wayfaring men, though fools, will not lose their way in following it!  
How incredibly graced we are that God has dealt thus with us – individually and as a Church!  A plain path is always before us – the path of the Cross!  Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification!  That is pretty simple!  And now we have only to trust Him, to follow His leading.  When we speak of the simplicity of the Gospel, let us carefully note that the way is plain to wayfaring men.  It is plain to those who are actually walking in the way.  No promise is given to the person who wants to know all about the way, but never ever sets foot on it!  It is plain to wayfaring men, to those who actually travel it step by step!
Second, it is a SAFE WAY!
Isaiah writes: No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon.  This is a beautiful poetic manner of saying that the way of Christ – narrow and hard though it may be – gives safety to those who walk upon it!  It is when we leave the straight road and follow strange detours that we get into trouble!  It is when we say to ourselves: This other way seems better than God’s way… this other way would be easier… it’s shorter, it’s more fun… more stimulating, more glamorous, more popular! that we expose ourselves to the Evil One and his minions.
Left to our own devices, relying only upon ourselves, we shall surely stray every time… There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, the Book of Proverbs reminds us,  but the end thereof are the ways of death!  But with Christ as our Guide, as our Protector, as our Strength, as our Companion… we will walk in spiritual safety each and every step.
Third, it is an HOMEWARD WAY.
We are truly exiles here.  We are “strangers in a strange land.”  But we know that we have a true home – an eternal home “from everlasting to everlasting.”  And we have been given the grace to know the road that leads us to that home.
With many whose feet seem so secure on other paths – we must all let this prophetic picture sink deep into our minds and our hearts…  There are hundreds – thousands – of ways that lead to destruction.  But there is only one way that leads to life!  That way calls for sacrifice, for work, for giving, for denying self and the lusts and distractions of this world, for, as the prophet says, it is a way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.  
The pathway demands that we, as they say, “travel light.”  Mountains of self-centeredness, spitefulness, envy, inordinate materialism, and rationalizations must be cut down!  And deep valleys must be filled with faith, hope, and love for God and neighbor!  Such is the path leading home!
Placing ourselves under the will of God may at times be very traumatic for us – redeemed though we may be.  It requires discipline, strength, and courage.  Remember the reward is great and everlasting.  St. Paul writes: The present troubles are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed…
When at last we see things as they really are, it is then that we truly understand our supreme priority – to walk each day with Christ until we reach the heavenly country, its crystal shore,  its unending golden rays!
This Advent season, therefore, let us commit ourselves anew to Jesus Christ and His PLAIN, SAFE, and HOMEWARD WAY.  
World without end…

Amen. 

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Isaiah 55:1-13
December 4, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Seek Ye the LORD"

 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, 

call ye upon him while he is near…
Never were more exquisite words ever put to parchment!  Never were more compelling words ever directed to the mind… to the heart… and to the will of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve!  
The night that Christ was born, very few were seeking Him.  He was incredibly near, but only a few sought an audience with the divine Infant! 
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, 
call ye upon him while he is near…
In reading these words, it would appear man has somehow lost his vision of God… For why else would instructions be given to those made in His very Image to seek Him? 
And this, of course, is precisely the case.  
All we like sheep have gone astray… wrote the prophet of old.  …we have turned every one to his own way… 
It is, of course, the folly and the bane and the blight of mankind that we are naturally inclined by sin to make ourselves more important than the Almighty Creator!  It is the self-imposed affliction of worldlings to wander... wander away from the LORD – from close communion with Him… from His infallible guidance…. from a keen knowledge of His acts in history… from faith and confidence and trust in His Revelation…   
Since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when our first parents deliberately turned away from the Ancient of Days, it has been the curse of mortals to meander… to roam… to drift… and to stray… from His care and His protection… from the mooring of His Holy Orders… from the security of His Sacred Doctrines… from His commands... from the wisdom of Early Church councils… The end result, of course, is that men… women… children… and young people… are easily misled, all too easily losing sight of the Almighty… and becoming lost…  And thus the prophet’s Word which cannot be silenced…
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, 
call ye upon him while he is near…
There are three components which make up this delightful verse!
First, the verbs!  Seek ye the LORD… call ye upon Him!  There is a sense of something resembling desperation in these words which the lethargic… the indolent… the apathetic – who can either “take it or leave it” – have a hard time understanding!  This is not something we can “farm out” for another to do for us because we are just too busy!  This is something we must do!  This is something we may do!  This is something we are privileged to do.  It is likened unto a banquet in the text!
Probably the most faithful parishioner I have ever met was part of an humble parish Barbara and I once served!  A retired military man who had almost died – not of wounds suffered in combat, but of alcoholism!
One night he found himself in the VA Hospital at the point of death; he could feel the cold breath of the grim reaper upon him.  Talk about going “over the cliff” – that is just where he was!  He was on the edge and looking into the abyss!
By his own witness he called out to God for help.  “Help me” he prayed, “Lord, re-enter my life before it is gone and save me!  Bring me back and I will serve Thee the rest of my days!  Please do not let me perish!”
And God did save him!  And he did keep his promise as well!  He was faithful in attending all services of the Church!  He was always on time – in fact, early, saying his quiet prayers!  He read the Bible through from cover to cover each and every year!  He was always willing to help in any way possible!  He filled out tax forms for the widows of the church gratis – for free!
He knew what it meant to seek the Lord!  He understood the import of the phrase, “call upon Him.” 
Second, there is the direct object of the verb!  The LORD.  Seek ye the LORD.  Call ye upon Him!
Seek ye Him Who is all-powerful!  Seek ye Him Who is all-knowing.  Seek ye Him Who is the Alpha and the Omega… the Beginning and the End!
But a tragic thing has happened in our own day!  Christ’s Church in our own generation has painfully and embarrassingly reduced itself, it would seem at least in some measure, to a man-centered... entitlement-driven... celebrity-approved undertaking... the furthest thing in the world from reverent worship and seeking of the Almighty!
It would appear that many churches – perhaps most... and certainly “cutting edge” groups -- are not seeking the LORD at all, but rather (in some perverse manner) they are seeking God re-shaped into the form of thisworldIf any man love the world, wrote the Apostle John, the love of the Father is not in him.
“What are they seeking?” We ask.  Some are seeking great crowds while they may be found… great numbers, great statistics and great worldly methods to get them there!  I once witnessed the “exciting” stunt of a preacher parachuting from the sky to the church parking lot for the start of church services... The congregation was out standing in the parking lot – not with a single thought toward the LORD.  
Some are seeking great funds while they may be found!  To pay off great debts incurred to bring in great numbers.  A great circle of great expectations traveling at great speeds… 
Some are seeking to be more holy than God Himself... more tolerant than He is!  More compassionate than He is!  And this is how people lose their way!  That is how people lose God’s way!  Charlatans and frauds -- who do not seek the LORD -- still abound!  
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found... wrote the prophet 
call ye upon him while he is near…
The Almighty looks down from Heaven in disbelief.  “What are they doing now?” He asks.  “Have forgotten to seek Me?” He asks!  May God allow us always to maintain at least one place in His wide world which still seeks Him in holiness and in reverence!
Third, the descriptive phrases “while He may be found” – “while He is near.”
We do not live forever!  We all will have our own appointed end – it may be today… it may be tomorrow…it may be ten years from now!  But we do well to make sure we seek Him out “while He may [still] be found!”
We are approaching the end of the calendar year and a sobering listing of celebrities who passed on during 2016 is now being circulated, as always!
Chief Justice Antonin Scalia (80), former First Lady Nancy Reagan (95), singer Merle Haggard (79), actress Patty Duke (70), musician Prince (58), writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (88),  boxer Cassius Clay (74), golfer, Arnold Palmer (87), Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro (90)... to name a few!  
The window of opportunity has closed for them!  But by God’s mercy it still remains open for you and me!  What work do we still need to accomplish for Him?  What praise and worship with our fleeting days?  Let us take care how we use our time, how we use our energy, our capabilities, our resources…
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, 
call ye upon him while he is near…
As we continue our preparations for the arrival of the Christ Child in three weeks, let us throw off the works of darkness... and put on the armor of light!
This is the Word of the LORD… and may it endure forever!  World without end... 
Amen.

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Isaiah 28:14-24
November 27, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Christ, Our Reference Point"

 “Reference points” are an important part of life!  Take, for example those brass United States Geological Survey bench marks cast in concrete… or GPS (global positioning system) coordinates... or simple landmarks (such as Connecticut’s Constitution Oak”)... or buoys... or mile markers... to help us find our way!  They are all a necessary part of life!

The mysterious flight of a U.S. Air Force B-24 heavy bomber named the Lady Be Good took place over 70-years ago – during WWII in April of 1943.  Its crew of nine took off from the Bengazi Air Base (in Libya, North Africa), then climbed northward into the sky for a night-time high altitude bombing raid of port installations at Naples, Italy.
That starlit night, as the Lady Be Good returned her crew back to their Air Base in Benghazi, they somehow became lost… and disappeared!  Both the plane and its crew could not be found… no trace of their vanishing was discovered!  There was no lead whatsoever!
Their disappearance remained a perplexing mystery for sixteen years... until in 1959 an oil exploration team discovered her well-preserved remains 450 miles south of Benghazi… in the vast Libyan Desert where it is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 130º F.
An Air Force investigation revealed – to everyone’s surprise – that all flight instruments were still in perfect working order!  What happened that night was not caused by any equipment failure... or enemy sabotage...  In retrospect, they discovered the reason the Lady Be Good and her crew both perished was simple … they missed their reference point… 
That fateful night, unbeknownst to the crew, they were carried along by very strong tail winds… so strong, in fact, they flew right past their ADF signal (Automatic Detection Finder signal) hours ahead of their scheduled arrival.  When they finally descended through the clouds, they looked for a light beacon they would never find… for it was 450 miles behind them… and they were almost out of fuel over the shifting sands of the Sahara.
At 2:00 am they ran out of fuel and parachuted into the night sky.  A diary was kept by the crew – and later found – that detailed the horrors of their eight final blinding days in the desert heat with half a canteen of water to support the entire crew.  
In the same manner, God’s people (Israel) missed an important reference point in their day!  It was a critical juncture according to God’s spokesman, Isaiah!
The days were dark and troubled!  To the north of them sat the great imperial war machine – Assyria – growing rapidly toward its prime, led by the brutal and fearful commander, Tiglath-pileser III… 
Isaiah tried to rally his people and their leaders to return to God and His protection, but they would not!  Their historic reference point – the Almighty – had been lost, and they had become recalcitrant – obstinately defiant of God’s authority.   
Isaiah excoriated their national leaders for viewing the nation’s situation politically and assessing it humanistically.  They had forgotten God!  More accurately, they had chosen to ignore Him!  And they daily wandered ever further from His path of safety.
Isaiah tersely labeled their treaties – first with Assyria herself, then with Egypt -- “agreements with hell.”  Their alliances he bluntly acknowledged as “covenants with death.”  He warned the leaders of the land this would be their undoing!  Their sins would bring the nation to moral ruin!  
Isaiah went on…  I have heard from the LORD word of impoverishment that will cover the land.  It will flood as a scourge and wreak its deadly havoc… and all of their leaders’ lies would offer no safe refuge.  Their falsehoods would not be able to hide them from its painful outcome!
Just as a person cannot obtain a good night’s sleep in a bed that is too short or too narrow, he continued, so your treaties will not furnish you the comfort you are envisioning.  
Just as a small blanket that does not cover a person’s shoulders… or feet... or back… or legs… robs that person of precious sleep in the cold, so too, your pact with the enemies of the LORD will rob you of the safekeeping and preservation you are hoping to acquire.
Then Isaiah addressed their false security by referring to the actions of the farmer – who does not spend his entire effort only plowing the land over and over again… or harrowing the land (that is, breaking the dirt clods) over and over again into dust.  He goes on in sequential fashion to plant the seed… to water the seed… to harvest the crops… and then eventually to thresh them.  
In threshing, he beats and bruises the harvest – in order to separate the precious grain… and gather it for good use.   
The leaders of God’s people were mocking God -- the Governor of this universe with impunity – just as their offspring continue to do today.  But a day was coming, Isaiah warned, when its logical end would exact a dear price… Theythemselves would be threshed…
Well, 700-years later, God’s people missed yet another reference point – the coming of the Messiah Himself! -- described for them so eloquently through His prophet, Isaiah, in the lesson before us this morning!. 
Isaiah could see His Coming so clearly – His Person, His Office, His Sufferings, His Kingdom – that he has been called the Fifth Evangelist!  
Isaiah referred to the coming Messiah as a sure foundation stone – massive and true… immovable and reliable.  A reference point!
He described Him as “tried” – chosen and certified by the Father.  And by Him all things would be rightly measured…
He was described as “precious” – radiating beauty and glory – that He might be seen from afar… and draw all men unto Himself…
Yet all, but only a few, missed His Coming.  They did not recognize God’s work... His “strange work.”  They did not identify His act... His “strange act” spoken of in our lesson.
How important it is for us – individually… and as a Church Family… as a community... as a nation… as the world to remember God’s ultimate reference point – Jesus Christ – and not pass Him by!  He is the only reference point of life by which we may navigate safely.
He comes so silently... without fanfare... unseen by those too busy to notice Him!  All too many distracted by the gifts of the season... undetected among the tinsel and the music! 
Let us never ever underestimate the importance of reference points in life…  Let us never miss them... let us never miss the Christ Child!  For He is the reference point of life, par excellence!
In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we discover mankind’s eternal reference point… Who guides us through life to perfect meaning!  To perfect safety!
Let us not miss Him Who came to show us the Father… and all things good and worthy and true…
Let us make haste to prepare ourselves for His arrival in four short weeks.  Let us cast off our works of darkness.  Let us put on the armor of light!  Let us open our hearts to Him this Advent Season… and prepare Him room. 
He is mankind’s consummate reference point for life…
World without end...  
Amen. 

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Jeremiah 23:5-8
November 20, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The LORD Our Righteousness"

Today, we reach the end of another Liturgical Year!  And next Sunday we cross the threshold into yet another new Liturgical Year (2017)!  The older we get, the more we can appreciate the deeply profound message which the Liturgical calendar conveys to us!
It is sad that Christians have largely forgotten that Christ’s Church has always had its own calendar... which, if we understand it, grew out of the Old Testament calendar which reminded God’s people of holy days of celebration and seasons of obligation!  Time was geared toward God... not man!
In the same manner, Christ’s people have forgotten that His Church across the centuries has had its own courts for the resolution of conflicts.  This, of course, forms the backdrop to the famous conflict between Thomas Beckett (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Henry II (king of England).  St. Paul told the churches of his day they were not to go into pagan courts to settle their disputes.  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? he asked them.  Many do not like what the world has turned into, but are ignorant as to what they should do.  As one scholar has pointed out, if Christians were given the rule of the world, they would not know what to do with it!
The calendar of Christ’s Church begins first with Christ’s humble birth and our preparation for it… then the visit of the mysterious Magi who knew of His arrival through the appearance of a star... our Lord’s testing among the long shadows in the lonely wilderness… His suffering and crucifixion… His resurrection and ascension… His victory!  Then the victory He transmits to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost… the life of courage and service He inspires… the long season of personal growth and development through the green Trinity Season!
The “weeping prophet” Jeremiah, God’s faithful prophet who had served the LORD in such a true and valiant manner, stood – just as we all stand – in the present, sandwiched between the past and the future!  It is as though he always knew where he was in his work for God, because he had one eye looking back into the past… and the other eye looking optimistically forward into the future.
In the text before us this morning, he proves this very point.  Up until his day, the reference point of history had been the great deliverance of God’s people from Egypt – the Exodus -- almost 900 years before his own day!
But he declared – looking forward – that another deliverance, a greater deliverance was approaching.  He could see it -- 600 years forward he could see the Royal Son of God saving Judah and Israel by means of a greater judgment and a much greater act of justice.  It would be worldwide in its scope—for he employs the phrase “in the earth.”
And think of it!  What Jeremiah saw included you and me!  What would be the name of this great Deliverer?  He would be a righteous branch (descendent) in the line of David – and He would be called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS... the LORD God Who brings righteousness to us and deposits it into our overdrawn moral bank accounts by an act of His mercy!
THE LORD is a special term.  Yahweh.  Jehovah.  Immanuel, God with us!  The Creator come to us in the flesh!  And RIGHTEOUSNESS is another special term – wide in its scope and meanings!  Justice… perfection… deliverance… victory… prosperity!  But perhaps the most special term of all is the smallest!  The pronoun “OUR” (O…U...R)  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.  It indicates a personal application!
I am reminded of the story of the grade school teacher who asked her students, ”What part of speech defines the word OUR in the phrase THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS?”  A little boy shot up his hand… and the teacher called upon him!  Wanting to say “possessive pronoun,” he accidentally blurted out: “It’s an I M P R E S S I V E pronoun.”
Perhaps that was the better answer!  An impressive pronoun, indeed!  Christ’s righteousness is made our own!
This beautiful name teaches us there is always the hope of a yet greater deliverance ahead of us through the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!  Draw near to Him and He will always draw near to you!
Just look and consider what He did during the short time of His visitation!  The world sat in darkness, but when He arrived, the world beheld a great light!  The world was bathed in a great piercing light!  And we who once walked in darkness have also seen a great light!  We have been summoned to be His “children of light.”  And His Name is called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS! 
The righteousness of Christ covers the past... the present... and the future!  It erases the indelible penalty of our past sins.  It overcomes the power of our present temptations.  It guarantees our deliverance from the future presence of sin!
What challenges plagued you this past year?  What rigors did the Lord set in place before us this past year?  What growth did He design to come forth through our trials?   
According to this morning’s lesson, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS always brings greater deliverance and greater victory to His people than that of the past… The regathering of a greater “Israel of God” through Christ surpassed even the Exodus from Egypt!  
David’s victory over Goliath was fantastic, indeed!  But through THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, our first century counterparts overcame the ten persecutions of Imperial Rome directed at Christ over the course of 250 years... making Rome a Christian land!
There are those in our day, even Christians, who say “all is lost” – evil has won!  We are doomed!  We might as well roll over and give up!  Not so!  This is a terribly uninformed and false worldview for a Christian -- and it is alien to Christianity.
Dwight L. Moody had it right!  He continually told others to ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD... and to EXPECT GREAT THINGS FROM GOD!
The best is always yet ahead in THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!  And this is certainly why the Reformers included this passage from the Book of Jeremiah as the Epistle Lesson for the last day of this Church Year!  
Thy kingdom come, we are taught to pray!  Thy will be done, we are to taught to petition.   Seek ye first His kingdom and his righteousness, Jesus reminds us.
Every yea and amen finds its proper place in THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!
This is the eternal Word of the Lord!  It is bright and it is glorious... and may it stand firm once more in our lives and in our own days!

Amen. 

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I John 3:1-8
November 13, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Destroying the Works of the Devil"

 We have before us this morning one of the greatest statements in all of the Bible.  Verse 8 of I John 3: 

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  
This is a fabulous verse because it is so hard to misread.  It is so clear!  So understandable!  It tells us why Jesus entered this realm in which you and I live.  It has personal application for each of us... but it also has historical application!  And a cosmic outcome!  It merits thoughtful consideration!
Why was He manifested?  Not to be popular with this world... not to unify mankind...not to make the world a better place (though this He certainly did)... not to be served by others... not to amass great physical treasures and wealth!  He entered our realm in order to destroy the works of the devil!  That was His mission from the start!
The Greek term translated by the English word destroy literally means to loosen... to untie... to unbind!  Jesus told two of the Twelve on the day of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem that they were to go to a certain place where they would find a donkey and her colt.  They were to unloose them!  The very same word!  That is, they were to unbind them (untie them) and bring them to Him.
The conflict between our Lord and the Evil One was identified and foretold as early as when our first parents had their “moral fall” in the Garden of Eden!  The outcome, we are told, would be determined in favor of our Lord!
Satan used God’s righteous laws to tie sinners captive to their sins!  They were bound tight with the clear promise of God that the souls which sin shall surely die!  Mankind thus sat tied and gagged, as it were, awaiting execution!  But...
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy [untie, unbind, loosen] the works of the devil [and set us... and others... free].  
Those who sat in darkness, the Scriptures announce to us, saw a great light when Jesus arrived on the scene!
By willingly taking upon Himself the sins of the world – and paying God’s required penalty of death – He unbound and dismantled Satan’s plan!
One of the greatest among story-tellers, C. S. Lewis, vividly points this out in the first volume of his Chronicles of Narnia... when Aslan (a Christ figure) similarly dies a substitutionary death... and explains it invoked a deeper “magic” which the white witch did not understand!
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  
The word translated devil we should note is the Koine Greek term diabolos.  This term offers a great key to God’s people helping them unlock what is being said here – and help them find their way through life!  Please hear the wisdom of Didymus the Blind!
Didymus the Blind is still a great source of knowledge for Christ’s Body today – even though 1700-years removed!  Born in the year of our Lord 310 and dying in 395 (at the age of 85), he was the head of a famous Coptic Christian school in Alexandria, Egypt for half a century (and a marvelous example for the rest of us)!  Having lost his vision at the age of four, he never sought the restoration of his physical vision, but begged the Almighty for an enlightened heart... and vision of mind.  
And so he listened carefully and ceaselessly, like the Biblical prophet, Ahijah of old!  And he learned more than you might imagine possible!  His prodigious contemporary, St. Jerome, never spoke of Didymus as “the blind” – but as Didymus, “the seer” (the one who could see what others could not).   And the orator Libanius wrote to an official in Egypt: "You cannot surely be ignorant of Didymus, unless you are ignorant of the great city wherein he has been night and day pouring out his learning for the good of others.” 
And regarding the occurrence of the Greek term diabolos in our lesson, Didymus the Blind (Didymus the Seer) stated that the devil entered the world (and I quote)... “in order to lead people astray, for that is where his name comes from.”
The name diabolos thus means seducer (from his beguiling of Eve)... deceiver... accuser... of mankind!
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works [destroy the power and appeal of the seductions... the deceptions... the accusations] of the devil.  
Our Lord has given us His perfect example to emulate, that in following His steps we might avoid the pitfalls... the landmines... the fiery darts... the dangers... the hazards... the destructions of the devil!
We have one more Sunday before crossing the threshold into a new Church year!  The Reformers had an important design in employing St. John’s famous text this morning.
We are about to enter the Advent season in which we prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.  This is a reminder to us that we might look for Him Who entered our benighted sphere to destroy the works of the devil.  To unbind us from the consequences of our sins.  To unbind us from the delusions of the Evil One.  To welcome Him at His all-important Coming.
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  
World without end. Amen.

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Colossians 1:3-12
November 6, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Will of God"

 

It is special to hear the prayer of any man, any woman, any young person, or any child... for a friend.  But it is most valuable, indeed, this morning to consider the inspired prayer from the large heart of the weathered and worn Apostle for his friends in Colossae!  
Let us consider the heart of the Apostle’s prayer for the Colossians, and in a sense his prayer for you and me:
…that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will…
We should note this single petition has to do with one thing and only one thing: God’s Will – His intention, His purpose, His design, His ordination, His wish, His desire, His command – His Will… what He wants us to do!
…that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will…
The first observation we should note is this…
To Know the Will of God is Mankind’s Greatest Treasure.
St. Paul wrote that from the first day he heard of their faith in Christ, he prayed for them.  And what was the first petition of their prayer? 
…that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will…
The Bible is the Great, Infallible Book which declares to mankind God’s Will in propositional truth – to which the study of words, syntax and grammar may be applied.  
It tells us of the men of the Tribe of Issachar who understood God’s Will and who followed it wholeheartedly.  I Chronicles 12:32 tells us.  
[They]… had understanding… to know what Israel ought to do…
It tells us of Israel’s first King, Saul who – along with so many men and women in our world today appointing themselves prophets of a new direction for Christ’s people – abandoned the old and proven ways... leaving ruinous destruction behind.  God took the Kingdom from Saul and gave it to David, who committed himself wholly to the doing of God’s will.
It tells us of those who followed God’s Will to the letter and were blessed.
And it tells us of those who supplanted God’s Will, replacing it with their own substitute will, and infamously discredited themselves… 
The Book of Psalms declares to us that God’s Will is perfect, converting the soul.  It tells us that God’s Will is sure, making wise the simple.  It tells us that God’s Will is right, rejoicing the heart.  It declares God’s Will to be more desirable than gold… more delightful to taste than sweetest honey!
The fact that so many Christians in our day never open the pages of the Bible to read and consider and to learn God’s Will speaks of the great disfunctionality and spiritual compromise which mark our day!
Speaking of treasures... next year will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  We do well to recall the most famous of them all!   #62...  The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
A second observation is this…
To Find the Will of God is Mankind’s Greatest Discovery.
One of the world’s largest gold nuggets was found by an Australian treasure hunter in 1980 using a simple metal detector.  “How deep was it in the soil?” we ask.  It was under only six inches of dirt.  How big was it?  It weighed 62 pounds and sold for one million dollars!  That was 36-years ago!   Who knows what it would be worth today?
The world’s largest pearl was found in 1934 off the shore of Pa-law’an, an island of the Philippines – a staggering 9-1/2 inches in diameter and weighing 14.1 pounds and valued at $60-million!  
The lesson here is obvious.  People – including Christians, and perhaps especially Christians – often overlook the greatest treasure of life which is so close because they mindlessly follow things so superficial.  They thus miss true joy and fulfillment in knowing and doing the Will of God!  As the famous saying goes... The best things in life are not things!
What did the apostle pray for his friends?
…that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will…
A third, and final, observation is this…
To Do the Will of God is Mankind’s Greatest Accomplishment.
Over the years, through the various graveside services I have attended and in which I have participated, I have enjoyed reading the many summary statements etched in grave markers.  
But not one has been as captivating as the four faded, weather-beaten and barely readable words I still picture upon the old windswept face of granite lovingly inscribed by family and friends in South Carolina:
DOER OF GOD’S WILL  
Nothing in life is as important as doing God’s Will!  Nothing!  It is worth living for.  It is worth dying for.  To do God’s Will is the proper goal of life.  It is the pathway to success in every venture!
To do God’s Will has been called the summum bonum of life – that is to say, it is the supreme good to which the children of Adam and Eve are called.  
We remember the choice words of the Lord’s Prayer: 
Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done…
It was Jesus Christ Who furnished weak and fallible dwellers of earth the perfect Example we are to emulate.  Remember His words: 
I come to do thy will, O God.
We see Him with face to the ground, agonizing and sweating great drops of Blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading:
…O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. 
Jesus stated in His Manifesto (the Sermon on the Mount) something that does not set well with many both inside and outside of Christ’s Church!
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 
My dear friends, we only have one journey through life... and we need to get it right!  Where are we today?  Let us all make the doing of God’s Will our great focus and our privileged objective.
To Know the Will of God is our Greatest Treasure.
To Find the Will of God is our Greatest Discovery
To Do the Will of God is our Greatest Accomplishment.
that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will…
This is the Word of the Lord… and may it stand firm in our lives forever!
A-men.

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Philippians 3:17-21
October 30, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Cross of Christ"

Philippians 3:17-21
Trinity XXIII
October 30, 2016
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

“The Cross of Christ”
The greatest symbol of Christianity is without doubt the Cross!  This is quite a statement, for there are many fabulous symbols teaching us of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost... and their incredible purposes for this world and for redeemed mankind!  But the Cross of Jesus Christ stands over them all, communicating volumes in an instant!  Sacrifice...  Suffering...  Forgiveness...  Discipleship!
St. Paul sadly informed the Christians at Philippi of the worldlings all around them, who served only themselves – and their fallen natures.  Hedonists they were, seeking only their pleasure... and unafraid of shame.  Their destruction, he said, was assured. 
He reminded them that just as the citizens of Philippi made up a Roman colony in the midst of a Greek world – so, too, they as Christians made up an Heavenly colony – indeed, an embassy – in the midst of a humanistic world!   Caesar was not their Savior... for Caesar could not save them!  Caesar could not save Rome!  Caesar could not even save himself!  But Jesus Christ – King of kings and Lord of lords – could!  And He would soon subdue their corrupt worldview and disintegrating culture.  Which He did!
In the midst of these verses, dear old and weathered St. Paul – under house arrest in Rome – employs a phrase that is most captivating.  And once we discover it, it is hard to turn away from it!  He tells his hearers that those around them had become enemies of the Cross of Christ. 
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ...
Now, he could have said enemies of the Faith!  He could have said enemies of Christianity!  He could have said enemies of the truth!  Or enemies of decency... But he did not!  He said enemies of the Cross of Christ!  Why?
He was referring to the key symbol of Christianity – the Cross.  Enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ!  I am sad to say that in our generation, the Cross has its own enemies once more!  And all too many are located in His Church.  
Under their leadership, much of the meaning of the Cross -- and in some areas almost all of its meaning – has altogether disappeared in many churches.  Churches are often “decorated” with globes of this world reminding us of our mission. And that is not bad, per se!  Churches are often decorated with pictures of people from all ethnic backgrounds, reminding us of the fields white unto harvest!  And that is not evil, per se!  In some quarters, churches are decorated with labyrinths!  But it seems rare, indeed, to find anywhere the simple, humble, cross of our Lord in the front of a church! 
It was not all that long ago (for I remember such days when I was a young boy) that public emergency vehicles – police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and the like – had crosses on them as part of their municipal decal or county emblem.  The symbol of Arizona includes the words Ditat Deus... which means God enriches!  But the constant barrage of lawsuits by the leaders of our brave new world has taken its intended toll!  And we all start to learn what St. Paul meant when he wrote of the “enemies of the Cross” – who want to silence its message and wipe it clean off the earth! 
But to do so, they would have to change the names of many cities – such as Santa Cruz, for example – in order to totally eradicate it from our midst!  Many have forgotten what Santa Cruz means – Holy Cross!
There is a powerful and mysterious element in Christ’s Cross which will never disappear, however, among the thinking and contemplative humble ones of this earth!
Even 17th century John Milton – acclaimed by many the “greatest of English poets and writers” – stood helpless in capturing its essence… helpless in describing its fundamental meaning.  He once wrote a beautiful ode (or poem) entitled On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity to celebrate the Birth of Christ.  But when later he attempted to compose a companion piece on the crucifixion, he found himself unable to express it in words!  In Milton’s published works, one finds the beginning of his poem, but with it a note that apologizes for its incompleteness – saying that he could not capture a worthy manner of expression!
At its elementary level, the Cross was simply the tool of Roman torture and dominion – Roman threats and punishment -- by which Jesus died for the sins of mankind.  But as to its true and full meaning, it is an absolutely baffling mystery beyond the description of human words!  Shades and hues of its greatness can be felt and detected at times, but it evades any comprehensive expression!
Poets have made some progress in putting its power into words.  One of the most famous calls the Cross the place where Heaven and earth meet – the gateway through which His people must pass, and be refined, as they transition from one realm to the other!  
Yet others have called it the instrument of death which in God’s Hand was made an instrument of life for His people!  It has been termed that instrument which (like Moses’ rod of old) parted the waters of history.   
Still others note its vertical member speaks of the reconciliation of man with God – while its horizontal member speaks of the reconciliation of man with man!
But this morning, I submit to you that this world – and Christ’s Church, in particular – which have lost much of the meaning of the Cross in our day can regain it with God’s help!  Those who still possess a faint recollection of what it once meant, cannot enter a room where it is present without acknowledging it... even if almost imperceptibly, with a reverent nod of the head!
How did the Early Church understand, preserve, and defend the Cross of Christ?  In A.D. 200, the Church Father, Tertullian, recorded for us the practice of the Early Church as far as the signing of the Cross was concerned.  I quote…
“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”  This is called “Sacred Tradition.”
The advanced meaning of the Cross for you and me implies the willing death of our old natures.  The advanced meaning of the Cross for you and me implies our willing death to the slavery this world would impose upon us!
What does the Cross mean to you?  May it be central in your walk of Faith.  May the Cross be central to us as a Church Family.  May the Cross once again be important to all of Christ’s Church – and to all of our land.  
For many…” wrote St. Paul with weeping, “are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” 
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Tow-‘ring o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sa-cred story
Gath-ers round its head sublime.   
World without end. Amen.  

 

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Philippians 1:3-11
October 23, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Sacrifices for God"

Everyone loves good news!  And this morning God tells us something quite wonderful!  It is a promise that should encourage each of us in good times—and continue to encourage each of us even during difficult days.  It should be a guiding light to direct our steps each and every day! What is this good news?  It is this...  Our Heavenly Father never gives up on us!
He which hath begun a good work in you, St. Paul writes, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.  This is most encouraging!  This tells us that God does not do things half well.  He does not start a project, then leave it uncompleted!  He does all things well!  And so should we!
Work when you work; play when you play.  That’s the way to be happy each day!  Whatever you do, do with all of your might.  Things done in halves are never done right!  
 
What is important for us to note this morning is that the Apostle Paul employs two terms in this grand statement which apply to the making of a sacrifice!  The first term is translated He which hath begun a good work in you… And the second term is translated will perform ituntil the day of Jesus Christ.  In other words, He who hath called us to be sacrifices for Him will continue to work in us and with us until the sacrifice is complete on the day Jesus Christ returns in glory!  He began this work... and He will complete it!
This is worth pondering... understanding… and implementing!
In the Old Testament, there were many offerings in the sacrificial system instituted by God.  But the top two sacrifices were probably the sin offering and the burnt offering!  And they were different!
The sin offering was made in order to obtain expiation.  What is expiation?  Expiation is forgiveness, but it is much more.  It is the payment of a penalty that must be paid.  Select parts of the animal being offered were consumed on the altar and expiation was thus acquired.  Jesus Christ, of course, became the great sin offering for mankind.  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (I Corinthians 5:21).
The burnt offering, on the other hand, was consumed as a whole (in total).  It was not offered for atonement.  It was offered for surrender… consecration… commitment… to the Ancient of Days!  It was meant to bring a pleasing fragrance (smell) to the LORD!
Having been brought near to God through Christ, we – in our own day -- have now become this burnt offering!  We are to surrender ourselves to God… we are to consecrate ourselves to His purposes… we are commit the details of our lives to the Almighty.  For these please our Maker and Redeemer and Sustainer.
There are many in our day who seek God in order to obtain life and fire insurance!  But to be a sacrifice is much more than this.  Sadhu Sundar Singh – one of the greatest of all the Christian missionaries of India once so capably caught its essence.  And I quote...
Should I worship Him from fear of hell, may I be cast into it.  Should I serve Him from desire of gaining heaven, may He keep me out.  But should I worship Him from love alone, He reveals Himself to me, that my whole heart may be filled with His love and presence. 
St. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a livingsacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  There is an holy obligation upon us to serve God and not man!  There is an holy obligation upon us serve God and not the world!  He who is a friend with the world, the Scriptures tell us, is the enemy of God.
And we learn in this morning’s Epistle Lesson that it was God Himself Who began this sacrifice in us… and it is He who will complete this sacrifice through us.  And that is a comforting thought!  There is so much sacrifice to be accomplished, it takes a lifetime!  But He who begins the sacrifice in us, we are told, will end the sacrifice in us.  This was true for the Twelve... it has always been true for Christ’s followers.  It remains true for us today!
Jesus said: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it (St. Mark 8:35).  He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose!
Can you picture your own life as a sacrifice for Christ?  Can you picture yourself giving up the ways of mankind as a sacrifice for Christ?  This is what it means to be a living sacrifice for Him.
“What are we sacrificing?” You ask.  To sacrifice is to kill!  We are called to sacrifice (or kill) our old former ways of lifeAs a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly writes the Proverbs-writer and also St. Peter in the general epistles bearing his name..  
We are also called to sacrifice (or kill) our old natures (the “old man” in us) that would drag us away from God.  Man cannot serve two masters, Jesus taught – only one!  And if we choose to serve God, we will need to sacrifice – get rid of – all other idols in our lives. 
We are further called to sacrifice (to kill) irreverence.  If there is one thing Christ’s churches need today – it is reverence – born out of an appreciation of the holiness and greatness of God!  The reason churches have traditionally installed stained glass windows is to block distractions for one hour a week – when God’s people gather to withdraw from the world and its irreverence toward God in order to show reverence for Him!
How do we show reverence on Sundays?  In several ways… Through punctuality (by being on time).  By wearing our best clothing before Him and not our worst clothing before Him.  In a day of “come as you are” we need to remember to “come as you should.” By being silent and thoughtful in His House.  By focusing and participating in the service instead of shifting into neutral and seeking entertainment.  This is most certainly what we try to do here for our Heavenly Father each service.
It is not so elsewhere, I am sad to say…
There are churches not far from here who invite people to come and have breakfast while worshipping with them!  They invite people to come and play games while worshipping with them! They invite people to come and watch movie clips while worshipping the Almighty!
Whatever happened to reverence?  Whatever happened to sacrificing ourselves for one hour in order to let God know we appreciate Him and commit ourselves afresh to His holy ways!
He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.  
He never gives up on us.  So let us do our part.  Let us not forget to be sacrifices on His altar!  
This is the Word of the Lord... and may it stand.  World without end!  Amen.

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Ephesians 6:10-20
October 16, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Armor of God"

The Epistle to the Ephesians is a very practical and encouraging book.  But in its last chapter, from which this morning’s Epistle Lesson has been drawn, the Apostle Paul reveals to us something very sobering – and of utmost importance!  A final word of advice before closing his great epistle!  

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might… For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 
Those who believe in the theory of evolution, and subscribe to the “molecules-to-man” explanation for human life (as it has been called) rail against such ideas!  Faithless theologians and critics doubt such ideas.  They say the Apostle was only reciting the many superstitions of his day!  Even many so-called Christians doubt them as well!
But Jesus Christ, Who was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, did not doubt them!  Not in the least!  His Apostles did not doubt them! Not in the least!
His Evangelists – writers of the Gospel accounts – did not doubt them!  On the contrary they document in vivid detail how evil spirits “came out of the woodwork,” as they say, when the Son of Man appeared on earth to perform His holy work of restoration.  They were everywhere!  And the Gospel writers did not redact (that is, edit out) the truth!  
Robert Louis Stevenson, famed Scottish author who wrote such enduring works as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – did not doubt the reality of such evil in this world!  On one occasion he wrote, and I quote, “You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh?  One cold, east windy morning, I met Satan there.”  We may not know what struggle Stevenson faced, but we certainly recognize his experience!  We have all felt the cold chill of evil that would seek us to sin and destroy our relationship with others... to say nothing of our relationship with our Heavenly Father!
Martin Luther, the Continental Reformer, did not doubt the reality of wicked forces and evil spirits in this world.  It was while he was kept at Wartburg Castle under the protection of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, the famous incident with the inkwell took place. 
Luther had just begun his translation of the Bible into German.  Satan saw the handwriting on the wall and was furious. His demons gave Luther no rest day or night.  At last Luther took his inkwell and threw it at the devil!  The mark can still be seen on the wall today (500-years later).  Many of you who have traveled to Europe have probably even seen it.  
So there is no reason in the world why you or I should doubt the truth that God tells us here through the dear and aged Apostle.  Such truth is given to us for our safety and our well-being, our joy and happiness!
And there is no reason in the world why you and I should not follow His holy command to put on the whole spiritual armor of God, intended to keep us safe in an incredibly fierce spiritual struggle!  Seven items are set before us – and we are wise if we use them all.
First, there is the belt of truth.  For the Roman soldier, it was wide and incredibly durable!  It covered the waist and had flaps hanging from it which formed a skirt of armor over the pelvic area.  Others may wonder and guess, but as Christians we may move confidently and freely – protected by God’s inspired and inerrant revealed truth!
Second, the breastplate of righteousness – consisted of hinged bronze pieces covering the upper torso, front and back.  This protected the very vital organs – heart and lungs – and the great blood vessels (the aorta and vena cava).  The imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ protects us.  And our own godly living keeps us out of harm’s way. 
Third, the sandals – made of very heavy, tough leather.  Often they were embedded with bronze nail heads to keep them from wearing and cracking.  Roman soldiers could easily move 25-miles over difficult terrain in a forced march and be ready to engage the enemy upon arrival!  We, too, must be ready to move over obstacles to do good to others and to share the truth of the Gospel with our neighbors and friends.
Fourth, the shield of faith.  The Roman shield, large enough to cover the whole body, was made of wood covered with hide and bound with iron at the top and the bottom.  When dipped in water before a battle, it could extinguish arrows which had been daubed in pitch and set ablaze.  When temptations come at us, it is faith in Christ – and following His Holy Word – that protect us!
Fifth, the helmet of salvation.  The bronze helmet had flaps which came down over the ears and nape of the neck – protecting the brain and other special organs, including the eyes.  God’s free gift of salvation removes from us worry and trepidation and allows us to concentrate fully on the works of faith and labors of love He gives us to perform.
Sixth, the sword.  The Roman 22” short sword was one of the most famous weapons of all time!  It was produced of iron hammered in a bed of carbon which produced “crude steel” – able to cut through much of the armor of an enemy.  The Word of God can certainly defend us.  But it can also pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit in others, and convince them of their need for Christ.  Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
 And last, prayer – the greatest weapon of all – direct appeal to Almighty God for His intervention and assistance.  Prayer changes things – not just things outside us, but also inside us as well!  It has been said that seven days without prayer makes one w e a k!  So pray without ceasing!
This Ephesians text is crucial for all Christians – and especially for you and me in the battle-scarred days in which we live in America, as we seek to reestablish the Lordship of Christ and advance His Church and Kingdom!  Are you wearing this armor?  And are you protected by it?  This is too important for us to ignore.  
When the French artist, Auguste Rodin (Rodan), was a struggling sculptor – he often became terribly discouraged.  He would frequently have a “vision” of a lovely carving he felt he must bring into being – but he could not chisel it into existence!  It was at such times that he would set down his tools and shake off the marble dust from his clothes and travel to the Louvre.
There he would spend time amongst the statues fashioned centuries before by his predecessors.  He would carefully drink of their simplicity and beauty – and ponder their “perfection.”  And then, he would return to his studio refreshed and encouraged with renewed understanding and inspiration!   
And so it is with us – as it relates to the whole armor of God!  Let us envision the Roman soldier in his battle gear.  Let us recall the Biblical description of the spiritual armor which God has given us.  
And it is a great privilege to picture the saints of old wearing/using it to subdue evil!  
Let us also put on the whole armor of God that you and I may be able to stand against the onslaught of the devil in our day.  
It was the Roman historian, Tacitus – probably their greatest historian – who recorded that it was not uncommon after a battle to find two Roman soldiers – dead – but only after they had stood back to back, and taken down fifty of the enemy before they succumbed!
Wickedness and evil are very real!  Palpable!  And I do not want to sound melodramatic, but the path through life is not “easy” (not a “bed of roses”) for the Christian soldier.  And the spiritual battle of our day will certainly not lessen, but only intensify!  Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might!     
This is the word of the Lord.  And may it be honored and practiced in our lives.  World without end.  Amen. 

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Romans 8:12-17
July 17, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Abba, Father"

 God has revealed Himself to us through His many, many titles in the Bible!  He is known as the Ancient of Days… the Buckler… the Creator… the Dwelling Place…  By one study, He has revealed Himself to us through over 900 titles in the Bible!  But of all of them, not a single one is more meaningful that that which is so carefully embedded in our Epistle Lesson read together this morning!  And what a gem it is!  Two words.

Abba, Father.
But what does it mean?  It is an emphatic term!  It is less formal than “father” and perhaps could possibly be translated in the vernacular as “dad.”  It is a term that is personal, affectionate, and indicates “closeness” and “warmth” of relationship.  Some have gone so far as to indicate it has the flavor of the term “daddy.”
St. Paul did not “come up” with the term on his own!  Jesus is recorded as using it during His earthly ministry!  On the night of His betrayal and arrest – when events were rapidly spiraling toward their appointed end, we find our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane – kneeling – fervently praying!  What did He pray?  St. Mark 14:36 tells us -- ...he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
In the travail of His Soul, in the dark hour of need, He drew as near to His Father as He could – in order to garner and secure strength and endurance for what was to follow!  Abba, Father.
And this was in reality His practice throughout His earthly Ministry!  His critics were deeply offended because they felt His was an overly familiar approach to God!  Too pedestrian an approach to the Creator of the world and Lord of mankind!  

But Jesus is very clear in His teaching that His Own intimate relationship with His Father is to be the pattern of our relationship with Him as well.  He taught us to pray, did He not:
Our Father Who art in Heaven…
In the lesson this morning St. Paul adds an important element of explanation!  As followers of Christ, we have not received the spirit of bondage which requires us to tremble and quake and worry with fear.  On the contrary, we have received, he says, the spirit of adoption – and as a result we cry out to God: Abba, Father!  The One Who brought us into the world… Abba, Father!  The One Who brought us into His Family… Abba, Father!  The One who loves us and cares for us and is concerned for us.  Abba, Father! The One who died for us in Christ!  Abba, Father.
We must not lose sight of the fact that God relates to His people -- and to us -- just as an earthly father relates to his children whom he loves except our Heavenly Father’s affection and concern are even truer… deeper… more secure… more lasting… more real!
These are thus two of the most special words in the Christian’s vocabulary.  Abba, Father.  When trouble swarms around us and ill tidings would throw us down into the dirt, we find the greatest of comforts in our approach to God with the words: Abba, Father.  Help me!
When joy fills our hearts to overflowing at some wonderful development from the Hand of God, we give perfect expression of our gratitude through the words: Abba, Father.Thank you!
Especially is this to be valued when we remember the Greek and Roman pantheon of “gods” and their harsh – terrible... acerbic -- dealings with men and women!  We must remember they were only “deified men” – and delighted to torment others through their capricious and unpredictable ways.
This led, as we know, to the “Greek Tragic” view of life – a terribly un-Christian worldview!  For the Bible tells us: …all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  But the Greek tragic view of life taught just the opposite!  No fixed, sure, immovable trustworthy point life.  No great and totally good Father to be trusted... and called upon... and loved with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. 
Abba, Father.  
In the final analysis, this is a very liberating gift from God – bringing healing to troubled souls and calm to frenetic minds!  It reveals to us that we may always draw near to our Heavenly Father and that He will take time in turn to draw near to us!  After all, He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present!  
We are not alone!  He is ever near to us.  He Who delights to be called by us -- Abba, Father – is all around us.  There is no place where He is not!  When we are in the dark, He is there.  When we are in danger, He is there.  When we face trouble, He is there.  In the midst.  Like St. Paul on the wind-driven ship of old!  When we are sad, He is there.  When we are alone, He is there.  As Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote over 100-years ago: Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
“Oh, where is the sea?” the fishes cried,
As they swam the crystal waters through;
“We have heard from old of the ocean’s tide,
And we long to look on the water’s blue.
The wise ones speak of an infinite sea;
Oh, who can tell if such there be?”
God is all around us – if we only pause to look and see Him… to stop and be quiet and feel His great strength and holiness.  Be still and know that I am God.  And of all things, He invites us to address Him with the title: Abba, Father.
We should pause and point out in our day of “entitlement religion” – where the Almighty is all too often framed as a “cosmic errand boy” in the service of self-sufficient Man -- that with such great privilege comes an equally great responsibility.  It is not those who call themselves the sons and daughters of God who are His true and noble children, but those who actlike His true and noble children!
Verse 14: For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  More careful examination of the text reveals this to mean God’s adopted children specifically put to death their old natures.  To show themselves to be His children, they putoff the old nature of Adam.
And along with this responsibility comes a word of warning (verse 17) – as Jesus often said – count the cost!  To be an adopted child of God is to be His heir, which makes us joint heirs with Christ... who suffered!
If we plan to be His glorified children, there will be suffering involved!  Plan on it!  Count on it!  It is part of the process of Sonship!  Jesus showed us this by His sterling example.  If we cannot see this, it is because we are not yet grown up sufficiently in the Faith.
So we have before us this beautiful Trinity Season Sunday morning something dealing with each of the members of the BlessedTrinity.  God the Father inviting us (beckoning us) to be His adopted children.  To address Him as Abba Father!  Jesus showing us by His example what it means to be His child.  And the Holy Spirit encouraging us not to be reluctant... but to step forward into the implications of such a grand calling. 
A privilege with a great responsibility!
Is this how we know Him -- Abba Father?  Is this how we carefully address Him in prayer?
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
This is the word of the Lord… and may it stand forever... in our lives... world without end.  Amen. 

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Romans 6:19-23
July 10, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Gotta Serve Somebody"

Bob Dylan, the American song-writer and singer, became a born-again Christian in the late 1970s... and then proceeded to win the Grammy Award for his 1979 hit single Gotta Serve Somebody.  The lyrics are indeed probing and relentless in their witness.  The chorus reminds his listeners:
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.  
You're gonna have to serve somebody. 
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord.  
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
In a nutshell, this is the very message of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle Lesson before us this morning.  You’ve gotta serve somebody!  And in hearing and understanding this, we find yet another choice Trinity Season theme!
Verse 19: ...as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
The word “servant” which St. Paul employs four times in this morning’s lesson is really in the Greek doulas “slave.”  A “slave,” we should immediately remind ourselves, is a person who lives under the will and control of another.
Doulas is a popular word in the New Testament, found 127 times!
The Roman centurion, for example, is recorded by St. Matthew as telling Jesus: For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to myservant (doulas), Do this, and he doeth it.
We should not really be surprised at this usage of doulas (slave), because Jesus taught that No man can serve[same Greek term: be a slave to]two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other (St. Matthew 6:24).  And in the Letters to the Corinthians God tells them: You are not your own… you were bought with a price.
And we are immediately face-to-face with a huge issue in life... one which Dylan saw and put it so well (even if with improper English) -- You’ve gotta serve somebody!
Some of the biggest names of history were once slaves!
Aesop (of Aesop’s Fables fame) was a slave.  According to tradition, he lived on the Greek island of Samos and through his cleverness acquired his freedom -- and became an advisor to kings and city-states.
Spartacus was a slave!  Spartacus, from Thrace, served in the Roman army.  He became a bandit and was sold as a slave when he was caught. He escaped a gladiatorial school, where he had plotted a revolt with other gladiators, and set up camp on Mount Vesuvius, where he was joined by other runaway slaves and some peasants.  With a force of 90,000, he overran most of southern Italy, defeating two Roman armies in what is now termed the “Third Servile War.”  And as Jesus taught – he who lives by the sword will die by the sword– so did it happen.  Spartacus was betrayed and died on the battlefield.
St. Patrick had been a slave!  Born in Scotland, at the age of 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland to serve as a slave.  Six years later, he escaped and by means of a circuitous route through France, finally returned to his home.
Two years after his return home, he had a vision (or a dream).  And in his own words he has described for us what happened:
“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland.  His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."
 
What would you have done?  What did St. Patrick do?
He went!  But this time, not as their slave… but as the servant – the slave (the doulas) – of God.  And he taught them about the Blessed Trinity through the shamrock… and he placed the cross of Jesus Christ over their circular pagan symbol of the sun – yielding the Celtic Cross which we employ here at St. Paul’s 1600 years later!
In the final analysis, all people are in some sense slaves whether or not they believe it – even if to themselves and their appetites.  As Dylan rightly perceived... You’ve gotta serve somebody!
In our lesson this morning, St. Paul reminds us how important it is to understand the conflict we face.  We either serve sin as slaves in freedom from God… or we serve God as slaves in freedom from sin.  One or the other, but not both! We cannot have it both ways!
We either trust God fully and serve Him as our Master – or we delight in sin fully and serve it as our Master! 
In the 1950s a Western American city (and quite a business hub) of about 40,000 people discovered a problem.  Because of local corruption, people were “picking up” their possessions and moving to other communities.  And the effects of this could be seen in their dwindling community.
A new police chief was hired and ordered to “clean up” the city in order to save it!  This he did – eliminating gambling... prostitution... and other ugly vices in their midst!  But he was promptly fired!  “Why?” he asked.  He was informed, “We didn’t mean for you to make our community that clean!”
You see, they wanted the appearance of justice for the sake of business... while at one and the same time sacrificing justice in order to preserve the favorite seams of lawlessness.  
And when St. Paul speaks of serving sin from iniquity unto iniquity, he is alluding to the fact that lawlessness never stands still.  It only grows worse!  This is a recurring theme among celebrities who often die young!  Their slavery to sin is too strong for them... and destroys them.
Even debt which was a dirty word for my grandparents’ generation (He who goes a borrowing will return a sorrowing) grew to become common in my parents’ generation.  And by the third generation (my generation) it has consumed the world!  Threatening to take down Western Civilization altogether!
If we are going to serve Jesus Christ as His servants (His slaves... His douloi), the commitment must be total – not as an “appearance only” exercise... but in genuine servanthood!  Jesus taught us that the greatest among us will be the servants of all.
And I am sad to say that many sons of Adam and many daughters of Eve try to position themselves halfway in between – not wanting to be to too radical in following the Almighty and yet not wanting to get too close to the vortex of sin.  Such worldlings really are attempting to “get the best of both.”  And by not making a clean break with sin, they reveal in their own foolishness they are really operatives for sin!
In verse 23, a landmark Bible verse, we are told the eventual outcome of the two types of slavery.  Slavery to sin leads to death.  Slavery to God leads to eternal life (both in quality and in quantity).
So whose slaves are we?  And whom do we serve?  You’ve gotta serve somebody!
There is another character in the New Testament who was also once a slave.  His name was Onesimus.  And a Book of the New Testament deals with him.  He ran away from his master (Philemon) and possibly robbed him.  He then met St. Paul in Rome and became a Christian.  The Apostle wrote a letter to his master (Philemon) and explained that Onesimus was returning to him as more than a slave… as a brother in the faith.  He asked for forgiveness  s and restoration.
And guess what?  He received it.  Onesimus became a slave of God!  There is a strong tradition that Onesimus became Bishop of Ephesus fifty years later!
Which way are we heading in life?  Whose slave are we anyhow?  Whom do we serve?  Who “calls the shots” as they say?
We are given only one life to live… and we must get it right!  Death and eternal life daily open up before us!   
Let us yield our members slaves to righteousness in holiness…
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
You’ve gotta serve somebody!

This is the Word of the Lord…  World without end. Amen. 

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Deuteronomy 10:17-21
July 4, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Great and Terrible Things"

He [is] thy praise... he [is] thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.
It was 240-years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that the Continental Congress voted to dissolve their “connection” with Great Britain -- declaring their thirteen united colonies to be free and independent states.  And a new and independent Republic (which means “rule by law”) was born!
After each of the 56 signers had penned their names to this Declaration, Samuel Adams (“Father of the American Revolution”) declared: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”
John Adams (who would become the second president of these United States) wrote: “We are in the very midst of a revolution... the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.
Many have questioned (and still do today) the legitimacy of such a “rebellion” given the Scriptural injunction to honour the king.  The reason for this drastic action, of course, was based upon the fact that King George III and the British Parliament had acted faithlessly – indeed, recklessly -- in breaking the charters they had sworn to uphold.  They had become lawless!
And in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence the signers went into great detail to explain to mankind their many grievances!  Quote... “The History of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” 
To prove their claim, dozens of facts were submitted, as they wrote, to a “candid world” – including first, obstruction in the administration of justice... second, making judges dependent upon the will of King George III alone... and third, the creation of a multitude of new offices with “swarms” of officers to harass the colonists and consume their substance...  
The signers’ actions on behalf of the American colonies have been accurately described as self-defense
As we know, all actions have consequences... and the Declaration of Independence had consequences as well!
Within days, British naval vessels began arriving – their sails first appearing as tiny shining specks on the distant horizon, then steadily growing until they made their way into New York harbor.
General William Howe sailed in on July 6th.  Five more ships on July 25th.  Eight more on July 26th.  And 20 more on July 29th.  By mid-August the total British armada at anchor off Staten Island included 400 ships!  The British officers gleefully reminded themselves this was the largest fleet ever seen in American water – in fact, the largest expeditionary force of the entire 18th century... from Britain or any nation of the earth!
The British had everything!  Guns... cannons... explosives... food... clothing... specialized training... experience... equipment, and confidence (lots of it... too much of it!).  They also had troops – 32,000 of the finest.  This was more than the entire population of Philadelphia, America’s largest city.
What did the colonists have?  Not much humanly speaking!  No ships (not a single one)!  Few weapons.  No cannons.  No explosives.  No trained soldiers.  Many were just teenagers.  Some did not even have shoes.  Others not even coats or shirts!   Few experienced military leaders.  A growing national debt.  An increasingly worthless currency known as the Continental.  They had defections... British spies in their ranks... British spies in their towns, constantly listening, constantly watching.
They also had Benjamin Franklin in France seeking financial assistance and military help.  Especially the services of Comte de Grasse, the experienced admiral of the French Navy.  They had the “Black Robed Brigade” – Anglican and other clergy angered by the takeover of colonial churches by the British for use as horse stables.  The Black Robed Brigade became famous for their role in fortifying fearful communicants and encouraging them to pray and labor and not give up in the quest for liberty for their families and generations to come.  
They also had the keen eyes, wits, and courage of General Washington.  They had faith in God.  They had unending prayers to Him on their behalf.
We have not time to stop at Valley Forge, the Crossing of the Delaware, the Battle at Trenton and the defeat of the Hessian Colonel Rall, or the surprising  victory at Princeton.  But I would like to tell you on this special day how five years after the Declaration of Independence, God quickly brought the conflict to an end –  miraculously -- and our liberties of old were won.
By 1781, the French had agreed to assist the colonists in their struggle.  Rochambeau and Lafayette were with Washington and Comte de Grasse was cleared to move his French armada to America to assist the patriots.
Miraculously, a dispatch reached General Washington revealing that the British General Cornwallis had settled in at Yorktown on the York River (ten miles from its mouth) without any regard for the fears of his commander, Henry Clinton, that he might be trapped.
This was the “misstep” Washington had sought!  Rochambeau and Lafayette agreed.  Washington proceeded to send out fake dispatches for the “benefit” of Clinton indicating the French and Americans were heading to New York to engage British troops there.  Meanwhile secret dispatches were expedited for his officers to bring troops from all thirteen colonies to arrive outside Yorktown (trapping Cornwallis from a land-route escape).  Word was also sent to Comte de Grasse to pilot his armada at the mouth of the York River and set a blockade to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.
The plan, in the Providence of God, worked perfectly.  The Americans, who were always outnumbered... out-equipped... out-supplied... this time had every advantage!
The blockade was set, the city surrounded, and the siege of Yorktown began.  With British supplies dwindling, the allies began pounding the headquarters where Cornwallis was residing.  One of the British ships was hit and caught fire... which burned two others next to it. 
Unbeknown to Washington at the time, half of Cornwallis’ army had come down with malaria and were unable to fight.  In a last ditch effort, Cornwallis began an evacuation of his men in small boats to the other side of the York River.  In miraculous fashion, God sent a squall (wind storm) to push them back to Yorktown... disabling the operation  making any further evacuation impossible. 
Under heavy and unceasing bombardment, Cornwallis consulted with his officers and agreed the situation was hopeless.  A drummer was sent out the next morning with an officer behind him waving the white flag of surrender.  
Terms of capitulation were negotiated, then Cornwallis was called upon to appear and deliver his sword in surrender.  He would not meet with Washington, claiming illness.
October 17, 1781 marked the end of the American War for Independence.  It is always much easier to begin something that to end it.  But with the help of the Almighty the struggle for freedom and independence on the part of the American colonies was finally brought to a glorious end.
In a day when the average person in America no longer knows about George Washington, King George III, Comte de Grasse, or Yorktown – we are indeed privileged to understand how God’s strong Hand and mighty Arm brought religious freedom to America.
Not because we deserved it... but because He is good and heard the devout prayers of many of His own.
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson, who when national symbols were under discussion, recommended the parting the of the Red Sea – for that is precisely what the Almighty did for the American Colonies... He opened a way for His people to liberation and safety.
He [is] thy praise... he [is] thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. 

And may they stand forever. World without end... A-men. 

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Romans 6:3-11
July 3, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Dead and Alive -- With Christ"

The Trinity Season is all about growth!  It is the logical outcome of all the other eight ecclesiastical seasons before it – the Birth of Jesus at Christmas... His appearance to the Magi of old during Epiphany... His suffering during Lent... His Easter Resurrection... His Ascension... the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost...
The Epistle Lesson read together this morning goes to the very root of our new life in Christ – baptism – and examines it thoroughly!  And we discover that the “root” of our faith governs the “fruit” of our faith!
Four brief observations to understand and take with us this morning if we would grow healthy and strong in the Christian Faith this Trinity Season...
First, baptism is mandatory.  Verse 3: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  
Our entire understanding of the Christian life and our abhorrence of sin is governed by our understanding of baptism.  St. Paul was baptized for the “washing away” of his sins (as described in Acts 22:16), but from his phraseology it would appear that not everyone else was baptized!  Listen to what he wrote…  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ… If this is true,we must ask ourselves a question... Why would someone not be baptized?  Why would a thirsty man in the desert refuse a large glass of cool, refreshing ice water?  Why would a terminally-ill patient refuse medication to heal and restore health?  Why would a prisoner refuse clemency?  Because fallen man is blind and foolish and weak.
Years ago, we were interviewing a young woman for a teaching position at the Christian School we were serving.  During the interview, she asked if we believed in baptism.  I remember thinking to myself, “What a strange question.”  We replied, “Why yes.  Jesus said in His Great Commission: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…
She proceeded to explain that she and her husband did not believe baptism was any longer mandatory (they were Dispensational) – because the Bible says: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.
This approach to God’s Word – the smorgasbord approach, where you pick what you like and reject what does not “appeal” to you -- has, I am sorry to say, become so embedded and enmeshed so much in the warp and woof of much of Christianity that it is producing an insipid and tasteless “faith” which reflects much more the thinking of man than that of God. 
Can we see how easy it is to get “off track”?  The principle of “picking and choosing” what we like or dislike… The principle of “picking and choosing” what we prefer to believe or not to believe… can never replace the historical practice of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.  Truth is found in the Sacred Scriptures and faithful interpretation and application according to Apostolic Tradition.  When asked on the Day of Pentecost, “What must we do to be saved?” St. Peter replied, Repent, and be baptizedThat is a command!
We should remember that even Jesus Himself was baptized in order to show us just how important He considers it to be for His people.
Second, baptism’s meaning.  Verse 4: We are buried with him by baptism into death...  I will never forget the first time I really came to understand the magnificence of this statement!  Here we find the meaning of baptism.  Something incredibly important takes place during baptism.  That is why baptism has been termed (as in Anglican circles) a sacrament (which means “sacred thing”)! Now there are churches today that avoid using the term sacrament in favor of the milder term ordinance.  But an ordinance does not carry with it the same miraculous connotation as does the term sacrament.  A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace instituted by Christ!  When those of us who were baptized were baptized, St. Paul reminds us, we shared in Christ’s death to sin!  He died, never to suffer from sin again.   A n d   s o   d i d   w e!
When Jesus died on the Cross with the sins of the world heaped upon His shoulders, we died with Him (in principle through our baptism)!  We died with Christ in order to be dead to sin.  Sin can command us all it wants, sin can bark out orders all day long -- but as dear old Origen (A.D. 184-254, early Christian theologian and scholar) pointed out: “Nor does a dead man lust or get angry or have passions or steal what is not his.  Therefore, if we suppress all these desires in our bodies they may be said to be dead to sin.” 
Two natures beat within my breast,
The one is foul, the other blessed.
The one I love.  The other I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.
 
Third, baptism’s purpose – an even deeper understanding of the mystery of baptism!  Not only does the Apostle explain what happened to us at baptism – he explains why it had to happen!  Verse 6: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him…
Here we find the core of St. Paul’s argument. Our “old man,” our “old nature,” our “old sorry and sin-laden self” was crucified with Christ!
I have always been mesmerized by the title of a book I once saw advertised – Remove the Thorn and the Hand Will Heal!  Some things are that simple in life!  In our case, crucify our old natures and the sinning will cease!
The serpent… the tempter… the beguiler… the devil… entered our race, as it were, through our fallen nature – when our first parents sinned.  Eve trusted the serpent more than she trusted God!  
And Adam trusted the word of his wife (Eve) more than he trusted the Word of God!  And sin entered the human race.  And our first parents were lost!  Adam, where are you?
The only way out of our sins for us as sinners, of course, is through the death of Christ.  Through baptism, our old natures are nailed to the Cross with Him.  They scream… they cry… they wheedle... they beg…that we might release them, bow down to them, and follow them once again.
But God through St. Paul says “Do not do it!”  You have died to sin with Christ in baptism!  And your old natures are crucified with Him.
Therefore, sin is not an option to us as Christians!  Baptism has rightly been called the funeral service for our old natures.  It has also rightly been called the inauguration service for our new lives in Christ!
Fourth, the outcome of baptism takes time and effort (a lifetime of it)!  Verse 11. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.  
This outcome does not take place overnight!  It requires a lifetime and lots of effort.  We are told elsewhere that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  And dear St. Peter adds, Make your calling and election sure.
St. James adds for our benefit these words: Faith without works is dead.
The Christian life is not a passive entertainment!  It is as engaging as could possibly be imagined!  Even the Apostle Paul later in this epistle would write, O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  
We are not the same people we once were!  Nor are we yet the people we are destined to become!  The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of man might become the sons of God!  
First the blade, taught our Lord... then the ear, He continued, then the full corn in the ear!  Plants do not grow overnight!  Rome was not built overnight.  Our faith does not become fully mature overnight!
When St. Paul says reckon (the Old English for our more contemporary word “consider”) he was using the Greek term logizomai from which we derive our English word “logic.”  We all get impatient with our progress (or lack thereof) and St. Paul reminds us to “reckon” – to not forget the logic of it all!  There is a reason for the struggling and the wrestling!  There is a God-ordained reason for everything in life!
This is how moral growth and development occur in Christ’s School of Learning!  And it is how a caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly!  If you have ever watched a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis you will agree that lots of work is required.  Struggling... then rest.  Energy expended... then relief.  Over and over again!  This is how God’s masterful design pumps fluids into the capillaries of the butterfly’s new wings.  Without the struggle, there is no fluid.  Without the fluid, there is no flight.  Without the flight there is no butterfly!
A man once saw this miracle underway and felt sorry for the emerging butterfly, so he stepped forward to help!  A knowledgeable friend halted him and told him to consider (reckon) – think about -- the logic of it all!  And he did... and the butterfly was left alone and soon flew on its way! 
So it is with us in our Christian lives.  Moral exercise is required!  Where are we this day?  Reckon… yourselves… dead indeed unto sin.
This is the word of the Lord.  Amen. 

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I Peter 3:8-15
June 26, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Suffering as a Blessing"

What a delight it is this morning to read and digest God’s Word to us by the Holy Spirit through the quill of St. Peter, of old...
He had acquired an inspiring view of life – first as a fisherman plying the beautiful waters of Gennesaret, then as a disciple of our Lord carefully observing His skilled manner in dealing with the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, then as an Apostle who carried the Gospel to the far reaches of the globe -- and then finally in laying down his life as a great Martyr! 
We are privileged to gain some portion of his wide and all-encompassing perspective... his fearlessness of life... his rugged durability of faith.  He cast a wide fishing net in his youth.  He cast a wide theological net in his advanced years!
And in our text this morning he is addressing Christians in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) who were undergoing persecution.  Not organized Roman-style persecution – but local persecution!  Insults... slander... social ostracism... physical abuse... sporadic violence.  His goal was to calm them... settle them... encourage them... establish them in Christ’s Way.
He did this by reassuring them that everything happening to them has purpose before the Almighty!  Support one another, he begins – and do not try to “go it” alone!  To “shore up” their foundation, he tells them to be sympathetic, compassionate, humble with each other!  He calls them to separate themselves from the ways of their persecutors.  You do not want them to do this to you; make sure therefore that you do not do it to one another!
Instead of retaliating in kind, try blessing instead!  Good for evil.  Right for wrong.  If you want God’s blessings, he says, you need to learn to give His blessings to others!  Jesus prayed for those who nailed Him to the Cross!  And then to bolster them he quotes a beautiful passage from Psalm 34:12-16!
If you would still enjoy life and see better days, make sure you do your part, he says!  Guard your tongue from all manner of evil.  Love and practice all things that are good!   Seek peace, he reminds them – indeed pursue peace relentlessly!
And never forget that God favors the righteous (His eyes delight to watch them and His ears are always eager to hear their prayers)... and never forget the Almighty is against evil-doers!  Commit yourselves therefore always to do the thing that is good... and see if God does not block the way of your adversaries!  The Book of Proverbs reminds us that when a man’s ways please the LORD He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him!
And then he ends by adding that if suffering still comes for doing good, count it a blessing.  For Jesus’ final beatitude in His Sermon on the Mount reminds us: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.  St. Matthew chapter 5.
Therefore on the basis of all this, do not fear their threats... do not be frightened... But in your hearts revere Christ as the Lord.
We should find it most interesting to discover that in Christ’s School of Learning... s u f f e r i n g has a necessary and important role!
Verse 14: But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.
The Buddhist world-and-life view, we should carefully note, holds the very opposite view of suffering.  The Buddhist syllogism is as follows...
Major Premise: All existence involves suffering.
Minor Premise: Suffering is caused by desire (especially the desire for continuation of existence = the will to live).
Conclusion:       The suppression of desire will lead to the extinction of suffering.
To reduce the Buddhist world-and-life view to simplest terms, we may say the will to live must be suppressed so that man can be delivered from the disappointments of life.
Evil for Buddhism is not sin!  It is suffering!  Disappointment!  It is not having your own way!  It is therefore a form of petulance (annoyance at not having one’s own way).
It is worthwhile to understand that Gaut’ama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a prince – who was born in luxury... and who was reared in luxury!  The seam of the civilization during which he lived was marked by wealth and leisure!
Buddhism reduces to intense “self-pity.”  Nothing about watching out for others!  Nothing about loving life and seeing good days!  Nothing about God’s master plan for our lives that assures coherence and meaning and purpose! 
What a far cry from the comforting thought stated by the Apostle Paul that All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose!
Instead of loving God and His people – and indeed instead of loving all our neighbors – in Buddhism we discover “salvation” through “escape from life”!  From viewing life as an illusion!
This is only a stone’s throw away from the Stoics – who maintained the “sage” is the one who is able to live above the many confusing and conflicting emotions of life... and becomes immune to misfortune!
When compared to the durability and ruggedness of the Christian world-and–life view stated by the fisherman of old... Buddhism seems awfully shallow and comes across as incredibly thin-skinned!
Nor should we be surprised that the core tenet of Buddhism is really all around us in 2016!  The Buddhist view is a world where no living creature should ever be refused anything!  Such refusal is disappointment (suffering) and this is intolerable – and merits flight from life itself! 
Many probably remember the “retro” television program from the last century -- Father Knows Best – starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt.  The struggles their family underwent were always resolved by the wisdom and experience and balanced counsel of the head of the house!  In the same way, our Heavenly Father knows what is best!  His ways, as pointed out by St. Peter are always best!   Sometimes “suffering” is mixed into his plans for us – to winnow, to purify, to humble, and to redirect His children.  When this comes, he says, happy are ye! 
St. Peter’s counsel is so balanced... so weighty... so immovable... so wise.
But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.  Blessed.  Fortunate.
Let us individually and collectively carry this with us through Trinity – and through life!  World without end... Amen.

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Romans 8:18-23 : Trinity IV
June 19, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"The Apocalypse of Man"

The Trinity Season – represented by green, the dominant color of God’s plants – is the season given to growth spiritual... growth in wisdom... growth in character... growth in faith... growth inlove.

The epistle lesson before us this Trinity Season Sunday morning is superb!  But what exactly does it mean?  And how do we apply it to our lives?
St. Paul is showing us how God’s purposes grow in time and in history... extending on into eternity – just as the green plants with which He has covered His world grow in time far beyond what we might expect!  He has been writing to the Church in Rome (in the preceding verses) about Christ’s Resurrection!
And he says that Jesus’ Resurrection, which occurred at a single point in time... has grown in influence and has come to His people and made an immediate impact on them which will affect their lives for time and eternity.  They have already been resurrected, as it were.
Then he points out that our Lord’s Resurrection continues to grow far beyond us – like the ripples of water caused by a rock thrown into a still pond -- to impact the created order itself (and here he uses the Greek term ktisis – which means “the sum or aggregate of things created”).
And just as His people groan and suffer in this world because they have made a clean break with the sons and daughters of the first Adam... their priorities... their plan of salvation... their utopian quest and vision – so, too, this world groans under the very same curse!
The descriptive Greek term St. Paul uses for vanity when he says the creation was subjected to vanity (at the Fall) – not willingly, but by the decision of God Himself Who subjected it in hope of a future restoration through His Son’s Atonement... is the term mä-tī-o'-tās– void orvacuum!  Emptiness! 
The picture he conveys shows the world as a person trying to grow and develop and advance into God’s purposes for it – but finding only futility... only frustration!  It sees Isaiah’s vision of the wolf and the lamb dwelling together... the leopard and the lamb... the lion and the calf... and the little child leading them.  It sees the infant playing near the cobra’s den... the young child putting its hand – horror of horrors -– into the viper’s nest... but without danger or injury (for it represents  a transformed world)!  BUT THIS CREATED ORDER HAS NO TRACTION to bring it to pass by itself!  All it feels is the void of sin and the frustration of lies and deception everywhere!
“What will eventually happen?” we ask.  Verse 21 tells us clearly the world will, indeed, eventually be liberated and transformed and fully discover God’s glorious plans for it!  This will not happen, however, in the vacuum.  It will take place along with the conversion of mankind – and mankind’s development in the Resurrection power of our Lord!
God’s plan for change does not come through revolt and rebellion... but through regeneration!  His purposes come about not through lawlessness... but through lawfulness!
I often wonder how many Christians understand God’s glorious plan and outcome for history?  Do you understand it?  Do I really understand and appreciate it?  I hope so.
Dear St. Paul says something absolutely profound in his line of reasoning!  Reading from the NIV: ...the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Listen to the same verse in another newer translation which catches its essence: the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 
St. Paul takes the personification so far as to indicate the Creation understands its emancipation will come about only when the sons and daughters of God are revealed (regenerated)!  When those who come under the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ and live new lives marked by the power of His Resurrection come onto the scene and take their faith seriously!  I have this delightful picture in my mind of God’s creation looking at us and asking, “Are you among the ones who will help deliver me?”  It is a profound and probing picture!
We should further point out that when we are told the creation looks earnestly for the revealing (the manifestation) of the sons and daughters of God – the word used is apocalypse!  Can you believe it?  You mean like the Apocalypse of St. John?  Yes!  Exactly!
Unfortunately, fallen man has destroyed the word apocalypse... and given it a whole new meaning and connotation -- and Christians, I am sorry to say, have gone along with them!  Today it means the “end of the world” – death... destruction... nuclear annihilation... cosmic holocaust...  obliteration... extinction...
When used by St. Paul, however, apocalypse meant to reveal (from which we obtain the word “revelation”).  The Book of Revelation reveals that Christ is on His Throne and that He is the Victor... and that His people who are with Him are more that conquerors.  The Creation is looking for all such who are so marked.  St. Wilfrid, of old, was one such!  St. Patrick was another so marked.  
Millions of people today claim to be Christians – but are they so marked?  Do they have any clue what they are to do... and how much hangs in the balance?  All Christians are so marked if they do their work honestly, competently, conscientiously, speaking the truth, living the truth, bringing about the rule of Christ in their own lives and families... their own spheres... to the glory of Jesus Christ!  
What a perverse picture we have before us!  The Creation desperately waiting for the apocalypse of regenerated man!  But fallen man (including all too many Christians) waiting for the apocalypse of this world – exactly the opposite of the outcome God has promised in the Lesson before us this morning!
An ancient saying reminds us that the Son of God became the Son of Man... that the sons of man might become the sons of God!   And this still rings true!  God and His Creation are still watching!
World without end.  Amen.

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I Peter 5:5-11 : Trinity III
June 11, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Community of Life"

There is an old saying that applies to us every time we read the Bible!  A TEXT taken out of CONTEXT is nothing but a PRETEXT! In other words, a passage of Scripture not understood by the greater framework around it can unfortunately be made to mean whatever the reader wants it to mean!

The famous example of this, in the event you have never heard it, has to do with a very well-meaning individual who knew he should read the Bible daily, but never found the time (which really means he never really made the time).
So he took his Bible and went out-of-doors to enjoy the setting as he finally was going to read his Bible.  Noting the breeze, he thought to himself, “I will let God select the passages I am supposed to read!”  So he opened the Bible on his lap and proceeded to let the wind flip through the pages.  Closing his eyes he randomly put the tip of his finger down and read the verse “from God.”  It read, Judas went out and hanged himself!
Not sure what to make of this, he tried again – this time praying as the wind glided through the pages, “Lord, guide me to a better verse.”  When he put down his finger this time he quickly looked to see God’s word for him.  It read, Go and do thou likewise.  
“This is not good,” he thought to himself!  So he tried it one last time.  “Please tell me Your will, he prayed as the wind flipped through the pages.  When he put his finger down, he reluctantly read the verse it was pointing to... It read, Whatsoever thou doest, doest thou quickly!
The Word of God is not to be so read.  It is to be read systematically and in context... for A TEXT taken out of CONTEXT is nothing but a PRETEXT!
If we are not spending at least a few minutes each day during the Trinity Season methodically reading God’s Word to us, we are – I am sorry to say – dysfunctional Christians!  Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus taught us, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The text before us this morning is an important and helpful communication from our Heavenly Father regarding His purposes for local church families!  It is often misunderstood in our day, however, because the underlying presupposition of modern man which too many Christians and church leaders have absorbed as their framework is non-Christian... indeed, downright anti-Christian.
We can call it “rugged individualism” in the church... or by its more descriptive moniker... silo-Christianity!  There are people who enter churches – usually larger churches – without anyone noticing their entrance.  The same people leave without anyone noticing their departure.  And in-between they participate in the service as silo-Christians... with their individual tubes running up to Heaven.  It is so sanitary -- and so sterile – no contact with anyone else.  Just me and God!  And that is the way they like it!
The only problem is that this is Christianity shaped in their image.  It is certainly not Christianity formed in God’s image.  The Christian life is not to be lived in isolation.  It is to be lived in contact with God’s other adopted children and Christ’s other servants.  It is to be lived in the context of the bigger Body of Christ!  His Body has many members – and they need each other!  To live in isolation from other Christians is unhealthy and self-destructive!
Ecclesiastes chapter 5 tells us that two are better than one... and that a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
It has been pointed out that a barbecue with dozens of hot coals can burn for hours.  But if you isolate one of those coals, it soon cools down and stops burning!  It turns cold and black.  Christianity is not to be practiced in isolation!
Notice what the Apostle Peter begins by saying!  All of you be subject one to another.  How, pray tell, can this be done if we are silo-Christians?  And in verse six when he commands,Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, he employs a plural verb – humble yourselves (plural)!  
And when in verse eight he refers to the devil saying your adversary, he employs once more the plural pronoun!  “Your” plural.
If we look long enough and hard enough at the verses before us this morning, we see a beautiful pattern inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This community of life which the Almighty has entrusted to us is not an end in itself.  On the contrary it is an incredible means, under His providence, by which we are to help each other.  This morning, please note the following three objectives...
First, Keeping the Premise of Life. Verses 5-7.
What is this premise of life?  That our Heavenly Father is the Foundation of all things.  Heresisteth the proud, we are told.  And stated positively, He gives grace to the humble.  
Dear St. Peter is here quoting Proverbs 3:34 (Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly).  We are to model the meaning of this for each other so we can see just how this is to be done!
The story is told of a young man who faithfully attended church services – but he was deaf and could not hear a single spoken word.  Other parishioners wondered why he came – until it dawned upon them that God sent him to show the rest of them how to be humble... to have no guile... to display a special grace given him by the Almighty in place of his hearing.
Second, Following the Promise of Life!  Verses 8-9.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
The promise of life reminds us that though we are constantly in spiritual danger, yet we are never alone!  The other brethren St. Peter referenced were still around.  They had not yet met their end!  We need each other’s example and pattern of faith to encourage us.  A dear Canterbury teacher is currently undergoing cancer treatment (level three... soon to begin level four).  Her brief email summary to those praying for her included a “lighter side” observation – she is saving a lot of money by not purchasing food because she has no appetite.  And the famous observation comes to mind concerning the man who felt sorry for himself because he had no shoes... until he saw the man who had no feet!  We are to walk in a vigilant manner.  And to do so requires the best examples all of us can offer!
Third, Following the Purpose of Life!  Verses 10-11.
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.  To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.  
We need each other to remind us of the bigger purpose of life – the glorious outcome designed for us as a community.  One of Christians’ most glaring shortcomings is missing the forest for the trees.  Myopia (short-sightedness) halts our understanding of the bigger purposes of the Almighty.  Character development.  The glory of God and the development of His Kingdom.  We all need a bigger Christian perspective!
I am often reminded of the ignominious, inglorious outcome of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) – the incredibly gifted and talented philosopher who lost sight of God’s greater purposes for our lives.
Trapped by his own human-bound thinking with none to help him, he descended into Nihilism – the worldview that life is meaningless... life is senseless... life is useless.  We should not be surprised that at his end (56-years of age) he went insane.  There remains a sad photograph of his haunting blank look into the distance from the confines of his insanity.
We can certainly be thankful that we have the Blessed Trinity... but also that we have each other (and the collective wisdom, collective knowledge, collective experience, and collective goodwillHe has lavished upon us).  May these spur us on to mutual encouragement remembering God’s overarching purposes in life, including His glory and dominion for ever and ever.
The Trinity Season reminds us that God is one and that God is many... and so are we to be as a congregation!  Continue to save us from silo-Christianity, O Heavenly Father!
 
World without end.  Amen.

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I John 3:13-24 : Trinity II
June 5, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"A Lost Virtue"

 This morning, we do well to consider a lost virtue – which, it would seem, has all but disappeared from planet earth!  “What is this lost virtue?” you ask.  I can tell you it was once common across America.  It was possessed by the founding fathers at Independence Hall (Philadelphia) at the writing of the Declaration of Independence and when the U.S. Constitution was debated and adopted.  This lost virtue was displayed by Robert E. Lee in his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia marking the conclusion of the Civil War.  It was once practiced daily by countless others across all walks of life – day in and day out.

This lost virtue is, indeed, one of the many faces of “love.”  We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethrenwrote the Apostle John in this morning’s Epistle Lesson.  But love has “thousands of faces.”  One of its faces is surely compassion.  Another of its faces is friendship.  Yet another of its faces is helping.
But the once famous “face of love” – rarely seen today and unrecognized by most – ismagnanimity.  It even sounds strange to our ears!  It has grown difficult for us to pronounce!  But it is so important!  It is so helpful.  Perhaps it is more recognizable to us in another form:magnanimous.  As in a magnanimous man… a magnanimous woman… a magnanimous child… a magnanimous young person.
Magnanimous is a compound word.  Magna means great.  The Magna Charta was the great charter of liberties which the English barons forced King John to sign in June of 1215 at Runnymede not far from London.  And animus means “spirit.”  Magnanimous therefore means “great spirit.”  It denotes a person whose spiritual makeup is great enough, secure enough, balanced enough to bear troubles and trials calmly… to look down on meanness and revenge, spitefulness and hatred!  We should note this does not come to us naturally!  It is a great gift from God!  And it is something to be fervently sought during the long green season of growth – the Trinity Season!
Please note the final words of the I John passage this morning: And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spiritwhich he hath given u s[the Spirit of God Himself, the greatest spirit of all].  Of all people, Christians (with the Spirit of God Himself in their lives and their personalities) should be magnanimous toward each other – calm… balanced… reasonable… void of meanness and its fellow-destroyer, revenge.
Another great mark of a magnanimous person is certainly a lofty and courageous spirit that pursues noble and just ends -- refusing to descend into the mire of pettiness and triviality.   Please note once again the words in verse 22 of our lesson this holy day: 
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight… And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. 
Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying "In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."
In his book entitled The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis termed those who have no magnanimity “men without chests.”  His contemporary, the great poet T.S. Eliot, called them “empty suits.”
I grew up with the stories and legends of Scandinavia.  One of the many great and colorful characters was the Danish King Hrolf who had a court servant named Hott.  When King Hrolf recognized Hott’s development in moral strength and lofty courage, he renamed him Hjalti (which means “hero”).  
And good thing Hjalti did not let this go to his head!  For instead of using his new position to taunt and execute those who had previously mocked him, he sought more noble and just ends.  King Hrolf, seeing this, then titled him “Hjalti the Magnanimous.”  And that is fabulous!
How delightful to see magnanimity in action.  And how desperately it is needed today!  Inside the Church.  And outside the Church. 
A most delightful story is recorded for history regarding a most remarkable Christian man – whose skin was black… and who lived one hundred years ago… and whose name was Booker T. Washington…
Shortly after Booker T. Washington had become head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking past the house of a very wealthy family.  The woman of the house, assuming he was one of the yard workers her husband had hired, asked him if he would chop some fire wood for her.
Professor Washington smiled, nodded, took off his coat, and chopped the wood.  When he carried the armload of wood into the woman’s kitchen, a servant girl recognized him – and rushed to her mistress to tell her of his identity.
The next morning, the embarrassed woman appeared in Booker T. Washington’s office.  Apologizing profusely, she said repeatedly, “I did not know it was you I put to work.”  Washington replied with love and generosity and magnanimity: “It is entirely all right, madam.” He replied.  “I like to work and I am delighted to do favors for my friends.”
The woman was so taken with his manner and the largeness of his heart, that she gave generous gifts to the Institute.  She also persuaded many of her wealthy acquaintances to do likewise.  So in the end, Booker T. Washington raised as much money for the Institute from this one act of chopping wood with magnanimity as he did from any other fund-raising event!
It is the magnanimous Christian who is not afraid to set forth the truth of life who changes the world far beyond his allotted influence.  And the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer summarized it most aptly.  Stage one – what he says in ridiculed.  Stage two – what he continues to say is violently opposed.  Stage three – what he has faithfully been saying is accepted as being self-evident.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus – how magnanimous are you and I?  It is an appropriate question to ask.  I suspect the opposite of magnanimity is to be “thin-skinned.”  How magnanimous are you at home?  At school?  At work?  At church?  In dealing with friends?  In dealing with relatives.  In dealing with “trouble-makers”?
Our Lord was undoubtedly the most magnanimous of all.  We can picture Him looking down on all of the spitefulness, hatred, and vile contempt swirling around Him – even as He prays for forgiveness for His persecutors.
And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us [the Spirit of God Himself, the greatest spirit of all]. 
Remember to seek magnanimity this Trinity Season!
This is the word of the Lord… and it will stand forever.  Amen. 

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I John 4:7-21 : Trinity I
May 28, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Where is Love?"

 A young orphan boy named Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, fled a cruel workhouse in the poverty of the 18th-century for the streets of London – and subsequently fell in with a nefarious gang of thieves.  Discovering a dark conspiracy all around him, little Oliver asked one of the most probing and important questions of all time:

Where is love?
Many have claimed to know its whereabouts…  Baby-boomers sought it in a San Francisco district known as Haight Ashbury in the 1960s, but love was not found there – only a trendy substitute.
Almost half-a-million young people later sought “love” in a muddy pasture in Sullivan County, New York – at an event known as Woodstock – where “free love” (as it was called) was available for the “taking”… But once again, love was not found there – only the next get-with-it substitute.
Across the intervening years, many have heralded the whereabouts of love – sometimes the announcement comes through tabloids… often in the lyrics of musicians… always in the dark whispers of those set upon “making a buck” at the expense of others – commonly known as fleecing.
In our own day, “Millennials” would seem to believe that love and acceptance can be bought… purchased… or perhaps bartered… But once again, the trail only grows cold, leading to yet more disappointment. 
Where then is its place?  Where then is love to be found?  And once discovered how will we recognize it?  
All true seekers of love and acceptance will find their questions answered in the Bible!  There the Almighty has declared its name over 500 times!  
The love it describes is not the syrupy, saccharine variety of self-centered emotion, but strong enough to reach beyond us – first in reverence to the One Who brought us into being and made us in His holy Image!
If only one Biblical text were available to furnish us answers, that text would surely be the grouping of fifteen verses assembled before us in this morning’s Epistle Lesson – the most focused text in the Sacred Scriptures regarding love, where it is mentioned 27 times in the span of fifteen verses.  
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
What did Jesus declare as the two Great Commandments?  
…thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  
But what do these commands to love really mean?  Many definitions have been set forth… but none is as true-to-the-mark as that of faithful Noah Webster in his 1828 Dictionary of the English Language.
“The love of God… springs from… His attributes or… character, which afford the highest delight to the sanctified heart.  Esteem and reverence… and a fear of offending Him is its inseparable effect… […to love our neighbor is] to have… good will for [him].”
An old story is told of a Welsh miner, named Thomas Samson, who put in long, hard hours at the mine – his life in constant danger far beneath the surface of the earth where he labored hidden from the light of day – in order to make a meager living and put food on the family table.
One day, the foreman of the mine approached him with the welcome words, “Thomas, I have found an easier job for you above ground.  You will have less physical work and… earn more money.  … interested?”
“Oh yes, I am very interested indeed, sir” was his swift reply.  But then he paused, and in quiet reflection continued, “Sir, would you please consider giving the job to my friend, Tregony, instead?  He is not as strong as I am and he is not able to work as hard as I can.  And I am afraid the work below in the mine will shorten his life.”  
The foreman was moved by his love and compassion -- and gave the job to his friend Tregony, as he requested!
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
This would certainly seem to be God’s answer to Cain’s question of old (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”)after he had slain his own sibling… and the Ancient of Days asked him regarding Abel’s whereabouts.
To love another person made in God’s Image its own reward.  To love another person made in God’s Image is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, to carry a “weight of glory.”  It is to discover the meaning of what is meant by the word “love.”  Love is not self-centered.  Far from it, love is directed toward others!  Love is caring for others in a Godly manner! 
No man hath seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 
 
No man has ever seen God… yet we feel His presence and we perceive His abiding company when we love one another as His Holy Family.  
I’m sure I’ve told you of the small girl who had such a wonderful day at Church – exalted music... the family kneeling and sitting together in the worship of God... people greeting her… people encouraging her...  her friends playing with her afterwards.  She told her father on the way home from Church how happy she was.  He suggested that she write a letter to God in order to thank Him – which she did.  
When she later showed it to him, this is what he read: “Dear God, we had such a wonderful day in Church.  I only wish you could have been there!  Of course, God’s loving presence is what made the day so special!  God’s presence is always the key to love!  For He is love!
Where is love?  It is first and foremost found with our Heavenly Father – the Wellspring and Fountainhead of all that is good.  But love is also found among His children – though deeply flawed and imperfect!
According to tradition, the Apostle John, who loved our Lord and leaned upon Him at the Last Supper lived many, many years – almost to the threshold of the second century A.D.  Knowing just how rare and fragile genuine love and its peaceable fruit are, tradition maintains that when he was too old… too frail… and too feeble to walk under his own power, others would carry him into Christ’s Churches… and he would always speak the same words until they could no longer be heard:
Little children, Love One Another.  It is the Lord’s Commandment…
Little children, Love One Another.  It is the Lord’s Commandment…
And so it is… and so we should also love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
This is the Word of the Lord forever. A-men. 

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