But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
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.
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January 8, 2012
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Seeing What We Are Prepared to See”
We only see what we are prepared to see! This sounds so strange, but it is so true! And we ignore it to our own harm. We only see what we are prepared to see! We are wise if we understand this!
This is in fact a Biblical axiom that is clearly taught in the Bible – and is especially evident in the lives of the Wise Men of old – who found the Christ Child by the leading of a unique and mysterious star in the sky! How could it be?
We should all find it most interesting that this very same star was available to all other people when it appeared – and, indeed, many others saw the very same star as did the noble Magi, of old! But they were not prepared in heart and soul and mind to really see it… to comprehend it… to understand it. So they missed out on the greatest event of human history! We only see what we are prepared to see!
Jesus used this language often! To His disciples He asked: Having eyes, see ye not? In other words, “Can you not see it?”
It has been said that millions of people saw millions of apples fall from millions of trees from time immemorial. But when in the Year of our Lord 1666 Sir Isaac Newton (an Anglican) watched an apple fall, what did he see? He saw gravity! Why? Considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived – and a Christian -- he was prepared to see it! Because of his background… training… interests… inquisitive nature… it was a natural “intuitive leap” for him! We see what we are prepared to see! And only what we are prepared to see!
According to the historical record, George Hearst (father of William Randolph Hearst – of Hearst Castle fame) made his fortune when he looked at “tailings” (the spoils of mining operations) which others had walked away from – and because of his interest and training -- saw the evidence of silver! And he was handsomely rewarded by developing a portion of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. We only see what we are prepared to see!
You may remember it was Elisha who prayed to the LORD for a young man with whom he was surrounded by Syrian troops in the city of Dothan. He prayed that God would open the young man’s eyes: LORD, open his eyes. And I quote: …and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
We only see what we are prepared to see!
This is a “double edged sword,” as they say! For it is exciting to think of the glorious things to be seen all around us – if we only have eyes of faith to see them! But quite frankly, it is also most frightening to think of all the glorious splendor which surrounds us at all times, but to which we are blind – because we so often do not have eyes to see!
I am often reminded of an incident in the life of the famous 19th century clergymen, Henry Ward Beecher. One day after church, a member of the congregation greeted him at the door with the proud announcement, “Dr. Beecher, you may be interested to know that I counted a dozen grammatical errors in your sermon this morning.”
Dr. Beecher humbly replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I made two dozen such errors.”
But another worshipper that very same morning left the very same service saying, “Today I found God.” How could it be? What was the difference? They could only see what they were prepared to see! Each was bound and limited by their “vision.” And it is true for us, as well. We only see what we are prepared to see!
So we should stop and ask ourselves as we continue into a brand new year: What is it that we are prepared to see in life? Just what is it that our eyes and our hearts and our souls and our minds can detect going on around us?
The Jungfrau (yewng frau) is the name of a jagged peak in the Swiss Alps. It towers over 13,600 feet in height and is emblematic – to see the Jungfrau is to see the Swiss Alps.
But it is so treacherous to climb that a single misstep can lead to sure destruction. So mountain guides must constantly remind climbers to keep their full attention on the heights they are ascending. Full focus must be given to each and every step.
In the cold, clear, crisp air that surrounds the mountain and its climbers, distant avalanches – which are not infrequent – sound as though they are near, very near, in fact right on top of them! And novice climbers, unfocused climbers, inattentive climbers, will suddenly turn to look and in a split second lose their balance or their footing -- and plunge to a fearful end.
It is such counsel that God gives us this morning through the worn and weathered – but ever so faithful and durable – testimony of St. Paul.
I beseech you, he writes. I [beg] you by the mercies of God – by the unmerited favor He has set before us – not to be distracted like the novice climbers on Jungfrau! Present yourself daily to God as a living sacrifice. Christ was sacrificed for you! You, in response, are to present yourself a living sacrifice to Him!
And be not conformed to this world! Do not be distracted by the fallen worldlings of our day! They are lost and they are perishing -- and we are not called perish with them! On the contrary, he writes, be transformed! The word he uses gave us the English word metamorphosis: describing how a caterpillar is changed – converted, transformed – into a butterfly! Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds! Why? That ye may prove (or confirm as priceless) what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. This is how our world-and-life view is returned to what God intended when H made us!
When William Wilberforce (the British Member of Parliament who labored for 26 long years to end the slave trade in his country) grew discouraged in his hard work, he visited John Newton (former slave trader who was “haunted” by 20,000 ghosts of former slaves he had mistreated).
Wilberforce contemplated a life of withdrawal and solitude. It was then that John Newton delivered to him his sage counsel: William, you must live in the world, but not be of the world! With this counsel, Wilberforce returned to the conflict of his work with renewed focus and vigor and saw the Slave Trade Act of 1807 pass, thereby ending slavery in his homeland.
So you see, we are to not to be conformed to this world – we are not to be of this world… not to have only the vision of this world -- for if we are conformed to this world, then that is all we will see in life! And that is to be blind! John Newton wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace: I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. See ye not?
We are to be transformed through Christian grace… through knowledge of the Gospel… Bible reading… prayer… public worship… the Blessed Sacrament… through Christian service… through the power of the Spirit – so that we may see the brighter and more wholesome aspects of life! And travel the more worthy pathways which God sets before us!
We have all seen those “stereograms” in the comics and different places in which 3D images are hidden (or embedded) in what are otherwise normal-appearing pictures. You either can see it or you don’t. And the way to see it is to stare at it!
It is in this sense, the Bible tells us multiple times, that we are to lay hold of eternal life – even if others cannot see it! And to lay hold of the hope God sets before us… even if others are blind to it!
We only see what we are prepared to see! What are you prepared to see and what am I prepared to see as this New Year unfolds before our very eyes? And more importantly, what are we preparing ourselves to see?
Be not conformed to this world! But be… transformed by the renewing of your minds to see what the Almighty has for us to do for Him as this year unfolds before us!
So it was in the beginning, so has it always been, and so shall it ever be. World without end. Amen!
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January 3, 2016
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Beauty for Ashes”
The majestic words read together this morning -- spoken by the Prophet Isaiah 700-years before the Birth of our Lord -- are truly worthy of our daily contemplation. The prophet saw Jesus’ ministry from afar and indicated in stunning language for all who had hope to believe… faith to see… and an imagination to envision… a miraculous reversal in the expected course of events powerful enough to change “fate”… overpower unbelief… and swallow apathy!
Beauty for ashes… we are told. Life for death! Good for evil! Growth for destruction. Grace for perdition! Wonder for ignorance. Service for self-regard!
On the night of December 9, 1914 (over 100-years ago now), Edison Industries was totally destroyed by the ravages of fire. The light of the dancing flames could be seen reflected on the somber and weathered face of the famous inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, who at the age of 67, stood watching his life’s work go up in smoke. The loss exceeded two-million dollars in damages, a considerable sum even today… to say nothing of its value a century ago! And included in the devastation was the vast majority of the great designer’s brilliant work! Edison Industries was insured… but for only $238, because the building had been constructed of “fireproof” concrete.
The next morning, after fire fighters had finally brought the blaze under control, Edison quietly examined the charred remains of his dreams and solemnly sorted through the strewn ashes where once stood lofty hopes and high expectations. He stood in grave silence for some time lost in deep contemplation. Then he finally broke the stillness with his now famous words, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Only someone with vision can say such an audacious thing… And guess what? Three weeks after the fire, Edison Industries produced the first phonograph –which would revolutionize the world of his day!
Every setback is but the stage for a new success – if we can only see it! I’m not engaging in what has been termed the “power of positive thinking.” Every easy highway that the Almighty in His Providence closes to you and me, opens up to our vision of faith a new and inviting challenge – beckoning us forward into previously hidden pathways lined with bright opportunities for growth and development and service… in ways deemed impossible by others.
The difficulties and trials we face, contrary to our natural inclination, develop in us rare and worthy graces for this life, as well as for the life that is to come – selfless humility, personal character, unending patience, enduring strength, resilient faith, heartfelt compassion, love for neighbors, and hope for each and every new day! And we soon recognize the familiar footprints we are to follow on the sacred, upward path. They are none other than those of the Lord Himself Who has gone before us… And it is He Who brings His people what Isaiah promised – beauty for ashes…
We must remember the Hand which penned this phrase (beauty for ashes) was not really the eighth century B.C. prophet Isaiah! Who was it then? The One Who really authored it is none other than the Almighty and Everlasting God we serve – He Who has no name (because He is too great to be summarized by the letters of a small alphabet), Who has no beginning, Who has no imperfections, and Who has no end!
And we must not lose sight of the fact that He has no limitations! If He wants to give beauty for ashes to those who do not deserve it… so be it… more power to Him! If He wants to give beauty for ashes to those who have faith the size of a mustard seed… so be it… more power to those who believe in Him that He can and will do it! Let us not limit the products of faith in our lives this coming year, 2016! In many of our Lord’s earthly miracles recorded by the Evangelists, we do well to remember that Jesus intoned special words upon many of the recipients of His great power and goodness and miracles… saying, “Your faith hath made you whole!”
Dear St. Augustine, the 4th century brilliant mind who was so infected with heresies in his youth… and was famously converted against all odds by the Almighty through the preaching of the Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose ( a giant of the Faith)… once said, “Faith believes what we do not yet see. The reward of such faith is to see what we have believed.” What do we see for the coming year? In what do we believe?
Those who can believe in the beauty God graciously exchanges for the ashes of our poor decisions… the ashes of our miserable mistakes in life – bring the promised miracle within reach!
Since the first time I heard about it in one of those illustrious Moody Bible Science Videos, my understanding of this phrase – beauty for ashes – has never been the same!
There are plants in this world which the Almighty has designed – as strange as it seems – to survive by fire! What a radical thought! A good example is the Jack Pine found in the northern portion of central and eastern US and Canada!
The Jack Pine cones are thick and hard -- glued shut tight with their own strong resins. The technical term is “serotinous” – meaning “late blooming”… “late opening.” Serotinous cones can hang on a Jack Pine tree for years without opening to release a single seed. But when a fire sweeps through a forest of Jack Pines, the heat from the fire melts the resin, allowing the cooled cone afterward to open up and release the seeds. The new seeds in their new home of nutrient-rich ash soil are thus enabled to germinate and sprout – and new, beautiful, young, green supple shoots reach for the sun! Beauty for ashes!
Many people for many reasons have said they hope 2016 will be a better year than 2015. Christians should stop and think – based upon our text this morning – that perhaps the “disasters” of the past year (whatever they might have been) are but a fresh stage for newer… grander… more beautiful… more godly developments in our lives!
Moses went to Egypt to deliver God’s people from their bondage! But his efforts soon went up in smoke! “Your people are idle… let them make their quotient of bricks without straw,” the pharaoh demanded. But out of these ashes came their deliverance by ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea – which we still read and delight in today. Beauty for ashes.
David was anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s next king. He miraculously defeated Goliath of Gath and instantly became his nation’s hero. But jealous Saul chased him into exile outside Israel’s borders – a barren wilderness which germinated in him seeds of faith and dependence upon God… an indomitable spirit and a stubborn conviction that God would somehow see him through! And he became the greatest of Israel’s line of kings! Beauty for ashes.
Our Lord’s breathtaking and fabulous miracle-rich ministry also went up in flames, as it were, at the end – with betrayals… perjured witnesses against him… kangaroo courts… injustices of all sorts… brutality… and finally, ignominious death.
But sacrifices are always supposed to go up in smoke! Sacrifices in the Old Testament -- by God’s Own decree -- always went up in smoke! And no less the greatest Sacrifice of all time… which they foreshadowed! But look at all the beautiful graces… and lush growth… and goodness which has come into the world through the ashes of His sacrifice! Beauty for ashes.
The crux botonée – “budded cross” – says it all. The life of God in Jesus Christ is irrepressible. You cannot snuff it out! The greatest instrument of death merely brought forth the greatest source of life for mankind. Beauty for ashes… Life for death! Good for evil! Growth for destruction. Wonder for ignorance. Forgiveness for condemnation!
There is great value in disaster, as Edison observed! All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.
Let us keep the promise of beauty for ashes close by in 2016!
World without end. Amen.
St. John 21:19-25
Feast of St. John, Apostle & Evangelist
December 27, 2015
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
You may have seen the same bumper sticker that caused me to chuckle a while back. Two times I looked to make sure I was reading it correctly. And each time it spoke the very same words: Don’t Follow me. I am also lost. There is something very refreshing about such a bumper sticker! And over the following months, it soon became very clear as to what it was. Infallible man – surely a modern myth – who is always so confident that he “knows it all” (and trumpets it abroad) was able to tell the truth about himself so that we could all laugh at ourselves! And it is a cathartic laugh, for deep down, we know it to be ever so true – even to the point of man’s “self-sufficiency” being his bane and downfall! It is always refreshing, however, to see the truth again – even from such an unlikely quarter as a bumper sticker. Don’t Follow me. I am also lost.
But this revealing truth is not embraced by everyone – for it does not flatter 21st century sophisticated man! A majority of this world’s problems all come back home to roost on “man” – collective or individual! The proverbs-writer understood this well and put it as plainly as he possibly could, humanly-speaking: There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 16:25). Man needs help! Left to his own delusions, he will certainly self-destruct.
We are all aware of regrettable incidents in life – based upon faith in the supposed “knowledge” and “expertise” and “abilities” of man – that have, alas, led to the ruin of many. Even to the point of hikers, equipped with maps and compasses and overflowing supplies, nevertheless somehow becoming lost and meeting their dreadful end outwitted by the unforgiving harshness of the great outdoors.
Even the ill-fated instrument flight of the “Lady-Be-Good” in April of 1943 during WWII – caused not by equipment failure… but by navigational error – ending in the tragic loss of the entire nine-man crew in the heat of the Libyan Desert warns us not to take confidence in man too seriously! Sound theology is sometimes even found on bumper stickers! Don’t Follow me. I am also lost.
Mankind is made up of two categories of people. Those who in pride believe they can find their own way through the maze and challenges of life and eternity based upon their own resources. And those who have received grace and humility to chart their course in this life and that to come by reference points external to man that are immovable and will never change.
Certainly, in one of the great statements of the Bible, before us this morning, comprised of only two short words, we find mankind’s salvation. It was Jesus Christ Who spoke them: Follow Me. Not “follow others.” Not follow opinion polls. Not follow the repeated errors of history. Not follow the richest… the most popular… the most powerful! But Follow Me.
There is no denying these are exclusive words. He is the only Name under Heaven by which we must be saved. Nor are they “easy” words. For Jesus set the terms of discipleship: …he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (St. Matthew 10:38).
These words – Follow Me – were spoken throughout His earthly ministry… and also, as we read together this morning, at end of His earthly ministry! In the final analysis, these words are the crucial watershed in the history of mankind. For they separate those who follow the Son of God and are saved, from those who follow only themselves and end up lost.
These words have always separated the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve into “sheep” and “goats.” These words have silently partitioned families and clans… quietly divided Churches… segregated denominations. They are, indeed, in the final analysis… the revealing litmus test that distinguishes between Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and those who are on the outside looking in.
Today is the Feast – or Festival Day – of St. John! It is a day that makes many nervous because they feel it distracts from following the Lord Jesus Christ – Whom we are to follow. But we must remember that Christ’s Church is built upon the foundation of the Prophets and the Apostles – Jesus Christ Himself functioning as the Chief Corner Stone. The Apostles show us what it means to follow the Son of God.
The Apostles were faithful witnesses. Without them, what would we know of Jesus Christ? We would have an incomplete record in the Bible. Without the Apostles, there would be no Church. For it was they who criss-crossed this globe taking His message through all barriers to mankind. Without their labors, we would not be gathered together here in this fine House of Worship this morning!
Today, we honor and remember the life of dear St. John – human author of the Gospel account bearing his name… and of the three General Epistles bearing his name… as well as the final book of the Canon – Revelation.
One of the sons of Zebedee and his wife (Salome), he was a fisherman by trade -- a partner in Galilee with his brother, James, along with Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, in their fishing venture! Originally, he was a disciple of John the Baptist along with his good friend, Andrew. He quit his work in the fishing industry in order to become a disciple of our Lord. He was one of the most intimate of the Twelve – present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter and also at the Transfiguration. He and James were termed boanerges (“sons of thunder”) when they sought (like Elijah, of old) to call down fire from Heaven on a Samaritan village whose inhabitants had refused them hospitality.
He is often thought to have been a priest – because of his easy access to the High Priest’s courtyard (when, as you recall, St. Peter was denied access). At the Last Supper, he occupied the privileged place at the table next to our Lord. He stood at the foot of the Cross. And at Jesus’ Word, he accepted responsibility for the welfare of His mother, Mary. He, with St. Peter, was one of the first visitors to witness the empty tomb. And in one of the great milestones of his own journey of faith, upon viewing the grave clothes in the tomb, he confessed that “he saw and believed.”
He was with St. Peter at the gate of the Temple when a lame man was healed. He was also with St. Peter on the mission to Samaria in order to certify new converts and impart the Spirit to them through the laying on of hands. He, along with St. Peter and St. James (the Lord’s brother) are termed “pillars” in the Jerusalem Church.
St. John lived many years after the commencement of the Christian era. Shortly before the Fall of Jerusalem – upon our Lord’s counsel – he departed Jerusalem, eventually residing in Ephesus of Asia Minor with Apostolic oversight over the Churches there.
While in Ephesus, St. John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos – a penal colony located off the coast of Turkey. There, confined in a small cave, the vision of the Book of Revelation was received and put into writing. The setting has been variously known across the ages – Cave of the Apocalypse, the Holy Cave, the Grotto. Most who visit there testify they felt its holiness… and were drawn into meditation, prayer, worship, and quiet contemplation.
Eventually, St. John was released from his banishment and returned to his humble abode in Ephesus. When he was so old that he could no longer walk, he was carried into worship services by his disciples – among whom were numbered his students, Polycarp and Ignatius – who became Apostolic Fathers. On certain occasions he was accustomed to say no more than this: Little children, love one another! When asked, “Master, why do you say this?” his reply was always the same: It is the Lord’s command. And if this alone be done, it is enough!
How interesting that just as his brother, James, was the first of the Twelve to die, so dear St. John was the last of the Twelve to die – tired and worn out, his allotted strength expended – in Ephesus at the threshold of the second century, A.D.
His testimony to us on this day set aside to celebrate his life’s work and honor him as an Apostle, is to follow Jesus Christ and to love one another. Not to follow one another. Not to follow others! But to follow Him and love one another.
This week, we close out 2015 and enter 2016! Let us use this opportunity to take careful inventory of our lives. And if we are given to resolutions, accept these as worthy of considerations: (1) meaningful daily Bible reading, (2) quiet private prayer, (3) fervent participation in Christian worship, and (4) serving others in some capacity during 2016. In short: Follow Jesus Christ and love one another.
The phrase Follow Me occurs 25-times in the Bible!
If these – and countless others – heard and obeyed His Voice… should not we also?
Follow Me! this new year, He says, and…
World without end. Amen.
December 20, 2015
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Again I Say Rejoice”
Christmas is now only five days away! As the epistle lesson this morning informs us, The Lord is at hand! This means literally that the Lord is “within reach.” Not far away, but ever so near!
We have almost completed our Advent preparations for the coming of the Christ Child!
On November 29 the advent candle – called the Prophets’ Candle – reminded us of things far away. The prophets saw His coming from afar… and it gave them and those who listened to them HOPE – optimism – indicated by the single point of distant light.
Then on December 6 came the advent candle which has been called the Bethlehem candle – bringing us much nearer than the prophets. It reminded us of the importance of FAITH. It is one thing to have hope. But faith is the next step. Faith, we are told, is the substance (literally: the foundation) of things hoped for.
On December 13 came the Shepherds’ candle – symbolizing JOY. The shepherds were called to bask in the warmth of the holy presence of the Son of God – the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of mankind!
And today the advent candle is called the angels’ candle – symbolizing PEACE. The angels that first Christmas night proclaimed glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, good will toward men. Hence, the epistle selection before us today, which teaches us… the peace of God… passeth understanding! And not just that, but the peace of God… passeth all understanding – which means it surpasses or rises above – all human understanding! Baffling the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve which see but cannot understand such a fantastic spiritual gift…
The Lord is at hand. The Lord is within reach! The Lord is near!
There are several observations we might make in passing through these important verses, but one stands out.
Consider the “formula” (for that is what it is!) God has given us through St. Paul of old concerning how to acquire – obtain – this peace which passeth all understanding. The assumption – since he was addressing the Church of born-again believers in Philippi -- is that they had been given the “ability” by the Holy Spirit to reach out in faith and obedience to obtain it!
The first step – and it is emphatic – is to rejoice!
We have probably all heard this, but it is a proven medical fact that it takes approximately twice as many muscles to “frown” as it does to “smile.” And it is another fact supported by behavioral studies that people respond in kind to the way we approach them! In other words, if we approach a person with a friendly smile, there is a very high likelihood they will feel comfortable enough to greet us with a friendly smile in return. If, however, we greet others with a frown – guess what? – there is a very high likelihood they will respond in kind, with a frown! This is worth considering!
At the turn of the millennium, I ran across a study which contained conclusions I could hardly believe! The study was performed in Sweden and it established a definite link between facial expressions and physiological responses. Just a smile (even if forced) produced a different heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration pattern than frowning. And these in turn were shown to govern mood changes – just from the expression on our faces!
But the divine command is not just to rejoice! It counsels us to rejoice in the Lord! And not just this, but to rejoice in the Lord always. And then St. Paul added… and again I say, Rejoice. This is a lot to digest!
The word cynical comes from cynic. It shares a common etymological root with canine (dog). The cynic is cynical because he or she is always looking down into the dirt! There is not a lot of edifying material in dirt!
And this is the reason why this counsel comes to us this last day of Advent! We need to lift up our gaze. Rejoice in the Lord!
This is very close to what the psalmist testified. I will lift up mine eyes, he wrote! My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.