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

 

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Psalm 81

Sunday after Ascension

May 17, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“Open Thy Mouth Wide and I Shall Fill It”

The psalm read together this morning was composed for use by God’s people when they observed the Feast of Booths, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles.  Verse three tells us: Blow the trumpet in the new moon… and upon our solemn feast-day.  


A booth is a “small shelter.”  Every year, God’s people met for eight days to enjoy wonderful festivities – singing… musical instruments… resting… visiting… the telling of stories… feasting… fun! 


On the first day, crude little booths – shacks, if you will -- were made of branches from trees.  Each family had to collect twigs of myrtle, willow, and palm in the area of Jerusalem.  Then they constructed their primitive little shelters.


Why did they do this?  They did this to recall – and relive for the benefit of their children -- their humble origins.  They did this to commemorate when their fathers lived in identical booths when they departed the land of Egypt in haste – driven out because of the Ten Plagues!  They did this to remember God’s protection of them when they were vulnerable!  It is thus a very meaningful festival!


It was not the poverty they emphasized.  Nor was it the deprivation.  It was the greatness of the Almighty upon which they focused -- His shelter from heat… His protection from the time of storms as they traversed the desert sands on the way to their new homes in the Promised Land!


The Jewish historian, Josephus, by the way, referred to the Feast of Booths as the holiest and grandest of all the Hebrew festivals!  


According to the account of the Apostle John (chapter 7), our Lord is recorded in His day as having participated in the Feast of Booths!


In light of all this, we should find it interesting, indeed eloquent, that the Reformers, almost 500 years ago, retained this 81st psalm for use during the Season of Ascension – listing it in the lectionary at the front of the Book of Common Prayer!  They saw a distinct correlation between the festivals.


I am sad to say the Ascension Season in our day has fallen into disuse -- and actually disrespect!  It has been relegated to the hinterlands… and shadows… even by many otherwise fine Christians… and this really only to their own hurt! Though it still retains a very small amount of dignity, it is nothing like the glory and the esteem it once historically commanded!


If we stop and think about it for just a moment, we will understand why the Ascension Season once enjoyed such respect.  Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus in humility.  Easter joyfully celebrates His resurrection, then the forty days in which he prepares His disciples for their worldwide mission.


But Ascension was not just the return of the resurrected Lord to His Father!  It was His supreme vindication over all of His enemies!  The world heaped its very worst upon Him.  It tried to bury Him under a mountain of abuse and humiliation!  It tried to shame and dissuade His followers!  But He overcame it all and was publically vindicated by His Father for all to see.  And in some sense, we as His people, share the strength and power of that vindication!


And though the world inundated Him with such a flood of disrespect and vile hatred – at the Ascension He was exalted over all His enemies as Sovereign King!  He now sits enthroned in what has been termed His “Session” – just like a courtroom is in session!  Slowly, methodically, and irreversibly building His Kingdom and defeating His enemies, detractors, and critics.


And we are seated with Him in His glorified humanity!  Our outlook is to include victory and rule – over ourselves, over our trials, over our work, and over the spheres in which we live and move and have our being.


This is a far cry from the hand-wringing marking so many Christians as they await the Rapture and “escape” from their enemies and tribulation!


In Jesus Christ we find the example and the paradigm we as His Body on earth are privileged to follow!  It is a remarkable and profound thought – vision, if you will – that should inspire and transform each and every one of us to the same victory and the same conquest in His Name!  Christ is on the Throne protecting His own.


This morning, let us briefly consider a very pleasant aspect of this notion found in verse 11:   I am the LORD thy God… open thy mouth wide – like a helpless little bird –and I shall fill it.  

Everyone in life – and I do mean everyone -- looks for some level of “satisfaction” at the core of their lives and being!  No one enjoys the gnawing feeling of isolation or disappointment or unhappiness or irrelevance!  Satisfaction, acceptance, and meaning are sought by one and all!


But so very few people find it!  So very few people are able to taste and savor it!  So very few people enjoy and delight in it!


So our Heavenly Father points the way to it.  He tells us in the simplest of language: …open thy mouth wide and I shall fill it.


Israel looked for it… but in all the wrong places!  When enemies were gathered round about them, they looked for an earthly king!  When they lacked rain… and thy heaven overhead was brass and the earth underfoot was iron (to employ Biblical terminology), to whom did they turn?  Baal!  When observing the frightening development of world powers many times their own strength and resources, they chose to trust in flimsy alliances!  But what was God’s invitation and promise? …open thy mouth wide and I shall fill it.


The same invitation is extended to all of us from the ascended Christ this festive and holy day in the Ascension Season!  He now sits upon His Throne as the Sovereign of sovereigns -- giving priceless and matchless gifts to His people!  Developing them to become “overcomers” after His Own pattern!  What a beautiful consideration!  


What an appropriate move on the game-board of life at the very moment in history when His Voice must be proclaimed by all of us – wherever we are!  Let us open wide our mouths!  And may He fill us with our portion of His mighty Spirit and the courage of His Kingdom’s dominion.  May He satisfy us with purpose and strength in such kingly service!  


   I am the LORD thy God… open thy mouth wide and I shall fill it.


He is Risen! He is Risen indeed, to His Throne in Heaven! Alleluia!  Amen.

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Psalm 65:1-14

Easter V

May 10, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“Thou That Hearest Prayer” 


There are approximately 650 different prayers in the Bible!  That is a lot of praying!  That is a lot of instruction!  Prayer – though it may not be important to the mass of fallen humanity – is nevertheless important to the Almighty!  And for the child of God, it ends up not being a “burden” but a profound privilege.


And prayer has also been important historically to Christ’s Church – so much so that the Fifth Sunday after Easter has commonly been referred to for over 1,500 years as Rogation Sunday… from the Latin verb rogare… meaning “to ask”! 


We should not be surprised then that the psalm read together this morning – appointed for Rogation Sunday – includes the stunning and captive words, Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.


The first observation before us is that there is a great difference between asking and telling!  Man is to be humble enough to ask of the Father.  God reserves to Himself the role of telling us His plans!  And there is an even greater difference between asking and commanding!  Man asks.  God commands. 


It is God’s prerogative  to command His people… it is our role as His people to humbly ask Him… petition Him… beseech Him… cry out to Him… beg Him for His help and His assistance!  Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.


When I was in seminary forty years ago, I asked my Old Testament Survey professor if God still controlled and directed the weather!  I remember my disappointment when he looked at me and answered, “I do not know.”  Well, what remains a mystery to many, God clearly declares to us in this morning’s lesson.  It is He Who directs the weather!  It is He Who kindly sends rain upon the earth!  Californians might want to consider this as we look into the face of a projected fourth year of drought!  We might want to repent of our sins and follies and amend our ways!  Thou sendest rain into the little valleys we are told.  The weather belongs to the Ancient of Days, not man!  


In 1776 at the start of the War for Independence, the British under the command of General Howe (32,000 troops in number) had the Continental Army under the command of General Washington (8,000 in number) seriously outnumbered and trapped (hemmed in) on Long Island.  General Washington began a daring escape under cover of darkness across the East River to New York Island.  But as the dawn approached, the escape was still not completed – far from it!  General Washington (and many others) prayed to the Lord… and God sent fog to cover the entire area – just long enough for the army of our young nation to complete their escape.


Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.


And at the end of the War of Independence five years later in 1791 when General Washington and the French General Rochambeau had the British commander Cornwallis trapped at Yorktown – prayers were offered to God for the conclusion of the long drawn out conflict.  In the middle of the night it was the Commander Cornwallis who attempted a secret escape with his British troops across the York River!  They were almost to the other side… when God sent a squall to blow them back into the custody of the General Washington and his Continental Army.  This is where the British laid down their swords and surrendered. And the five-year long struggle for independence was completed.


Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.


It is our privilege to pray to the Almighty.  It is His prerogative to answer our petitions as he sees fit – either “yes”… or “no”… or “wait.”  And His answer is always the correct one!  Our task is to learn His purposes and weave His commanding word into our lives!


The greater portion of the Western World today, it would seem – and certainly its current generation of Western World leaders -- have decided (contrary to the manner of the Founding Fathers) to establish our future upon their own “wisdom” – ignoring the theology of prayer and the historic outcome of dependence upon the Creator.  


We should not be surprised then when we see the world careening from crisis to crisis.  We should not be surprised – even after the experience of the League of Nations (under Woodrow Wilson)… and its successor, the United Nations – that the last century (20th) was the most violent and bloodiest century of human history!


This Orwellian scene, for those who have the courage to peer long enough to take it in, is beginning to resemble a “Fools Paradise” – where man has defined God out of existence as an “idea” – a figment of man’s imagination.  No longer is He asked for guidance and assistance!  The “New Man” most arrogantly now usurps His role in declaring the course and path of history… and taking to himself God’s Own attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence) to make sure his own declarations come to pass.  


It reminds me of a famous book written in 1841 by the Scottish journalist Charles Mackay entitled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. 


King David, who had true Faith, and had learned much the hard way – through the “School of Hard Knocks,” as they say – knew the world view of his own day and was well-acquainted with the madness of crowds.  And he correctly identified it for us in this psalm!  


Indeed, David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in verse seven writes: [He] stilleth the raging of the sea, and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the peoples.


He also reminds us of that which we should never forget – that the God of our salvation is the hope of all the ends of the earth.


In every generation, God is our hope!  He is our only hope.  There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, the proverbs-writer reminds us more than once, but the end thereof are the ways of death.


Even if others do not return unto the Lord, you and I may return to Him and lead the way for others to follow!  After all, we are told, Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.  The LORD has great plans for the history of His world which He Himself is writing!  Which He Himself will bring to pass!


To not pray to God is to reveal our underlying tacit belief that He is not needed.  And that is a scary proposition and realization!


Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  The new resurrected life of Christ is needed… it is mandatory if we will see new life and a change of direction brought forth from the madness of mankind!


Thou that hearest the prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.


He is Risen.  He is Risen, indeed. Alleluia. Amen. 

Psalm 122:1-9

Easter IV

May 3, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“The Worship of the Church”


Some of the most beautifulmeaningful… and important words in the Bible were read together this morning! 


I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.


These words certainly mean a lot to our brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world who do not have the privileges we still have to assemble in a House of the LORD to worship Him without fear of reprisal.


Open Doors USA, a leading organization in the vanguard of serving the persecuted church around the world recently published its 24th “World Watch List” enumerating the 50 nations most fiercely committed to the extermination of Christianity.  The top ten this year include:


  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Iraq
  4. Syria
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Sudan
  7. Iran
  8. Pakistan
  9. Eritrea

10. Nigeria (where ten Christians are executed each day on average).


And where churches are sometimes allowed to meet, it is only on condition there is no “leader” and no religious “materials” present!  Quite a restriction!


King David’s careful words are framed with a profound understanding of just how fragile the privilege of true Christian worship really is!


And then we should note he says I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.


King David speaks of the House of the LORD as the place of worship!  There are good reasons for a dedicated place to worship the Almighty.  When I left Oregon 40-years ago in the mid-seventies to attend seminary in Chicago, Illinois, “house churches” were the “big thing.”  They called this “family worship” – with all the comforts of home!  Sometimes too many comforts!


If the worship service was to be at home, well, why dress up?   It was just the family.  So more casual attire was acceptable.  This devolved to pajamas and slippers and bathrobes.  Sometimes “worship” followed breakfast, so the service was held around the breakfast table with the dishwasher running in the background and a few family members still munching on the last piece of toast!  Then there were the telephone calls… and knocks on the door.  This is not quite what God had in mind! 


It reminds me of the cereal ad from years ago that promised Big “G” Little “O” Go Power!  To worship the Ancient of Days requires effort!  


I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.


A famous illustration has the devil releasing three of his apprentices into the world to tempt and destroy Christians!


To the first he asked, “So what are you going to tell them?”  The reply?  “I will tell them there is no God!”  “But everyone knows there a God” the devil replied.  He shook his head and said, “You will fail.”


To the second he asked, “What are you going to tell them?”  “I will tell them there is no devil!”  “But everyone knows who I am” he replied.  He shook his head again and said, “You, too, will fail.”


To the third he asked, “And just what, pray tell, are you going to say to them?”  Confidently the demon replied, “I will tell them there is no hurry!  No hurry!  Take your time!  You only have one go-round in life, so grab all the gusto you can get.  You can always go to church at a more convenient time!”  God knows how hard you work.  He understands your need to relax on Sundays!  You’ve got all the time in the world!  There is no hurry!  The devil’s eyes opened wide and he said, “Go and prosper!  You will slay them by the millions.”


God promises to meet with those who gather in His Name – even if only two or three!  And this is why David was glad to do it!  After all, he did say I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.  


The story is told of a little girl who had such a delightful time at church with her family worshipping God that she could not contain herself!  Her mother said, “Well dear, why don’t you sit down and write a letter to God thanking Him for such a delightful time!


She did, and she soon brought her letter back to her mother so she could read and approve!  Her mother read it out loud! “Dear God, thank you for such a wonderful and glad day at church this morning!  I only wish You could have been there!”  There is an inexpressible glory that comes to true worshipper to approach Him in spirit and truth!


We should lastly note David wrote… I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.  Worship is a corporate activity.  Worship takes place in the local Body of Christ!


In a day in which Christians have been accused – and rightly so – of what has been termed “silo Christianity” (that is, everyone with his or her own little personal “silo” or communication tube with God) – we might do well to remember that  Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father… give usour daily bread… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors… lead us not into temptation… but deliver us from evil!”


I am often reminded that Didymus – Thomas – was not with the rest of the Eleven when our LORD made His first post-resurrection visit to show Himself to them!


Christian worship falls on the first day of each week for a reason – to remind us of the great Easter joy! 


And there are eight elements of Christian worship which have always marked Christ’s Household from earliest days:


First – Prayer.

Second – Praise.

Third – Confession of sin.

Fourth – Confession of Faith.

Fifth – Reading of Scripture.

Sixth – Preaching.

Seventh – Holy Communion.

Eighth – Collection of tithes, gifts and offerings. 


These all enjoy the support of Holy Scripture.  These all enjoy the witness of the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers (that is, the example of the Church before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325).  These are all documented by the Post-Nicene Church Fathers (that is, by the example of the Church following the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325).  These have all ever been woven across the ages into the worship services of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, Apostolic Church.


The Sunday morning worship of God is a weekly reference point.  When we meet in worship, God helps us recalibrate our compasses (to point each of us on our way) and reestablishes our directional bearings (so we do not get lost) in our pilgrimage through life!  


It is the oasis on the path of life that furnishes you and me health and strength and courage and hope for each “next leg” of our journey.  It is the place where we meet the Risen Christ Who reminds us of His Example and gives us of His Resurrected Life -- teaching us how to walk by faith and not by sight.  


No wonder David, of old, penned such magnificent words… I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the LORD.  


May they be ours as well this Easter Season!  He is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed!  Alleluia. Amen.

Psalm 124

Easter III

April 26, 2015

St. Pauls’ Anglican Church


“The Feast of Victory”


Easter has been called the “Feast of Victory” – and for good reason!  It is the feast of all feasts!  And it is certainly marked by victory – conquest, triumph, success -- from beginning to end!  That which appeared to be the gloomiest, and most ignominious defeat imaginable… was in three short days reversed into the most glorious and grandest victory conceivable! 


Victory for our Lord!  Victory for His followers!  Victory for His Kingdom, which shall never have an end!  And victory for His world! As the hymn states, “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  The poet stated it succinctly: The Lamb Who was slain has now begun His reign!  And we celebrate the “Feast of Victory” this Easter Season!  Not just one Sunday as the world thinks of it… and all too many churches!  But five Sundays are set aside each Church Year to bask in the strength and healing and vitality and the warmth of Christ’s Victory – and to celebrate it!


Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), the AmericanGeneral who commanded the Southwest Pacific Theatre in World War II, once famously declared, “There is no substitute for victory.”  


It was Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Britishorator, author, and Prime Minister during World War II, who issued the stirring words: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”  


We should not be surprised then that the 124th Psalm appointed for this morning is also all about victory.  


In verse 1, King David states the premise.  He reminds us that if the LORD Himself had not been on their side, they would never have gained victory over their enemies!  


In verse 2, he plainly declares that without the LORD’s mighty Hand and strong Arm, their enemies would have “swallowed them alive.”


In verse 3, an apparent reference to the crossing of the Red Sea, he states that without the LORD’s help, the waters would have engulfed Moses and the Israelites as Pharaoh forced them into the sea!


In verse 4, he states the deep waters of the proud in every generation would certainly have overthrown them – had it not been for the protection of the Almighty!


In verse 5, he changes images again – now likening their enemies to a lion or a bear or perhaps a wild dog!  Praised be the LORD, he states, Who never gave them over to their vicious teeth -- which would have assuredly crushed and ripped and torn and utterly destroyed them!  


In verse 6, he employs yet again another image to convey his praise!  Because of God’s help and guidance, he says, the fowler (the trapper of birds) could never catch them!  On the contrary -- their every trap, every net, every device, every machination was broken!  And they were set free!  Liberated!  Emancipated!