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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.


17 Sermons:

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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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July , 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

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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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