Image

Archive for Uncategorized

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Christian Joy and Moderation

 

Text: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men.” (Philippians 4:4).

Paul is sitting in a Roman prison with almost certain death awaiting him. His imprisonment was more like ‘house arrest’ as he was allowed visitors and Peter was but one who would visit him on occasion. The Philippians on the other hand were adopting the Christian way in great numbers and dark days, dangers and persecutions inevitably lay ahead for them. Christianity was not, at this point in time, legal and the pagan Roman rulers looked upon this movement with great suspicion.

In the face of this clear and present danger Paul says to the Philippians ‘I know what I am saying. I’ve thought of everything that can possibly happen. And I still say ‘Rejoice’! Paul confidently says this because he understands that Christian joy is independent of all things on earth. Why? Because the source of Christian joy is the continual presence of Christ.

In his book ‘Can I Have Joy in My Life?’ R.C. Sproul wrote: “The word joy appears over and over again in the Scriptures. For instance, the Psalms are filled with references to joy. The psalmists write, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5b) and “Shout for joy to God, all the earth” (Ps. 66:1). Likewise, in the New Testament, we read that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), which means that it is a Christian virtue. Given this biblical emphasis, we need to understand what joy is and pursue it.

Sometimes we struggle to grasp the biblical view of joy because of the way it is defined and described in Western culture today. In particular, we often confuse joy with happiness. In the Beatitudes(bee-at-i-tudes) (Matt. 5:3–11), according to the traditional translations, Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.… Blessed are those who mourn.… Blessed are the meek …” (vv. 3–5, emphasis added), and so on. Sometimes, however, translators adopt the modern vernacular and tell us Jesus said happy rather than blessed. I always cringe a little when I see that, not because I am opposed to happiness, but because the word happy in our culture has been sentimentalized and trivialized. As a result, it connotes a certain superficiality. For example, years ago, Charles M. Schulz, in the comic strip Peanuts, coined the adage, “Happiness is a warm puppy,” and it became a maxim that articulated a sentimental, warm-and-fuzzy idea of happiness. Then there was the catchy song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” released by Bobby McFerrin in the 1980s. It suggested a carefree, cavalier attitude of delight.

However, the Greek word used in the Beatitudes (bee-at-i-tudes) is best translated as blessed, as it communicates not only the idea of happiness but also profound peace, comfort, stability, and great joy. So, we have to be careful when we come to the text of the New Testament that we do not read it through the lens of the popular understanding of happiness and thus lose the biblical concept of joy.” Simply put what Sproul is telling us is that happiness can be found by looking for the good in something but Christian joy can only be found through Jesus Christ.

 

Paul goes on, as the Authorized Version has it; “Let your moderation be known to all men.” The Greek word ‘epieikeia’ (Eppee -I-ki-a) translated as moderation is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words.  The difficulty can be seen by the number of translation given to it. Wyclif translates it as ‘patience’; Tyndale as ‘softness’; Cranmer as ‘softness’; the Geneva Bible as ‘the patient mind’; the Rheims Bible as ‘modesty’; the Revised Standard Version as ‘forbearance’; Moffatt as ‘forbearance’; Weymouth as the ‘forbearing spirit’; and the New English Bible as ‘magnanimity’. In his translation of the New Testament, Charles Kingsley Williams has it meaning ‘Let all the world know that you will meet a man half way.’ I suspect you get the point. Some of these translation appear to be similar but not the same. Moderation means; restraint; avoidance of extremes or excesses; temperance and the act of moderating. Moderation is a good thing, but living a life of moderation is an uphill battle in today’s world. Much of Western culture is saturated with excess. Restaurants serve “all you can eat” of our favorite foods. Advertisements constantly push things we “need” to buy because, of course, the things we have just aren’t good enough. The Bible on the other hand teaches us that excess doesn’t work so well, and it helps us understand how and why we should live with moderation. A life of moderation is like sitting in a boat on a warm summer day while gentle waves rock you into a sleepy state. Without moderation the steep waves toss you about while you cling for life to the boat.

Moderation is the quality of someone who knows that regulations are not the last word and knows when not to apply the letter of the law. Christians, as Paul sees it, are men and women who know that there is something beyond justice. ‘When the Scribes and  Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, they said to Him,’ “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” (John 8:3-4) Jesus could have applied the letter of the law, according to which she should have been stoned to death; but he went beyond the justice the law prescribed.

How many of you have ever seen the television show ‘Caught In Providence’? Judge Frank Caprio is the chief municipal judge in Providence, Rhode Island. In his municipal court he hears cases for what some might say are minor infractions such as parking tickets. In one recent case a lady who was in severe pain drove herself to the hospital. When she pulled into the parking spot she noticed the parking restriction sign that read “Parking Between 2pm and 6 pm”. As it turns out she arrived at 1:55pm and she left the hospital less than 2 hour later. Upon returning to her car she found a $25 parking ticket. She took a picture of the sign to show that the leaves of the tree were blocking the part of the sign that read “2 Hour Parking”. By the letter of the law she had parked in the parking space 5 minutes before she was allowed to. Her argument about the leaves covering the part of the sign that stated a 2 hour restriction had nothing to do with why she got the ticket. Judge Caprio explained to her why she was ticketed, she had parked in the spot before 2pm. but let her off with no fine. He knows the regulations and knows when not to apply the letter of the law.

Why should we be like this? Why should we have this joy and gracious gentleness in our lives? Because, says Paul, the Lord is at hand. If we remember the coming triumph of Christ, we can never lose our hope and our joy. If we remember that life is short, we will not want to enforce the stern justice which so often divides people but will want to deal with others in love, as we hope that God will deal with us. Justice is human but moderation is divine.

The source of Christian joy is the continual presence of Christ. Rejoice, Rejoice believers Rejoice!

Third . Sunday of Advent

Stewards of The Mysteries of God

 

Text: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Paul urges the Corinthians not to think of Apollos and Cephas and himself as leaders of certain Christian parties, but to think of them all as servants of Christ. Right away some may wonder who was Apollos? He was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” “fervent in the spirit” and “instructed in the way of the Lord”. You might also wonder who then was Cephas? Cephas was none other than Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter. According to the New Testament, he was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, and a leader of the early Christian Church. The Biblical name Cephas is Aramaic in origin and its meaning is rock. The Roman Catholic Church considers him to be the first pope, ordained by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But Paul is suggesting that they all equally are servants of Christ. In those days a servant was a slave and the Greek word Paul uses, ‘huperetes’ (hew-pre-tease) meant a rower on the lower level of a large ship called a trireme (tri-reem). Some New Testament commentators have presented this as a picture of Christ as the pilot who directs the course of the ship and Paul as the servant who accepts the pilot’s orders and labors only as his Master directs.

Paul presents yet another picture. He thinks of himself and his fellow preachers as stewards of the secrets which God desires to reveal to his people. He tells the Corinthians that Apollos, Cephas and himself are nothing more than “stewards of the mysteries of God.” In those days the steward was the chief servant in a household. The steward was in charge of the whole administration of the house or estate; he controlled the staff; he issued the supplies; but, however much he controlled the household staff, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned.

If we accept Paul’s premise that a presbyter’s role is to reveal the secrets which God wants his people to understand then we must ask ‘how does a presbyter fulfill this obligation?’. ‘The role of the presbyter is to exhort people to obedience to God’s Word by the authority bestowed to them by God. The command of Christ was to make disciples and teach them to obey “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19,20). By exhorting the people to obey, presbyter’s teach them according to the command of Christ. Paul also instructed Timothy, “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2) This was the practice of the early church. Justin Martyr, who lived from 103–165 A.D., said that at Sunday morning gatherings “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the presbyter verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things” (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, 186).

Blake Kidney wrote “The role of a presbyter involves teaching whereby the audience hears the Word of God and is provoked to obey it. In this hearing, the presbyter explains what God desires of His people in such a way that they are able to understand and put it into practice. At times, this may involve precise application, however, this may not always be the case. If the presbyter has explained the Word of God successfully, the people will understand it to such a degree that they will be able to apply it to their life when it becomes applicable. Thus, the presbyter explains and then gives a call, or invitation, to a response–a call to obedience.”

I have a learned collogue who believes that the presbyter should deliver a sermon “as long as time permits”. For him a one hour sermon is barely enough time to get the message across. Studies show that in most cases the normal attention span for adults is approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Attention spans tend to be longer in the mornings and shorter in the evenings, and people often have better attentiveness when it comes to things that interest them. An alternative approach to delivering a sermon “as long as time permits” is to keep the length around 15 minutes and address 2 or 3 key points thoroughly. In this approach it is thought that people are more likely to remember the message.

When Paul says “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” he is making reference to the content of their preaching. It must be based on a proper understanding of scripture. In the collect for today the 3rd Sunday in Advent we prayed “that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way,”. When I was in seminary it was impressed upon me that one must take great care in choosing sources for interpretation of the Bible and Jesus teachings. The early church Fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athanasius, John Chrysostom and Augustine are but a few of these highly regarded early leaders of the Church. The Fathers of the Church are so called because of their leadership in the early Church, especially in defending, expounding, and developing New Testament doctrines. For the first two centuries, most of these men were bishops, although in later years certain priests and deacons were also recognized as Fathers.

On the surface this may seem to suggest that all one need do is read the writings of these men and you would have a solid theological and doctrinal understanding. The problem is that their writings are in Greek not English. So now one must find scholars who have properly translated their works. Unfortunately, over time scholars have abandoned critical thinking and adopted practices like idea laundering and circular reporting in an effort to meet the requirements for tenure or to get published. Patrick Goodenough, writing for CrossWalk.com said: “In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’.” One might argue that Jesus loved all of his followers in a non-sexual way. Thus to identify Jesus’ love for John in a special way might indicate a sexual relationship. The disciple was “the” beloved. He was in a class by himself. During the Last Supper before Jesus’ execution, the author(s) of the Gospel of John describes how the “beloved” disciple laid himself on Jesus’ inner tunic — his undergarment. (John 13:25 and 21:20)”. However, Jenny Stokes, research director for Saltshakers, a conservative Christian group in Australia, said that there are five words for love in Greek (the language in which the Gospels were written). The Gospel references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” use the word “agape.” and Agape means spiritual, unconditional love not sexual love. This is just one example of poor translation and lack of discipline to proper doctrine.

As a minister of Christ my promise to you is that I will always be the best steward of the mysteries of God that I can be.

Second Sunday of Advent 2019

The Marks Of Christian Fellowship

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 15:13).

Today’s Epistle reading gives us a wonderful summary of the marks which should characterize Christian fellowship; Consideration, Scripture, Fortitude, Praise, Harmony, and Hope. Paul is still trying to get the Roman Christians to understand the duties to one another of those within the Christian fellowship, and especially with the duty of the stronger to the weaker brother or sister. Let’s take a look at each one of these marks of Christian fellowship.

The Christian fellowship should be marked by the consideration of its members for each other. Their thoughts should always be not for themselves but for each other. This consideration must always be designed for the good and for the upbuilding in the faith of the other person. People may be won much more easily to a fuller faith by surrounding them with an atmosphere of love than by attacking them with a battery of criticism.

Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture and from that scripture Christians should draw encouragement. It gives us the record of God’s dealing with a nation, a record which is the demonstration that it is always better to be right with God and to suffer than to be right with society in order to avoid trouble. It gives us the great and precious promises of God. These promises are the promises of a God who never breaks his word. In these ways, Scripture gives to those who study it comfort in their sorrow and encouragement in their struggle.

The Christian fellowship should be marked by fortitude which is an attitude of the heart to life. It is far more than patience; it is the triumphant adequacy which can cope with life. It is the strength which does not only accept things but which, in accepting them, transforms them into glory.

The Christian fellowship should be marked by harmony. However ornate a church may be, however perfect its worship and its music, however liberal its giving, it has lost the very essential of a Christian fellowship if it has lost harmony. That is not to say that there will not be differences of opinion; it is not to say that there will be no argument and debate; but it means that those who are within the Christian fellowship will have solved the problem of living together. They will be quite sure that the Christ who unites them is far greater than the differences which may divide them.

Christian fellowship should be marked by praise. Epictetus (epic-tea-tus) said ‘What can I do, who am a little old lame man, except give praise to God?’ Christians should enjoy life because they enjoy God. A definition of Christian praise is the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of His goodness and grace. If we want to see a clear manifestation of God’s blessings and grace, all we need to do is to praise Him with all our heart, our mind, and our soul.

The Christian fellowship is marked by hope. It is not immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. It is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human achievement; it is hope in the power of God. When G.F. Watts drew ‘Hope’ he drew her as a battered and bowed figure with one string left upon her harp like lyre.
Back in chapter eight of Paul’s epistle to the Romans he said “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”

Paul also invokes the Holy Ghost into his discussion of the marks of Christian fellowship when he says “through the power of the Holy Ghost.” But how does the Holy Ghost come into play if these marks of Christian fellowship are inherent in each individual Christian? Recently Archbishop Robinson wrote; “In the final analysis we receive salvation because it is God who calls us to faith as part of the elect in Christ, God has called us to faith in Christ, not because of our deserving, or because of our good works, but on account of his good will towards us. As a result, God gives us the gift of faith; God gives us through Jesus Christ the gift of grace; and God brings us to salvation. Therefore every aspect of Christian salvation is dependent on God. Salvation is not something we will for ourselves, but something that is God’s will for us; therefore to God alone be the glory!” And Jesus said “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” (John14:16). God has given us this comforter, the Holy Ghost, to be in us, to help guide and protect us so that some day we may be partakers of the salvation He has willed for us.
The essence of the matter is that the Christian fellowship takes its example, its inspiration and its dynamic from Jesus Christ. He did not please himself. When the Lord of Glory chose to serve others instead of pleasing himself, he set the pattern which everyone who seeks to be his followers must accept. Live the marks of Christian fellowship every day as Jesus Christ did. If you live your life filled with Consideration, Scripture, Fortitude, Praise, Harmony, and Hope your reward will not be in this life but in the one that follows, the salvation God himself has willed for you.

This year as in years past we will help a struggling family have a merry Christmas. For many families like this one they have prepared themselves for the reality that their Christmas will not be like that of many other people. There is no tree decorated with ornaments and lights. There are no neatly wrapped packages waiting to be opened on Christmas morning. There will be no Christmas feast with relatives and friends. Yet these families live every day expecting that one day, some day, they may experience these things that many have come to take for granted. What we can and will do for them is to make one day, Christmas Day, different from what every other day is like. Marked by our consideration of them there will be some wrapped packages waiting to be opened on Christmas morning. There may be a feast available for them and if only for a short time they are able to live a part of their dream then to paraphrase Charles Dickens; ‘It is a far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done’.

Again the Archbishop wrote; “Not only should our faith and worship be a means of glorifying God, but every aspect of our lives. It should be constantly in our minds that our chief function as human beings is to glorify God, and if we truly accept that teaching it should encourage us to direct all our efforts in worship, in work, and in leisure in such a way as to glorify God.” This Christmas through our actions we can and will demonstrate the marks which should characterize Christian fellowship.
Amen

First Sunday of Advent 2019

Out of The Darkness And Into The Light”The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12).

As I was preparing this sermon I was fascinated by the abstract nature of how darkness and light are used. It got me thinking about why clergy wear black, the color of evil and wrongdoing. Well it turns out we have 16th-century fashion to blame for black clothing. Black cloth was a status symbol in the 1500s because it was expensive to produce requiring multiple treatments in green dye until the cloth appeared black. It became the custom for the lower clergy to use it as they were basically the same rank in society as doctors, lawyers, and minor gentry, though very often the lower clergy used a cheaper black cloth made using multiple applications of woad (cabbage used to produce blue dye) to get the desired colour. Of course, all of that has nothing to do with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

Paul tells the Romans “to cast off the works of darkness” which for most people conjures up an image of the bad things that are done at night. “Darkness” is used approximately 177 times in the bible to portray that which is evil. Paul continues with “put on the armor of light” which brings to the mind’s eye an image of safety in the light and protection from the evil of the night’s darkness. The word “Light” is used 272 times in the Old and New testaments combined, to show us that which is good. Let’s look at a few examples. Mathew writes in the 6th chapter of his Gospel; “But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” He is saying that if you are looking to do evil your whole body will be filled with the influence of the evil one. If you are thinking about ways to break the laws then every fiber of your being may be evil. In other words, the way you think is the why you will live your life.

St. Luke wrote in the 11th chapter of his gospel “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore when your eye is good, your whole body is also full of light; but when it is evil, your body also is full of darkness.” Here Luke makes the equation explicit light equals good and darkness equals evil taking Matthews thought to its logical conclusion.

In chapter 3 of his gospel John takes the idea of good and evil a step further when he writes “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.” Judgment? Light into the world? When did this light come into the world? What is John trying to tell us?

Of course, the light first came into the world in the beginning; “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3) But light came into the world a second time. Jesus told us “I have come as Light into the world so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) Jesus, God incarnate, brought to the world a new light for all to receive. If light represents goodness in antithesis to the evil associated with darkness, it is a natural step for us to understand God, the ultimate good, as light. We must “awake out of sleep” by abandoning the darkness and coming into the light of Jesus Christ “for now is our salvation nearer”; judgment day is closer than it was when we first believed.

I dare say that your experience of awakening “out of sleep”, acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, is different from that of anyone else’s experience. Some have accepted Jesus from an early age and others have had a conversion experience at a later age. Our Epistle today from St. Paul has achieved lasting fame for having influenced the conversion of Augustine of Hippo. In his “Confession” St. Augustine tells the story of his acceptance of Jesus Christ: He was walking in his garden, his heart was in distress, because of his failure to live the good life. He kept exclaiming miserably: “How long? Tomorrow – why not now? Why not this hour an end to my depravity”. Suddenly he heard a voice saying: “take and read; take and read.” It sounded like a child’s voice; and he racked his mind to try to remember any child’s game in which these words occurred, but could think of none. He hurried back to the seat where his friend was sitting, where he had left a volume of Paul’s writings. He snatched it up and read silently the first passage his eyes fell upon: “Let us not walk in revelry or drunkenness, in immorality, and in shamelessness, in contention and in strife. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, as a man puts on a garment, and stop living a life in which your first thought is to gratify the desires of Christless human nature.” He neither wished nor needed to read further. With the end of that sentence, as though the light of assurance had poured into his heart, all the shades of doubt were scattered. He put his finger in the page and closed the book. Turning to his friend with a calm countenance he told him, “Out of this word, God has spoken to me.” St. Augustine of Hippo was a Roman African, early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of the Western Church and Western philosophy, and indirectly all of Western Christianity.

St. Augustine was concerned that he had failed to “live the good life”. He had not yet come out of the darkness and into the light. Once he entered the light then his concern was not with a life of revelry or drunkenness, immorality, and shamelessness, or contention and strife but with living a life according to God’s laws. Paul tells us that living the good life, a life in accordance with God’s laws requires that we “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But life in this world is like a revolving door, as we go round and round in it we pass from darkness on the outside to light on the inside. Every day we struggle with fulfilling the law, with not sinning in thought, word or deed. We step out of the door into the darkness when we fail to live according to God’s law, re-enter the door and step back into the light when we confess our sins and are truly repentant. Around and around we go and where we will land only God knows. Where we land depends on our personal effort to be in the light. We make that choice with every thought, word, and deed.

Augustine, like Paul, had a sense of urgency about him and so must we. The early church expected the second coming at any moment, and therefore it had an urgency to be ready. That expectancy has grown dim and faint with the passage of time. One permanent fact remains; not one of us knows when God will rise and bid us go. The time grows ever shorter, for we are every day one day nearer that time. We, too, must have all things ready. We must put on the armor of light, now in this time of mortal life, that through faith the Holy Spirit may be with us at all times and that we may rise to life immortal through him, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Penitential or Celebratory – What is Advent?

Penitential or Celebratory – What is Advent?

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” (Jeremiah 23:5).

This is one of the few Sundays when our lesson for the Epistle is taken from the Old Testament. Today’s lesson is from the Book of Jeremiah and that begs the question ‘Who was Jeremiah?’

Jeremiah was a member of the priestly household of Hilkiah. He may have been a descendant of a priest during the days of King Solomon. The Lord commanded Jeremiah not to marry and raise children because the impending divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation. Primarily a prophet of doom, he attracted only a few friends, among whom was his closest companion and faithful secretary, Baruch, who wrote down Jeremiah’s words as the prophet dictated them (36:4-32). Baruch was advised by Jeremiah not to succumb to the temptations of ambition but to be content with his lot (ch. 45). He also received from Jeremiah and deposited for safekeeping a deed of purchase for a field Jeremiah had purchased from his cousin (32:11-16), and accompanied the prophet on the long road to exile in Egypt (43:6-7). It is possible that Baruch was also responsible for the final compilation of the book of Jeremiah since no event recorded in chapters 1 through 51 occurred after 580 BC. Chapter 52 is an appendix added by a later hand.

Jeremiah began prophesying in Judah halfway through the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC) and continued through the reign of Zedekiah (597-586). It was a period of storm and stress when the doom of entire nations — including Judah itself — was being sealed. The smaller states of western Asia were often pawns in the power plays of such imperial giants as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, and the time of Jeremiah’s ministry was no exception. The descendants of the ancient Assyrians are today the Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians, an ethnic minority in northern Iraq, northeast Syria, southeast Turkey, and northwest Iran. The remains of the city-state of Babylon are in present-day Hillah Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad. Both areas are as unfriendly to Jews today as they were in 580 BC.

Referred to frequently as “Jeremiah the prophet” in the book that bears his name and elsewhere, Jeremiah was always conscious of his call from the Lord to be a prophet. As such, he proclaimed words given to him by God himself, words certain of fulfillment. Judgment is one of the all-pervasive themes in Jeremiah’s writings, though he was careful to point out that repentance, if sincere, would postpone one’s otherwise inevitable fate. For Jeremiah, God was the ultimate. The prophet’s theology conceived of the Lord as the Creator of all that exists, as all-powerful, as everywhere present. Jeremiah ascribed the most elevated attributes to the God whom he served, viewing him as the Lord not only of Judah but also of all nations.

In our reading today Jeremiah is explaining his vision of the restoration of Israel. This restoration would be a time when all Israel’s scattered children shall return to the Holy Land under an ideal king born of David’s line. David, you may recall, was a descendant of Jacob’s son Judah. And Jacob, was a simple man who became the father to all the Jews, the twelve tribes of Israel. David began his life as a simple shepherd boy and later became the king of Israel. To prophesy that a new king is coming in the likeness of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David was at a minimum a very bold prophesy. Jeremiah is suggesting that all the scattered children of Israel shall return to the Holy Land under this ideal king of David’s line. This King will really rule with righteousness, unlike the puppet Zedekiah, whose name means; ‘The Lord our righteousness’, that sorry monarch whom Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, set over Judah in 597 BC.

This prophecy was not to be fulfilled in Jeremiah’s lifetime and the rebellion against the overlord finally brought an end to the kingdom of Judah in 586 BC and the land became a Babylonian province. But the Jewish people through faith continued to wait and pray for the coming of this king. To paraphrase Paul Harvey ‘you know the rest of the story’.

On this the Sunday next before Advent we say goodbye to the Trinity season and get ourselves ready for the Advent season and the coming of real “The Lord Our Righteousness”, the king Jeremiah prophesied would come to “execute judgment and justice in the earth”. The word Advent means ‘Coming’ and was first inaugurated in the Gallican churches of France and Spain, probably in the 4th century, before Christmas Day had spread to these regions. In the 6th century Advent was commonly called St. Martin’s Lent. Many of the Gallican churches had adopted Christmas, and the Advent fast was generally counted as a forty-day period (Sundays excepted) between St. Martin’s Day on November 11th and Christmas. Advent was seen as a penitential season much like Lent. The Roman Church adopted Advent in the 6th century as a liturgical preparation for Christmas. The Roman advent rites have always included the singing of Alleluia during the season. We saw evidence of this in this morning’s sermon hymn. Not until the 8th century was the Advent season commonly considered the beginning of the Christian year.

In its developed form the Advent season has two themes; preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s first coming and preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord at the end of time. The double emphasis, therefore, on both the first and the second advents of Christ gives to the season its unique mixture of devotional color: joy in the redemption that has come to us in the Incarnation, and awe before the Judgment that yet awaits us. To the spiritually discerning believer both of these tremendous and signal events of past and future are experienced as eternally present realities.

The Advent season is unlike any of the other seasons of the Church, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent or Trinity in that it is a season when we anticipate with joy the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy and soberly anticipate the second coming of our Lord which will bring with it judgment day. It is the only season when our focus is not on a singular theme or event.

The Collect for today gives us a guide to starting the Advent season; “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;”. Today, we ask the Lord to direct his power to stir up or jump-start our human will. With this inspiration from God to do divine work we pray that His faithful people will be “plenteously rewarded”. And that reward is not, as some may think, material things of this world, rather it is that come judgment day as one of God’s faithful people we will receive the gift of everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven. And that gift can only be received, as Jesus told us in the 14th chapter of St. John’s gospel by accepting that He is the King from the house of David that Jeremiah prophesied would come. Jesus told us “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). This Advent season opens your hearts to the love of God and “plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works” so that you may “be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Amen

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore. Amen

Christian Armour

“There was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum … Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe … And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him,” (St John 4: 46).

The miracle that is recounted in this morning’s reading from St. John’s Gospel is similar to the story in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. In them the story is just a bit different because the person who comes up to ask Jesus for help is a centurion, a Roman soldier, and it is his servant, who is ill. Not so here. We might wonder why it is that some of these details vary from one Gospel to another. We remember that all of the Gospels began as an oral tradition. It was a spoken word at first, and only later in the century were these things written down according to the different oral traditions. Sometimes the little details do vary. But the essence of the narrative is always the same. It is the power of Jesus healing.

St. John, who wrote his Gospel as the last of the four, wrote it in such a way that it is almost a text of theology. It is an interpretation more than anything else of who Jesus is and what He did. When Jesus works a miracle in John’s Gospel it is always followed by Jesus speaking to the crowd about what He has done and giving the crowd instructions.

In the second chapter of John’s Gospel, we read of the first miracle that Jesus worked at Cana in Galilee. He changed water into wine and we think of this as a marvelous blessing of weddings. When Jesus worked that miracle, He went out and taught someone: Nicodemus. There is the long discourse with Nicodemus about being “born again of water and the Holy Spirit”. In this morning’s Gospel the royal official’s son was ill. Jesus healed the son from a distance. As a matter of fact, we happen to know from John’s Gospel that He was in Cana of Galilee, about fifteen miles south of the city of Capernaum. It is here that the royal official encounters Jesus, asks for a healing for his son, and receives it.

So how do we understand this and interpret it? The key is in what John wrote: Jesus told him, “Return home; your son will live,” The man put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him and started for home (John 4:50). John was very conscious of the idea of the Word. Remember the prologue to John’s Gospel in the first chapter? ‘In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. . . The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1: I & 14).

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God, according to John, is always creative. As he wrote those words, John likely had in mind the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, and how it begins. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. For John, the fact that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh is the beginning of the new creation, with Christ our Lord.
In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, it is very evident that Jesus is talking about His Word and about the reaction that should come from His Word. Jesus says this: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24). Jesus goes on to say: “I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they shall live.” (John 5:25).

Hearing the Word means that something happens because of the Word of God. First of all, it is creative: Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light (Gen.1:3). He created by the word, something out of nothing. His word also leads to salvation. Remember the Gospel of two weeks ago, where the people let the man sick of the palsy into the house through the roof, laying him at Jesus’ feet and Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2) And when they all murmured about that. He said, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?” (Matt. 9:4) He healed the man to show them He had the power with a word to forgive sin. God’s word is not only creative. It leads to salvation. When God speaks, something happens.

On the opposing side of all of this, we can hear what Jesus says about those people who hear the word and then nothing happens. “The Father himself which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time,” (John 5:37). Jesus equates the lack of faith with never hearing the Word of God.

When we consider what words are in our time twenty centuries later, we know that words just tumble over us like a waterfall and sometimes we are so inundated with words that they lose their meaning. They no longer pack the power or the punch. Right now, we hear the words of politicians. What are they to lead us to? Belief and trust in what the person is saying? Mostly, we are rather cynical about what we hear. How about the words of advertisers? Advertisers spend millions of dollars, choosing the right words to describe their product. We hear those words and we trust in them and we bring the product home and it never quite lives up to those glowing promises. Our clothes still don’t smell like new. They aren’t as fresh as new even though we’ve used that particular detergent. But we trusted the words.
What Jesus is saying and what we have to understand is that in order for us to come to faith, we have to hear the words and believe in them. Then something happens. How does Jesus speak His word to us now? He is, of course, the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh. He speaks to us in the words of Scripture. And here we find the truth. These are not campaign slogans or the hyperbole of advertisers. This is the Word of God. We can trust that what we hear from God’s Word is true and right.

In our Epistle reading this morning, Paul is describing a warrior for Christ. He has him putting on all of his equipment:
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” as the belt around your waist; “having on the breastplate of righteousness” as protection for your heart; “your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” to propagate the Gospel of peace; “above all, taking the shield of faith” so you can withstand the fiery dart of the wicked; “take the helmet of salvation” to protect your mind. This equipment is defensive. But there is one more item in that list — “the sword of the Spirit, the word of God”. Paul intends that we go on the offensive with it. To a world that is fed lie after lie, it is only in the Word of God that we can find joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and with a quiet mind (as the collect for today said this morning).

The Word of God, Word made flesh, continues to be present in our midst now; in Scripture, in Sacrament, and in this Church. Today, the Lord will speak to you as well, to each and everyone of you, if you are open to it. He will speak to you in the silence of your heart. Listen to what the Lord has to say to you today in prayer. He has something very special to say to each and every one of you. He speaks His gentle word and it’s creative; it leads to salvation, if we harden not our hearts.

The nobleman put his trust in the word Jesus spoke to him, and he started for home. We can put our trust in the Word and we can start for home as well. But our home, we know, is not here. It’s in heaven!

Christian Happiness

“See the that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15).

Last Sunday in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he addressed two related topics, the essential characteristics of the life of non- Christians and the things which must be banished from the Christian life. Today his appeal to the Ephesians finishes with an exhortation to them to live like the wise. The times in which they were living were evil: public drunkenness; murder in the streets; wizards, sorcerers, witches, astrologers, palm readers and diviners of the entrails of animals provided misguided direction to the citizens of Ephesus. Those who were not Christians, found their happiness in filling themselves with wine and with other worldly pleasures. Paul brought to theEphesians a new hope for the future that was positive and uplifting. They found their happiness in being filled with the Spirit of God.

The early Church had a happiness that made people want to sing. The Psalms of David, which begin on page 345 of your Book of Common Prayer were chanted and hymns were sung making the Church a happy escape from the world outside. The instinct was to give thanks for all things and in all places and at all times. One could even give thanks for hell because hell was a warning to keep you living your life the right way. Members were dazzled with the wonder that God’s love had stooped to save them. It was a church that gave thanks because its members had an awareness of being in the hands of God.

The early Church was a church where people honoured and respected each other. Paul says that the reason for this mutual honour and respect was that they revered Christ. They saw each other not in light of their professions or social standing but in light of Christ and therefore they recognized the dignity of everyone. I am struck by the fact that no matter how much time passes and how much things appear to change nothing changes. In first century Ephesus people were concerned about public drunkenness and lewd behavior. Yet thousands of years later we read about people in this area who are arrested for drug use, DUI and sex acts in public. These people are trying to find happiness in worldly pleasures much like the Ephesians were doing, rather than finding happiness by being filled with the Spirit of God.

The search for happiness is not new, mankind has been seeking it from the beginning of time. Some have even suggested that Adam ate the apple Eve had picked from the Tree of Knowledge because he knew that a happy wife means a happy life. There are many dimensions to happiness but at its core is one’s own outlook and their own comfort with themselves. Many people seek happiness in things like possessions, money and travel. But the feeling or euphoria they get from things and experiences soon wears off and the person is left seeking another fix of happiness. We see this in some churches where in true concert fashion church goers are entertained. At services like this people have a good time singing and clapping along to upbeat praise music. But it is kind of like eating Chinese food where an hour afterward you are hungry again. These are all external influences that can only give short term joy to people. Studies on crowd behavior have found that the behavior of the crowd is heavily influenced by the loss of responsibility of the individual and the impression of universality of behavior or more simply stated doing what everyone else is doing. An expressive mob is any large group of people gathering for an active purpose. Civil disobedience, rock concerts, and religious revivals all fall under this category. This is the dynamic that is at play in large churches. The individual is lost in the crowd and in order to fit in conforms to the crowd behavior. If others say it was a great service the individual just agrees. In the early church congregations were small and often met in someone’s home, hence the term ‘my Church home’. In these smaller groups the individual, not influenced by the crowd behavior, is able to have his or her own personal worship experience. Real, lasting happiness has to come from within. And a real intimate relationship with God also comes from within. It’s an individual thing not a crowd thing.

Music has always brought happiness to people. Many great songs are based on biblical stories and Christian teachings. In 1965 the Byrd’s had a hit with the song Turn, Turn, Turn which is based on Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verse 1 thru 8.

Hallelujah written and recorded by Leonard Cohen in 1984 used a lot of religious imagery, including references to some of the more notorious women in the bible all of whom are popular figures in songs. Some of the lyrics include; “You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” – this is a reference to Bathsheba, whose husband was murdered by the king so he could have her for his own. “She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair” – refers to Delilah, who cut off Samson’s locks that held his superhuman strength.

“Amazing Grace” is a hymn first published in 1779 by John Newton, an Englishman who worked on slave ships. On one voyage, they ran into a nasty storm and Newton thought the ship was going to sink. After they made it through, Newton became deeply religious and after reaffirming his faith he became a Priest in the Anglican Church. He wrote Amazing Grace based on his religious conversion, and how God saved him that night even though he was a “wretch.” Today it is one of the most recorded and played hymns in the world.
But nothing brings happiness to people more than being honoured and respected by others. Accepting people for who they are not what they have is a major failing of our society today.

Our challenge is to look past their possessions and see the person they are inside. Some of the people in the world today with the most possessions are the least happy and yet some who have the least are the most happy. It’s not about what they wear, the car they drive, where they live or the color of their skin. It’s about who they are inside. When you recognize people for who they are as a person you show true honour and respect to them. That’s what Christ did. He never failed to recognize people like The Leper in Luke 5: 12-16, the Paralytic in Luke 5:17-26, Levi the Tax Collector in Luke 5:27-32, and the Sinful Woman in Luke 7:36-50. The Pharisees were outraged every time Jesus would meet with people they believed that no Jew should ever give a moment’s notice to.

What the Church should do is to provide you with an environment where you can have an intimate relationship with God and share that experience with like minded people regardless of who they are or what they look like. The Church is the original safe space where everyone who lives by the word of God is welcomed and accepted. And a place where sinners can come to confess their sins and repent. A place where we can both individually and together thank God for all the blessings he has given us. And that is the core message in the Collect for All Saints Day that was read earlier today.

Amen

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen