August 14, 2011

Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Profits and Prophets
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
August 14, 2011


I want to begin with something that is very important for all Christians to understand today. The Gospel reading for this morning says, "Beware of false prophets which come in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves." When Christ was speaking there were prophets living on the earth. John the Baptist was a prophet. Christ Himself was a prophet. And even in the early New Testament Church there were prophets, their ministry was markedly different from that of the Old Testament prophets, but they did exist and minister at that time. If that is true, then why do we not have prophets in the Church today? I am not a prophet, and I am not a priest, at least not in the sense of an Old Testament priest. Now I know we Anglicans sometimes call our clergy "priests" but that's because we are using a shortened version of a word that has come down to us from Greek through French, and it is the word for "elder." The word is "presbyter." So were not talking about a human priest in the New Testament that has the same function as the priest in the Old Testament. Why? Because in the Old Testament, the priest was, at least, symbolically, a mediator. Of course we all know that no human being can ever be a true mediator between God and man. The priest in the Old Testament was a shadow, a figure, a forerunner, and a symbol. He was a sign, like a traffic sign, that points us to the real Priest, the Great High Priest, and the only real Priest that we have, and that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That's why I don't often refer to myself as a priest. I call myself a minister or a presbyter, or a bishop, but I rarely refer to myself as a priest, because people today think of a priest as a minister in the Roman Catholic Church, whom they believe actually has a mediatorial role between people and God. That's why the Catholics go to confession; they believe the priest is a mediator who has power to absolve and forgive their sins. You notice that in none of our services do I say "I absolve you." I say, "God absolves all who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel." I never say God has given me power to remit sins. I say "He has given to His ministers the power to pronounce to His people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins." It is God, not man who forgives sin. So it is not I, it is God, and I am not a mediatorial priest. The reason we don't have mediatorial priests is because our High Priest is in Heaven.

Now, follow that same logic for a moment as we ask, "why don't we have prophets in the Church today?" The answer is, because we have one Prophet now and that prophet is in Heaven. Our Prophet is Jesus Christ; therefore, we no longer need human prophets.

Listen to this; "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). Why don't we have prophets anymore? Because The Prophet has come. The Prophet, who, in Himself fulfills the role of all the prophets, and speaks the Word of God in truth and in perfection, has come. He has spoken to us, and His revelation is recorded for us right here in Holy Scripture. So we don't need prophets anymore. We don't need people to give us new revelation, and if someone comes to you and calls himself a prophet, trust the word of God, that the person is not a prophet. Our Prophet is Jesus Christ; His prophecy is in the book we call the Holy Bible. We need no other.

Having said that, let's talk about things that are profitable and unprofitable. We're talking now about profits spelled, p-r-o-f-i-t, not p-r-o-p-h-e-t. Romans reminds us that some actions lead to death. This "death" is a spiritual condition toward God, which Romans describes in other places as being under God's wrath and condemned to suffer for sin forever. Some actions lead us into spiritual death. Other actions lead to life, which is also a spiritual condition meaning "peace with God." The Gospel, Matthew 7:15 and following, warns us that ideas can also lead us to life or death. False doctrine kills, while truth brings life. So, false prophets lead us into death, while those who proclaim the truth of God, lead us into life. I emphasise here that it is not the person but the message that brings life. It follows then that, if God is going to put away from us all hurtful things, some of the first things that have to go are things we have taken into ourselves by our own free choice, and that these things will include both actions and ideas. These things lead us into the spiritual condition of death. Now, I realise that we are all born into this spiritual death, so don't jump on me when I say sin leads us into spiritual death. Understand that I know this and understand that this truth is the foundation of what the Bible is talking about in our readings for today, especially our reading in Romans. It also follows that the profitable things God will give us will also be things of both thought and deed.

We know about the bad things. We know how they kill souls and destroy lives. If we do not understand this we cannot call ourselves Christians. If we do not understand the wickedness of sin, especially our own sin, we must admit that we are outside of Christ and still in our sin. For one of the distinguishing character traits of a true Christian is the recognition of the sinfulness of sin and its devastating effects. This understanding results in a holy hatred of our own sin. The true Christian "acknowledges and bewails" his "manifold sins and wickedness," and is "heartily sorry for these our misdoings." "The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable."

The person who is not a Christian has a very different attitude toward sin. He may be indifferent to it. He may adamantly insist that it is not sin. He may even have a genuine regret for the moral decline of the country, and for some of his own actions. But to hate sin as God hates it; to root it out of his life like weeds in a garden, to "earnestly repent" this he cannot and will not do.

The true Christian loves God above all things, even above his own life. Today, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, is sandwiched between the days of Saint James and Saint Bartholemew. I don't talk about "Saints" much, because some might get the idea that we in the Anglican Orthodox Church venerate saints, or pray to them, or think they somehow mediate for us with God. We don't venerate them, and they don't mediate for us. Christ is our mediator, why would we bother with anyone less than Christ when He has given Himself for us and ever liveth to intercede? Besides, a "saint" in the Bible is anyone who is a true believer and true Christian. So it is proper to talk about the Gospel according to St. John, or an Epistle of St. Paul. But it is also proper to talk about all the rest of us as saints, and we see the Bible doing just that in many places. Sainthood is not an office granted by the Church, it is a condition of the soul purchased for us by the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and received by us through Biblical faith. To be "saved," is to be a saint. St. James was one of the first martyrs. He was killed for the "crime" of being a Christian, and the reason the Anglican Church still talks about such people is that they are good examples of faithful, Christian living. They loved Christ more than life. They wanted God more than they wanted anything else, and they were willing to turn away from everything that impeded their communion with Him. The lesson here is this; death is not a hurtful thing, hell is a hurtful thing. Life that is empty of meaning and hope is a hurtful thing. Life that has no purpose higher than the pleasures of the world and the flesh is a hurtful thing. Life that is controlled by attitudes, thoughts, and actions that are self-destructive or bring sorrow to the marital relationship, the familial relationship, and other relationships all the way from the inner personal to interpersonal to international relationships, are hurtful things. And anything that disrupts the relationship with God is a hurtful thing. May God truly "put away from us" these things. And, may He "give us those things which are profitable for us."

Let me talk for a moment about just what we are praying for in this Collect, for this is the emphasis of this week in our cycle of prayer. What are these profitable things? First we are praying for holy living. We are praying for some good, old fashioned Godliness. We're not talking here about thrills and chills, or smells and bells, or happy clappy times in Church. We are not talking here about health and wealth and popularity in the world. We are talking about loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are talking about love for God that goes far beyond mere emotions; love that is expressed more in actions than in feelings, love that leads us to keep His commandments, not in order that we may earn His favour or escape His wrath, but for the sheer joy of pleasing Him.

Second, we are asking God to give us right understanding, or, right doctrine. Yes, I know people don't want to hear about doctrine anymore. They want to "experience God" and they want "practical" sermons about dealing with stress and achieving their dreams. But notice how different this is from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles in Scripture. They majored on doctrine, and Christ Himself warned us against false prophets and false teaching. Right doctrine builds up God's people. Right understanding of God leads to right understanding of self and world, and life. But more importantly, right understanding teaches us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

"O God, whose never failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; we humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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