October 23, 2011

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Grace to Follow Christ
1 Corinthians 1:4-7, Matthew 22:34-46
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 23, 2011


I think I can summarise the meaning of our Gospel reading in a couple of short sentences. First, the meaning and purpose of life is to love God fully and completely with every fiber of your being. Second, Jesus is God.

As every person knows, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, is not as easy as it sounds. It is not easy because the true love of God is not an emotion. Much effort has been made over the centuries to turn loving God into emotional feelings for God. We see this in the music people choose to sing about God. Much of it is no different from the romantic love songs of pop music. Often, it even takes their beat and style, but worse than that is that it reduces loving Christ to sentiment and emotions similar to what is often called, "falling in love."

Of course, those of us who have been married for a while know love is much more than just being "in love." Really loving your spouse requires you to be as generous, as forgiving, as committed, and as self-giving when you are not feeling terribly good about him or her as when you are. In fact, it is in those unromantic times, when you are not feeling very much "in love" that your real love shows itself.

Loving Christ is the same way. It is not the way you feel when you're singing a happy chorus about how you love Jesus; it is what you do in those times of sorrow and trial, and it's the general direction of your heart soul and mind when you aren't feeling particularly spiritual or loving toward God. And, I think for most of us, that is our normal condition. I think most of us don't live in a continuous state of spiritual euphoria, with hearts bursting with feelings of love for Christ. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Just as we could not function if we lived in a perpetual state of "falling in love" with another person, we also could not function if we lived in a perpetual condition of "falling in love" with Jesus. And the Bible never encourages us to be "in love" with Christ. Christ is not telling us to be "in love" with Him when He tells us to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Christ is asking for something much more solid. The love He calls for is the kind of love that keeps going when the feelings grow low and the flesh calls us to quit. That's why the Bible calls it crucifying ourselves. That's why Christ said those who love Him keep His commandments. That's why Christ said anyone who loves, (values) his own life above Christ is not worthy of Him, meaning, does not really love Him. So, we could say that to really love God is to value Him more than you value your own heart, your own soul, and your own mind.

I think most of you will agree with me if I say that the tendency of the world is to draw us away from God. Again, I am not talking about emotions. I am talking about the way the world imposes its values and ideas upon us; the way it tends to press us into its mold. The world does not like individual thought or personal initiative. It prefers people to march in lock step to its commands and collective goals, and usually, those goals are not those of Godliness. The goals are to perpetuate the same old systems and the same old evils until the end of the world.

There is another enemy that militates against our love for God. That enemy is us. In fact, as we go through life, we are often our own worst enemies. We make foolish decisions that have lasting consequences based on nothing more than passing whims. We choose fleeting pleasures over lasting good. This is what the Bible means when it talks about the "flesh." The desires of the flesh lead us away from God because they lead us to be preoccupied with our own pleasures and comforts and amusements instead of God. I am sure you know this by your own experience.

With the world and the flesh leading us away from God, we don't need another enemy, but there is another. We know him as Satan, the devil. He is the ultimate Anti-Christ, for he hates all that Christ loves. He is also the ultimate anti-man, for he hates all people. He laughs when bombs fall and cities burn and orphans cry in the streets. Hunger and disease are his friends. Hell is what he wants for you and all people. Needless to say, he works diligently to lead us away from God. He tells us lies about God and ourselves. He teaches us that God is cheating us and oppressing us. He tells us the ways of God are slavery, and we must break away from God and indulge our whims and desires. Only then will we find happiness in life, because we will be free. We will be like God.

Thanks be to God we are not left to fight these enemies alone. The Epistle for today, 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, tells us of the grace of God that will confirm us to the end, "that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." The word, "confirm" means much more than to simply affirm of verify something. It means to make something firm and solid. In the realm of human relationships it means to promise or guarantee. So God, in His grace, is working in His people to make us firm and solid in Christ so we can be guaranteed that we will be accepted into Heaven and dwell with Him forever in the Day of the Lord. In other words, while the world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us away from God, God is working to draw us back to Himself and to keep us safely in Him until we reach that Day when the world, the flesh and the devil can't tempt us anymore.

One of the ways God keeps us in Himself is by giving us things that help us in our journey of faith. Our Epistle for this morning calls these things, "gifts." It is important for us to know these are not the same gifts that caused such controversy in Corinth. The tongues and prophesies named later in 1 Corinthians are specific gifts for a specific era in the Church prior to the giving of the New Testament. The gifts in today's readings are different from them. They are the things that grow faith in us, that strengthen us in Christ, and keep us in Christ. These gifts consist primarily of our good friends, the means of grace.

The Corinthians came behind in no gift (1 Cor. 1:7). The same is true of Christ's Church in every era, and we, here in Holy Trinity Church in Powhatan, Virginia, like the Corinthians, come behind in no Gift. We lack no gift from God that will keep us in the faith now and forever. We have the Scriptures. We have the New Testament and more than 2,000 years of history and tradition. We have prayer. We have the Church. We have The Lord's Supper, worship. the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. So, when we pray a prayer like the Collect for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, asking God for grace to help us withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, so we can follow Him with pure hearts and minds, we are asking God to help us make diligent use of the means of grace.

Let us pray.

Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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