October 16, 2011

Monday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.18:1-20, 1 Kings, 12:1-11, 1 Thess. 5:12-28
Evening - Ps. 7, Job 3:1-20, Mt. 12:1-13

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

1 Thessalonians closes with words that are full of practical wisdom and truth, yet are so clear they need little explanation. The relationship between the Church and her ministers is addressed in verses 12 and 13. The ministers are described as "over" the Church in verse 12. This means they have the responsibility for overseeing the work and ministry of the Church, especially the ministry of the word and sacraments. It also means to care for the souls of the members, and has a note of authority in it. They have authority to "admonish," which means to give encouragement and hope, and to correct errors and call people to Godliness, through the public ministry of teaching and preaching, and through the private ministry of personal visitation and counsel. They also have authority to discipline people who have fallen into serious and unrepentant sin. The minister is to labour for the Church. He is to spend himself, and to be spent in the service of the people, in order lead them into the things of God.

The Church is to "know" her ministers, meaning to recognise their service, their sacrifices, and their self-giving love on their behalf. It also means they are to recognise the true ministers, and distinguish them from the false teachers. The Church is to esteem her ministers, which is to hold them in high regard; not just regard, but love.

The end of verse 13 turns to the relationships of the people of the Church, beginning with the encouragement to "be at peace among yourselves." 14 and 15 continue in this theme, and are so clear that no explanation of their intent is necessary.

Verses 16-28 give several short exhortations, most of which are self explanatory. Verse 20, "Despise not prophesyings," puzzles some until it is remembered that God continued to send prophets to His people in the early days of the New Testament Church. The prophets were enabled to expound and apply the Old Testament Scriptures to the Church. Thus, their ministry was primarily one of preaching the Gospel prior to the writing of the New Testament Scriptures. The office of the prophet has now ceased, and preaching, which is the exposition and application of the entire Bible, has taken its place.

Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Our Christian Vocation
Ephesians 4:1-6, Luke 14:1-11
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
October 16, 2011

In our minds, the word, "prevent" means to stop or advert. For example, if someone moves a pile of gasoline soaked rags from the side of a hot wood stove, he might rightly claim to have prevented a house fire. But in the days of the Reformation, when the Collect for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity was being translated into English by Archbishop Cranmer, "prevent" followed a more literal meaning of its two syllables, pre, and vent. Pre, means to be in front of. Vent means to come. So the two together mean to come before, or lead.

Let's apply this to the Collect. We are not here asking God's grace to stop us from doing something. Of course, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to ask God, in His grace, to stop us from doing something. We should ask God to stop us from making foolish decisions, stop us from thinking evil thoughts, and stop us from doing evil things. We do pray for this every time we pray the Collect for Grace in Morning Prayer, "grant that this day we fall into no sin." We also pray for this every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." So this is a legitimate, and a very good thing to pray for. But the Collect for today is not so much about God stopping us as it is about Him enfolding and enclosing us in His grace, so that it goes before us and follows after us. We see in this almost the military precision of highly professional soldiers escorting a valuable cargo to its destination. There will be a group that precedes the main body, ensuring that the way is clear, removing obstacles, and dealing with enemies, if necessary. There will also be a group that follows, protecting it from attack from behind. This is the picture we have in this prayer, that the grace of God will go before us and follow after us, leading and protecting us from dangers, but also making us, or enabling us to be given to all good works; enabling us to live like Christians. It is much like the words of that great hymn, "St. Patrick;"

Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me Christ beside me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

The Collect intends to emphasise an important point in Ephesians 4, which is stated in the first verse, and expounded in the remainder of today's reading; "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." How many of us think of being a Christian and living for Christ as our vocation in life? Most of us, if asked what our vocation is, would say what we do to earn our money. In other words, we would name our occupation. But an occupation is something different from a vocation. I know most dictionaries equate the two words, but I maintain that, Biblically speaking, they are different. Your occupation is the way you earn your daily bread. Your vocation is your calling from God to live in Christ and honour Him in all things. Your occupation is an important part of your vocation, but your vocation is more than your occupation.

So let's look at the word "vocation" again. In English it comes from the Latin word for "calling." Likewise, in Greek, it means to call, and the Greek word, kaleo, actually resembles our English word call. So our vocation is our life calling. It is that one thing to which we devote the majority of our time, energy, attention, talents, and abilities. It is the one thing that gives priority and direction and meaning to everything that we do, and everything that we are.

Our vocation is not stated directly in today's reading. Instead we are given directions about how to "walk worthy" of it; how to carry it out and accomplish it in every day life. We walk worthy of our calling when we conduct ourselves in lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, and love, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Our reading from Luke also guides us in how to live worthy of our calling. Here we find stated one of the great principles of Godliness, a principle so great it was followed by our Lord Himself; the principle of humility, showing that those who exalt themselves, meaning to consider themselves worthy of God, will be abased, while those who humble themselves, meaning to confess their sin and trust in the righteousness of Christ, will be exalted. To exalt yourself is to be against God. To humble yourself is to seek God.

This is how we "do" our vocation. But what is our vocation? Those who know the Westminster Shorter Catechism will remember the answer to the first question; "The chief end of man is glorify God and enjoy Him forever." That is a good statement of our vocation. Anglicans spend much time talking about Christian vocation, and, for us it is expressed perfectly in the words of Christ, who, when asked which is the first and greatest commandment, answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." Paul also states our vocation for us in Ephesians 3:17-19.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

So the passage we read earlier from Ephesians 4, is a commentary on and explanation of this passage, especially the last words, "that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." We could also say this passage is a commentary on the words of Christ that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. In fact, in one sense, the entire Bible is a commentary on Christ's words. All Scripture explains to us who God is and what it means to love Him with our entire being. And this, to love God with our entire being is "the vocation wherewith ye are called." This is our life calling. This is the one thing to which we devote the majority of our time, energy, attention, talents, and abilities. It is the one thing that gives priority and direction and meaning to everything that we do, and everything that we are.

Thus we ask God to go before us and behind us, by His grace, that we may be continually given to all good works. We're not just asking God to help us do nice things, like work in a homeless shelter. Good though such actions may be, the "good works" of the Collect are the things of Godliness. They are to seek Him in the Scriptures, worship Him in His Church, and obey His commandments. And they are to love one another as Christ loved us, and as we love ourselves. It is to do all the things taught in our Scripture readings for today, and to do them out of love for God and His creatures. It is to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.

Let us pray.

Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen