May 6, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Easter Sermon

God Our Delight
Psalm 116, James 1:17-21, John 16:5-14
Fourth Sunday after Easter
May 6, 2012

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our God is wonderful. To know Him is to find everlasting life. To become His servant is to find perfect freedom. To value Him above all else is to gain a treasure that no one can ever steal, cannot be devalued by depressions and recessions, and will never tarnish, wear out, break, or fall apart. In addition, you will never grow tired of Him. Unlike the treasures and pleasures and toys of earth, which quickly become boring, God becomes continuously more exciting and compelling. The more we learn about God, and the deeper we go into what the Bible calls, dwelling in Him, the more we want to learn and the deeper we want to dwell in Him. We find more and more that we can say, "My delight is in the Lord."

Thus, our Collect for this Fourth Sunday after Easter beseeches God to order, or, rule, our wills and affections in a way that enables us to love, or, delight in, the things He commands and desire the things He promises. James 1:17 reminds us that every good thing is a gift from God, and John 16 tells of the mind staggering gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to comfort our souls and guide us in all truth. Psalm 116 joins the praise of God with the words I quoted just moments ago, "My delight is in the Lord."

The Psalmist's words do not express the view of the conventional "wisdom" of today. The conventional "wisdom" teaches people to throw off the "oppressive yoke of Christianity, and free themselves from its outdated doctrines and morals." Those who accept its teaching view Christ as a myth and Christianity as tyranny. They are like the heathen of Psalm 2 who rage together and imagine vain things against God and His Church. Thus they follow the ideas of whatever is current and popular, and trendy, and politically correct, without thinking and without weighing the consequences.

The Bible pictures them as being tossed about by every wind of doctrine, like waves on the sea or dead leaves blowing in a storm. Thinking is not allowed in their system. Only mindless conformity is permitted. Pierce your tongue, get a tattoo, memorise the mantra and follow the crowd; this will bring happiness, they promise. But it doesn't work. Ask the people in prison. They were told right and wrong are nothing more than personal opinions; no one else can dictate what is right or wrong, or fun, for them. That was for them alone to decide. But when they acted on that principle they found their teachers very quick to condemn them. They may have cried, "It's not their fault. It is our culture that is guilty, not these people." But they still found them guilty in a court of law, and they still sent them to jail.

The life of self indulgence, which is the essence of the conventional wisdom of every age, always leads to misery because the human heart is never satisfied. People with annual incomes in the millions of dollars complain of being broke and having too much month left at the end of the money. Why? Because they are not satisfied with what they have; they want more, and they overspend to get it.

But there is another source of misery in this world. The world is fallen. It brings forth thorns where we plant crops and weeds where we plant flowers. I am not speaking here only of fields and gardens. I am speaking of life in general. It is not always the best qualified who get the promotions. It is not always the smartest who become rich. It is not always the fastest who win the races. You can give love, yet be rejected and hated. Just ask Jesus. You can do good, yet be called evil. Just ask Jesus. You can take a stand for God, yet be considered a devil. Just ask Jesus. The author of Psalm 116 understood this. I don't think we know who wrote this Psalm, for he is not identified in the Bible, but we do know he suffered terribly. He may have suffered a devastating illness. He may have been in grave danger from enemies. He may have been reaping the results of foolish decisions or wicked living. We don't know. But his suffering brought him very close to death. The snares of death surrounded him. The pains of hell "gat hold" of him. This is deep, deep suffering. I tend to think his was suffering caused by sin. I think this man was similar to the Prodigal Son. He wasted his life, embraced wickedness, and neglected the gifts of God's guidance and love. And he woke up one day near death in sickness and depression, with the fires of hell reaching for him like hands trying to pull him in. And this pulled him down into the deepest misery of body and soul a person can face this side of hell.

I said a few minutes ago that life sometimes grows thorns where we plant crops. But, as though that were not bad enough, we actually help the thorns. We plant them in our own lives. No wonder they seem to dominate out lives. And it doesn't take much to bring forth a harvest of thorns. You don't have to commit the "big" sins. Years of small bad habits, of neglecting the means of grace, of failing to do your duty at work and home, of sarcasm and criticism instead of edification, and giving in to small self indulgences instead of doing your Godly duty in even the little things of life, is like planting small handfuls of thorn seeds in your life. Over the years, they just crowd out the crops and the flowers. As St Paul wrote, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

"But God." Those are two of my favourite words in all of Scripture. They come from Ephesians 2:4, which, in full reads; "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He hath loved us." The next verses finish the sentence and go on to describe how God in mercy reverses the pattern of sowing and harvest in our lives. He causes us to reap fruits flowers and vegetables, rather than the thorns we have sown, and He teaches us how to sow crops and flowers rather than thorns so we can increase the harvest of good things. The point of the preceding verses in Ephesians is that we were dead toward God because of our sin. Our souls were dead toward Him and we neither loved nor wanted Him, except on rare occasions, and then only on our own terms. And we were unable to change this attitude in ourselves. We were unable to make ourselves love God, or desire God or delight in God. We preferred to eat the thorns of our sin rather than the fruit of His love. And we would have stayed in that condition for all of our lives and for all eternity, "But God." And the rest of the book of Ephesians is about the way God brings forth goodness in our lives. He gives us all good and perfect gifts, as we saw in our reading from James 2:17. Those who have tasted the goodness of God may rejoice with the Psalmist that the Lord has delivered their souls from death, their eyes from tears, and their feet from falling. For their delight is no longer in the rusting trinkets of this world, their delight is in the Lord.

Now what does the Lord ask of those who want to delight in Him? Two things. First, that you receive the cup of salvation. It is amazing that He wants to give and give and give us more and more and more. Not only does His Law teach us how to find a sense of happiness in life by avoiding the things that cause sorrow and suffering, but He also made a way to forgive your sins and draw you into His eternal peace. This Way, this Cup of Salvation, is Christ who went to the cross for you, in your place. So the first thing this generous God wants you to do is to receive the Cup of Salvation from Him as His gift to you, through Biblical faith in Christ.

Second, He asks that you pay your vows. When you receive the Cup of Salvation you are telling God you are turning away from the old patterns that made your soul dead unto Him. You are putting them behind you, and you are taking up His ways as the pattern and the purpose of your life. Let it be well understood that you are not "being good" to earn a place in Heaven. You are turning to God and delighting in Him because He has built a place for you in Heaven, free of charge to you. He has shown you the way of life and peace, and only asks that you walk in it. Making this vow is an integral part of receiving the Cup of Salvation. But even more, making, and devoting yourself to this vow is the way you delight in God, and it is the way you discover more and more how delightful God is.

Dearly beloved, baptized in the name of Christ and confirmed into communing membership of His Church, who claim to have received the Cup of Salvation and made your vows unto God, I beseech you to devote yourself to paying those vows. I beseech you to live for and in Christ every day of the week. I urge you to put away lesser things and delight yourself in God and His service. For your sake, for your good, as well as for the glory of God, I desire you to able to proclaim with the Psalmist, "My delight is in the Lord."

"O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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