February 24, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent Sermon


Keep
Psalm 86, 142, 1 Kings 8:35-43, Colossians 3:8-17
Second Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2013

There is a beautiful old word that was a favourite of Christians in past generations.  It is not used very often today, I hope that is not because people no longer believe in it.  The word is "Providence."  Providence is the activity of the Provider. It refers to God providing for our needs.  From Him we receive our creation, preservation, all the blessings of this life, and all the means of grace.  All things needful for happiness in this life, and the next come to us freely as gifts from God.  Providence also refers to God's direction and protection of us.  It refers to His guiding our lives toward His intended goal.  Under His Providential guidance, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28; "all things work together for good to those who love God."

Providence is one of the many doctrines addressed in today's Scriptures and Collects.  Instead of "Providence," the Collect uses the word, "keep," and, it seems to me that it uses it in the sense of the Old Testament Hebrew word that is often translated as both guard and keep.  It refers to God to guarding and protecting us, both physically and spiritually.  I think there is another meaning to the word, "keep," and that is to fence.  So to ask God to keep us is to ask Him to build a fence around us that will keep us in the place where we ought to stay, and out of the places we should not go.

As we looked at the reading in 1 Kings 8, I saw Solomon asking God to keep Israel out of places she should not go.  That prayer is coupled with another petition, repeated several times in the chapter, a prayer for forgiveness, a prayer that when Israel does sin, does stray into those places she should not go, God will have mercy upon her, cause her to turn to Him and seek Him in His holy Temple, and bring her back to faith and to God.  "Hear Thou in Heaven," Solomon prayed,  "and forgive the sin of Thy people."

Looking at the reading in Colossians 3, I see a prayer about keeping us in the place where we should always be.  The passage expounds and explains the meaning of two earlier verses, not officially included in the Lectionary, but which I read today because they are integral to understanding and practicing the message of Colossians 3.  They are verses 9 and 10 which tell us we have put off the old and put on the new.  The old refers to the unGodly thoughts and actions identified in verses 5 and 8, things like fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, covetousness, anger, wrath malice, blasphemy, and filthy communication.  These are not the only unGodly things we are to put off, if we are Christians, but they are certainly some of them, and we are to take them off and throw them away like ragged, maggot infested garments.  We are to throw them in the trash, and not allow them to characterise our lives anymore.  In fact, these things are so wicked that we are not even to give the appearance of endorsing them.  In their places we are to put on the pure, new, and holy garments of the righteousness of Christ.  So, instead of  fornication, we are to put on chastity.  Instead of inordinate affection, which is a burning desire to have something, it could be a boat, a horse, or a lifestyle of self indulgence and luxury, we are to put on self control, moderation, self discipline, and even a certain amount of self denial, in the realisation that even good things are not always expedient.

Please don't misunderstand me here.  I am not saying we should not enjoy the fruits of our labours.  We should enjoy them.  God wants us to enjoy them.  I am saying that having wealth and possessions and pleasures is like living with lions, there is an element of danger in them.  There is always the chance that they will consume you.

Paul goes on to exhort us to put on, that is to dress in and have as our defining characteristics, things like mercy.  You know what mercy is.  Mercy is what you want from God on the day you stand before Him and He reviews all your sins.  Let mercy characterise us here and now.  You know what kindness is, it is what you want God to have when you see that you cannot atone for your own sins, or make yourself acceptable to Him.  You know what forbearance is, it's what you want us to have when you say or do something foolish or inappropriate, or even mean.  Be kind to one another.  Let forbearance characterise you.

Look at the way Paul contrasts the old things with the new.  The old is characterised by fornication; the new by charity, love.  The old is given to covetousness, the new is given to longsuffering.  The old is given to wrath and malice, the new is given to kindness, forbearance, and forgiveness.  The old is given to filthy communication, the new speaks in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in the heart.  The old is controlled by inordinate affections and covetousness, the new, and for this we will go back to the very first verse of the chapter, for it is the main point of this whole passage; the new seeks those things which are above.  It has set its affections on the things of God, not of earth (Col. 3:1-2).  It lives in a state of continually mortifying, or crucifying sinful desires, and living for Christ in this life.

I'm trying to say today, that these things of Godliness, things like forbearance, kindness, forgiveness, and love need to become habits in our lives.  They need to become the habitual ways we respond to situations and people in life.  That won't happen unless we intentionally cultivate them.  We must train these things into ourselves until they become habit.  And then we must continually reinforce that training day in and day out for the rest of our lives.  Otherwise we will slip back into the old, unGodly habits of anger, inordinate affections,  and filthy communications.  These old habits are natural to us.  they are like weeds in a garden, they grow naturally, and we have to fight them to control them.  It is Godliness that is foreign to us.  Like flowers and vegetables, Godliness must be planted and nurtured, or it won't grow.  We all know it just takes a couple of weeks of neglect to turn a beautiful garden into a weed bed. Let us not neglect to cultivate Godliness in us.

Today, pondering the doctrine of the Providence of God, we are asking Him to use His power for our benefit.  We're asking Him to keep us from all things that hurt body and soul, which also means to keep us in those things that aid and heal us.  The words of Psalm 86:11 express this prayer well.  Let us close with theme.

"Teach me thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in thy truth.  O knit my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy name."  

2 comments:

  1. Bishop Campbell, thank you for a good work on a most comforting and wonder-filled doctrine. In your opening words, you mentioned that both the term Providence and the practical application has largely, and sadly, fallen out of use in modern theological parlance and praxis.

    I have not done the historical footwork on this point, but I had a brother once suggest that the War for Southern Independence was a turning point. Prior to this, as you observed, it was a common term and beloved doctrine. However, because both sides of the war prayed for and assumed that Providence was on their side and working for their cause, after the gross loss and bloodshed on both sides, people began to question the doctrine and its practicality. Granting your copious reading in both theology and the events surrounding the War, I was wondering if you had heard of or considered this thesis?

    Thanks and blessings!

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  2. I have not considered that. I was referring to the prevailing idea that we make our own destinies, which has been adopted by most Christians. In practical terms, this view makes everything depend on us, rather than us dependent on Providence.

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