August 7, 2011

Monday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Morning - Ps.75, 76, 1 Sam. 8:4, Lk. 13:1-9
Evening - Ps. 73, Dan. 4:4-5, 10-18, Acts 22:30-23:11


Nebuchadnezzar has had another dream. Like his first, this is not an ordinary dream, and he believes it is a divine message. As with his first dream, the leaders of the religions of Babylon are unable to discern the meaning of the dream. This is a critically important point leading to two possibilities. First, maybe the dream is not a message from the divine, although, if that were true the astrologers and wise men should have been able to tell the king so. Second, maybe it is a message from the divine, but the Babylonian religious leaders are not being told what it means. This leads to the conclusion that they are not sufficiently connected to the divine to understand what it is saying in the dream. In other words, their religions are not really just different ways of worshiping the same God; they are about completely different gods, and those gods are not there. Thus, they are completely disconnected from the Living God. It is very important to realise that we are not free to change God in order to make Him more acceptable to us, or to confuse Him with the gods invented by human imagination. We must take God on His own terms. It is we who must conform to Him, not He who must conform to us (see Jn. 14:6).

In verse 8, Daniel comes to the king, and is immediately welcomed into his presence, for the king knows Daniel is profoundly connected to the divine. I am using the word "divine" because the king, while recognising the reality of the God of Daniel, does not recognise Him as the only God, nor does he believe He is the only God who inspires Daniel (4:8). He probably believes his dream has come from Bel, high god of the Babylonian religion, and assumes the God of Daniel is subservient to Bel. Thus, he calls Daniel according to the name of his (Nebuchadnezzar's) god, Belteshazzar, and the reference to the high God in Daniel 4:2-3 probably refers to Bel rather than God. It seems apparent also that Nebuchadnezzar considers Daniel one of the prophets of Bel (4:9).

Though Nebuchadnezzar recognised the reality of the God of Israel (Dan. 2:47) he never forsook the idolatry of Babylon, so his references to Bel are not surprising. His brief recognition of God serves as a warning to all who take faith in God lightly. Many a person, seemingly converted in the warmth of a strong sermon or church service, is found among the unbelievers again in short order. Many a church member, whose faith appears strong while he is under the influence of a caring church family or minister of the Word, fades back into the world when that influence is removed. Many who once appeared to be faithful student of the Bible are now found among its critics and skeptics.

Tonight's reading ends with the king's order to Daniel, as a prophet of Bel, to interpret the dream. Daniel obeys, but it is not a prophet of Bel who gives the meaning of the dream. It is Daniel, whose name means, "God will Judge," who addresses the king in the name of God.

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Trusting God to Give What Is Best
Romans 6:21-23
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
August 7, 2011

"Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of they great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

I know of nothing outside of Scripture itself, which summarises and expresses what we are trying to do in this season of Trinity as well as the Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity. Our intention is to show how the doctrines of the Christian faith apply and relate to us in everyday life. We spent the first half of the year in the great doctrinal teachings of the Bible. We marveled at the revelation of the nature and purpose of God. We saw again why the world is in such a mess, why God created us, who Jesus Christ is and why He came to earth to live and die and rise again. We learned a little more about the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, about faith and sin, and repentance and Heaven and Hell.

We spend the second half of the year, which we call, Trinity Season, emphasising our response to God's revelation in the Biblical doctrines. We are looking at the teachings of Scripture and asking the question Francis Shaeffer asked in the title of his book and film series, "How Should We Then Live?" But we are not just asking the question for open discussion. We are asking it specifically of the Bible, for, just as it is in the Bible that we find the revelation of these great truths, it is also in the Bible that we find their meaning and application to us. So we are not just asking for human opinions about life, we are gratefully listening to the voice of God for His direction in life.

And what is God's answer? What is God's purpose in giving His revelation in Scripture? It is more than simply showing us how to get to Heaven. So much of the teaching and preaching and efforts of the Church have been limited to showing people how to get to Heaven. "Where will you spend eternity?" has been our primary question to those outside of Christ. It is difficult to fault the Church for this, because it is the single most important issue in all of human existence. But I think real evangelism does more than just tell people how to get to Heaven. Real evangelism leads people into the things of Christ, not just a mansion in Heaven. True evangelism aims at making disciples, learners, and followers of Jesus Christ. It leads them into all the things we have studied in the first half of our cycle of prayer. It tells them about the great God of Heaven who is perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and preserver of all things, one God, three person, of one substance, power, and eternity. It tells them they were created to enjoy and glorify God. It tells of the Fall into sin and of sin's dreadful consequences to life in this universe and to the souls of human beings. It tells of a love so profound it would not leave us in our sins, but actually became a Man and suffered in Himself the consequences of our sins and paid the price of our reconciliation to God. It tells of a new life, a life that actually begins to live in harmony and fellowship with God here and now on this earth. So we are not just telling people about a philosophy or moral system or simply a way to avoid Hell; we are telling them about the giver of all good things who is able and willing to graft in their heart the love of His name, increase them in true religion, nourish them with all goodness, and keep them in these things forever. As last Sunday's Collect says, we are telling people about the One who" hast prepared for those who love Him, such good things as pass man's understanding."

This is what Romans is talking about when today's reading tells us the gift of God is everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is what Christ was showing us when He fed the four thousand with a few pieces of fish and bread. He is able to nourish our souls as fully as He satisfied their physical hunger.

There is a question in Romans 6:21, that often gets overshadowed by the great words of Romans 6:23, "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." That question is, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" What was the result, what was the fruit that those "things" brought to your life? The Bible is talking about "things" that go against the will and nature of God. In other words, it is talking about sin, and it is saying sin has results in our lives, and it assumes that we are now ashamed of those sins we once thought were the means to happiness and meaning in life. The end, the result, the fruit of sin in our lives, is death. "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22). The fruit of the life of sin is the death of the soul because sin kills the soul as surely as poison kills the body. But the fruit of being in Christ is holiness and everlasting life. That means to be in God now and forever.

We were created for friendship and fellowship with God. I don't mean to say God is our pal. He is not our "good buddy in Heaven." But He is a friend in the fullest and highest sense of the word because He shares Himself with us and enables us to live in Him and know Him and love Him. He is our best friend because He gives us that which is best in all things. He gives us happiness and peace and joy and love that are so full and so wonderful we can't even begin to imagine the infinite splendor of them. He gives life so wonderful it can be described as walking in heavenly places, or even better, as dwelling in the very heart of His love.

So we come to an important point: let us desire Christ to give us all that God offers. Maybe we should say, let God give us all that He offers. Let me say that again; let God, let God, let God give us all that He offers. I say, "let God" because I think we are often guilty of refusing the things He wants to give us because we want other things He may not want to give us. We refuse what He wants to give because we don't trust Him, and because we don't believe what He wants to give is better than the things the world gives. We're afraid He will require us to give up some of our little indulgences. We're afraid He won't take care of us and provide for us. But mostly we're afraid we'll miss out on the pleasures of life, and that the things He wants to give us will not be as rewarding as the pleasures of the world. We need to repent of this sin of unbelief. We need to trust God. Let us not just trust, but also beseech Him to feed our souls us with all good things, and keep us well supplied in them forever. This is what we ask Him to do when we pray:

"Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of they great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.