March 11, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent Sermon

Our Gracious Lord
Ephesians 5:1-14, Luke 11:14-28, Psalm 34
Third Sunday in Lent
March 11, 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.

The emphasis of the Third Sunday in Lent is God our defender. We see this in the Collect for the day, which asks God to defend us from our enemies. Ephesians 5 shows many of our enemies, meaning the sins that place us under the wrath of God and kill the soul. Luke 11 shows our great enemy the devil, who holds the ungodly in prison in his house. He is the strong man armed, but Christ is the One who is stronger than the devil, who conquers the devil and releases his captives. Psalm 34 is about God's defense of David when he was forced to seek safety in Philistia.

Psalm 34 is a preacher's dream because God has done all the work. All the preacher has to do is follow the outline God has provided. That outline has two major points, which can be stated clearly and grasped quickly. First, God is worthy of our worship. Second, God blesses those who seek Him, while those who reject Him reap desolation of the soul.

So let's talk about how God is worthy of our worship. The Psalm begins with a joyful statement of praise to God. "I will always give thanks unto the Lord; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." When David wrote this Psalm he had already been anointed to become the king of Israel. Yet Saul, the reigning king hated David and sought to kill him. So David had to flee for his life and he sought refuge in the land of one of Israel's most malevolent enemies, the Philistines. The king of the Philistines would have killed David, but David pretended to be crazy, so, instead of killing him, the Philistines just sent him away. In this Psalm David is rejoicing and giving thanks to God for delivering him out of the hands the kings of Israel and Philistia. But the Psalm rises above the blessings of one man to express the gratitude of all who recognise the grace of God in their lives. Instead of the specific circumstances of David, the Psalm talks about the grace of God to all His people, and invites us to join together in His love and worship. "O praise the Lord with me, and let us magnify his Name together."

Why would anyone want to "magnify," or, worship, God? First, understand that by "worship" I do not merely refer to the things we do together in church on Sunday. What we do here is important. It is so vitally important that a person who habitually neglects worshiping in a Biblical church on the Lord's Day has strong reason to seriously doubt the validity of his faith. We are not to forsake the assembling, the meetings of the Church for worship, commands Hebrews 10:25. Knowing this we think of our Lord's words in John 14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," and the even more direct statement in John 14:21, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me."

By worship I mean more than daily prayer and Bible reading. Encouraging daily private and family worship is very important to me. It is my goal to have every member of our parish joining our fellow Anglicans around the world, and many who aren't Anglicans worshiping daily in the Prayers and the Scriptures. We Anglicans are blessed to have the Lectionary of daily Bible readings and the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and I rejoice that many of you are already partaking of these blessings. I rejoice because I know that, by them, your souls are fed daily by the word of God; your knowledge and understanding of the Bible is increasing; and you are being shaped in your innermost being by the things of God. You are being built up and strengthened in Christ, and God, who is worthy of all love and worship, is being honoured in your life and home. But worship is bigger than this. The worship of which I speak is a total life orientation that brings all of life together under the Lordship of Christ and does all things to the glory of God. It is this kind of worship David invites us to in this Psalm. And our reason for worship is the goodness of God given unto us. For example, He hears our prayers. "I sought the Lord and he heard me." Lo, the poor crieth, and the Lord heareth him." "The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth them." It ought to shock us to hear that the One who upholds Heaven and earth, who created all things for His glory, cares about you, so much that He is willing to give you His attention, and hear your prayers. And He acts on your behalf. He answers prayer. "He delivered me out of all my fear." "They who fear him lack nothing." "They who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good." "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart, and will save such as be of an humble spirit." There are many reasons to worship God, but these are certainly among the best.

The second point of this Psalm is the contrast between the worldly and eternal situations of those who worship God, and those who don't. Let's look at those who don't first. Two verses express their fate. They are short, but they speak volumes. Verse 16 says, "The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth." We have all seen weeds in gardens and lawns, and we all know people who spend much time and energy rooting them out. Picture their efforts, and see God doing the same to rid His creation of those who do evil. God is digging down into the earth and pulling out the wicked by their roots. That is the meaning of this verse.

Then, verse 21 tells us, "misfortune shall slay the ungodly." Misfortune refers to the natural forces of life. Sickness guilt, grief, loss, loneliness, sorrow, and the natural wear and tear on the body brought about by ungodly living will accompany them throughout this life, and finally bring them to an end. It would be bad enough if that were all, but the Bible talks about an eternal living death; an eternal existence in a place of everlasting suffering, a place where all the problems and natural consequences of life are multiplied and suffered forever. It is to dwell in a place where you keep on sinning and keep on reaping sin's bitter fruit.

Now let us turn to the condition of those who seek God. I am compelled to say at the start, that seeking God means seeking God His way, which means according to His revelation and teaching in the Bible. There are many ways to seek God, but only one way to find Him. In fact, finding Him means to give up on all your own ideas and attempts to find and define God, and to accept His Way. Those who do this are the ones of whom the Bible speaks when it says, "seek and ye shall find."

One of my favourite verses in the Psalms is Psalm 19:11, "in keeping of them there is great reward." It refers to the law of God as the revelation of the way to live a harmonious, peaceful, and happy life. The harmonious, peaceful and happy life is simply the result of living life God's way. I know we live in a fallen world and people hurt us, economies go bust, illness strikes us, and death stalks us every day. Even this Psalm recognises that troubles come to us. It was persecution, not justice, that forced David to flee for his life. Many things are beyond our control and we just have to trust God with them. But if we put what we can control under the Lordship of Christ, we find that the more closely we approximate life by His commandments, the better life is, and the further we get away from them the worse life is. That is the point being made in Psalm 34:12, if you want to live and see good days, if you want to live in a way that brings rewards and joys and avoids many of life's heartaches and sorrows, live for God. Keep your tongue from evil. Let your words build people up rather than cut them down. Speak truth instead of lies. Put away evil and do good. Wage peace. This kind of life is its own reward.

But God is not merely helping us get through this world. God is using this world to prepare us for Heaven. Thus verse 21 says, "The Lord delivereth the souls of his servants." There is a land that is far more glorious than we can imagine. It is so glorious even the Bible can only describe it in images like streets of gold and a house full of mansions. But the Bible doesn't have to use images to tell us we are going there, if we are Christ's in Biblical faith. "I go to prepare a place for you," our Lord said in John 14, and, "if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there ye may be also." This is what God is about in the lives of His people. This is what God wants for you. This is what He gives to all who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel." Truly the Lord is gracious, and "blessed is the man that trusteth in him."

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