May 31, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Whitsun Week

Monday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.139, Rev. 1:17-20, 1 Cor. 3:9-17
Evening - Ps. 105, Jer. 31:31-34, Acts 4:13-22

Commentary, Revelation 1:17-20


Today's passage shows the risen Christ in the midst of the seven churches. These are not symbols of seven ages of the Church, or the Church in different eras of time. They are seven specific and real churches located in the area known today as Turkey in the time frame of the middle of the first century A.D. These churches, with others throughout the Roman Empire, were in the beginning of a time which the Bible calls the tribulation (Rev. 1:9). It was a time of blood. Many would leave the faith, and many more would consider leaving it. Revelation was written to these churches in their time to prepare them for what was coming and to encourage them to stand firm in the faith at all costs.

In the coming chapters our Lord addresses each church with a message that affirms its faith, and also admonishes it for its shortcomings. Obviously our Lord is trying to prepare them for that great Day when they stand before God to give an account of their lives and their works. But there is also a more immediate application of His words. The tribulation is upon them and it is going to grow stronger and more devastating before it gets better. Any church, or Christian, that does not have an undivided, single minded faith will not be able to endure it, and only those who endure to the end will be saved. Thus, they need to get their houses in order. They need to decide here and now where their loyalties lie, and who their God is.

This is the essential message of the book of Revelation. The pictures of the fall of God's enemies are included only to encourage the Church in faith. Empires may rise and fall, attacking the Church like ravenous beasts. They will pass away, and God's true people will abide. One day, they will be cast into an eternity of living death, but the Church will be with God in unimaginable joy forever.

Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 148, Ezek. 36:22-28, 1 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps. 145, Num. 11:6-30, Acts 4:23

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

The Corinthian Church was a troubled church. It was divided and contentious (1:11), carnal, which means the people were still primarily oriented toward the world and their own desires (3:1), proud (4:10 & 18), tolerant of unrepentant sin (5:1), heretical (11:19) and so disunited to God and each other the members went to civil court to settle their disputes (6:1).

In addition, their worship services were horrendous displays of hypocrisy and self-aggrandisement (11:18-34). It is their worship, or, rather, their lack of it, that Paul addresses in our reading for this morning. Heretical worship is the natural result of heretical doctrine, and heretical doctrine abounded in Corinth. The Corinthians were the early leaders in the movement to adapt Christian faith and worship to the surrounding culture. Whether this was done as an intentional attempt to make Christianity more attractive to the pagans, or it was simply that the Corinthian Christians had not fully repented of their pagan past is not known, nor does it really matter. The end result is the same either way, and serves as an important reminder to us today. We cannot cling to our pre-Christain views and practices, and still remain faithful to Christ. We cannot incorporate the practices and values of the world into the Church, and still have pure doctrine and practice. Any attempt to do so makes us just like so many others who have left the Church of Jesus Christ to join The Church of the Accommodation. 1 and 2 Corinthians are not commendations of practices to be emulated, but chastisements of mistakes and sins to be avoided. Corinthians 12 addresses the unifying and edifying purpose of spiritual gifts, making the point that things which do not unify and edify are not spiritual gifts, but manifestations of the carnal spirit which pervaded the Church in Corinth. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to come back together in Christ, and work for the glory of God and the edification of the Church as God calls and enables them.

Today people read this passage and become side-tracked by questions about tongues and spiritual gifts. But these are not the message of this chapter. The message is that no single gift is superior to another, nor do all have the same gifts (12:4 & 10). Tongues, therefore, whatever their nature may have been, were never for every Christian. I believe true tongues were known languages the speaker did not understand, but was supernaturally enabled to speak. Thus, the Corinthian tongues were slightly different from the tongues in Acts, but had the same purpose. I do not believe they were ecstatic utterances. I also believe the Corinthians did not know this, thus they were trying to induce themselves, and others, to have ecstatic experiences in which they babbled meaningless sounds, calling them the work of the Spirit. Such experiences were common among the pagans in Corinth, and the Christians wanted them too. Corinthian "Christians" who had such experiences considered themselves superior to those who did not. This is further proof that their "tongues" were bogus. One of the reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians was to correct their false view of tongues and gifts, thereby restoring Biblical worship in the Church.

Ember Day in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 132, Rev. 4:1-6, 1 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 84, Rev. 4:6-11, Acts 5:12-28

Commentary, Revelation 4:1-6

From the tribulations of the Church on earth the book of Revelation takes us to the throne of Heaven. The difference is tremendous. Here we see God calm and in control of all things. His enemies on earth plan to destroy His Church and establish their own kingdom. But their rants are completely ineffectual. God is not moved. He knows their plots are doomed to failure and He is able to deliver His people.

Why does the book of Revelation show this? Because the persecuted Christians need to see that the attacks of the wicked cannot hurt God or destroy His ability to accomplish His purpose and redeem His people.

This is a message the world desperately needs to hear. Instead of searching this chapter for the "Rapture" let us hear its real message that God is in complete control. He will bring His will into reality, and no earthly or supernatural power can stop Him. He even uses them as it suits His purpose, and easily disposes of them when it suits His purpose. Our God is strong to save. He is unassailable Therefore, lets us keep the faith.

Thursday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 44:1-23, Gal. 5:16-25
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Rev. 6, Acts 5:29

Commentary, Revelation 6

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are familiar themes in literature, and have received much attention from Bible commentators. Recent commentators have interpreted them as the bearers of the wrath of God after the rapture of the Church, but a much older view sees them as symbols of the Roman army's siege and conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The white horse symbolises the pomp and pride of the Romans gloating over their conquest. The red horse is war unleashed upon Jews throughout the Empire, especially Jerusalem. The black horse is the famine that would grip Jerusalem during the Roman siege. The pale horse is death. More than 1.3 million Jews died under Roman hands in this war, which, tragically, could have easily been averted. It was fought for two reasons. First, the Jews refused to live peacefully under Roman rule. The Romans would have gladly allowed the Jews to live in peace. But the Jews wanted the Romans out and Israel free. Much of their desire was political, and some of it was pure bigotry, but many truly wanted the Roman idolatry out of the Holy City. Rebellions were frequent and costly until the Romans finally tired of them and set out to crush the Jews forever. Second, the Romans were the avenging hand of God for the persecution of the Church. It was the Jews who began and encouraged the persecution and murder of Christians. We need only remember the exploits of Saul of Tarsus to understand this. In Revelation chapters 4-11 God brings the rebellious Jews to their knees in tragic and costly conquest and in fulfillment of the words of Christ in Matthew 24.

Ember Friday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 122, 125, Is. 61:1-9, 2 Cor. 3
Evening - Ps. 43, 134, Is. 52:1-10

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 3

Ember Days are times set aside to beseech our merciful Father to call labourers to fields white with harvest. It is no disservice to the intent of the day if we also pray God to bless those already serving in the ministry, and I encourage all reading these words to do so.

Our Scripture readings were chosen for their relevance to this special time of prayer. Isaiah 61 has long been a favourite text for ordination sermons, and was used by our Lord to explain His own work and ministry. He is the Good Tidings. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the means by which our broken hearts are bound, our captivity becomes freedom, and the year of the Lord and day of vengeance are accomplished. On Pentecost the time of fulfillment has come upon us. The promises become reality, and shadows are replaced with Light.

In this "Year of the Lord" He continues His ministry through the Church, especially through men called, equipped, and sent into a unique ministry in the Word and sacraments. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that it is this calling of God and empowering of His Spirit which makes a man a true minister, and only those who continue in the truth have any right to the office.

This has several implications. First, it is not man, but God who makes a man a minister (2 Cor. 3:3-6). I say this because we live in a time when many who take up holy orders are clearly unqualified and not called to the ministry. Many don't even want to be ministers in the Biblical sense. They want to be social workers, activities directors, CEOs, life coaches, philosophers, and agents of change who cast away what Bishop Ryle called "The Old Paths" and usher in their own views of what God ought to do and want and receive. Second, Biblical fidelity is the true test of a minister. A big congregation is no proof of God's calling or blessing. Sadly, more people love to have their ears tickled than hear the Word and worship God Biblically. University and seminary degrees are no proof of calling. Many with walls papered with diplomas, lack even the most basic knowledge of God. "Ordination" is no proof of calling. Many have been ordained by a church who have never been ordained by God. Apostolic Succession is no proof of calling. I rejoice that, as a bishop in the Anglican Orthodox Church, my orders can be traced back to Peter and James. But that same claim can be made by many others, who, based on Biblical standards, should leave the pulpit and take up other work. Presiding Bishop Ogles is fond of reminding his clergy that our true Apostolic Succession is doctrinal, and without doctrinal succession our ministry is invalid. Third, the church must evaluate her ministers by their faithfulness, not their personalities. There is a sense in which many congregations are really personality cults. Remove the personality and charisma of the central figure (the "preacher") and the congregation has nothing to hold it together. One of the wonderful things about the liturgy is that it is independent of the personality of the minister. The liturgy is wonderfully sound and faithful, and it leads us to concentrate on God, not the preacher.

If these things are true, we should be devoting much time to prayer for the Church and her ministers. God grant that we may so do.

Ember Saturday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 19, Micah 3:5-8, 2 Tim 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 111,113, Num. 6:22, 2 Cor. 13:5

Commentary, 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Second Timothy was written from a Roman prison, probably in the autumn of the year 68 A.D. Knowing he would soon give his life in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul wanted to contact and encourage his friend, student, and fellow servant of Christ, Timothy. Timothy has served his Saviour well, but Paul has always been there to counsel and help him. When Paul is gone, Timothy will stand alone in a time of increasing Roman opposition and persecution. As Paul wrote this epistle, Peter was dead, having been executed by the civil authorities in Rome. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he had written the book of Revelation about two years earlier. Many Christians had suffered imprisonment or death for the cause of Christ, while others had deserted the faith rather than face persecution. Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes among many in Asia who had turned away from him, meaning, away from the Gospel he preached (2 Tim. 1:15).

It is worth noting that Phygelus, Hermogenes, and the others Paul mentions were from Asia. In Paul's time "Asia" did not refer to a continent. It referred only to the area later called Asia Minor, and known today as Turkey. This is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 were located, and it was an area of intense persecution. So the Roman oppression of the Church was increasing at the time, and one of Paul's intentions in this letter to Timothy was to encourage him not to fear the opposition (1:7) and to stand fast in the faith, even in the face of persecution and affliction (1:8).

The Church was also under another form of attack. This was an attack far more serious and dangerous than Roman persecution; this was an attack on the Gospel itself. Heresies abounded in the church of that era, most of them growing out of attempts to accommodate the doctrines and practices of the Church to the pagan culture and religions of Rome. Thus Timothy is encouraged to hold fast to the form of sound words he learned from Paul (1:13). We should not allow ourselves to think "form" refers only to a "resemblance," as though the teaching of Timothy (and ourselves) need only resemble that of Paul. Paul is telling Timothy to hold fast the substance of Paul's teaching and also to his expression of it, including the very words of Paul. This should not surprise us, for if Paul received his message from Christ, he would naturally want that message preserved word-for-word. In our day we are seeing a widespread abandonment of the tried and true ways of expressing the Christian faith, and a corresponding adoption the idea that we must continually recast the Christian faith into today's language and cultural patterns. This view has become dear to the hearts of the majority of contemporary churches, yet it seems to be in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture as found in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. A change in the expression of the faith necessarily involves a change in the substance of the faith. How many of our errors in theology and practice might have been avoided if we had simply held fast to both the substance and the expression of the faith once delivered? On this Ember Day, let us remember that the faith is non-negotiable, and let us beseech God to enable us to hold fast the "form of sound words."

May 27, 2012

Sermon for Pentecost

God Our Comfort
Psalm 68, Acts 2:1-11, John 14:15-21
Whitsuntide
May 27, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The message of Whitsunday, or, Pentecost, is God our comforter. The idea of a comforter brings several images to mind. We can think of the sense of comfort the people of ancient Israel felt knowing that the hills surrounding their city made them secure from attack. We can think of the sense of security of a small child embraced in his mother's arms and knowing his father stands, strong and ready to protect him from harm. We can think of the comfort we find in the love of people who love us. We can think of the comfort we find in the love and power of our Saviour, the Good Shepherd, of whom David said, "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." All of these invoke feelings of comfort and security, and remind us that God is our comfort in a way no human person or institution can ever be.

Let's think together about two ways in which God is our comfort. First, He is our comfort in the work of Christ who gave Himself on the cross, that "whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." There once was a barrier, called, sin, that kept us from God. Christ bore our sin in His own flesh, and when His body died on the cross, our sin died with Him. So that barrier is gone. We have free access to God through Christ. And Christ Himself spoke comforting words (we call them "comfortable words" in Holy Communion), saying "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest [comfort] unto your souls." Second, He is our comfort as He dwells in our souls through the Holy Spirit. If you are in Christ, that is, if you truly believe in Christ as He is revealed in Scripture, God lives in you. He makes His home in you, and He brings you into Himself to enable you to live in Him. The great God of eternity, almighty, all wise, all good, all sustaining, lives in you, makes His dwelling, His home, in your being. I have no words to adequately describe such a thing. Every word in every language I know is trite and empty and powerless to express the meaning of this reality. It has to be embraced on a level that is beyond words. Please embrace it.

The Collect for the day is a prayer of thanksgiving for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. God "didst teach" and make us rejoice in the comfort of the Spirit, "through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour," we pray in the Collect. The word, "comfort" comes from today's Gospel reading. In John 14:16 our Lord says, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever." If you look a little further down the page of your Bible you will read in John 14:18, "I will not leave you comfortless." I am going to make a very profound statement here, so please listen intently. Comfort is the opposite of comfortless. There, aren't you glad you have me to explain these intricate theological complexities? But I didn't say that just for a joke. To be comfortless in this world is to dwell in spiritual darkness and despair so deep and heavy it crushes the life out of your soul. Darkness, in this sense means to have no knowledge of ultimate reality, and it means to have no hope of ever gaining such knowledge. It means to have no way of knowing truth or goodness or right morality. It also means to have no way of knowing God, or even if there is a God or not, or whether you're going to Heaven or hell or nothingness. This kind of spiritual darkness is the underlying cause of the despair and angst that grips our world today. Dwelling in darkness, people cannot know whether God exists or not, or what constitutes good choices that contribute to happiness and meaning in life, or if anything "matters" or not. They don't know anything, except that they will die one day, and death scares them because there might be a God and there might be a hell.

Comfortless means to be in spiritual despair because you are left with nothing but your own opinions and experiences upon which to make decisions that will decide your destiny today and forever. Comfortless means to live in the knowledge that any or all of your decisions can be wrong, and probably will be, and there is nothing you can do about it. There is no comfort in this kind of darkness, only an ever widening and deepening whirlpool of despair that will eventually drown you no matter how hard you swim, no matter how good a swimmer you are. Even believing that all people are in the same condition is no comfort. I know people who say they know they're going to hell, but at least they won't be alone. There is no comfort in that. It is only despair multiplied by billions of souls.

But Jesus said He would send the Comforter, and Pentecost is the annual celebration of the arrival of the Comforter of God, the Holy Spirit. The Comforter dispels the darkness and despair I just spoke about. He replaces them with knowledge for He is the Spirit of Truth. He teaches us the things of God. He reveals the truth to us. He gives to us the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of God is life to our minds and souls forever. He dispels our despair by giving the sure and certain hope of our resurrection unto life eternal in the Paradise of God. He enables us to believe. I think this is probably the single, most important work of the Holy Spirit; He makes sense of life for us, He makes sense of God for us, He makes sense of the Bible for us, and then He enables us to believe what He has taught us, so we may receive the gift of eternal life by faith.

Then, the Holy Spirit, comforts us by enabling us to abide in the faith forever. He keeps our faith alive. That doesn't mean it will always be a bright and shining bonfire. Sometimes, I know, it will only be a smoldering ember, barely hanging on. But it will hang on. Isaiah 42:3 says of God, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." There will be times when the trials of the world, the flesh, and the devil will make your faith feel like a smoking flax; like the barely glowing edge of the candle wick after the flame has been extinguished. He won't let it stop glowing. He will keep it alive. He will not quench it Himself, and He will not allow anything else to quench it. He will bring us into that place of unimaginable joy, and we shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever. That is comfort to the soul.

I must make one more important point before I end this sermon. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago marks the beginning of the New Age; not as it is defined by a current fad, but as it is defined in the Bible. It marks the beginning of the end time and the last days; not as they are defined by current pop theology, but as the Bible refers them, as the final era and the last kind of day before God brings this present creation to an end and ushers in the Kingdom of God in complete fullness. It is the character, not the number, of the days that make these the last days. It is the character, not the place on the calendar, that makes our era the end time. You will save yourself much needless grief and prevent yourself from being fooled by those who say they have the return of Christ all figured out if you will simply learn and remember this; the end times are the era in which the promises of God in the Old and New Testament begin to come into fulfillment. The last days are the days when the plan of God for His creation begins to become reality. The Lord is gathering His elect and bringing them into His Kingdom, which is the Church. He is forgiving their sins and making them right with God and with each other. In the fullness of time He will end creation as we know it, and will restore it to its original goodness, populated by people who know, love and obey Him. The details of this plan are hidden in the mind of God, but the knowledge that it is happening is comfort to His people.

So God is our comfort in ways nothing else can be. And His comfort is primarily the comfort of the soul of those who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel" which is the promises of God" declared unto mankind In Jesus Christ our Lord." One of those promises is that He Himself will draw us into Himself and dwell within His people by His Holy Spirit.

"O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

May 20, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week after the Sunday after Ascension

Monday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, Rev. 5
Evening - Ps. 147 - Is. 66:1-13, Acts 2:22-36

Commentary, Revelation 5

The fifth chapter of Revelation is part of a larger section dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It deals with the same issues found in the 24th and 25th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. In this chapter God arises in answer to the prayers of persecuted Christians and begins to accomplish those things "which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). God sits on His throne holding a scroll bound with 7 seals. No one is found worthy to open the seals, and John begins to weep. Why? Because he longs to see God act on behalf of the persecuted churches of Asia Minor. John is imprisoned on Patmos during the beginning of a long and terrible persecution of the Church. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches named in chapters 2 and 3, and he is concerned about them. How are they faring? Are they holding fast to the faith, or are they deserting Christ to save themselves? It was a difficult time for Christians, and it was going to get much worse. All Christians living at the time John wrote Revelation would be dead long before this period of tribulation ended. The seals of the scroll represent God's judgment poured out on those persecuting the Church.

But someone is worthy to open the seals. The Lion of the tribe of Jesse has overcome the world by giving His life as a Lamb slain, and is worthy, by virtue of His absolute righteousness, to open the scrolls and let the judgment begin. He is worshiped as God, and there is no doubt that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome once by submission to death on the cross. Now He overcomes by conquering and judging His enemies.

Tuesday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam 7:18, Rev. 11:15
Evening - Ps. 57, Is. 26:1-7, Acts 2:37

Commentary, Revelation 11:15

The readings from Revelation this week were chosen because they show the Lord Jesus Christ risen, ascended into Heaven, and reigning as King of His Church. In these chapters we see Christ ruling His people, and also defending them as any good king would do. He is engaged in a deadly war with the forces of evil which want to destroy His people. So we, the Church, are not merely spectators in this battle, we are combatants following our King into the fray.

Revelation 11 is the conclusion of one battle in this war. Chapter 4 shows the beginning of this battle, and the first 14 verses of chapter 11 reveal the enemy. It is that city "which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). "Spiritually" means symbolically or figuratively. So the city is not literally Sodom and Egypt. Obviously Sodom and Egypt are not the same physical place, and Egypt is a nation, not a city. The city is the one in which Christ was crucified, Jerusalem. The city is demolished in 11:13. Like the name of the city, the earthquake is also symbolic It refers to an invading army that is so powerful and destructive it is like an earthquake. It symbolises a conquest so complete and devastating it is as if a powerful earthquake has struck. This city has been in a great tribulation throughout this section of Revelation. In chapter 11 it finally falls. The city is Jerusalem and the earthquake is the Roman army. Chapters 4-11 tell of the Roman siege and conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Today's reading shows those persecuted by the city rejoicing that their enemy has been defeated. This is a bitter-sweet victory, for the holy city has been destroyed, including the Temple and countless people. The oppression of the Church by this city has been ended, but at tremendous cost. But the true Israel, not Israel in name only, but in true faith, remains. It has become the Kingdom of our Lord who is shown in His glory as the conquering hero. This is but the first of many conquests as His army and Kingdom advances through history. Thanks be to God many will be conquered by grace instead of judgment.

Wednesday after Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 21, 23, Is. 4:2, Rev. 19:11-16
Evening - Ps. 33, Is. 25:1-9, Acts 3:1-10

Commentary, Revelation 19:11-16

Revelation 19 is the conclusion of a section that began with chapter 13 and shows the destruction and defeat of the great beast of Revelation. This is the same beast found in Daniel 7:7-8, and it represents the Roman Empire, which at the time John wrote the book of Revelation, was beginning a 200 year persecution of the Church. The Roman Empire is also signified in the double image of the beast and the harlot in Revelation 17, where it is pictured as drunk with fornication (idolatry) and drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:2 & 6). Rome is called "Babylon" in Rev. 17:5, as it is also in 1 Peter 5:13.

The Empire is defeated by the beginning of chapter 18. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen," calls the other angel coming down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-2), and her fall is lamented by many who shared her sin and reveled in her evil (18:11-19). But those who suffered under her wickedness rejoice (18:20). Chapter 19 portrays the rejoicing of the righteous over the Lord's conquest of Rome (19:1-6), and the contrast between the great whore and the pure Bride of Christ (19:7-8). The Bride's exaltation is so great and her deliverance from her enemies is so wonderful, John is moved to fall at the feet of the person showing these things to him (19:10). But the person forbids this, and John is shown heaven opened and Christ, who is called Faithful and True, riding a white horse and followed by His armies going forth into the earth. Here the Lord smites the nations with the sword of His mouth, which is the Word of God (19:15). He rules the nations with a rod of iron and treads them in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The "nations" are not just political entities; they are the masses of unbelievers who continue in rebellion against God and in persecution of His Church. They shall fall as surely as Rome.

But, thanks be to God, some will be saved. The Word of God is a fearful Word of Judgment to those who refuse Him, but a welcome Word of Grace to those who receive Him in faith. Thus, we see in Revelation 19, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords advancing through the earth, establishing His Kingdom and bringing all things under His rule. Many will be defeated by His wrath, but many will be won by His grace.

Thursday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Kings 2:1-15, Rev. 21:1-8
Evening - Ps. 72, Is. 9:2-7, Acts 3:11

Commentary, Revelation 21:1-8

Revelation chapters 1-19 have shown the conquest of Jerusalem and the fall of the Roman Empire. Though history to us, these events were far in the future when John wrote the Revelation. But chapters 20-22 leap into events that are future to us also. Chapter 20 shows the Millennial Age, and also the fate of the wicked on Judgment Day. They have followed Satan, the great deceiver, they have resisted God, and they have persecuted His people since Cain killed Abel. Now their end is come upon them and they follow the deceiver to his doom, and theirs. Chapter 21 shows the future happiness of the Church. Here we see God bring the days of earth to an end and bring His people to their eternal bliss in a new heaven and earth (21:1). "New" means a new and different kind of heaven and earth, for the old is passed away. In verse 2 we see the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of peace. She comes as a bride adorned for her husband. This city is a symbol of the Church (Rev. 19:7-9), but it is also a symbol of God. In it God and His people dwell together in perfect unity and joy. All the suffering of earth, the persecutions, the disease, the sorrows and tears are wiped away by God Himself. They passed away with the old earth. There is no place for them in the new.

Thus God says, "It is done" (21:6). Not done in the sense of being ended, God is telling us His great work is now fully accomplished. All enemies have been put under His feet. The corruption and decay of the physical creation has been ended. The Church has been gathered unto Him and lives in Him literally, face to face. All of the promises and hopes of His people have been fulfilled, and all of the plans and purpose of God have been brought into their fullest possible state of being. The story, the work of redemption is completed, but the state, the condition of redemption is a present reality forever and forever. Everything the Bible tells us about exists in absolute fullest perfection in Rev. 21:6. It is hard to put this into words, for we use superlatives to describe things that are meaningless in comparison to what God is doing in this verse, but it may not be too much to say "It is done" are some of the most important words in all of Scripture.

Verses 7 and 8 take us back to the first century Christians to whom Revelation was first addressed. But the words apply to all Christians of all times. Who will dwell in the New Jerusalem? Who will see the fulfillment of everything he has prayed for and longed for since the day he first knelt at the foot of the cross and gave his heart to Christ? "He that overcometh." He shall inherit these things. They are for those who overcome the world through faith. They are for those who overcome their enemies by remaining faithful to Christ. They are for those who live for Christ at all times and at all costs. They are not for those who turn back. They are not for those who call themselves Christians but live like the devil. They not for the unfaithful. They are for those who are faithful to the end.

Friday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 115, Is. 35, Rev. 21:19
Evening - Ps. 116, 117, 2 Sam. 22:32-51, Acts 4:1-12

Commentary, Revelation 21:19

"It is done." These words in Revelation 21:6 are at the very heart of the Biblical message. Everything that comes before them, from Genesis to this very verse is about God working to bring His people and His creation to this point of fulfillment and accomplishment. Everything that comes after them expounds and elucidates them. David Clark called chapter 21 the "watershed that divides time and eternity," and verse 6 the consummation and climax of the long process of redemption. Writing of this passage, Jonathan Edwards said, "God created the world to provide a spouse and a kingdom for His Son: and the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, and the spiritual marriage of the spouse to Him, is what the whole creation labours and travails in pain to bring to pass."

In Ephesians 1:10 we learn the purpose of God in creation. Why did He create the world and put up with sinners, and even come to earth and die to save them? He did so for one purpose, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him." In Revelation 21:6, "It is done." God's purpose is accomplished fully and perfectly.

Verses 9-27 show the wondrous happiness of God's Church in that era of "the fullness of times." It is the bride of Christ, the Church that is described in these verses. She is the New Jerusalem, the great and holy city descending out of heaven from God, "having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious" (21:10-11). References to jeweled walls and streets of gold symbolise the glory and joy of the Church in Heaven. Chief among her joys is the absolute presence of God. In the age of fulfillment the Church literally dwells in Christ and He in her. There is no need for Temple or church buildings, which are symbols of the presence of God. Our communion with Him will be full and complete forever when, "It is done."

Saturday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 81, Zech 8:1-23, Rev. 22:1-17
Evening - Ps. 46, 133, Deut. 16:9-12, Rom. 8:12-18

Commentary, 22:1-17

The 22nd chapter of Revelation shows the conclusion of God's work of redemption. In this chapter, the world has ended, the enemies of God have been defeated, and the Bride of Christ has been presented to Him in whom she dwells in everlasting joy. The sorrows of earth are passed away to trouble her no more. Sickness, death, and persecution, all aspects of the curse, are but as a shadow that has passed and is no more. Fears, doubts, and questions, have passed also. In that New Jerusalem we know even as we are known.

How this vision must have comforted the churches of Asia Minor. How it must have strengthened them for the tribulation they endured. But, as important as this picture of their future bliss must have been, it was also important for them to know God was already at work, already bringing this great redemption into being. "Behold, I come quickly" (21:7) does not refer to the Second Coming, but to Christ coming to His people to answer their prayers and to begin the work of their deliverance. They are not told to wait until the end of time; they are told their Saviour is even now at work to deliver them and accomplish His purpose for them. And this work, now begun in them, which seems so small compared to worldly powers, will bring them, and all of God's Church, to the glorious fulfillment shown in this chapter.

This completes the great work of redemption. We have seen the end, the goal, the complete fulfillment. We have seen the Church go from a small band of persecuted outcasts to the very pinnacle of honour and joy. We have seen her enemies judged and punished, but, more importantly, we have seen the great victory of our God. His purpose was not defeated in Eden. Rebellion in the house of Israel did not prevent His victory. The rejection and crucifixion of Christ Himself did not defeat our God, for it was His own plan that Christ should die, and it was by His obedience unto death that He overcame the world. The empires of the world, great and mighty in their own eyes, appearing to the Church as powerful and terrible in their relentless tribulation of the Church, cannot stand before the power of God. He sweeps them away with ease. Jerusalem has fallen. Mighty Rome is crushed. God has marched through history, extending His Kingdom and vanquishing His foes until all enemies are put under His feet and He alone is known to be King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns forever and ever. Not even the devil is able to resist His power. God uses Satan as it pleases Him, and, when the time comes, destroys him with ease. Thanks be to God, many of His enemies are conquered by grace. They have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and they will live in Him forever.

Even in this vision of the end, the Bible thrusts us back to our own time with the invitation to come and drink the water of life (salvation) freely. This is an encouragement to those already in Christ. It tells us to abide in Him, to remain faithful to the very end, no matter what the cost. It tells us to seek and love God with all our heart, to make disciples of all nations, and to contend for the faith once delivered. Stand fast in the evil day. Never retreat. Never bow to any "beast," for your cause is Christ's cause, and "He shall reign forever and ever."

This is also an encouragement to those who are yet in rebellion and sin. The Day of Judgment is coming. Christ's enemies will not enter into His Kingdom. The joys of the New Jerusalem are not for them unless they repent. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Sermon for May 20

God Exalted
Psalm 21, 1 Peter 4:7, John15:26
Sunday after Ascension
May 20, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Sunday after Ascension has two major themes. First is the exaltation of Christ. He came to earth in deep humility in which He was "touched by our infirmities." He knew hunger, thirst, weariness, and what it means to live with the constant knowledge of the inevitability of death. He even knew death; not just death, but the horrible death by torture of crucifixion. He knew all of this by experiencing it Himself, yet He lived in complete righteousness without sin. His resurrection is His victory over His enemies. Men and devils did their very worst to Him, yet He rose from the grave as easily as we rise from our beds at morn. But the Ascension is His exaltation. The Ascension is His return to His place in Glory, His ascent to His Throne. The Bible talks about Him as being seated at the right hand of the Father. This is the place of highest honour and glory. There is no award or prize or honour anywhere to compare with this, for it means He is recognised and received by God as God. He will remain on the throne of glory until His enemies are subdued forever and the whole creation honours Him as Lord and God. He came to earth as a Servant. He returned to Heaven as God. Thus, the exaltation of Christ is the first theme of today's message, and it is the reason we remember the Ascension of Christ.

Expectation is the second theme of the Sunday after Ascension. We, who belong to Christ live in the expectation of His return. The words of the Apostles' Creed are no mere words to us; they are the expression of a conviction that is at the core of our faith; "The third day He rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." The Nicene Creed gives His Return more emphasis, saying, "He shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end." 1 Peter states that "The end of all things is at hand." His words refer to the Return of Christ, when He will end the physical universe of material, space, and time as we know and understand it. All will be changed, rolled up as a scroll, consumed by fire, and replaced by a new cosmos and a new earth in which we shall walk with Christ by sight rather than by faith. For He will be with us, and we will be with Him in Paradise. This is a major part of our expectation today. We expect these things to happen just as we expect the earth to make a complete revolution every twenty-four hours.

In the mean time we live in another expectation. We live in the expectation of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. When Christ spoke the words recorded in John 16 and 17 the Holy Spirit had not been given in the same sense that He came on Pentecost. So the men who were soon to become Apostles were being told to expect the arrival of the Spirit. The Spirit would be their teacher, leading them in the truth and enabling them to understand those things Christ had taught them during His three year ministry and during the forty days after His resurrection. It is incredibly important for us to realise that our Lord did not just leave earth after His resurrection. He stayed with the disciples for an intense time of instruction in the doctrines and practices He intended them to teach and establish in His Church. One of the most important aspects of the work of Christ on earth was the formation of the Church, which the Bible calls both His Body and His Kingdom. He gave instructions about the organisation, structure, doctrines, practices, and sacraments of the Church, and He commissioned the disciples to become the Apostles, to found the Church and to establish it firmly upon the teachings and directives He gave. And we clearly see in the New Testament and in the Post Apostolic era that the Church worshiped liturgically and was led by bishops, presbyters, and deacons.

The Holy Spirit is given to the Church. I do not mean to imply that individual Christians are not baptized in the Holy Spirit. That would be like saying a house is built of clay bricks but the individual bricks have no clay in them. But the Spirit is given to the Church and lives in the Church. This is an important point because many people have separated themselves from the Church while claiming to have the Spirit, or, even to be led by the Spirit to leave the Church. It is sadly true that most of the organisations that call themselves "church" are very far from the teaching and practice of Christ, and all true Christians must "come out from among them." Likewise, all true Christians must align themselves with the true Church whenever possible, even if they have to be the only member of the parish in their area and communicate with the rest of the Church by mail or internet. But all true Christians endeavour to be active members of the true Church.

But these points are asides. The real point I want to express today is this; all who are in the true Church by faith in Christ, have the Holy Spirit. There is no need to speak in tongues, or work miracles as "proof" that you have been "baptized in the Spirit." Growing faith, diligent use of the means of grace, and holy living are the proofs that you are in Christ's Spirit, and Christ's Spirit is in you. Therefore, we expect the Holy Spirit to lead us into the things of God through the means of grace. You can expect the Holy Spirit to lead you into the Bible, lead you into private prayer and public worship, lead you into the Church, lead you into the sacraments, and lead you into God. This is part of our expectation today.

There is yet another, and very important expectation we remember today; the return of Christ for us. I do not refer here to the Second Coming. I refer to the moment when we pass out of this material world into the world where spiritual things are more real to us than material things are now. I refer to that event we call death, when our souls go into the immediate presence of God and we see with our own eyes the glory and love and power and grace of the Almighty as He welcomes us into His presence forever. This is our expectation as we gather before Him in worship on this Sunday after Ascension.

"O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen."

May 13, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week after Rogation Sunday

Monday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 104, Dt. 8:1-11, 17-20, Mt. 6:5-17
Evening - Ps. 34, Dt. 28:1-14, Jas. 1:1-17

Commentary, Deuteronomy 8:1-11

The days between now and Ascensiontide are called Rogation days because they are set aside as days of prayer. Rogation comes from a Latin word meaning to ask or pray, and we certainly have much to pray about at this time. As those in the Northern Hemisphere move toward summer, farmers are busy planting the crops and raising the animals that will feed us in the coming winter. Here, in Virginia, the spring hay crop has already been harvested, corn is nearly a foot tall, and the wheat is turning a golden brown. Vegetable gardens are thriving, promising good things to those who care for them. Naturally, agriculturally oriented societies spend much of their Rogation prayers asking God to bless their herds and crops so they will have the food they need. In more industrial societies people ask God to bless them with "honourable industry." Surely, as the Prayer Book reminds us, all can pray for sound learning, pure manners and to be saved from violence, discord, confusion, pride, arrogancy, and every evil way. Of course, it is important for those in industrial societies to remember that they, too, depend on the fruit of the earth for their sustenance. Therefore let them pray earnestly for good weather and a bountiful harvest. Floods and drought have already affected much of the world's food supply this year. Let us beseech God to deliver us from them, lest there be shortage and need.

Our reading in Deuteronomy 8 reminds us that our prosperity comes from God. Not only does He send the sunshine and the rain, He also "giveth thee power to get wealth" (Dt. 8:18). The land and soil are His creation. Our faculties of mind and thought are, also. It is He that enables us to harness the elements of nature and turn them to the benefit of humanity. The point of this passage is simple; "remember the Lord thy God" (8:18). The fruits of the earth and the inventions of industry are His gifts. Let us always value the Giver of all good things, more than we value His gifts.

"Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth; We beseech thee to pour forth thy blessing upon this land, and give us a fruitful season; that we, constantly receiving thy bounty, may give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

~Collect for The Rogation Days

Tuesday after Rogation Sunday
Lectionary

Morning - Ps/ 80, Dt. 11:10-17, Mt. 6:24
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, 1 Kings 8:22-30, Jas. 4:8

Commentary, Deuteronomy 11:10-17

Egypt was dependent upon the Nile for water. Having very little rainfall, the land was watered by an annual flood. Attempts were made to create reservoirs and canals to catch and direct the water after the flood receded, but this required much physical labour. The method used required people to stand knee-deep in irrigation ditches for hours, directing the water by building mud dams with their feet. Obviously this was difficult and unsanitary work.

By contrast the Promised Land was watered by rains. There were a few natural lakes, such as Galilee, but the rains came with fairly dependable regularity, saving the residents the unhealthy work of building canals and ditches. This is the point made in our reading for this morning. Canaan "drinketh water of the rain of heaven (Dt. 11:10). It is a land cared for (watered) by God. Therefore the Hebrews entering Canaan are not to think they made the land fruitful by their own labours, or that the idols of the Canaanite tribes send the rains and give the increase.

It doesn't take much thought to see the application of this to our prayers for a fruitful season. We are recognising that it is not we who created the soil or cause the rain, and we are beseeching Him to mercifully send the sunshine and the rain so the earth may yield her fruit and we may live in plenty. But there is a warning in this passage, too. There is to be no turning aside (11:16) meaning to leave the ways of God and take up the ways of ungodliness. Nor are they to worship the gods of the Gentiles (11:16). If they do, the Lord's wrath will be kindled against them like a wildfire, and the rains will cease and the people will perish (11:17).

Applied to the Church today, the passage shows that turning away from God brings judgment upon us. The Spirit of God withholds His blessing, and spiritual drought becomes a nightmarish reality.

Wednesday after Rogation Sunday

Ps. 144, Jer. 14:1-9, 1 Jn. 5:5-15
Ps. 93, 99, Hosea 9:1-7, Lk. 24:44

Commentary, Jeremiah 14:1-9

Yesterday's reading in Deuteronomy was a call for obedience and a promise of blessings. Today's reading in Jeremiah is a prayer for deliverance from the wages of sin. In Jeremiah, Israel has entirely deserted the Covenant of God. Every kind of evil flourished in Israel as the people turned from God and embraced the self-indulgent paganism around them. Everything God warned them to reject, they embraced. Everything God told them to embrace, they rejected. But most of all, they rejected God. Many still went through the motions of serving God. They kept the services and ceremonies of the Covenant, but they would not keep God in their hearts.

So, all the blessings of the Covenant were taken from them. Instead of the rains, God gave them drought. Instead of plenty, God gave them scarcity. Instead of spiritual fulness, God gave them spiritual emptiness and drought. Clearly God is willing to punish us for our sins. This is true of individuals and churches. But it is also true that God hears the prayers of those who repent. May God "leave us not."

Thursday after Rogation Sunday, Ascension Day

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 96, Dan. 7:9-14, Eph. 4:1-6
Evening - Ps. 24, 47, Is. 33:5-6, 17, 20-22, Heb. 4:14-5:10

Commentary, Daniel 7:9-14

Daniel 7 records a vision of Daniel, which parallels a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. In this chapter, the Jews have been conquered by the Babylonians and are living in captivity in Babylon. Daniel's vision foresees four world empires, followed by the advent of the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. The empires are represented by beasts, and they rise from the sea, which represents the Gentile nations. Each empire gains control over the Middle East, but each is in turn dominated or conquered by the following empire as they rise to power, fall into decay, and are overcome by a new power. Babylon, Mede, Persia, Greece, and Rome are the empires represented. Babylon is represented by the lion, Media by the bear, Persia by the leopard, and the Greco-Roman Empire by the fourth beast. We will meet the fourth beast again in Revelation 13-18, where it still represents the Greco-Roman Empire and culture.

The important point in Daniel 7, and Revelation 13-18, is the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. Seemingly small and weak compared to empires with symbols like bears and leopards, His Kingdom remains as the others rise and fall. It will conquer the fourth beast. Its citizens will come from all over the world. His Kingdom will never end.

Friday after Rogation Sunday
Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 15, 108:1-5, Rom. 8:31
Evening - Ps. 20, 29, Is. 12, Acts 1:12

Commentary, Acts 1:12

The book of Acts rarely receives the attention it deserves, and what attention it does receive is often limited to passages referring to speaking in tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is unfortunate because the book of Acts is really about what happens after the promised Redeemer accomplishes the salvation so long awaited by a dark and broken world. It is about the advent of the era of fulfillment, when the promises of a new world and a new community and new people will dwell in a new Covenant relationship with God. In Acts we see the new order inaugurated on the earth. We see the era foretold by Micah begin to take visible form upon the earth (Micah 4:1-7). We see the Kingdom of God reach into the world, bringing people into it and into God.

The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the founders of the Church were the Apostles. It was they who walked with Christ during the days of His flesh. They were taught by Him, and from Him they received the doctrines and practices of the Church. Christ taught the Christian faith to them, they, in turn, taught it to the Church and recorded it in the Scriptures under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we see in tonight's reading the calling of the twelfth Apostle. Judas, having betrayed our Lord and fallen away from Him, was never an Apostle. That calling, by Divine appointment, went to Matthias (1:26).

Now the stage is set. The Messiah has accomplished His redeeming work; the Apostles are restored to the intended number, and the people are waiting in one accord and in prayer (1:14). Everything is ready for the revelation of the new era, the Kingdom of God on earth.

Having noted the Apostles as the founders of the Church, let us remember that this in only true of them from the perspective of human agency. They were the human agents used by God to found His Church. In reality, of course, they were simply agents. "Instruments" or "tools" might be better words to describe their position, for the real founder of the New Israel is God, and the book of Acts is not really about the Acts of the Apostles; it is about the continuation of what Christ began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). What Jesus began in His earthly ministry is now continued by the Holy Spirit through the Church. The book of Acts records His continuing work.

Saturday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.45, Gen. 49:1-2, 8-10, 2 Thes. 2:13
Evening - Ps. 8, 98, Jer. 23:5-8, Acts 2:1-21

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21

The second chapter of Acts records an event of monumental importance, which most people miss when reading it. They miss it because they focus on the signs instead of the event. They become bogged down in questions of whether the tongues were known languages or ecstatic tongues of angels. They become concerned about whether they should speak in tongues or not. We should know, for our own peace of mind, that the tongues were the languages of the people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and that tongues have ceased and been superseded by the New Testament. Too many people today are trying to recreate the experiences of the people on the day of Pentecost, and too few are trying to see and understand the event signified by them.

The event is so momentous it is difficult to put into words. Let us begin by saying it is the event toward which the entire Old Testament looked. It is the event for which the Old Testament people waited and prayed. It is the event for which Christ came to earth and died on the cross. It is the event toward which all of Scripture points. That event is the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ's blood. It is the beginning of the New Age of the Messiah's Kingdom. It is the dawning of the day of the reign of Heaven on Earth. It is nothing less than the beginning of the Kingdom of Christ. In this New Age, God is bringing all things together to ultimately place them under the rule of Christ. You remember from Ephesians that this is God's goal and purpose for this universe. It was created, as we were created, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). This has been God's purpose from the beginning of our universe. It will one day be fully accomplished. On that Day His enemies will be cast out, and His Church will be gathered home to Him forever. The future element of this reality does not reduce its presence in the here and now. For even now that Day is breaking into the darkness and sorrows of our sin sick world. Even now God is gathering things together under Christ.

So, it is not tongues, but the advent of the Kingdom of the Messiah that we are to see in tonight's reading. The passage from Joel is quoted by Peter for one purpose. That purpose is not to say that visions and prophetic dreams are now the norm. That purpose is to say that the thing signified by those signs is now here among us in its wonderful and dreadful reality. The visions and dreams and tongues were but signs that the Day of the Lord is dawning. Therefore, our goal is not to have visions or speak in tongues, it is to enter and dwell in the reality of the presence of God.

May 11, 2012

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 146, 149, Num. 24:22-25, Heb. 13:17

Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Is. 55, Eph. 6:10

Commentary, Hebrews 13:17

Today we complete this journey through the book of Hebrews. The book has constantly kept our minds on Christ. It has shown us from the start that Christ is the supreme and final revelation of God, and that we can only come to God through Him. Having shown us that Christian Jews are to leave Judaism as surely as Christian Gentiles are to leave their former religion and come into the Church, verse 13 encourages us to not only join the Church, but also to honour the leadership and structure God has placed in it. Being a Christian is not a life of splendid isolation, and those who proclaim that the Church age is over have seriously misunderstood the Bible. The Church is the Body of Christ and abides with Him and in Him now and forever, and, as long as we abide in this world we are not to forsake her services (Heb 10:25).

Furthermore, the Church is not anarchy. It has structure and organisation, which includes men called to shepherd and teach the flock. Every person in the Church is a servant of Christ, and, in that sense, is called to minister to the body. Some are ordained to a unique ministry of teaching and preaching the word and leading the Church for the perfecting of the saints and the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:11-14). Thus we are told to "obey them that the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (Heb 13:17). We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that when they give an account of their ministry among us it will be a joyful report of our progress in Christ, not a sad report of our refusal to follow them. We are also to pray for our ministers to have a good conscience and live honestly (13:18). A minister's authority is not absolute. He is not the Shepherd, he is an undershepherd. The flock does not belong to him, it belongs to Christ. So he only has authority to lead the flock according to the clear teachings of God as revealed in Scripture. Hebrews ends with an exhortation to honour the ministers of the Church, and a greeting from Christians in Italy.

May 10, 2012

Friday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Friday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 143, Num. 14:1-10, Heb 13:9-16
Evening - Ps. 130, 138, Is. 54:11, Eph. 6:1-9

Commentary, Hebrews 13:9-16

We are nearly at the end of the letter to the Hebrews. Tomorrow’s reading will close our study of it for now. Typical of St. Paul’s work, Hebrews closes with doctrinal references and applies them to the daily life of Christian faith. Verses 9-16 show how Christ, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, relates to Jewish Christians. They make it clear such Christians must leave Judaism and come into the New Israel, which is the Church. “Strange," (13:9) means alien, and not in accord with the Gospel of Christ. “Diverse” means shady and questionable. The words refer to teachings that encourage people to continue in the Old Testament ceremonies, especially the dietary laws and sacrifices. Such things are no longer required for the Christian’s heart is established by grace, not with diet and sacrifices (meats) that cannot make us holy. Strange and diverse doctrines also refer to Gentile teachings that deny the Gospel. Anything that is not of Christ is a strange and diverse doctrine. This verse is especially applicable to us today, for many run after anything that appears exciting and new, readily abandoning the way Christians have believed and practiced from the beginning. This tendency usually leads to apostasy and theological shipwreck. Verses 10-12 refer back to Christ as the One who makes us holy by His blood, apart from anything we could ever do or offer.

13-16 are the conclusion and point of this section, and also serve to summarise the entire book. Verse 13 states it well, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Using the fact that Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (13:12), and Moses met God outside the camp, verse 13 says Christianity must also go outside (without) of Judaism. No more are we to keep the Jewish ceremonies. Our sacrifices are works of kindness and thanksgiving, not animals (13:14-16).

May 9, 2012

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 132, Num. 13:17-33, Heb. 13:1-8
Evening – Ps. 145, Is. 54:1-10, Eph. 5:15

Commentary, Hebrews 13:1-6

This morning’s reading brings us into the closing paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews. Having taught us about the nature and work of Christ, the Apostle now encourages us to be diligent about the everyday things of living for Him, especially in our relationship with one another in the fellowship of the Church. The theme of today’s reading is Christian love. Because Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him, and His people, and our love shows itself in the way we live (13:1). In love we entertain (show kindness and mercy to) the needy. We give aid to those being persecuted for the faith, and to those suffering adversity (13:2-3). We conduct ourselves honourably in the home and keep ourselves sexually pure (13:4). We conduct ourselves honourably towards one another’s possessions, not coveting, but being content with what we have, especially since we know we have the presence of God with us, and promises of the Gospel for our inheritance (13:5-6). We conduct ourselves honourably toward those called by God to minister in the Church (13:7-8). We remember that they have authority from God to preach and lead the Church, and we will treat them with due reverence as they lead us according to the Scriptures for our good and God’s glory. The end of their conversation, meaning the goal and the result of their ministry, is to bring us into Jesus Christ (13:8).

May 8, 2012

Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 128, 129, Num 12, Heb. 12:18
Evening – Ps. 135, Is. 52: 1-12, Eph. 5:1-14

Commentary, Hebrews 12:18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29 further compare and contrast the law given at Sinai with the Gospel given at the Heavenly Mt. Sion in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. The giving of the law showed the inability of man to enter into the presence of God. Everything about the giving of the law showed the absolute holiness of God and the absolute unworthiness of man. Even Moses trembled with fear at the presence of God (12:21). But those coming to God through the sacrifice of Christ come unto God with confidence that, though they are sinners, God accepts them because Christ has made them acceptable through His blood.

The consequences of transgressing the law were terrible. Even an animal accidentally touching the Mountain of God was to be killed (12:20). Likewise, the consequences of transgressing the New Covenant of the Gospel are terrible. And if people could not escape the consequences of breaking the Old Covenant given at Sinai, no one will escape the consequences of breaking the Covenant in Christ given in Heaven (12:25) for our God is a consuming fire (12:29).

Since, therefore, we are given, in Christ, a promise and Kingdom that cannot be “moved,” “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

May 7, 2012

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 124, 126, Num. 11:4-32, Heb. 12:1-17
Evening – Ps 121, 122, Is. 51:12-16, Eph. 4:17

Commentary, Hebrews 12:1-17

The people of Hebrews 11 now become a great cloud of witness. Their witness is first one of watching us who are now running our race. The word picture given in Hebrews 12:1 is of the stadium with athletes on the track running a race. Those who have already finished their courses now witness those on the track, cheering and encouraging them. Second, they are those who bear witness to the absolute reliability of God. They show that God was faithful to them; thus, we can expect Him to be faithful to us. Third, and more importantly, they are witnesses as examples of living by faith. In this sense, it is we who are doing the watching. We watch them run their race by reading about them in the pages of Scripture. By their example, we learn what it means to live by faith in our generation, as they lived by faith in theirs. Fourth, and most importantly, they are witnesses in the sense of one who tells another about Christ. They lived in the promise of Christ. They looked forward to that great Day when the Son of God would appear on earth and accomplish His great work of Redemption.

Still using the analogy of the athletic arena, Paul encourages us to lay aside anything that will hinder us from running the course. As the athlete lives an athlete’s life of training, diet, and dedication to the sport, the Christian lives a Christian’s life of self-discipline, prayer, worship, Bible study, and purity, trusting God just as the people in chapter 11 also trusted Him.

In verse 2 we see Christ as our example. As the Author of our faith it is He who begins it in us. As its Finisher, He brings it to completion. He brings us into faith and into God, by enduring the cross. He was called to be our Saviour, and He was true to that calling unto death. He endured the cross and the shame to gain the crown. He ran His race. He completed the course. We who would be His must also be like Him. We must not allow our faith to grow weak. We must not give up. The passage goes on to say our trials have the effect of chastening us. We should no more expect a life without trials than a father without chastening. Trials, then, are not a sign that God has deserted us, but that He loves us and is guiding us in His ways and growing us in faith.

To desert the faith over trials is to be like Esau (12:15-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. How little he valued the calling and grace of God. A bowl of stew was worth more to him. As he gave his birthright away, and was unable to regain it, so the “Christian” who turns away from Christ and returns to habitual and intentional sin, will be unable to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, though he seek it with tears.

Sripture and Commentary for Monday after Fourth Sunday after Easter

Monday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 110, 114, Num. 10:29, Heb 11:32
Evening – Ps. 111, 113, Is. 51:1-11, Eph. 4:1-16

Commentary

The people of Hebrews 11 did what they did because they believed God. Following the leadership of God, some were healed of disease, and some died horrible deaths. It is impossible for us today to say to another, or to ourselves, that God will heal us, or give us whatever we ask for, if we only have faith. God deals with us according to the counsel of His own will, and promises us that it will work to our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose. Our task is to trust and obey, no matter where His will takes us, no matter what it brings to us, either blessings or trials. Verses 36-38 especially make this point.

This roll call of the faithful is intended to show two things. First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (11:1). We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders. We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences. We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.” Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.

Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (11:39-40). Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament. But that light only gave shadows of the Promise, which is Christ. We live in the days of the Promised One. He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation. The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall. Yet they lived in faith. Yet they followed God, even at great cost. We have seen the Light. We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ. Let us therefore walk in faith also.

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."