June 24, 2012

Sermon, June 24, 2012

The daily readings and comments are found after the sermon this week. Blessings,

God of Mercy
Psalm 98, Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 1:57-80
Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 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.

June 24 is known as the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This is not because it is about John, though it is good to remember and honour those who have gone before us in the faith so that we may follow their good examples. Rather it is about the God John served, which is the proper focus of any remembrance of such faithful people. What was it that made John great among men? It was his fathful service to God.

For this reason the Collect for this day asks God to enable us to learn the teaching and emulate the holy life of John. The Epistle is the well-beloved passage of Isaiah 40:1-11, which encourges us to make straight the highway of our God. Yes, it originally referred to the return of the Jews from Babylon, but it applies easily to us in the twenty-first century Church. Let us make straight the highway of God that we, and others, may come to the heavenly Jerusalem by His grace. The Gospel reading is Luke 1:57-80 and includes the "Song of Zacharias" after John was born. This is a tremendous passage of Scripture which reminds us that John was sent to make straight the highway of God, to prepare the way for the Messiah by announcing His arrival and by calling people to make His way stright in their hearts by repenting of sin and getting serious about being the people of God as He directed them in the Scripture. People often wnoder what it means to make straight the highway of God. Here is the answer: repent of sin and get serious about being the people of God. This is all embodied in the word, "faith." faith is the way you make straight the hiway of God.

Pslam 98 addresses many of the same truths expressed by Zacharias as he, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke his prophecy, which, by the way, is an excellent example of what prophecy was in the early New Testament era before it ceased due to the completion of the Bible. We no longer have prophets or new prophecies because we have the Bible, but if we did, this is the kind of thing they would say..

Zacharias said in Luke 1:72 that God was preparing to perform the mercy promised to the fathers, and Psalm 98:4 says God "hath remembered His mercy and truth toward the house of Israel. Both passages speak of deliverance from enemies, peace with God, and the knowledge of salvation, making the Psalm an excellent choice whenever we remember the work and mission of John the Baptizer.

Psalm 98 can easily be seen to convey two primary points. Both are stated plainly in the first verse; "Sing unto the Lord a new song," and "He hath done marvellous things." In verse 2, the Psalm moves into a rehearsal of the marvellous works of God. It is interesting that the Psalm passes over the work of God's creation. Nor does it speak of the Law of God. Psalm 98 goes directly to the throne of grace in its proclamation of the mercy of God in the salvation of His people.

At first glance, we can see that the Psalm is about a great victory over some kind of wordly trouble. It may have been a victory in battle against human enemies. It may have been delievrance from something like illness or drought. It may have been, as I believe, the deliverance of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C. But what they are delivered from is not mentioned because the important thing is that they were delivered. God delivered them. It was as though He reached down from Heaven with His own right hand and secured His victory and saved His people.

It is no wonder this Psalm is chosen for the day we remember John the Baptizer. For John himself told us of the One who gained the ultimate victory for Himself, and, in so doing, saved His people, not from mere war and pestilence, but from the wrath of God. In becoming a man, dying on the cross, and rising again Christ fulfilled every detail of the first four verses of Psalm 98. I encourage you to open your Bible later today and, reading this Psalm, think about the way Christ accompished these things.

The second point is, "sing unto the Lord." It is an invitation to those who have tasted the grace of God, to honour God. "Show yourselves joyful unto the Lord... sing, rejoice, and give thanks... Praise the Lord." The Psalm is not talking here about some ecstatic or emotional experience. It is talking about the praise and thanksgiving of faith, and holiness. Our "new song" is a new life of believing God and obeying His commandments. That is why we pray at the Communion Table that we may ever hereafter serve and please Him in newness of life. It is why we beseech Him every morning and evening to "give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The Psalm ends with a vision of the whole earth united in the worship and love of God. Even nature joins the chorus as the floods clap their hands and the hills are joyful to God. It may be that here, as in other places in Scripture, the sea represents the Gentile nations (see Rev. 13:1), but here they are not fighting Israel, they are joining her in God's love and mercy (see Rev. 13:1). This vision is being fullfilled even now. For we are part of those Gentiles invited into the Church of God, forgiven of our sins and made heirs with Israel of the promises of God. In Christ we are forgiven of our sins and restored to God's blessings. All of His grace and love are ours to enjoy now and forever. This was a major part of the message of John. He was not the Light; he was not the Christ. He came "to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe" (John 1:7). All people have the opportunity to believe and be saved. It is not limited to the Jews alone, or to the religious alone, or the good alone. It is not for men only or Americans only. It is for all people. For "whosoever believeth in Him" will not perish in the eternal death of hell, but has everlasting life with Him in heaven (see Jn. 3:16).

"Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repsent according to his peaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truths' sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

June 23, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Third Week after Trinity

Monday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Judges 5:1-18, Lk. 6:39
Evening - Ps. 84, 85, Neh. 5:1-13, Acts 13:44-14:7

Commentary

The Covenant of God includes duties to Him and to other people of the Covenant. We see this easily in the Ten Commandments, for the first four are about our relationship with God and remaining six are about our duties to one another. People are not called into an individual Covenant with God; we are, and always have been, called into the Community of the Covenant. It is within this Covenant Community that we are baptized, instructed in the faith, worship God on the Lord's Day, and celebrate the feast of Holy Communion. In fact, every aspect of our lives, as a man or woman of God, is lived within the context of the community of faith. In the New Testament era this community is called the Church, which refers to both its universal and local manifestations. In the Old Testament that community was called Israel, or, by the time of Nehemiah, Judah. One of the problems with the Jews who remained in Shushan, Babylon, or Egypt, is that they were no longer functioning within the Covenant Community. Even if they formed synagogues and kept the ritual law in these lands, they were still branches severed from the vine. The Jewish community was not to be scattered, nor were its people to be dispersed into groups in distant lands. They were to be a vital, living part of the community in the land God had given to them. Likewise, today, Christians are to be vital members of the community of faith. But, unlike the Jews, we are called to go into all the world. We are called to infiltrate every nation with the Gospel. Those who respond in faith are received into the universal community through the local part of that community, the local church.

Received into that community, we now are under obligation to it. We are to give ourselves to its instruction, leadership, and discipline. We enter into the spiritual discipline of prayer, Scriptures, fellowship, sacraments, and worship of the Church. When we fail in this discipline, the Church, through its ministers, has authority to call us back, and to exclude those who will not return.

In the fifth chapter of Nehemiah, the Jews have neglected their Covenant obligations to one another. Rather than working together as brethren in the Lord, some have been profiteering from the scarce food supply caused by a drought. They have sold grain at exorbitant prices, taken land and homes away from their brethren in exchange for food, and even enslaved their neighbor's children as payment. Others stole to feed their families, while still others sold their land for food. All of this was in direct violation of the Law of God and the Covenant duties of the Jews toward one another. Nehemiah verbally chastises them for treating each other so. He clearly sees this as a religious issue (rather than a social issue), in which the people are breaking the Covenant with God.

This is a good place to state that the laws of the Covenant Community do not always apply directly to those outside of it. The land of Israel, for example, was given to the Jews as their heritage, and could not be taken away from its owners except under very limited circumstances, and even then, only for a specified number of years. But this does not preclude buying and selling and investing in land by Gentiles, nor does the action urged by Nehemiah mean any person is necessarily owed food and support. Much harm has been done by well meaning people who have tried to apply Covenant Community obligations to people, business and nations that are not part of the Covenant. Socialism, communism, and government re-distribution of wealth are sad and costly examples of this.

Nehemiah urges the Jews to restore what rightfully belongs to others, and to deal charitably with the poor through voluntary charitable activities. He shakes dust from his robe with the prayer that God will shake out of the Covenant everyone who does not fulfill his Covenant duties.

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.89:1-9, Judges 5:19, Lk. 7:1-10
Evening - Ps. 90, Neh. 8:1-12, Acts 14:8-18

Commentary

Tonight's reading covers an event so significant in the life of the Jewish people it is worthy to be equated with Passover, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the Law at Sinai, and the moral/spiritual revival of Godliness in the time of Josiah the king. The event is the mass gathering of the Jewish people to hear the reading of the Law of God on one of the feast days called for in the Old Testament called the Feast of the Trumpets (Num. 29:1). The people have gathered in the street because the Temple could not hold them, and they have gathered to hear again the words of the grace of God, and the life to which they are called. To this point, the revival of the Covenant in Jerusalem has been sporadic, and based upon general knowledge and memory, rather than direct contact with the Scriptures. The people knew they were to offer sacrifices, so they did. They knew they were to rebuild the Temple, so they did. They knew they were to dwell in and possess the land, so they rebuilt the wall. All of these efforts were aimed at returning to God and being people of the Covenant again. They were good and necessary things, but apart from the Word of Scripture, they lacked unity of purpose and direction. The people worked from memory, not daily experience with the revelation of God. All of that changed when Ezra read the Bible to this great and solemn assembly in Jerusalem. This day is a return to Scripture.

The people had built a pulpit, a tower for this purpose. It was tall enough for Ezra to be seen by all the people, and all were silent as he ascended the steps. All of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were there. People of great age who had built the new Temple stood beside children. Young families with infants stood beside grand parents.. All were quiet. All were intent on the proceedings. All who were old enough to understand realised this was a momentous occasion.

When Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood, for they had been kneeling in prayerful stance. Verse 6 says Ezra blessed the Lord. This is the traditional, liturgical blessing said when the books of the Law, called the Torah, are opened in the Temple or synagogues, as it has been said for thousands of years. It is sung by the priest and followed by the amen of the people, also sung in a manner very much like the amen at the end of a hymn today. The "amen" is the people's assent and commitment to the prayer. In it they affirm their assent to the meaning of the prayer, and beseech God to grant their request, or receive their thanksgiving and worship. It is as to say, "Let it be so, O Lord."

The gathering was so large it was impossible for Ezra to be heard by all. So, at strategic places throughout the area, other priests were stationed. Watching Ezra, they simultaneously mounted their pulpits, turned to the same passage of Scripture, read the same words, and gave the prepared instruction on the meaning of the text. So, throughout the city the people heard the Word, prayed, and worshiped as one. It has been nearly 150 years since the liturgies and readings of the day have been publicly conducted by the Jewish people as a whole in Jerusalem., and it is a moving experience. It is another step deeper into the Covenant, another step back to God. And this time, it is the Scripture, not memory, which guides them.

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, Judges 6:1-35, Lk. 7:11-17
Evening - Ps. 104, Neh. 9:5-15, Acts 14:19

For seven days the people gathered as one in Jerusalem, and each day Ezra and the priests read and expounded the Law of God to them. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this. These people were returning to God. They were returning to the Bible. For hours each day they heard the Bible read and explained. Ezra probably started with Genesis and read straight through the five books of Moses, called the Torah, or Law. The significance of these books is that in them God invites the Jews into His Covenant, promises many great things to them, and tells them what they must do as their part of the "bargain." Basically, their part is to receive pardon from sin, and be led into a new and better life with God as their God. God forgives their sins and wraps them in His everlasting love, gives them a land in which to dwell, and shows them how He is to be known and worshiped. They are the receivers in all parts of this Covenant. Even their obligations to love God above all else and serve Him in Godly worship are more like blessings than duties. It is light and life to the soul to know and serve God. The knowledge of Him is eternal life; His service is perfect freedom. The Jews were re-learning this during these days in the Scripture, and in learning them, they were re-dedicating themselves to being God's Covenant people. It has been many generations since something like this has happened in Jerusalem. Most of the Jews' history is the story of their departure away from the Covenant and returning to idolatry and other sins. Times like this are rare, and noteworthy, and comparable to the Reformation in their scope and significance.

A very important part of this time is that, as the people heard the Covenant read and explained, they realised how far they and their ancestors had fallen short of it. More accurately, they realised that they and their ancestors had simply and intentionally rejected the Covenant, and that Covenant breaking was the habitual direction of their individual and corporate life. Their confession was no blanket statement. Fully one fourth of the day was filled with hearing Law, and one fourth spent in deep and honest confession (Neh.9:3). This is the kind of confession I wrote about during Lent, and the reader is urged to go to www.lifeinthescriptures.blogspot.com and read again of the nature, meaning, and process of true repentance. We notice that the first day of the reading of the Law was an occasion of great gladness. But now the Law has convicted them of their sin, and they are gathered to hear it in sackcloth and ashes, the garb of great sorrow before God. On the first day they rejoiced and celebrated. Now they confess sin and fast in their shame. I dare say the Church of our own time could benefit from such time in the Word of God, and that it would do much more good than most of the programs and "revivals" found in many churches.

Nehemiah 9:5-15 begins a sermon, probably written by Ezra and preached by the Levites who aided him in the preceding days. Having spent the morning hearing the Word read and the afternoon in prayer and fasting, the Levites return to the pulpits with this sermon, which they preach simultaneously at various places to enable all the people to hear. The sermon continues to the end of the chapter and recounts their history from the call of Abraham (Abram) to their present hour. Verses 5-15 retell the call of Abraham and the Exodus, emphasising the grace of God in choosing Israel and blessing them as His people.

Thursday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 94, Judges 7:1-8, Lk. 7:18-35
Evening - Ps. 111, 114, Neh. 9:32, Acts 15:1-12

Commentary

Tonight's reading continues the sermon begun in Nehemiah 9:5. The sermon is basically a short summary of the history of the Jewish people in light of the Covenant of God. I encourage you to include verses 16-31 in your reading because they shed important light on the conclusion drawn in verse 33, "Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly." This conclusion is continued in verses 34 and 35 which confess that kings and people, and even the priests of Israel have not kept the Covenant, "neither turned they from their wicked works." Because of their sin the people are servants in their own land (36). They are not a free and independent nation, they are part of the Persian Empire and subject to its king. They are forced to pay taxes to support Persia (37).

It is not just their ancestors who have sinned, the present generation is just as guilty (37). They have not kept the Covenant. The days of hearing the Law read and expounded to them have shown them how far they have strayed from the Covenant. So they are confessing their sin and turning back to God, turning back to the Covenant He made with them. Verse 38 is the beginning of a list of Jews who intend to keep the Covenant. These people have made a covenant to keep the Covenant.

This is a tremendous occasion. It represents a true desire to be a Jew in heart as well as ethnicity. The signers of this covenant will not be satisfied with only the outward forms of the faith. Their hearts and lives are now devoted to God, and they intend to serve Him by keeping the letter and the spirit of the Covenant.

Every Christian has made a covenant to keep the Covenant. I do not mean we have promised to offer sacrifices and move to Jerusalem. We have become keepers of the Covenant as it is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. We have confessed our sins and trusted in Him as our peace offering and atonement sacrifice to God. We have returned to Him and now dwell in Him and live a new life in Him in which we keep His commandments, and love His people.

Friday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 102, Judges 7:16, Lk. 7:36
Evening - Ps. 116, Neh. 13:15-22, Acts 15:31-21

Commentary

The Jewish people have seen a wonderful revival among them. They have seen the Holy City go from a decaying ruin to a secure fortress with royal protection. They have seen the Faith of the people revived, and they have seen the people return to God and to His Covenant. There has been much confession and repentance of sin, for as they heard the Law read and expounded they became mournfully aware that their ancestors had turned away from God, and their people had rejected the Covenant. They found that it was not only their ancestors who had sinned against God; they themselves were guilty. They had forsaken God. They had rejected the Covenant.

Their repentance was not in word alone. They matched their words with their deeds, keeping both the letter and the spirit of the Law of God. They rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. They offered the sacrifices in faith. They kept the feasts and the fasts according to the Covenant God had made with their forefathers. They returned to the Bible and made it their rule and guide in life again. The revival is almost complete, but not quite. The first verses of Nehemiah 13 show that some of the priests were allied with the enemies of God and were giving the Levites' portion of the tithes to Tobiah (1-10). This was remedied by Nehemiah (11-14).

In tonight's reading we see that the Jews still had problems with the Sabbath. The Sabbath is about much more than going to "church" or refraining from work and worldly amusements. It was about honouring God, trusting Him to provide for physical needs, and finding joy in Him.

It honours God by devoting a full day to His service. Everything else is set aside to seek and honour God on the Sabbath. It recognises Him as God, as Lord, and Master and Owner of all things, especially the lives and property of the Jewish people.

It trusts God by putting their prosperity into His hands. Instead of spending the day working on their homes and earning a living, they spend the day with God. This means they are trusting Him to provide for them. Instead of working the farms and crops, they trust them into the care of God for the Sabbath. This also means they are seeking God instead of following an endless pursuit of the world's goods. Working seven days a week would enable them to cultivate more land, raise more crops and flocks, make more money, and become more prosperous. Devoting the Sabbath to God meant they had to be satisfied with less money, and live a simpler life. It also showed them that some things are more valuable than more money, and the Sabbath Day was reserved for those things; for God, worship fellowship, and family.

Keeping the Sabbath instead of spending it as "a day off" for personal pursuits and worldly amusements is also an act of faith which finds its joy in God instead of worldly things. It is not a day to play; it is a day for God. The joy of the Sabbath was the worship and service of God. These are lessons the Church of today desperately needs to learn and practice.

Nehemiah could force the Gentiles to stay away from Jerusalem on the Sabbath, but he could not make the Jews honour the Sabbath in their hearts. That had to come from within them by the grace of God.

Saturday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.107:1-16, Judges 10:17, 11:29-40, Lk. 8:1-15
Evening - Nehemiah 13:23-31, Acts 15:22-35

Commentary

We learn from Nehemiah that faith is much more than external rituals; it is a Covenant life with God that includes an inward disposition of the heart. The Covenant life is expressed in the Covenant forms. In the Old Testament those forms consisted of being part of the nation of Israel, worshiping God in the prayers and via the Temple sacrifices, and rituals, and the much deeper sense of love of God above all, and living in peace and active good will with the Covenant people. In the New Testament the forms are prayer, Scripture, public and private worship, and the other things by which God draws us into Himself. In both Testaments, the outward forms without the inward disposition are meaningless. Going forward in a crusade, Confirmation, church attendance, and Holy Communion are not the end of faith, whole hearted Covenant life is. Whole hearted covenant life is fed and accomplished through the outward forms of prayer, worship, and the other means of grace, so the heart and the forms feed and strengthen each other, and both are essential parts of the Covenant life.

We close our study in Nehemiah with the lesson that we cannot truthfully live the covenant life without honouring God in our home life. No matter what our station in the home, we are to devote ourselves to it without reservation. The Jews had not done this. They had intermarried with people who worshiped other gods and followed other values. This weakened the Jewish home. It made an essential part of the Covenant community a non-covenanting part. It robbed the Jews of the blessings of a Godly home. It robbed the children of the blessings of being raised in the Covenant. It undermined their faith, and led them into the sin of idolatry. In a similar way, marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever robs the Christian of a Christian home, robs the children of the strong foundation a Christian home provides, and robs God of another Covenant family.

The Jews saw this in their own city. Children of the mixed marriages were a combination of Jew and pagan. They had pagan ways and values that opposed and negated those of the community of faith. Through them, the pagan ways were infiltrating the Covenant community. They were a major impediment to the return to the Covenant. They even threatened to lead the Jews back into compromise and idolatry as Solomon's wives had done. Their presence in Jerusalem shows that compromise was already happening.

June 18, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary for Week of the Second Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.48, Joshua 1, Lk. 4:42-5:11
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Ezra 7:1-28, Acts 11:18

Commentary, Ezra 7:1-28

The previous chapters of the book of Ezra have given a short history of those Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Its primary purpose is to recount the events and circumstances leading to the completion of the new Temple. Chapter seven begins the history of the ministry of Ezra in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, or, 458 B.C. He is shown to be a priest whose ancestry can be traced to Aaron, brother of Moses (1-5). He is also a ready scribe (7:6) who was educated in the law of God (theology), earnest of heart to keep the law as a Covenant child of God, and skilled in teaching the Scriptures to the people (7:7-10).

Ezra probably had not even been born when the first band of captives left Babylon for Jerusalem 78 years earlier in 536 B.C. His parents had remained in Babylon, where he had learned the Scriptures and the work of the priest. But his heart yearned to see the Jews dedicate themselves to keeping the Covenant of God, and, for this purpose, he was willing to sacrifice a promising career in a place of wealth, for the dangers and uncertainty of an impoverished and backsliding Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was backsliding. It had been 57 years since the Temple was completed, and most of the generation which had worked on it had passed away. Their children and grandchildren were sinking back into the paganism that had plagued the Jews for so long and tried the patience of God to the point of allowing the Babylonian Captivity. Ezra is being sent by God to call the people back to God once again.

Verses 11-26 contain a copy of a letter sent to Ezra from the king of Persia. Verses 27-28 show the priest's joy that God has moved the king's heart to such kindness toward the Jews. In verse 28, Ezra gathers influential Jews together who will support and go with him on his mission to that city which should have been missionaries from it into the world.

Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 49, Joshua 3:1-7, Lk. 5:12-26
Evening - Ps. 50, Ezra 8:15-36, Acts 11:19

Commentary, Ezra 8:15-36

Life has become good for the Jews in Babylon. Freed from their oppression, they have become productive citizens of the city, often rising to great heights in social and financial status. Living in the capitol city offered many advantages. It was heavily defended, so the probability of conquest was remote. It was wealthy and offered many ways to make a very comfortable living, and it tolerated a relaxed approach to faith that appealed to many Jews. It was far removed from the demands and dangers of the frontier type of existence of those in Jerusalem. Yet, Ezra longed to leave it for the Holy City. He longed to call the people back to God, and help them re-establish themselves as the Covenant people of God. Having the letter from Artaxerxes, Ezra has gathered influential people who are prepared to go with him. On the shores of the River Ahava, as the pilgrims stop to take stock of their people and resources, a shocking discovery is made; no priests have come. No priests were willing to face the hardship and danger. No priests were willing to leave the comfort of well-paying synagogues in Babylon. No priests were willing to do that which they were called to do, serve in the Temple in Jerusalem (8:15). By the grace of God this problem was solved, and 258 priests joined the caravan for Jerusalem (8:18-20). The articles and money for the Temple was put into their care, and the caravan travelled without military escort to Jerusalem (8:22).

Their entrance into Jerusalem was received with great joy. They and the people recorded the money and articles brought for the Temple (8:33) and a great day of worship was observed. It is noteworthy that the sacrifices were all given as burnt offerings and sin offerings. They were not eaten by the people, but devoured by the fire of the altar as acts of faith, confession, and dedication to God.

Wednesday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 57, Joshua 4:1-8, Lk, 5:27
Evening - Ps. 61, 62, Nehemiah. 1, Acts 12:1-24

Commentary, Nehemiah 1

The book of Nehemiah is often misunderstood; therefore, it is usually ignored by Christians and clergy. When it is studied it usually becomes the foundation for lessons and sermons about proper planning, wise use of resources, and effective leadership. But Nehemiah is about much more than building projects or good management. Nehemiah is about being the people of God. In Nehemiah we finally see the Jews return to Jerusalem, determined to be the people of God.

Like Ezra, Nehemiah was not among those who returned to Jerusalem after the Jews were released from Captivity. Born outside of Judea, he lived in the capitol of the Persian Empire, Shushan, where he was the king's cup bearer. His job was to ensure that the king's wine was not poisoned, meaning he had take a large drink of it before handing it to the king. If he lived, the king would drink the wine. If he died, the king hired another taster.

It in was the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, or about 445 B.C., that Nehemiah heard from recent visitors to Jerusalem that the city was still in moral, spiritual, and economic decay (1:3). More than 90 years after Cyrus released the Jews, freed them to return to Jerusalem, and even gave them money and protection to rebuild their city and Temple, the city was still in shambles and apostasy. The brief revival that occurred when Haggai and Zechariah encouraged them to rebuild the Temple and return to the Covenant of God had burned out, and the people had returned to ungodliness and unbelief. Ezra moved to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., and a brief revival of the old faith ensued. But 13 years later (445 B.C.), when Nehemiah enquired about conditions in Jerusalem he received only bad news.

How could Nehemiah expect otherwise? The poverty stricken Jews in Jerusalem were surrounded by enemies, and had given up attempting to follow God. But what about the Jews who remained in Babylon and Persia? Had they not abandoned the call and Covenant of God? Had they not traded God for the "good life" in lands of ease and plenty? Had God called them to dwell in Shushan and Babylon and Egypt? Was their dwelling place optional? Or had God called them to dwell in the land He gave them, and be His people there (1:9)? It seems the people who had not returned to Jerusalem were equally as guilty of breaking the Covenant as the people in Judea. They were shirking their calling. They were concerned with their personal comforts rather than the will of God. Nehemiah finally realised this in verses 4-11. He had been concerned about Jerusalem, from the safety of Shushan. But he suddenly realised his concern was phony, a pious cover-up to ease his conscience for forsaking his calling and duty to God. His prayer was a prayer of confession and repentance as he accepted his guilt, and determined to go to Jerusalem.

It is not difficult to find applications for this passage to the Church and Christians of today. Many in the Church are simply names on the roll, not serious about being the Church of Jesus Christ. Others sit in comfortable pews of churches, where the demands of the Bible are ignored, and just enough of the Bible is kept to give the appearance of Christianity. To leave their comfortable pews and face the sacrifices and challenges of a real Church is unthinkable to them. Still others forsake the Church entirely. They call themselves Christians, and may be on a church roll, but their affection for God and His people is done from a safe distance. They have no intention of actually exchanging their phony, cover-up faith for the real thing. The only cure for such behaviour is repentance. Like Nehemiah, we all need to remember what God has commanded us to do and be, and where He has chosen to set His name (1:6-10).

Thursday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.63, Joshua 6:1-20, Luke 6:1-11
Evening - Ps. 65, Neh. 2:1-8, Acts 12:25-13:12

Commentary, Nehemiah 2:1-8

In chapter 1, Nehemiah repented of his sin. He was called to be a Jew, not a Persian. He was called to be a member of the Covenant People of God, and to dwell with the people of the Covenant in the land God promised to them, and gave to them, where they were to love and serve Him as one people. But Nehemiah has been living as a Gentile all of his life. Yes, he had a Jewish education. Yes, he went to synagogue, and studied the Scriptures, and probably kept much of the ceremonial law, but he did it from the safety of Shushan. He was happily disconnected from the demands of Jerusalem, and happily not fulfilling his calling as a member of the Covenant people. How often we run happily along in our own little world, tragically unaware that even our religion is sinful in God's eyes. Nehemiah repented of his sin, and in chapter two he prepared to go to Jerusalem.

But Nehemiah was an important servant in the king's household. He did not simply taste the wine for the king; he ran the wine cellar and possibly much of the vineyard. It was his job to ensure the quality and safety of the king's wine. Yet he was still a servant, and he became afraid when the king noticed his sadness (2:2). Kings usually want cheer and frivolity at meals, not sadness, which can spoil the mood. Emboldened by the king's apparent sympathy, Nehemiah requests to be sent to Jerusalem with permission and aid to rebuild the walls of the city.

Any smart king would have gladly granted Nehemiah's request. Sending him to Jerusalem, with a small company of Persian soldiers, and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under the hand of a proven loyal servant would give Persia a military stronghold on the frontier between Persia and the other area superpower, Egypt. Artaxerxes wisely agreed to Nehemiah's request.

But this is more than just a smart move by a king. This is the providence of God at work in the life of His people. He is bringing them back to their purpose and calling by His own power. He raised up Babylon to punish the Jews. He has raised up Persia to restore them. He works all things according to the counsel of His own will.

Friday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 71, Josh. 14:6, Lk. 5:12-26
Evening - Ps. 77, Neh. 2:9, Acts 13:13-25

Commentary, Nehemiah 2:9

Three words continually occur to me as I read the book of Nehemiah; Grace, Providence, Covenant. To understand how these words fit into the narrative we must return to the early stages of God's call to Abraham. In Genesis 12:1 we read "Get thee out of thy country... unto a land that I will shew thee." And in Genesis 1:7, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." In Exodus the same promise is reiterated, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God... And I will bring you unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage" (Ex. 6:7-8). In Nehemiah, God is continuing His work with the descendents of Abraham. God is keeping His Covenant. It was by grace that He called Abraham and His descendents to be His people. They were no better than any other people. They were sinners and idolaters, just like all the rest of the people in Ur at that time. But in grace He called them, forgave their sin, and blessed them with the privilege of being His people. He watched and guided them by His providence. When they erred from His ways, He providentially raised up a nation to punish them. When it suited His purpose, He raised up another nation to deliver them. He providentially guided them back to Jerusalem. He providentially called Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. He providentially put it into the king's heart to let Nehemiah go, and even to help him achieve his goal. God is working in the life of His people. We must always see this when we read Nehemiah. Covenant is the call of God to come to Him and be His people. This is the call to love Him above all things. This is the call to separate from the rest of the world and to be unique among all people. This is the call to worship and serve Him. It is the call to make the God their God. According to the Covenant, God would redeem them from their sins, and bless them, and love them. He would give to them a home where they could exist as a nation to love and enjoy Him. All through the book of Nehemiah, we see God faithfully keeping His Covenant obligations. And all through the book of Nehemiah we see God calling the Jews back to their Covenant obligations.

The Jews simply are not keeping their end of the bargain. Many have not even returned to Jerusalem from Shushan and Babylon. This is as much as sin as it was for the Exodus generation to refuse to enter the land. It is not just a refusal of God's gift; it is a refusal to keep the Covenant. Those in Jerusalem were no better. They have not really established themselves in the land. They do not possess the land; they simply exist in it. The city is in ruins. Their faith is weak, compromised, or non-existent. They are making no real attempt to be the Covenant people because they have no real faith that God is going to enable them to possess the land and serve Him in it. They suffer from the same lack of faith as the Exodus generation, which did not believe God would give them the land because of the "giants" that were in it.

But God does not forget them. He sends Nehemiah to them. Nehemiah is just as guilty of forsaking the Covenant as any other Jew of the time. He lives in comfort in Shushan rather than in the land God has given to the Jews for their inheritance. He is not worshiping in the Temple, keeping the law of God, or dwelling in Judea as a member of the unique nation of God. But he repents of that, and comes to Jerusalem to join his people and to serve God.

One of the things the Jews must do, in obedience to God, is to really take possession of the land. This is an obligation and a sacred duty. Securing the city by rebuilding its walls is not just about safety, it's about faith, about obedience, about Covenant. The call to rebuild is a call to repent and return to the Covenant. It is a call to become Covenant keepers.

When they begin to rebuild, others oppose them. These people seem to be descendents of the Northern tribes of Israel, who, conquered by the Assyrian Empire generations ago, intermarried with their conquerors and mixed pagan religions with the Old Testament faith. So, while they still worshiped God, they also worshiped other gods, thus holding to an apostate faith. Called "Samaritans" by the Jews, they realise that rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is a religious action, an act of faith that will re-establish the Covenant, the Temple, and Jerusalem as the center of worship and orthodoxy. This will expose the Samaritan faith to be a comprised faith and a false religion; they cannot tolerate that. They may also fear that a well fortified Jerusalem will become the military and commercial center of the area, thus decreasing their own wealth and power. But it is clear in the book of Nehemiah that the primary ground of their opposition is religious. Thus they spread lies about the Jews to the king, and threaten military action against them if they do not stop their work.

Parallels to these events are so prevalent and obvious to all, comments on them are superfluous. The opposition of false believers who would rather hinder the progress of the Gospel than repent of their compromised faith; the relaxed unbelief of many "Christians" who refuse to dwell in "Jerusalem;" the constant love and guiding providence of God in His true Church; and God's constant call to repent and return to the Covenant, are but a few of the similarities and applications of this passage to our present day.

Saturday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 73, Josh. 23:1-16, Lk. 6:27-38
Evening - Ps 66, Neh. 4:6, Acts 13:26-43

Commentary, Nehemiah 4:6

The Lectionary passes from the second to the fourth chapter of Nehemiah. Chapter 3 recounts the beginning of the work on the wall of Jerusalem. The first 5 verse of chapter 4 tell of more mocking and opposition from Sanballat and others. Tonight's reading starts in 4:6, an able summary of these events; "So we built the wall: and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof; for the people had a mind to work." This means the wall was half finished at this point in the book. The enemies here have moved from ridiculing the work to planning actual violence against the Jews (4:8). The apparent vulnerability of the Jews is shown in verses 10-12. They were tired. They were so spread out along the wall that an attacking force could breach their line before the soldiers were able to move in to defend it. Due to the rubble and other conditions, invaders could sneak in close to the wall and launch a surprise attack on the already vulnerable Jews. The solution; everyone builds, and everyone soldiers. They worked in shifts, spending part of the time building and part of the time at ready arms (4:21). Those building kept their weapons at the ready. They were so prepared that those working as builders worked with one hand and carried their weapon with the other (4:16-18). A signal was decided upon. If an attack came at one point, the sentries would sound a trumpet, and all would take their weapons to meet the enemy at the point of attack. They did not retire to their homes at night. They slept at their places on the wall. They did not stop this routine until the wall was completed.

These people have returned to the Covenant. They are possessing the land, and they are doing the work necessary to dwell in the land God had given them.

June 17, 2012

Sermon, Second Sunday after Trinity

God Our Governor
Psalm 15, 1 John 3:13-24, Luke 14:16-24
Second Sunday after Trinity
June 17, 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 Collect for this morning has been prayed by God's people for at least 1500 years, and possibly for more than 1900 years. Its primary request is for God to govern, or, direct His Church, so we will have a perpetual fear and love for Him. In other words, we are asking for steadfastness in revernece and faithfulness. The passage from 1 John 3 reminds us that we cannot claim to be steadfast in love for God if we are not also steadfast in our love for the brethren. The brethern are the Church; that spiritual Temple of the Holy Spirit in which all who are in Christ through Biblical faith are living stones. The passage gives very pointed examples of what it means to love the brethren beginning with the antipathy of the world. If you are at home and comfortable with the world and its ways you are probably not going to be comfortable with the Church. Your interests and values will be different, and you will find the Church and the worship of God boring and out of touch with your life. If you find this to be true in your own life you have cause for great concern about the state of your soul. If you do not love the Church, if you do not love to gather with it in worship, love its fellowship, and share a common life with it, you do not love the brethren, you love the world, and to love the world is to be at emnity with God.. This is a major point in 1 John 3.

Luke 14 shows that those who reject God's invitation to the supper do not love God. The supper has many layers of meaning. It is first and primarily the forgiveness of sins and restoration to God's fellowship through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is second the eternal bliss of our Heavenly home. Third, it is the fellowship of Christ's Church here on earth. Fourth, it is all the means of grace God has given to feed and strengthen us in Christ during our earthly sojourn of faith. The Bible, the Church, and the Sacraments are some of the means of grace, and the more you invest yourself in them the more steadfast you will become in the fear and love of God.

Psalm 15 continues this theme, asking who shall dwell in the tabernacle of God, and who shall rest in His holy hill. The tabernacle refers to the house of God prior to the building of the Temple. The Tabernacle consisted of curtains and tents where the Holy of Holies and the Altar of God stood. The holy hill is the hill of Zion in Jerusalem where the Tabernacle stood until it was replaced with the Temple. Together they represent the presence of God with His people. To dwell in the Tabernacle, then, is to dwell in God. It does not mean to take up physical residence in the Taberncle; it does mean to take up spiritual residence in God. Who can do this? Who is able to reside in God? Who are those who are forgiven of their sins? Who are those who are in fellowship with God? In New Testsatment language, we would say, who are the saved? Who is going to Heaven? That is the question that opens Psalm 15. The answer is given in several statements which we may summarise thusly; they shall dwell in the house of God and they shall rest in His holy place who are steadfast in the fear and love of God.

Clearly the Psalm takes us back to the point of 1 John 13 that our love for God is shown in part by our love for each other, our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Psalm is about our relationships with those who are part of us in the community of God. It is true that the Church is called to do good to those outside its fellowship. It is true that, because we see people as God sees them, as sheep without a Shepherd, and because we are moved with Godly compassion at the sight of hunger and sickness and human need, that we want to help. But we need to always keep in mind that it is not our calling to be the caretakers of the physical needs of the world. Even Christ refused to be reduced to a mere healer or feeder. He could have fed all the hungry in Israel as easily as He fed the five thousand. He could have healed all the sick in Israel as easily as he healed Bartimeus. But He didn't, because that was not His mission. His mission was to bring spiritual food and spiritual healing by His sacrifice on the cross. Our task, as the Church, then, is to proclaim the spiritual food and healing of the soul through faith in Christ. Our task is to invite people to the supper. That is our primary duty to the people of the world.

But in our dealings with people, both inside and outside of the Faith, we are always to conduct ourselves with the utmost propriety. It may not be our task to feed the world, but it is certainly not our task to rob it. Rather, in Christian compassion we abstain from all the harmful things we are warned about in the Ten Commandments. We do not murder, we do not commit adultery, do not steal, deceive, or covet. We live quiet and holy lives before God and before people. Thus we continue steadfast in the fear and love of God.

"O lord, who never failest to help and govern those whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love; Keep us, we beseech the, under the protectionof thy good providence, and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

June 12, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of First Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, Num 22:2-14, Luke 2:21-40
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezra 5:1-17, Acts 9:1-19

Commentary

As noted in the commentary for Monday after Trinity Sunday, the first seven chapters of the book of Ezra give a brief history of the Jews who returned from Babylon in 536 B.C. Forced by military action to stop work on the new Temple, the work languished, as did the zeal of the Jewish people (4:23-24). The Lord raised up prophets to call them back to their work. It is important to note here that their work was not to simply build a new Temple or re-instate the sacrificial system. Their work was to be the Covenant People of God, and to love Him above all else. The Temple was a symbol of this. It was the symbol of His presence with them. The sacrifices offered there were symbols of their devotion to Him. They also symbolised the coming of the Messiah, whose sacrifice would actually take away their sins. It was the place where God met His people, where He made them whole and clean, where He forgave their sins, and where they came to be in the presence of God. So the Temple was an important place and it served an important function in Jerusalem. It was the focal point of the Covenant, and to be forced to stop rebuilding it was a serious blow to the Jewish people.

Chapter 5 records the ministries of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, which we have been reading for the past few days. The result of their ministry was the renewed determination of the governor and the High Priest to build the Temple (5:2). Chapter 5:6-17 is a copy of the letter sent by the Jews in Jerusalem to the king of Persia explaining their loyalty to him and asking him to search his records for the decree of Cyrus allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

If the Temple was the focal point and primary symbol of the Covenant of God, the zeal to rebuild it was the zeal to be God's Covenant People. The objective was not simply to rebuild an object of national pride, or to build a religious building where they could do religious things. The intention, on their part was to return to their calling to be the people of God. It was this intention that God wanted to keep alive in their collective hearts. It was their departure from the Covenant that brought the wrath of God upon them in 586. It was their dilution of the faith, along with their lack of sincerity that led them into other sins and caused God to allow the Babylonians to conquer them. The Babylonian Captivity was punishment for breaking the Covenant and rebelling against God. Now that they were back in Jerusalem, God wanted them to return to the Covenant again. Thus, the Temple, as the focal point of their Covenant keeping, must be rebuilt.

Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, Num. 22:15-40, Lk. 2:41
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezra 6:1-12, Acts 9:20-31

Commentary

Ezra is a book of history. Therefore, a look at what has transpired prior to today's reading in chapter 6, will greatly help us understand its message. Chapter 1 records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon. In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem. Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused. The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship. On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant. But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed. It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a military attack on Persia (4:8-16). Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

The Jews responded with an appeal to the king. By this time, Cyrus was dead and Darius the Mede ruled the empire (5:5-17). Darius searched his records and found the decree of Cyrus, which is restated in our reading for today, Ezra 6:1-12.

A major point of this passage is the need for truth in religion. The Jews could have welcomed the compromised faith into their midst. Their presence would have made the work easier, the city wealthier, and the congregation larger. Instead, the Jews refused to compromise. Why? The message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel told them the Babylonian Captivity was the judgment of God for compromising the faith. They did not want to endure such suffering again, so, for a while, they maintained the pure faith. The primary point of this passage is the great, irresistible power of God. God brings His work to completion in His own way and time. He does not need the wealth of people, or great numbers of them to accomplish His will. A small band of faithful believers is much more valuable to Him than great crowds who have compromised the truth. He raises up empires at His pleasure, and casts them down when He wills. Empires are no more of a hindrance to Him than Judas was to our Saviour.

Wednesday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 37:1-25, Num. 22:41-23:12, Lk. 3:1-22
Evening - Ps. 34, Ezra 6:13-18, Acts 9:32

Commentary

At long last the Temple is completed. God has brought His people back to their homeland, and enabled them to rebuild the Temple. This means the sins which brought His anger and caused their captivity are forgiven, and they are restored to God's favour. This is all accomplished by grace. It was God alone who brought them out of Babylon, and God alone who gave them zeal to build the Temple and persevere in its construction though enemies tried to stop their work. God's wonderful mercy and unstoppable providence are clearly seen in this passage. And if God accomplished His promises to the Jews with such power and faithfulness, we can trust Him to accomplish what He has promised us in Christ. We may meet with opposition, and our faith may be as weak as that of the Jews in this passage, but God will bring His work in us to completion by His own power. He cannot fail.

The people did their work with great joy. This includes not only the rebuilding of the Temple, but also its dedication and services. We may also do our service unto God with joy. Worship, prayer, the services of the Church, and the reading of the Scriptures can be a source of great joy to us. Let them not become burdens we must force ourselves to bear. Let them be meat and drink to our souls, as streams in the desert. "Let us learn to welcome holy ordinances with joy and attend on them with pleasure. Let us serve the Lord with gladness. Whatever we dedicate to God, let it be done with joy" (Matthew Henry)

Thursday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 37:26, Num. 23:13-26, Lk. 4:1-13
Evening - Ps. 39, Zech. 7:8, Acts 10:1-23

Commentary

Yesterday's reading in Ezra told us of the completion of the work of rebuilding the Temple. Tonight's reading in Zechariah takes us back to the days before the Temple was built, and a time when the construction had ceased due to military threats by the Persian government. Zechariah and Haggai began their ministries in Jerusalem in the year 520 B.C. Their prophetic message was comprised of two primary points. First, rebuild the Temple. This point came with many encouragements and promises of God, some of which we have looked at in recent commentaries. Second, be the People of God. Return to the Covenant He made with your ancestors. Return to Him. Love and honour Him as you are called to do. This point also came with promises and encouragements. We have looked at some of them already, and will do so again soon. Tonight's reading is about the second point of Zechariah's message; being the people of God. It is about returning to the Covenant relationship with God. It is about being His people and loving Him above all else. God's major concern was not for the Temple. The Temple was not for Him, it was for the Jews. It was a symbol of God's presence and providence with them. It was a symbol of the forgiveness of their sins and their acceptance by God through His grace. It was the place where they worshiped God, and where they met God in worship. In short, the Temple was the symbol of the Covenant in action. The Law specified their Covenant obligations; the Temple was a central part of how they fulfilled those obligations in everyday life.

The Law was a primary aspect of the Covenant. There were three parts of the Law; moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law. The Jews had a tendency to focus on the ceremonial law because it was the easiest to keep. The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, was the hardest to keep. It still is. It is because of our failure to keep the moral law that we need the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to cover our sins and make us acceptable to God. The civil law, because it was simply the moral law codified and applied to everyday life, was also very difficult to keep. It, too, still is. Man's natural inclination toward evil causes us to tend to pervert the civil law and government for selfish gain. If a party can gain control of the government and courts, its members can do what they want without fear of human retribution. It did not take some of the Jews long to devise ways to control the government and courts, and to use them to their own advantage. David's false dealing with Uzziah over Bathsheba, and Ahab and Jezebel's dealings with Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16) show some of this abuse, but it was not contained to the palace. The writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel frequently mention the abuse of power to gain wealth. Crooked scales, moving property boundaries, and false accusations were well honed and heavily used tools in Judah before the Captivity. But God called the Jews to live in fellowship and respect, even to love one another. He did not create a wellfare state; He did create a system of laws, which promoted freedom, justice, and well-being among His people.

Zechariah reminds the people of Jerusalem that their ancestors' abuse of the civil law was a major reason why God allowed the Babylonians to conquer and brutalise them. They were warned by the former prophets (9-10), but they did not listen. "Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law" (7:11). Because they refused to hear God's call to them through the prophets, God did not listen to their call to Him through prayer when the conquering armies came (7:12). He allowed them to be conquered in a brutal war that left vast numbers of their people dead and vast parts of their land ravaged, including Jerusalem and the Temple. Survivors of the war were forced to live in captivity in foreign lands (7:13-14).

We could draw many lessons from this short passage. Law based on the moral law of God provides a sure foundation for liberty and justice, and the nation that has and follows such laws will live in peace and freedom. The natural sin-inclinations of the human heart are one of the main reasons why we need government. It exists to protect the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. Even good government can be perverted and used for evil if people are allowed to control and distort it for personal gain and power. God desires peace and liberty for all people. Failure to live in true liberty and peace is great sin, and God is angry at such people. God is angry at those who pervert justice and use government power for their own gain and goals. On a higher lever, it is God's plan that His Covenant People live in mutual respect and love according to His moral law. There is to be a fellowship and unity among us based upon our love for God and one another. We cannot expect the world and its kingdoms to live up to this standard very well. But the Church must.

Friday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 40:1-16, Num. 23:27-24:25, Lk. 4:14-30
Evening - Ps. 41, 54, Zech. 8:1-13, Acts 10:24-33

Commentary

God is returned unto Zion (Zech 8:3). This refers not to His actual presence, for God is present in all places and in all times. It refers to His presence in grace. It is His presence in the way we mean when we say, "God be with you, and with thy spirit." He is present to defend, to lead, to bless, and dwell in peace with His people. The time of His wrath has ended. The conquest, the captivity, the scattering of the people of Jerusalem into the surrounding nations is over. God allowed that to happen because of sin in his people. The holy city of Jerusalem, and even the Temple itself, had become unbearable in God's eyes because of the sin of the people. The Temple had been filled with idols. The worship offered in it was vain and insincere. The morality of the people was as that of Gentiles who did not know God. All of this is recorded in the Bible from Genesis to the prophets. So God allowed His people to reap what they had sown and receive what they had sought. They wanted to be as the Gentiles, so God gave them over to the Gentiles, to be conquered and murdered and dominated by them. But all of that is over. God has brought them back to Jerusalem. God has called them to return to the Covenant, to being the people chosen by God to be His unique people among all others. God has returned to them in grace, and calls them to return to Him in faith.

The rest of the reading tells of the restoration and glory of Jerusalem after the Temple is rebuilt. The people will not be killed by invaders, they will live to ripe old age, and the streets will be filled with children. Thus, the Jews are to "Let your hands be strong" (8:9), strong for the work of rebuilding the Temple and the city, but most of all, for rebuilding their faith.

This passage has obvious application to the New Testament Church. God will bring His people into it from many nations and countries. It will be a City of Peace, for the peace that passes all understanding, which is not as the world giveth but as Christ only can give, will dwell in it. God Himself will dwell in this New Zion, and it will be blessed and a blessing. Therefore, we who dwell in this City of God must let our hands be strong. Let them be strong for the work of the Kingdom. Let them be strong in faith. Let them build spiritual things now and for generations yet to come. For we will possess all things.


Saturday after the First Sunday after Trinity
Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 44, Dt. 34, Lk. 4:31-41
Evening - Ps. 46, 47, Zech. 8:14, Acts 10:34

Commentary

Zechariah 8:14-23 continues the wondrously good news that God has returned to Zion. Because the Jewish people had forsaken Him He withdrew His grace and protection from them, and allowed them to be devoured by their enemies. But now He has returned in grace to accomplish His purpose for His people. As He did not turn back from His wrath, He also will not turn back from His mercy (14-15). As surely as His words of wrath were fulfilled, His words of mercy will also be fulfilled. He will do good things for Jerusalem and Judah, thus, they can have confidence in Him. They may draw near to Him in faith, rather than run from Him in fear.

He calls the Jews to return to Him as He has returned to them. The call is not simply to rebuild a landmark and re-institute religious activity. The call is to turn their hearts to God as He has turned His to them. The call is to live in fellowship and peace with one another and with God. It is a call to come to God with sincerity and truth in worship. God does not tell them to dispense with liturgy in order to worship Him with their heart. He tells them to put their heart into the liturgy. The Temple worship is formal, but it is not dead formalism, and it means nothing if the heart of the people is not in it. Let the service of God in worship and in everyday life be joy to the house of Judah (8:19). When the heart is in it, it will be joy to worship God.

This will cause many to want to return to Jerusalem and to the Covenant (8:20-21). Many Jews did not return to Jerusalem at the end of the Captivity. Many found new lives in the lands where they had once been prisoners. They did not want to return to Jerusalem, a land of poverty, hardship, and danger. They enjoyed the looser approach to the faith that was allowed in the Gentile lands. In short, they had no intention of returning to Jerusalem or making the sacrifices required to become the people of the Covenant again. The joy of the people in Jerusalem would be an invitation to them to return to God.

It would also induce Gentiles to seek the God of Israel. "Many people, and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (8:22). This will be fulfilled in greater glory in the New Jerusalem. Christ's Church will gather many people and strong nations into it in a way the old Jerusalem could never do. Verse 23 is also a picture of the day of Christ and the era of fulfillment in which we live. The first Christians were Jews and through the grace of God working in them, Gentiles have come to their God. May they also come to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, because they have heard that God is with us.

June 4, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Trinity Sunday

Monday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Num 16:1-14, Lk. 1:1-25
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezra 1:1-8, Acts 7:1-16

Commentary, Ezra 1:1-8

The book of Ezra is part of a section of the Old Testament that tells the
history of Israel from creation to the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity. Genesis through Esther comprise this history, being followed in the Bible by the books, often called, Wisdom Literature, consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.

Like all Scripture, Ezra is organised around the ideas it intends to teach, and
the first part, consisting of chapters 1-7 gives a short history of the Jews
since the day Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home
and rebuild the Temple. You will remember that Israel divided into two nations
after the death of Solomon. One nation, made up of the ten northern tribes,
retained the name Israel. The second nation consisted of the tribes of Benjamin
and Judah, and was known as Judah. Israel suffered social and religious
decline, and, in 605 B.C., was defeated in the devastating battle of Carchemish.
The Israelites then largely adopted the ways and religions of their Gentile
conquerors, and virtually lost their identity as the people of God. In the New
Testament they are known as Samaritans. The Judeans, later known as "Jews," also
experienced decline, and were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. They
were forced to leave their homes and live in Babylon, thus, this era is known as
the Babylonian Captivity. In 538, Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the
declining Babylonian Empire, began a goodwill campaign with those nations the
Babylonians had relocated to Babylon. He allowed them to return to their
homelands, even giving them financial and military aid. This had the desired
effect of promoting loyalty toward him, for the newly freed peoples considered
Persia their liberator rather than their conqueror. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus'
degree to the Jews, and verses 5-11 records the Jews' return to Jerusalem, which
occurred in 536. Thus we see the hand of Providence guiding history and
accomplishing the purpose of God. The point of this passage is not that Cyrus
was a good ruler. It is not an object lesson in the principles of good
leadership. It is that God is still working with His people to accomplish His
purpose of Redemption. He created this world for the purpose of bringing all
things together in Christ. He is building His Kingdom, the Bride of Christ, and
nothing can stop His progress. Yes, there are other messages here. The
enduring mercy of God, His unstoppable power to save, conversion, repentance,
and faith, and leaders can certainly profit from the example of Cyrus. But the
pervading message here is the unstoppable progress of the purpose of God. He
will accomplish the purpose for which He created this world and called the Jews.
He will not fail.

Tuesday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 5, Num. 16:15-35, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 16, 20, Ezra 4:7-24, Acts 7:17-34

Commentary, Ezra 4:7-24

The first chapter of the book of Ezra records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon. In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem, the return of one group is recorded in Ezra 2. Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. Chapter 3 records rebuilding the altar and reinstating the ofeerings and feasts required in the Old Testament law. As the work progressed, more people arrived from Babylon, including priests and Levites "to set forward the work of the house of the Lord" (3:8). Their labours reulted in the admirable task of laying the foundation of the new Temple, a feat accompanied by much celebration, and a few tears (3:12-13). In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused. The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship. On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant. But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed. It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a rebellion against Persia (4:8-16). Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

Thus chapter two ends with another foereign army occupying Jerusalem and enforcing a halt to the Jews' plan to return to the law and the covenant of God. The Jews must have been angry, but they must ahve also had questions. Weren't they trying to obey God? Weren't they trying to do what the Bible commands? Why isn't God making it easy for them? Why does He allow yet another army in Jerusalem to stop their progress?

Most of us face similar questions every day. We try to obey God, but, rather than making the way easy and rewarding our efforts with success, we often find our way blocked by the armies of our enemies. Overcoming one obstacle reveals not a clear and easy road ahead, but more and greater obstacles. It may be that our thinking needs to change if we are going to continue with Christ rather than give up in dispair. Many have adopted the popular view that the Christian life is a luxury ride through life. It is not. It is a constant struggle with the world the flesh and the devil. We must expect this if we are not to be disappointed. Remember that our reward is in Heaven, not on earth. Here we are merely pilgrims. Our homes and our rest is in Heaven.

Wednesday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 7, Num. 17:1-11, Lk. 1:39-56
Evening - Ps. 25, Haggai 1:1-15, Acts 7:35-53

Commentary, Haggai, 1:1-15

The Prophet Haggai lived and ministered in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Captivity. His work began in the second year of Darius, who ruled the Empire from 522-486 B.C. So Haggai began his ministry around the year 520. His message is that the Temple of the Lord must be rebuilt. Nearly leveled in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, Cyrus of Persia gave permission and funds to rebuild it, yet fourteen years after their release from Babylon, only the Temple's foundations have been laid.

Haggai asks the Jews why they work diligently on their own houses, yet let the House of God lie waste (Hag. 1:4). Applying this to the modern situation is easy. How fervently we see people, maybe even our own selves, building their own "houses" and neglecting the House of God. Our work, our amusements, our prosperity, our comfort, and our pleasure consume our energy and time, while day after day the Bible and Christian life are neglected. Sundays find us indulging our own pleasures while the House of God is ignored.

Haggai reminds all people that God is not blind to this, nor does He bless it. He tells the Jews their neglect of God is the reason they have sown much to the flesh (see Gal. 6:7-8) but have reaped little harvest for their labours. In the same way, people today who put their efforts into the things of the world, to the neglect of the things of God, will reap a bitter harvest. There is nothing in this world that can give happiness and purpose to life. Worldly things may give pleasure for the moment, but it fades quickly. Only God remains forever, and only those who find their happiness in Him will be truly happy, now, and for eternity.

The Jews heard the words of Haggai and repented. The Lord stirred up their hearts and they obeyed (1:12-15). Through much work, sacrifice, and, even danger, the Temple was completed. Those in our own age who have neglected the House of God will also expend much effort, sacrifice, and no small amount of spiritual danger as they try to re-establish Godly habits of life and worship. But the greatest danger of all is failure to obey. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).

Thursday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 9, Num. 20:1-13, Lk. 1:57-66
Evening - Ps. 27, Haggai 2:1-9, Acts 7:54-8:4

Commentary, Haggai 2:1-9

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed when Babylon sacked the city in 586 B.C.
That Temple is often called Solomon's Temple because it was built while he was king of Israel, and it was largely financed by him through a system of forced labour and foreign trade that made Solomon fabulously wealthy but caused a grassroots feeling of resentment among the Hebrew people. The Temple reflected his wealth. In Haggai's day things were different. Jerusalem was in ruins and Judah was in poverty. Even with the funds given by Cyrus, the Temple would be a poor reflection of the glory of Solomon's Temple (Hag. 2:3).

Or would it? Perhaps the real glory of the Temple cannot be found in its dimensions or ornaments. Perhaps the Temple's real glory is measured by other things, like the faith of the people, obedience to God's law, and Scriptural worship. Maybe the real glory of the Temple is something even greater than that; maybe it is something that cannot be given or removed by people. Maybe it is the glory of God dwelling in it that is its true glory. This is the point God is making through the prophet Haggai. And God intends to make His Temple more glorious than the people of Jerusalem in 520 B. C. could imagine. In a little while (2:6) God was going to shake the nations, and the Desire of Nations would come, and God would fill the Temple with His glory (2:7). The Desire of Nations is Christ. He filled the Temple with glory when He was taken there as a young child, when He later confounded the Doctors at Passover, and when He taught the people there during His ministry. He filled it with glory when He accomplished the salvation it could only foreshadow, and when He gave Himself as the Lamb of God which alone is able to take away sins. He filled it with glory when, in the true Holy of Holies in Heaven, He offered the true sacrifice. He filled it with glory when He rose from the grave and ascended into the true Temple of God. He fills it with glory now in the days of His new Temple, the Church. In the Church He brings the nations into His Kingdom, proclaims His Word, dwells by His Spirit, and gives the kind of peace a Temple built by human hands could never give.

Friday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 10, Num. 20:14, Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Zech 1:7-17, Acts 8:5-25

Commentary, Zachariah 1:1-7

Zechariah is another of those short books at the end of the Old Testament called the Minor Prophets. Though not in the scheduled reading for tonight, Zech 1:1 tells us he began his ministry in the second year of Darius. Thus, we know that Zechariah and Haggai began their work in the same year, 520 B.C. (Hag. 1:1). Looking at the first verses of both books we see their ministries began within two months of each other. Naturally, their messages compliment one another. Both were concerned to get the new Temple built. Haggai told the people it was wrong for them to work so hard to establish their own houses, yet neglect the House of God. Zechariah was determined to show why they were willing to neglect the House of God. It was because their hearts were not with God. They were starting to fall back into the ways of their fathers (1:3-4). They were beginning to be content with an outward show of religion and a general intellectual assent to the being of God as revealed in Scripture. They were willing to live in general conformity with the moral and ceremonial law of God, but they lacked a sense of belonging to God, of being His people, of being loved by Him and of loving Him back with all their heart and soul and might (Dt:6:4-5). Thus, they really loved themselves above God, so they worked for their own advancement, and neglected the things of God.

We often see the same thing in professed believers today. They give mental assent to the doctrines and moral values of the Bible. They live decent lives. They believe the things Christian people are supposed to believe. But these things are held as something outside of them. They are like the scenery through which a train passes, when they ought to be the fire that drives their locomotive. Love for God ought to be the driving force of life; that one Thing that gives the direction and purpose to every other aspect of our being. Mankind lost that love for God when we fell into sin. We rejected God, and we chose to love ourselves more than we loved Him. Christ died to free us from that kind of self love, for it is destructive and deadly to everything it touches. And Christ died to return us to the spiritual condition of loving God first of all and with our all. Faith that does not move a person in that direction is not faith at all by Biblical standards. It is a form of Godliness which denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:4-5). Thus, God, through Zechariah, urges and beseeches the people to be not like their fathers in their sin.

Three months after the message of Zechariah 1:1-6 was given, the Lord spoke again to Zechariah (1:7). This word came in a vision of a Man among the myrtle trees receiving a report from riders who have returned from walking to and fro through the earth (1:10). The Man is Christ Jesus, and the riders report that the earth is at rest. There is peace in the Persian Empire. Persia is strong and secure, and there is none to disturb her rest (1:11). But all is not well, for the Lord Himself is displeased with the people of Persia. They are the heirs of the Babylonians who attacked and brutalised the Jews. Even now they trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the Temple of God. In this they have inflicted more sorrow upon the Jews than God intended (1:15). The Babylonian Captivity was God's will. He allowed it to chasten the Jews for their sin, to humble them, to lead them to depend upon Him again. In 520 the time of chastisement is over, yet the Gentiles will not cease their troubling of the Jews. So God assures the Jews He is with them again in mercy (1:16). Jerusalem, He promises, will prosper, along with God's people around the world (1:17). This promise has an immediate meaning to the Jews in Jerusalem. They did prosper, and the Temple of God was rebuilt. But its primary meaning is fulfilled in Christ and His Church. Through Christ the House of God was built in Jerusalem, and through His House, He has gathered people into it around the world. In Christ He has blessed the New Jerusalem with prosperity and posterity the frightened inhabitants could scarcely imagine when Zechariah spoke these words.

Saturday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 13, 14, Num. 21:4-9, Lk. 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Zech. 2, Acts, 8:26

Commentary, Zechariah 2

Why is the man measuring Jerusalem? To show its dimensions, meaning, to show that it has dimensions. It has boundaries, breadth and length (Zech. 2:1-2). There is a point where Jerusalem begins, and a point where it ends. But the day will come when its walls will not be able to contain its people and goods (2:4). Its wall will be a wall of fire, not of stones, a living wall of God Himself (2:5). God will dwell in it (2:10), and people of many nations will be joined to it(2:11).

These promises refer to the Jews in 520 B.C. Their feeble efforts and the seemingly plain and small Temple they build seem as nothing compared to the old one. Their city, small, weak, and impoverished, seems to them as a poor imitation of the old Jerusalem. But God has great things in store for them. The Temple of God will be great in all the earth, and the city of Jerusalem will be a city that cannot be contained by any wall but the presence of God. These promises were fulfilled in part by the rebuilding of the Temple and the city, and by the return to Jerusalem of Jews who had been scattered among many peoples and many nations. But this is only a partial fulfillment. The real fulfillment is found in Christ and His Church.

Few Old Testament passages speak so clearly of the Church of Christ in the New Testament. The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is a city encompassing multitudes of many nations. Jews and Gentiles alike are welcomed into it. Walls cannot contain its multitudes. God, by His Spirit, dwells in it.

Let all flesh be silent before the Lord; "for He is raised up out of His holy habitation."

June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday Sermon

The Holy Trinity
Trinity Sunday
June 3, 2012


Today marks one the high points in our Anglican cycle of prayer. In a sense, today is the destination toward which we have been moving through all the seasons of the cycle of prayer. Today is the day we commemorate the full revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, we have called this day Trinity Sunday.

The Trinity is the foundational doctrine of the Bible and the Christian faith. It is so central that to misunderstand or deny the Trinity is to misunderstand or deny every other doctrine of Christianity. The Trinity is a deep and mysterious truth, but it is well stated for us in many places. The Nicene Creed is almost entirely about the Trinity, and it has become the foundation for many of the later statements about Him. The first five of our Anglican "Articles of Religion" are about the Holy Trinity, and we could even say Articles II through V explain the first Article, which says;

"There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

We are not going to do a doctrinal study of the Trinity today. We need to do that some time, because, as I said a few moments ago, the Trinity is the foundation of all Christian doctrine, and of the entire Bible. But today I want to look back over the recent weeks of our cycle of prayer, looking at the way the Trinity, in other words, the way God Himself, is the answer to all our needs and prayers.

The first half of our cycle of prayer deals with the major doctrines of the Bible. But it does not deal with them in an academic way; it takes us into them devotionally. One of the major, and very valid, complaints people have about the study of doctrine is that it often seems too ivory towerish and unrelated to life. But our cycle of prayer is doctrinally devotional. It takes us through the preparation for the Messiah, the ministry of Christ, and the advent of the Holy Spirit. It leads us into the deep things of God; things like the nature and ministry of Christ, the nature and being of God, and the full revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But we are not led into these things simply to gain intellectual knowledge of propositional truth. We are led into the deep things of God that we may love and worship Him. We learn about God in order to adore the wonderful being and works of God.

We begin in Advent. Praying for grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, we are led to worship the grace of God, who, perfect in every way, invites imperfect sinners into His presence and love. In the Collect for the second Sunday of Advent we are led to look for God in the Holy Bible. We pray that we may hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Scripture so by its teachings we may embrace the blessed hope of everlasting life in Christ. In Christmas we adore a helpless infant, who, though without the external trappings of wealth and station in life, is none other than God with us. Through Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent, we follow the life and ministry of that infant through manhood and death. Passion Sunday recalls the terrible price God paid to reconcile us unto Himself. What wonderful love it was when God the Creator died for man the creature's sin. But Easter celebrates His victory over sin and death. What power lies in the hand of God that even death itself is easily conquered by Him in the Resurrection.

In the Sundays of Easter Season we begin to look to the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. The Trinity is the foundation of all. He is the basis of everything we have been praying for. All of the teachings of the Scriptures we have been looking at all through the year have been leading us to know and adore God, the Holy Trinity. The first Sunday after Easter we asked God to help us put away malice and wickedness, so we might serve Him in purity and truth. At that time we had just completed Scripture readings that followed Christ to the cross and the resurrection. Knowing that it was for us that He went to the cross, we prayed that we might turn from sin and serve Him. On the second Sunday of Easter we prayed that we would follow the example of Christ in holiness of life. On the third Sunday we prayed that we would be enabled to avoid things contrary to Christ, and to "follow all such things as are agreeable" to Him.

All of our prayers during this time were the proper responses of faith by those who saw afresh the mighty love of God in the sacrificial death of Christ. But on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we added a different emphasis to our cycle of prayer. It was not easy to see at first glance. We continued to ask for holiness. But in the Collect for that Sunday we affirmed that God alone can order our unrully wills and affections. And we asked God to enable us to love the things He commands and desire the things He promises. The new emphasis was on God as the only power to bring our sinfulness under control and to love and desire the things of God. We began there an increasing emphasis on the power of God as the only hope "that among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be there fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

We began to shift our attention to the Holy Spirit. In Easter we emphasised that it was impossible that we sinners could ever have peace with God, unless God Himself did something to pay the price of our sin. He did this in Christ, on the cross. In the following Sundays we emphasised that it is also impossible for us to live the life of faith and holiness unless God Himself supernaturally enables us. He did this by sending the Holy Spirit. All of the prayers and emphasis of our cycle of prayer through the Easter Season have been about holiness. In all of them we have sought to put God first. But this is a task too great for us. As we have attempted to be holy, we have known the truth of our Lord's words to the sleeping disciples, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." We must have a power greater than our own. We must have power only God can give. He alone can order our unrully wills and affections. He alone can enable our actions to match our desire for holiness.

On Rogation Sunday we took this one step further, praying "that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same." Inspiration means to instill life and power. In this case it is to put life and power into our desire to think and do the things of God. We are utterly dependent on God for this ability. He must inspire us, or we will be unable to accomplish this holy intention.

On Ascension Day we recalled that Christ rose bodily into the presence of God, and we asked that we might dwell there with Him by faith. But look at the way God is described in the Collect for Ascension Day. He is Christ, the Father, and the Holy Ghost, one God. We were being reminded that God has made a way for us to live a holy and Godly life. It is not by our own power, but by His. The Holy Spirit is our inspiration and our power.

On the Sunday after Ascension this doctrine was brought out much more fully. "Leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost," we prayed. It is no accident that this prayer accompanied the reading from John 14:26 and following, which tells us of the comfort and help the Holy Spirit brings to His people.

Thus we were brought to Pentecost, or, "Whitsuntide." The meaning of Pentecost is that the full presence and power of God is come to His people. Christ is God with us; the Spirit is God in us. The Spirit is unity with God that is deeper and fuller than we can ever imagine. The ability to think and do the things of holiness is ours through the Spirit of God Himself. It is true we could never accomplish holiness by ourselves. If God will not keep us by His power we will fall rapidly and finally back into sin and hell. If God will not dwell within us and empower us to do His will, we can never hope to live a holy life any more than we could hope to save ourselves apart from Christ. But God has come to us. He has not left us orphaned. He has not left us in despair. He has come to dwell in us. In Whitsun Week we have rejoiced that He has sent unto us His Holy Spirit to enlighten and strengthen us to His service, to direct and rule us according to His will, to comfort us in affliction, to lead us into all truth, and to bring us together that we may manifest His power among all peoples. Today, Trinity Sunday, we have met to worship the Unity and to rejoice in the knowledge of our God.

Let us pray.

"Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen."

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."