July 29, 2012

Eighth Sunday after Trinity Sermon

God, Builder of Lives
Psalm 127, Romans 8:12-17, Matthew 7:15-21
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
July 29, 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.

I think Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, expressed the meaning of today's reading from Romans well when he wrote that it "teaches us that to put away all things hurtful to us we must through the Spirit 'mortify the deeds of the body.'" "We cannot live after the flesh and at the same time live after the spirit. Life according to the one involves death according to the other."

He also captured the essence of our reading from Matthew, saying; "The Gospel... teaches us that the fruits of our lives will be hurtful or profitable, according as we regard or disregard the will of our Father who is in heaven. Thus, while we recognize a never-failing Providence, we also recognize the indispensability of bringing our wills into accord with God's will."

Psalm 127 reiterates these lessons. It tells us that the most hurtful, harmful, self-destructive thing we can do to ourselves, our families, our churches, or our nations, is to attempt to build them according to our own plans, ideas, and values, rather than upon God's. If God does not build the house, "their labour is but lost that build it."

Moses learned this the hard way. In Exodus 2:11 he killed the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, "one of his brethren." Acts 7:25 tells us Moses thought his action would show the Hebrews that God was going to use him to deliver them from their slavery, "but they understood not." Moses didn't understand either. Moses was brought up in the palace and educated in the ways of the Egyptians. His education included training in warfare, for leading the army was expected of the house of Pharaoh, and the Pharaoh himself led the army in pursuit of the Hebrews (Ex. 14:8). Moses probably thought God was going to have him organise the Hebrews into an army to rise up against Egypt and gain their freedom in battle. Moses was trying to build the house of Israel according to his own plan, but that was not the way God intended to do it. Moses' labour was lost.

Let's go further back than Moses. Let's go back toAbraham and Sarah, when their names were still Abram and Sarai, when they decided God wasn't moving fast enough in His promise to make a great nation out of their descendants. They decided Abram should beget a child with Sarai's slave, Hagar. Through that unholy union Ismael was born, and immediately began to make trouble for Abram and Sarai. And the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Ishmael have been at odds ever since. Abram was trying to build the house of Israel according to his own plan, but that was not the way God intended to do it. Abram's labour was lost.

Let's go back a little further. Let's go back to Abraham's nephew Lot. Lot is a significant person in the Bible because Lot wasn't trying to serve God or build a nation for God. Lot was only concerned about Lot. You remember that the shepherds of the flocks of Abraham and Lot argued over the water and grazing resources of the land, so Abraham, trying to make peace, suggested they separate, and he told Lot, "if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will depart to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left" (Gen. 13:9). And Lot chose the land of the plains of Jordan, for Lot wanted the bright lights and night life of the cities. So he settled in Soddom and Gomorah, and with his wealth, he probably became a big hit on the party circuit. He forgot all about God. He settled into the pagan culture and built his life upon it. And it nearly killed him and his family because they barely escaped with their lives. When God destroyed the cities, they were miraculously saved because Abraham interceded for them with God. But Lot's wife died because of her disobedience to God, and Lot's daughters were never able to rid themselves of the pagan ways they learned in Sodom and Gomorah. Lot was trying to build his house Lot's way, but Lot's way wasn't God's way. Lot's labout was lost.

Let's go back even further into history. Let's go back to the beginning, to Adam and Eve. Here were people who literally owned paradise. They had everything, and they threw it all away because it didn't fit their idea of what paradise should be. To them, paradise meant they were in control. They would decide what was good and what was evil. They would decide what was right and what was wrong. They would decide what was beautiful and what was ugly, and what was true and false, and what was valuable and what was worthless. And the result of their sins and their choices and their values was the loss of paradise. Strife became a part of human relationships. Adam and Eve became estranged from each other. Within one generation, probably less than twenty years after the Fall, the children of Adam and Eve were at odds with each other, and their son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel. Adam and Ever were trying to build their house their way, but their labour was lost.

The lesson to us today is quite obvious, if God does not build the Church, the family, the nation, and our very lives, our labour to build them is lost. We labour in vain. In other words, if we build by the ideas and values of the world, if we build by our own passing whims and desires, or upon whatever ideas and life-styles are the current fad or politically correct, whatever we build will fall apart like the foolish man's house that was built upon the sand.

So how does God build? He builds upon the foundation of Jesus Christ who died to redeem His people and to establish His Kingdom. In Him we have the forgiveness of sin, which we receive by faith. That is the first principle of the way God builds. The second principle is that God uses His own tools when He builds. He builds with the Church, public and private worship, the reading and preaching of the Bible, the sacraments, and holy, Biblical living. That's how God builds His people and His Kingdom.

And so, if you want your life to be able to stand the tests of time and eternity, it must be built by God using His tools. Thus we pray according to the Collect for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity:

"O God, whose never failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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