July 22, 2012

Sermon, Seventh Sunday after Trinity

God of Unity
Psalm 133, Romans 6:19-33, Mark 8:1-9
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
July 22, 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.

Trinity is the season of Christian living. That doesn't mean we don't live the Christian life at other times; it means that the subject of the sermons and Scripture readings during Trinity is the Christian life. On the Seventh Sunday after Trinity we pause to remember again that even the Christian life is a gift from God. Thus, we beseech God to form within our souls, the love of His Name, the increase of true religion, and all goodness, and to keep us in these things throughout our earthy lives.

The reading from Romans 6 reminds us that the wages of sin is death, but we, being freed from sin, are to bear the fruit of holiness. The reading from Mark 8 shows Christ, the author and giver of all good things, supplying the needs of His people. As He fed the multitude in the wilderness, we can trust Him to "give us this day our daily bread," especially the Bread of everlasting life. Psalm 133 is about one of the greatest gifts of God to His people, the gift of unity in His Church.

In the Apostles' time, the Church was one body, spiritually and organisationally. It was one organisation with Christ as its Head accomplishing His teaching and government through the Apostles and other ministers. The Apostles taught and ordained bishops and ministers, who were to teach others what they had learned. Thus, Christ, the Word of God, called the Apostles to learn His teachings (Jn. 1:14-18, Lk. 24:27). He then commissioned the Apostles to make disciples of others by teaching them what Christ had taught them (Mt. 28:19-20). These men were to teach others, who would teach others (1 Tim. 2:2), and so it will continue until the Lord's Return.

All of the teacher/ministers answered to the Apostles. The Apostles sent letters and instructions to them, and even sent delegations to their churches with authority to correct problems in doctrine and practice. The Apostle Paul excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20) and placed Titus in Crete to establish churches and to appoint and ordain bishops and ministers as Paul had appointed and ordained him (Titus 1:5). Even Peter was called to give an account of his activities to the other Apostles (Acts 11:1-18). So the Church was one connected body. There were no independent local congregations. Local churches were part of the larger Church, teaching the Apostles' doctrine and under the supervision of bishops, who were under the Apostles' supervision. That is why the picture of the Church as the Body of Christ is so accurate. No part of the Body is independent of the others. Each is dependent and organically connected to the whole Body, under the direction of the Head. The Bible also illustrates this with the analogy of a Kingdom or Empire. The Church is the Empire of Christ. He is the Emperor, and His Empire is divided into provinces and counties, but no province or county is independent. Each province is part of the Empire, and each is connected to the others

Writing about the unity of the Church, the Apostle Paul gives the foundation of our unity in Ephesians 4:1-6, and, especially in the well beloved words of verses 4, 5, and 6:

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye were called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."

We have already looked at the meaning of "one body," but we should note here that one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, animates the Body. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The calling is our invitation to be a part of the Body. It is the Divine Invitation to be partakers of all the blessings of God in Christ; the forgiveness of sins, the communion of saints, the indwelling Spirit, the means of grace, holiness of life, and the hope of glory are all part of these blessings. There is much more to your calling, but I will have to talk about that another time. We are one in Christ, and in His blood. In other words, we are all sinners saved by grace. He died for our sins, and we are united in the fact that we are forgiven and made whole by His one offering of Himself on the cross. Of course our unity is based on the One Lord. There is one Lord, so there is also one body. There is one Saviour, therefore there is one Church.

We are united in one faith. That means we are united in the Apostles' doctrine, the doctrinal content of Christianity, which we looked at earlier in the sermon. But faith is also belief and trust. So we are united in our belief in the doctrines, and also one in our trust in Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We are one because we have partaken of one baptism, that is, our baptism into Christ, our spiritual baptism, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, by which we were placed in Christ, and Christ was placed in us, and of which our water baptism is a sign and seal.

I apologise for the quickness of this discussion of the basis of our unity. I thought it necessary to mention it, but it is not the point of this sermon. The point of the sermon is the point of Psalm 133, that it is a good and joyful thing for the people of God to dwell together in unity. The Psalm does not give the details of the good and joyful benefits of Christian unity. It does what poetry often does, giving images and word pictures rather than concrete examples. It poetically compares unity to the oil that consecrates the high priest in the line of Aaron. The oil was costly, and purfumed with sweet and exotic spices. It was pleasant to see and smell, and it was poured in abundance over the head of the High Priest so that it ran down to his beard and some even dripped onto his robe. In that semi-arid climate, the oil reminded the people of the soothing and healing effect oil had on their chapped, dry hands and skin.

Keeping the dry climate of the area in mind, picture the wonder and appreciation the people would have for the pleasant climate of Mount Hermon. With an elevation over nine-thousand feet, it is often snow capped through mid summer, and its melting snow and abundant rain are major sources of the waters of the Jordan River. Nights can be cold there, even in July and August. The mountain is a cool and refreshing retreat in an otherwise hot, dry area. The point, of course is that the fellowship, the belonging, the love, the acceptance, the unity of God's people is a cool, refreshing refuge from the dessert wilderness of the world.

This unity is both a gift to the people of God, and the responsibility of the people of God. It is a major part of our calling to preserve the unity of the Church, especially in our local congregation. Next to ensuring that we have our unity in the Apostolic faith recorded in Scripture, being sources of encouragement and edification rather than strife and sorrow may be our most important task as Christians. Remember that the world will know we are Christ's people because we love one another, and our growth in Christ is tied to our belonging to His Body. So it is imperative that we are able to say from experience, "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."

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