September 30, 2012

Sermon, Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

God Our Only Hope
Psalm 25,  Ephesians 4:1-6,  Luke 14:1-11
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

"In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." These words of Christ in John. 16:33 do not surprise those of us who have had some experience with the ways of the world.  We know we live in a fallen world, a world where people often do bad things, a world in which we often suffer as the result of other peoples' sins.  We know this, not as theory, but as fact verified by our own hard experience in life. We know this as fact verified by the teachings of Scripture.  Ephesians 4 reminds us of the tribulations of St. Paul.  Luke 14 records the opposition Jesus faced from the scribes and Pharisees who exalted themselves above God.  We remember the words of Christ in Matthew 10:24 and 25:

"The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.  It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?"

But we are fallen creatures, too, and we know that much of our tribulation is self-inflicted as we reap what we have sown.  Psalm 25 is the prayer of a person experiencing deep tribulation partly because of the actions of others, and partly because he is reaping the natural consequences of what he has sown through his own actions and decisions.  But the Psalm is not a complaint about the writer's tribulation, it is a prayer of faith.  It is an expression of trust in God. David, in the midst of all his troubles writes,  "Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God, I have put my trust in thee."

David trusts God to teach him the ways of God.  "Show me thy ways," he prays. "Teach me thy paths. Lead me forth in thy truth."  How can we possibly know God?  How can we ever hope to know what He wants from us, or wants to give to us?  He must show us.  And He has shown us.  He is revealed in nature, for "The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handy work" (Ps. 19:1).  And there is something inside of us that knows about God, an instinctive knowledge that we ought to live and be better than we are, and that we will give an account of our sins one day.  Thus Romans 2:15 tells us the law of God is written in our hearts.  So, through nature and through His law written on our hearts we are able to discern the invisible attributes of God, "even his eternal power and Godhead," says Romans 1:20.  But this revelation is incomplete.  It does not tell us how to worship God, or how the Church is to be ordered, or how to live for God at work and at home, or how to build a Godly family or a Godly nation. But most of all, it does not really tell us of God's mercy.  It does not really tell us of God's everlasting love.  It does not tell us how to find forgiveness of sin, or how to find peace with God.

This was accomplished by God sending prophets and teachers to give and instruct us in the moral law of the Old Testament.  God also gave the ceremonial law through them, which points us to the Great Salvation He would accomplish for us in Christ, of whom the Temple and sacrifices were symbols and shadows.  It is Christ who ultimately reveals God, for "he hath declared him" (Jn. 1:18).  Christ taught the revelation of God to the disciples, and commissioned them to proclaim it to all people (Mt. 28:19-20).  He also commissioned them to teach and ordain others who would, in turn, teach others (2 Tim.2:2). The Apostles recorded the ministry and teachings of Christ for us in the Bible, and it is the standard by which all other teachers and doctrines are measured.

David trusts God to forgive his sins. He trusts God to "Remember not" his "sins and offenses"  "Be merciful unto my sin" he cries in verse 10, "for it is great."  It is Christ who accomplishes the forgiveness of our sin.  The rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament ceremonial law were symbols and shadows of Christ, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.  We "have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14).  He died for our sins, and "whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16).

David trusts in God for many other things.  In verse 5 it is for continuing mercy.  In verse 14 it is for defense from enemies.  I would like us to focus on verses 12, 16, and 21 as we come to the close of the sermon.  Verse 12 says of the man who fears God, that means reverent love combined with respectful fear, "His soul shall dwell at ease."  God will give that person peace in his soul, and nothing in this world or the next can take that peace away.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  It is the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ which the world cannot give or even understand.  It is the peace that comes from the knowledge that "all things work together for good to them that love God" and that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of  God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:28, 35-39).

This does not mean we will never see troubles.  It does mean God is with us, even when we face trials, and His grace is sufficient for us at all times.  David, in the beloved Twenty-third Psalm, said he would fear no evil even in the valley of the shadow of death.  He said God prepares a table for him "in the presence of [his] enemies."  The enemies were still there.  The wolves were still lurking and prowling, often in open view of the sheep.  Yet God had brought him into green pastures and beside still waters, and God continually "restoreth" David's soul.  God had something for him even in the presence of enemies and troubles.  Now, today, God is with us.  God has peace and grace and blessings for us, today, in this life, in this world of troubles and wolves and wolves in sheep's clothing.  He is leading us into us His will and guiding us into His ways, and He will not allow the trials of this world to ultimately defeat us.  We can be of "good cheer" because He has "overcome the world."

Finally, David trusts God to "Deliver Israel, O God, out of all his troubles" (vs. 21).  This is one of the verses upon which our "Prayer for all Conditions of Men" bases the request to give us a "happy issue out of all [our] afflictions."  We have no delusions that the world is going to love us and welcome Christ into its heart today.  But we do believe a better world is coming, and in that world all the cares and troubles of this world will be over because God will finally, completely, and forever deliver Israel, that's us, out of all his troubles.

"O most loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou hast manifested in us in thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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