October 21, 2012

Sermon, Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

God and the Cheerful Heart
Psalm 11, Ephesians 5:15-21, Matthew 22:1-14
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
October 21, 2012

I love the liturgy of Morning Prayer.  I love that it includes the ancient practice of giving thanks for the Bible by singing a Canticle after each Scripture reading.  One of the favourite Canticles has always been Psalm 100, the Jubilate Deo.  Morning Prayer begins in private prayer, and moves into a common prayer seeking God's blessings upon us, committing our cares and needs unto Him, asking Him to fill us with the spirit of prayer and beseeching Him to enable us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.  The prayer is followed by a hymn, which is a prayer or exhortation set to music, and the hymn is followed by a Scriptural statement of the grace and mercy of God, such as, "Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."  Giving our attention to the grace and majesty of God naturally moves us to consider our own unworthiness, and to confess our sins. After the confession we hear the joyful declaration that God "pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel."  Next we pray the prayer that has comforted God's people in times of joy and times of sorrow for more than two thousand years.  Prayed in everyplace from death beds to baptisms, we know it as "The Lord's Prayer."
Having confessed our sins and joyfully entrusted ourselves into the merciful heart of God, we move to the Venite exultemus Domino, "O Come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation."  This is what others might term a Call to Worship.  Based upon the mercy of God, who forgives our sins and calls us to live in His love, the Venite invites us to enter more deeply into the worship of God.  This is especially appropriate as we prepare for the most important part of Morning Prayer, the reading and hearing of the Word of God.

In a sense, everything so far has been done in  preparation to hear God's Word.  The prayers and hymns have brought us together as one body, ready to humbly and reverently stand before God as He addresses and ministers to us through the words of Holy Scripture.  Then, having heard with faith the Word of God, we rejoice in His mercy, singing,

 O BE joyful in the Lord, all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness, and come before His presence with a song.
   Be ye sure that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
   O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.
   For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

Psalm 100 rings with words like "gladness, "song," "thanksgiving," "mercy," and "truth." It tells us that the right response to the grace of God towards us is to "serve the Lord with gladness."  It encourages us to do as the Collect for the Twentieth Sunday after  Trinity also teaches, "cheerfully accomplish" the things God commands. What does the Lord command? "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and and with all thy mind."  Present your body as a "living sacrifice," which is your "reasonable service." "Serve the Lord with gladness." 

Cheerfully serving God is one of the common themes in the Scripture readings for this morning.  The Epistle to the Ephesians speaks of living wisely and understanding the will of the Lord.  It also speaks of life filled with thanksgiving and melody because it is lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  We Christians are not controlled by our circumstances.  We are not defined by the troubles or conditions we encounter in our journey through this world.  Nor are we surprised by them.  We expect problems "because the days are evil."  They are part of life in a fallen world filled with fallen people.  But we are not overcome by the evil days.  Instead we "redeem the time."  We are controlled by the Holy Spirit.  He is the One who sets our attitudes and habits and outlook on life.  As we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, we speak to ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord," and "giving thanks always for all things unto God."  We do not dwell on our problems.  We do not allow the situation of the world, the evil times, to make us angry or depressed or bitter.  We fill our minds with the goodness and grace of God by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  We live in thanksgiving for the unnumbered blessings we enjoy through God's grace.  Especially do we give thanks that all things work together for our good if we love God, and that we are bound for an eternal home so wonderful it will enable us to realise that all the trials of this life are nothing in comparison.  Such a life leads to a cheerful heart.  It leads naturally to a condition of wholeness, a life of spiritual wellness and harmony.  It leads to what our Lord called "peace."

The Gospel of Matthew speaks of the joy of those who come to the wedding feast, and the sorrows of those who do not.  Those who come are the poor.  Their meager food consists primarily of hard bread supplemented with a few vegetables, fruits, and, fish.  Their clothes are rough, woolen work clothes that itch and smell like barns and fish and soil and sweat.  Suddenly, they don't know why, they are called to freely partake of a sumptuous banquet.  They are fed the finest meats and delicacies.  They are dressed in fine robes, that are clean and comfortable and sweet with the fragrance of expensive perfume.  Everything is of the best quality and served in abundance. And all is the free gift of the king.  Those who did not come receive none of it.  They have only their farms and their merchandise, which is nothing in comparison.

Obviously, the King is God and the wedding is the forgiveness and eternal peace given to us through the sacrifice of Christ.  The farms and merchandise are the trinkets of the world, and those who refuse to come to the wedding receive nothing more from the King than their trinkets.  Those who come to Christ receive joy and peace in abundance, now and forever.

Psalm 11 is written in the form of a dialogue.  The congregation was probably divided into two groups, with the first singing verse 1, and the second group singing verses 2 and 3.  Group one took up the song again in verse 4, and continued singing to the end.  You will notice, then, that the Psalm consists of three sections.  The first, in verse one,  as though speaking to a person who is fearful and doubtful in the face of the world's problems,  asks why someone would tell people who trust in God to "flee as a bird unto the hill?"

The answer is given in verses 2 and 3, "the ungodly bend their bow;" "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"  There is danger in this world.  There are evil people who desire to destroy us.  And we are powerless before them.  They have shaken the foundations of our lives, and we can't stop them.  That is the answer of those of wavering faith.

Their answer is partially correct.  There are enemies out there, who want to destroy us.  They want to silence our voices in the public square.  There are also enemies that tempt us to turn away from Christ, to give up the faith and flee to the hills.  And there are enemies that come to us in the form of problems and troubles and sorrows.  And, sometimes, as Martin Luther wrote, this world with devils filled threatens to undo us. But it is wrong to think we have no recourse but to flee to the hills.  It is wrong to think we cannot withstand their attacks.  It is wrong to think there is no defense against their attacks.  Why?  Because  "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's seat is in heaven."  It is as though the Psalm is saying, "Look around you, Christian.  God is not moved by evil men or worldly troubles.  He is seated on His royal throne in Heaven.  They cannot reach Him or hurt him, nor can they move or disturb Him.  He is far beyond their reach."

We may say, , "but I'm not God.  I'm not in Heaven, and I'm not strong like God.These enemies trouble and hurt me."  That is true, but God is with you.  God is on your side.  Verse 7 says, "Upon the ungodly he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest: this shall be their portion to drink."  The Day will come when all of your troubles are cast down and put behind you forever.  But you will be exalted. Verse 6 tells us God approves of the righteous.  He has placed His stamp of approval on you.  He has sealed and marked you as His own.  And He will preserve you, whole and safe, to the shores of eternal bliss.  In verse 8, God's eyes behold the thing that is just.  That's you.  If you are in Christ, in Biblical faith, you are just because the righteousness of Christ has been given to you.  And God's countenance beholds you.  This means He is watching you. But He is not just seeing you, He is watching over you.  He holds you in His protection.  He upholds you with His hand.  He will not allow evil to triumph over you.  It may look like evil is winning now  but it looked the same way 2,000 years ago when a sinless Man was nailed to a cross and tortured to death.  Evil must have rejoiced at His death, like the Witch and her minions at the death of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But their joy soon became sorrow, for that Man walked out of that grave.  He passed right through the stone and the seals and the guards.  What seemed a sure victory to His enemies, was actually the stroke that assured their defeat.  And so it is now.  The troubles we experience teach us to trust in God alone, not the amusements of earth or our own puny strength.

Therefore, we cling to God.  We boldly say with David, "In the Lord put I my trust."  And, as we trust in Him alone to overcome our enemies and deliver us to Heaven, we now cheerfully accomplish those things which He has commanded. 

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