November 25, 2012

Sermon, Sunday next before Advent

God Our Righteous Branch
Psalm 39, Jeremiah 21:5-8, John 6:1-14
Sunday next before Advent
November 25, 2012
Last Thursday we observed a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth.  Today we have gathered to ask God to help us bear fruit for Him.  The fruit we want to bear is the fruit of good works, which includes both our outward actions and the inward attitude of our heart, which the Bible calls love.  Our recent readings in Deuteronomy have encouraged this, reminding us to keep God's Law because we love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might (Dt. 6:5).
We learn about the fruit of good works in the Bible, which, as the wise men who wrote the Westminster Confession rightly said, teaches what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of us.  The wise men who wrote our Book of Common Prayer Book devised a plan of Bible reading and worship that centers on that belief and duty.   The first half of the plan teaches what we are to believe concerning God; the second half teaches what duty God requires of us.  Following this plan takes us through the Bible in an orderly and systematic manner which builds within us a store house of Biblical faith and practice.  It is essential to keep what we are to believe and do constantly before us.  Neglect of them will cause worship to decline into entertainment, preaching to decline into motivational talks, sermons to decline  into sentimental stories or self-help sessions, and the Christian life to decline into mere moralisms and feelings.
Starting next Sunday we return to what we are to believe concerning God.  We will read again of  the promise of the Saviour, of His birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will be reminded again of His miracles, message, and Nature.  That means this Sunday, today, we have come to the end of this year's emphasis on our duty to God.  It is very proper that we do so with a serious exhortation to love and obey God.  Our table of Psalms and Lessons for the Christian Year, often called the Lectionary, has intentionally had us reading Deuteronomy at this time, and it was no coincidence that the reading for last Monday evening began at Deuteronomy 10:12, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?"  What an excellent summary of our duty to God.

Yet, already we are turning our eyes toward the emphasis of what are to believe concerning God.  Jeremiah 23:5 speaks of the Righteous Branch and King of the line of David, who shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and justice upon the earth.  His name shall be "The Lord Our Righteousness."  We know Him as Jesus.  He will gather His people, and they will dwell together in their own land.  We are His people.  Our own land is the Church; the Body and Kingdom of God.  Ultimately, our own land is our dwelling in God in Heaven forever.

Feeding the five-thousand is a direct revelation of the deity and mercy of Christ.  It reveals that He is the prophet, the Messiah, the One Moses said would come from God into the world  as we read in Friday's reading in Deuteronomy 18:18, and again this morning in John  6:5-14.

Psalm 39 is particularly appropriate for today.  We don't know when this Psalm was written.  It may have been after David's sins regarding Bathsheba.  It may have been after his decision to number the people of Israel.  But whenever it was written it expresses David's desire to change his life, turn away from sin, and start doing a better job of keeping the commandments of God.   He says, "I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue.  I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle."  A bridle is based on the idea that if you control a horse's head, you control the horse. That's why James 3:1-3 says to bridle the tongue is to bridle the whole body.   So David is saying he is going to put his head into a spiritual bridle in order to control himself,  that he "offend not."  His intention is to do right.  His intention is to keep the commandments of God.  His intention is to love God with his entire being, and to love his neighbor as himself.  Especially he will control himself in the presence of the unGodly, so he will not give them an opportunity to blaspheme because of his sin.

But as David determined to do better he also became conscious of something that is very applicable to us as we emphasise our own duty towards God: David became unbearably conscious of  what verse 9 calls "all mine offenses."

Since June 3rd we have been looking at what God requires of us, and every time we have done so, these words should have pierced our hearts like a sword; "all mine offenses."  We have heard the word of God; we have known what we ought to be doing; and, like David we have said, "I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not."  We have  confessed our sins, repented of our sins, and attempted to throw them away like filthy garments.  And, like David's, our good intentions melted away in the heat of temptation or difficulty.  God have mercy.  It seems the more we try to do right, the more we become aware of "all mine offenses." Truly if we had to earn our own way to Heaven by the fruit of our good works, we would never make it.  Thanks be to God, we don't have to.  Thanks be to God our sins are forgiven because Christ died for them.  Thanks be to God we do not have to stand before Him in the filthy rags of our own good works, for Christ Himself has dressed us in His own unblemished righteousness.  Thanks be to God He Himself works in our lives to take heed to our ways, to transform our hearts and strengthen our souls to become more and more willing and able to love and obey Him.  He alone, can "Deliver me from all mine offenses" (Ps. 39:9), and He alone can stir up our wills to bring forth the fruit of good works.  There is mercy with the Lord.  He will deliver us from all our offences.  And He will continue to strengthen us to do more of righteousness and less of sin, until we reach that land where all sin is banished from us, and we will live in perfect righteousness and peace with God., forever.

"Stir up, we beseech the O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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