November 18, 2012

Sermon, Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

God Our Freedom
Psalm 66, Colossians 1:3-12, Matthew 9:18-22
Twenty-forth Sunday after Trinity
November 18, 2012
The Collect for today is a prayer for deliverance from the bands of sin.  What are these bands of sin?  They are the bonds the chains that hold us in slavery to sin.  For today let us divide them into two parts.
First is the sinfulness that lingers in us still.  It is that unrighteousness that lurks within us and continues to attempt to rule and control us  The abiding sinfulness of our nature continues to attempt to shape our thoughts and values and actions and habits of responding to life and our understanding of life.  It attempts to hold us in sin.  It does not want to free us.  It is a band that attempts to hold us in sin.

Second is what I will call the consequences of sin.  Usually we think about hell when we think about the consequences of sin, and we should, for that is part of them.  But there are also consequences in this life, a "hell on earth."  I am referring here to a sickness in the soul that traps us in a deep sense of grief.  I have trouble putting this into words because all the words I can think of have been over-used and trivialised.  Depression, despair, absolute lack of hope, grief; these are all words that come to mind, but cannot seem to convey what I am trying to express.  I am talking about something so powerful it grips your soul and binds you in chains, and has the ability to throw you into the deepest most horrible living hell, from which you can not free yourself. This hell is a part of life in this fallen world.  It is life among fallen people, who can and do hurt you.  It is life in your fallen soul, watching yourself make mistakes that harm you, and living with their consequences. I think, if we are honest, we will see that many of our troubles in life are self-inflicted.  But there is a kind of hell that comes from watching people you love make mistakes they will pay for the rest of their lives, and watching people you love suffer and die.  It includes watching your country makes mistakes it will pay for for generations, and watching denomination after denomination forsake the faith and become nothing more than synagogues of satan.  All of these things contribute to a hopelessness in us which beats us down into deep and dark despair, and that is a large part of the consequences of sin.

The Gospel lesson today shows the healing of two people, each under the burden and despair I have just described.  The woman was excluded from full participation in the religious life of her people.  That doesn't seem like much to people today.  We have to beg people to come to church and constantly urge them to do the simplest things of faith.  Some groups have become experts at making church more attractive to non-Christians.  I don't think that is possible.  Church is by definition repulsive to non-Christians, for they are at enmity with God, and worshiping Him seems foolish to them.  You may give them emotional experiences and friendships and small groups and entertainment, and you may structure your church to offer such things, but such "churches" do not usually reach the unchurched,  they just siphon people out of the local, traditional congregations.  If you find the old hymns and traditional worship and sermons boring, and need a band and excitement and novelty to feel like you are in the presence of God, maybe the problem is not in the traditional church, maybe the problem is in you.

The woman in our reading for today wanted to be in Church.  She was forbidden to participate in the Temple and synagogue.  She couldn't  eat the Passover or participate in the daily liturgical prayers of the Temple. She wasn't even supposed to be in public during her issue of blood, and this woman's issue had lasted more than a decade.  She must have been hopeless until she heard about Jesus.  Then she touched the hem of His garment, and was made whole, made clean, restored to the religious life of Israel, restored to fellowship with God.  Now she had hope.  She was delivered from that despair I mentioned earlier.

How can we be delivered from the bands of sin?  How can we touch the hem of His garment?

First, worship.  There is grace here, in this church.  There is grace in the hymns, grace in the liturgy, grace in the prayers, and grace in the Word.  God ministers to us in these things.  He shapes our minds and attitudes, which, in turn, shape our actions and outlook on life.  He removes the despair.  He gives hope and confidence that things can be better for us because we can be better people and better equipped to deal with life, through His grace.  In fact, equipping us to deal with life is a major part of the way He ministers to us as we worship Him.

Second, pray.  I am not talking about asking God for things, or even about having " little talk with Jesus."  I am talking about seeking God.  Most of the Biblical references to prayer are references to worship; corporate, public worship in God's house on God's day, and private and family worship daily.  The reason most people have trouble praying is because they view prayer as asking God for things rather than being shaped and empowered by God.  They get tired of asking for things, and don't know what to ask for, so they have prayer lists.  Yes, prayer lists can be good things.  They become a hindrance when we begin to think praying for the needs and people on the list is all there is to prayer, and that when you have finished your list you have prayed.

Prayer is about receiving grace from God for there is grace in prayer.  You meet God in prayer.  He shapes you in prayer.  He heals your soul and heals your mind as you meet Him in prayer.  That's why the people of God have always prayed liturgically, at least until a few splinter groups made spontaneous prayer the norm.  Spontaneous prayer is good sometimes, but it tends to be too self-oriented and things oriented.  The liturgical prayers tend to be more about God and being renewed in the image of Christ.  There is grace in our liturgical prayers.  In them we touch the hem of His garment.

Third, read the Bible.  God has called us together today to hear His Word.  He has called us together to address us with His truth.  But the Bible is not just for Sundays.  Reading it should be a daily liturgy for us, and there is no better thing you can do for yourself, your wife, husband parents, children and friends than to gather them with you around the Bible.

Fourth, receive the Sacraments.  There is grace in baptism and there is grace in the Lord's Supper.  He ministers to us in these things.  He makes us members of His Church.  He strengthens our faith.  He draws us into Himself.   Why, then, would we let anything prevent us from receiving them?  In these things He heals our souls. In them we touch the hem of His garment

Finally, something I fear we overlook as a way to be freed of the bands of sin; obey God.  Not just in the big things, the great things, but in the small things of life.  Obey God in the home, on the job, and by doing the small things of life heartily unto the Lord.  I don't like taking out the trash.  Taking out the trash fills garbage cans, then I have to take them to the dump, and the dumpsters are always full and I always come home smelling like a garbage truck.  So I tend to procrastinate about the trash.  But when I make myself do it because it is my duty to my family and my God, or, more usually, when Sue finally makes me do it, it is amazing how good I feel about it.  It is amazing how such a little thing can lift some of that darkness and despair, if it is done properly for the glory of God.  You are a steward of God's resources, and taking out the trash is taking care of God's resources, and it makes you feel better, like you have accomplished something and done a small part of your duty to God.  Maybe you didn't want to do it, but you made yourself do it for God, and you found that, while you were serving Him He was ministering to you.  There is grace in these small things, in doing dishes and mowing lawns and loving one another.  In them we touch the hem of His garment.

Touching the hem of His garment is basically acting on faith,  It is doing what He commands in the belief that His commandments are the way of life and peace in this world and the next.  We do as He bids, believing He will bless us.

Faith is trusting His word and acting on that faith. It is not a feeling, and it is not done because we feel like doing it.  It is done because we believe Christ.  May the Father of all mercies grant us grace and free us from the bands of sin.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

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