February 26, 2012

Scriptures and Comments for Week of First Sunday in Lent

February 27, Day Five

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 36, Genesis 24:1-27, 1 Corinthians 3:1-17
Evening - Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Jeremiah 3:19, John 9:1-23

John 9:1-23
1And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
4I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
6When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
8The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
9Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.
10Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
11He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
12Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
13They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
14And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
15Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.
16Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
17They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
18But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.
19And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
20His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:
21But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.
22These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
23Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.

Commentary, John 9:1-23

John 9 records the healing of a blind man. Still in Jerusalem, our Lord has left the Temple where His rebuke of the empty religion of the Pharisees ended in their attempt to kill Him. Outside of the Temple He sees a blind man to whom He restores sight. Sight and light in this passage are spiritual words, referring to a condition of the soul more than of the body. Christ came to give sight to the spiritually blind and light to those who dwell in spiritual darkness.

Devotional Thoughts

It is important to know that we cannot heal our own blindness or give light to our darkness. Only Christ can do this, and Lent does not replace or add to His redemptive work. Lent is a concentrated attempt to gratefully practice the principles of holy living. In Christ we who were blind have been given sight, and in Lent we devote ourselves to "seeing" Christ. We divert our gaze from other things to look upon the beauty of God. In Lent we intentionally practice holiness. We set aside the time to do the things we should always be doing, but sometimes allow to be crowded out of our lives. Emphasizing these things during Lent does not excuse their neglect at other times, of course. But in Lent we make a special point of doing them.

February 28, Day Six

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 37:1-24, Genesis 24:28-67, 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5
Evening - Psalm 46, Psalm 47, Jeremiah 4:1-9, John 9:24-41

John 9:24-41
24Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.
25He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
26Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
27He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
28Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.
29We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.
30The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
31Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
32Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
33If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
34They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
35Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

Commentary, John 9:24-41

In John 9:35-38 we see the conclusion toward which Christ is leading the blind man. That is, the restoration of his spiritual sight. Now the man can say, "Lord, I believe." Now he can worship Christ as His Lord and God. The Pharisees, however, remained in their blindness. They refused to see their sin or their God.

Devotional Thoughts

One of the things we emphasize in Lent is repentance. We make a great point of turning away from sin and turning to God. Before we can repent of sin we must find our sin, and Lent is a time for finding the sin in our lives. It is a time to put our lives under the microscope to find the tiny flaws, and to stand back far enough to see the giant holes. Returning to our example of a journey, finding our sin is like checking the compass to determine the present course of our lives.

When we do this we will always notice a discrepancy between our professed ideals, and our practice in real life. For example, we may say that our goal in life is to live for Christ, but our actions might show that our real goal is to be a world champion sports fan. Obviously, this self examination is more than simply asking if a certain action is a sin or not. We are talking about a serious, intense, and honest look at the way we really live our lives.

February 29, Day Seven

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 26, Ezekiel 2, Matthew 9:1-13
Evening - Psalm 4, Psalm 16, Ezekiel 3:16, 2 Corinthians 4

Matthew 9:1-13
1And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.
2And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
3And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
5For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
6But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
7And he arose, and departed to his house.
8But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
9And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Commentary, Matthew 9:1-13

Matthew 9 finds our Lord again in dispute with the Pharisees. The climax of today's reading is verse 13, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The Pharisees' values were wrong. They valued show and pomp. Jesus values real faith and obedience. His concern is that sinners (and that is all of us) are running to hell with all their strength. His concern is to save them from the awful consequences of actually and eternally reaching that goal. He not only calls sinners to repent, but also gives Himself as the ransom for their sins.

Devotional Thoughts

One of the things we devote ourselves to in Lent is the serious examination of our values. We will honestly ask and answer probing questions about them. What do I value in life? How do I know that I value them? How are my values formed? What do I allow to shape my values? Do I value humbleness, kindness, honesty, and integrity? What personality traits do I value in others? In myself?

March 1, Day Eight

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 37, Psalm 26, Genesis 25:28, 1 Corinthians 4:6
Evening - Psalm 49, Jeremiah 4:11-22, John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10
1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Commentary, John 10:1-10

We find in John 10 the contrast between the Good Shepherd and the false shepherds that abound always. The Good Shepherd is Christ, who comes for the benefit of His sheep, even at the cost of His own life. He is the door through whom His sheep go in and out, and find "pasture." The false shepherds come to fleece the flock; the Good Shepherd comes to save the flock. Following Christ's journey to the cross is a constant reminder that He died to save us. He gave His life to save His sheep. There is in this passage another issue, namely the question of whose sheep we are. Christ's sheep know His voice and follow Him. They will not follow another. Whose voice do we follow?

Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is tough, but necessary. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves, which is why few people actually do it. It also requires us to be thorough. We must look below the surface, meaning we examine things like attitudes as well as actions. Attitudes are mind sets and values upon which actions are based. Do I have attitudes of self-importance, looking out for number one, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, anger, grudge bearing? What must I change that I may have more of an attitude of Godliness?

March 2, Day Nine, Ember Day
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 84, Ezekiel 34:1-16, Matthew 10:24-42
Evening - Psalm 77, Ezekiel 37:1-14, I Timothy 4

Matthew 10:24-42
24The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.
25It 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?
26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.
27What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
40He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.
42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

Commentary, Matthew 10:24-42

We are often surprised at the world's reaction to the Gospel. Knowing it is the way of life, of Heaven, and of God's love given to us, we are surprised that people reject it, and love darkness rather than light. More surprising, however, is the tenacity with which we who claim to love and follow Christ still cling to our sins and resist the holy influences of the Word and Spirit of God. Christ Himself, in today's reading from Matthew, calls us to a life-style of holiness and radical commitment to Him. This requires a constant effort to find and expel sin in our lives and to replace it with Godliness.

Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is the attempt to find our sins. In this we are not content to look at actions alone. From them we move to our internal thoughts and habits. Habits are just the ways we respond to life. They have become so ingrained in us that we do them without thinking. Habits can be good, or bad. We can have a habit of laziness, or a habit of industry. We may have a habit of not listening to others, of aggressive driving, or of unedifying mannerisms or speech. Take time to examine your habits of life by the light of God's word.

Today is the second of the Spring Ember Days when we pray for the ministers of Christ's Church and ask Him to call men into the ministry of the Gospel. The Collect for The Ember Days is found on page 260 of the Prayer Book:

"O Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

March 3, Day Ten, Ember Day
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 101, Ezekiel 34:17-31, 2 Timothy 2:1-15
Evening - Psalm 19, Psalm 23, Ezekiel 37:21, 1 Timothy 6:6

2 Timothy 2:1-15
1Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
3Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
5And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
6The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
7Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
8Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
9Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
10Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
11It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:
12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
13If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
14Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
15Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Commentary, 2 Timothy 2:1-15

"Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). How many Christians think of themselves as soldiers of Christ called to endure hardness? Do we not think more in terms of the hardness Christ endured for our sakes than of enduring it for Him? Do we not tend to think of Christ more as a life enhancing commodity than a King leading His army into the field of battle? Perhaps this is why so little real self-examination and Christian living occurs in today's Church.

Devotional Thoughts

Self-examination requires us to honestly examine our thoughts. What do I think about most during the day? What do I think about when I have free time? Are my thoughts about getting more toys? Having more fun? Advancing my career? Chocolate? Notice, these can be good. It is good to enjoy God's blessings, to advance our careers, and to have fun. And I am certain God has nothing against chocolate. But do we also think about God, the Scriptures, holiness? Do we see ourselves as called to endure hardness for Christ? Do we ever think that some of the things to which we devote ourselves may actually impede our service as soldiers of the cross?

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Truth in Worship
Psalm 50, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 4:1-11
First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2012

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In spite of the winds and temperature, we see the days lengthening and the calendar telling us March is near, and Spring is not far behind it. We are now fully in the Season of Lent, and today we are looking at the important Biblical teaching of truth in worship. The Collect is another new prayer, meaning, less than five-hundred years old. It reminds us that the fasts and self-discipline we practice in Lent are not done to impress God, but to bring our desires under the control of His Spirit. 2 Corinthians 6 reminds us that St. Paul kept his physical needs in check in order to endure hardship in the service of Christ, and Matthew 4 shows Christ subduing His own flesh to resist temptation in the wilderness.

Psalm 50 is about controlling our own desires and thoughts in order that we may worship God in truth. The Psalm makes two primary points, which I want to state here at the start of the sermon. First, worship matters. Second, holiness matters.

Let's talk about the first point; worship matters. If worship matters, two things are true about it. First it must be done. We must worship God. Second, it must be done correctly. The people God addresses in this Psalm were participating in the worship of God as required of His people. Their problem was that they weren't doing it right. The Psalm begins by showing us that God pays attention when we worship Him. He comes to us. But, notice that His coming is not described in terms of gentleness, the way we generally think of Him coming to worshiping people. A consuming fire goes before Him and a tempest surrounds Him. He comes in power, like an immense wildfire combined with a hurricane His very presence destroys and consumes the earth and its people. He comes to judge His people and their worship, and He finds problems in them. He finds insincerity, false worship, false doctrine, strife, and division among them. And He has come to testify against them. "I myself will testify against thee, O Israel; for I am God," He says in verse 7.

How fearful this sounds. The One who can cast your soul into hell has come to testify against those who worship Him How can this be? These are not the pagans, the unbelievers, the sinners. These are the good people, the Church people. They offer the sacrifices and keep the feasts and fasts. Yet God is angry at them because, in spite of all their religious fervour, they haven't got it right. Here is their problem, influenced by the idolatry of Canaanites tribes, many in Israel had begun to think of God as kind of a glorified idol, and they had fallen into one of the main errors of Canaanite idolatry. They assumed the only thing God wanted was a few nice ceremonies and a few nice people. They thought everything was fine as long as they kept the ceremonies and lived fairly moral lives. They did not understand that God wants the heart as well as the sacrifice, and if you don't give your heart you may as well not give the sacrifice.

They had even begun to think their sacrifices provided food for God. The Canaanites thought their gods ate the sacrificed animals. They pictured their gods gathering around the smoke of the sacrifice and feeding on it. When the Jews adopted this view of God it changed their worship. In fact, it changed everything. They began to think of themselves as great, magnanimous people who took care of poor, hungry little God. So, even though their outward forms in the sacrificial ceremonies were done in accordance with the directives of the law of God, they were not really worshiping God; they were simply glorifying themselves and learning to feel good about themselves. It was really all about them, not God. Thus, God rejected their worship. He would not even receive their sacrifices. He says in verse 9, "I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he-goats out of thy folds." He owns all the beasts of the forest and all the cattle on the hills. We can not "give" Him anything. If He can create them, surely He could eat them. If I were hungry, He says, I would not tell you. If I were in any kind of need I would not tell you because there wouldn't be anything you could do about it. Of course that is the point. You can't do anything to improve God's condition. You can't feed Him. You can't make Him more glorious than He is. You can't add to His honour in any real sense of it at all. You can't add to or detract from His state of blessed perfection. In the first place, God doesn't have any needs. God is complete in and of Himself. In the second place, even if He had a need you couldn't fulfill it. Even your worship doesn't add to His glory. The worship of Old Testament sacrifices didn't feed God's "body," and your worship, love and obedience doesn't feed His "ego." He needs nothing, but gives everything.

There is something very important in this, a lesson we all need to hear and take to heart; there is such a thing as a wrong way to worship God. In fact, there are many wrong ways, and God does not take wrong worship lightly. And one of the most prevalent wrong ways to worship God is to adopt the ideas and practices of the world, bring them into the Church, and use them in the worship of God.

So, worship matters. That was the first point of this Psalm, and the second point is, holiness matters. According to Psalm 50, even "right" worship is refused by God if it is not accompanied by a serious intent to live a holy life. Have you ever noticed how many times we pray for holiness in Morning and Evening Prayer? We start in the General Confession, asking "That we may ever hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life." In the Absolution we beseech God "to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy." In the Lord's Prayer we ask to be delivered from evil. In the versicles we pray that He will "make clean our hearts within us," and "take not thy Holy Spirit from us." In the Collect for grace we pray that "all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight." Even the prayer of Thanksgiving asks that we will show forth His praise, "not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days."

These prayers are in complete accord with the teachings of Scripture. I used to criticise the sermons of many ministers because they were only about being forgiven and going to Heaven. I criticised those sermons because the scope of the Gospel is far greater than being forgiven and going to Heaven. It is about being restored in our souls so we can know God the way He intends us to know Him, live the way He intends us to live, and be the people He intends us to be. You see, we don't just need to be forgiven; we need to be repaired. We are broken, so we need to have our souls, our wills, our hearts fixed so that we love God and desire His ways above all else. Holiness matters.

That's why Psalm 50 makes such a big point of the fact that God does not receive the worship of people whose lives are lived apart from Him. "Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my covenant in the mouth; Whereas thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee?" He asks in verses 16 and 17. God is warning people who go by the name of God but not the ways of God. They call themselves Christians, but they rarely attend Church, or they attend churches that are compromised in their faith and practice. Their morals and lifestyles are patterned after the world instead of the Word, often to such a degree that they actually approve evil and think God does too. "Thou thoughtest wickedly that I am even such a one as thyself" (vs. 21). Holiness matters.

The Psalm closes with a dire warning and a gracious promise. Those who forget God will be plucked away; thrown into the trash; cast out of His presence into everlasting and unimaginable sorrow. Those who offer God true worship, true thanks and praise, and "ordereth his way aright" will see the salvation of God.

"O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdues to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.