June 24, 2012

Sermon, June 24, 2012

The daily readings and comments are found after the sermon this week. Blessings,

God of Mercy
Psalm 98, Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 1:57-80
Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

June 24 is known as the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This is not because it is about John, though it is good to remember and honour those who have gone before us in the faith so that we may follow their good examples. Rather it is about the God John served, which is the proper focus of any remembrance of such faithful people. What was it that made John great among men? It was his fathful service to God.

For this reason the Collect for this day asks God to enable us to learn the teaching and emulate the holy life of John. The Epistle is the well-beloved passage of Isaiah 40:1-11, which encourges us to make straight the highway of our God. Yes, it originally referred to the return of the Jews from Babylon, but it applies easily to us in the twenty-first century Church. Let us make straight the highway of God that we, and others, may come to the heavenly Jerusalem by His grace. The Gospel reading is Luke 1:57-80 and includes the "Song of Zacharias" after John was born. This is a tremendous passage of Scripture which reminds us that John was sent to make straight the highway of God, to prepare the way for the Messiah by announcing His arrival and by calling people to make His way stright in their hearts by repenting of sin and getting serious about being the people of God as He directed them in the Scripture. People often wnoder what it means to make straight the highway of God. Here is the answer: repent of sin and get serious about being the people of God. This is all embodied in the word, "faith." faith is the way you make straight the hiway of God.

Pslam 98 addresses many of the same truths expressed by Zacharias as he, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke his prophecy, which, by the way, is an excellent example of what prophecy was in the early New Testament era before it ceased due to the completion of the Bible. We no longer have prophets or new prophecies because we have the Bible, but if we did, this is the kind of thing they would say..

Zacharias said in Luke 1:72 that God was preparing to perform the mercy promised to the fathers, and Psalm 98:4 says God "hath remembered His mercy and truth toward the house of Israel. Both passages speak of deliverance from enemies, peace with God, and the knowledge of salvation, making the Psalm an excellent choice whenever we remember the work and mission of John the Baptizer.

Psalm 98 can easily be seen to convey two primary points. Both are stated plainly in the first verse; "Sing unto the Lord a new song," and "He hath done marvellous things." In verse 2, the Psalm moves into a rehearsal of the marvellous works of God. It is interesting that the Psalm passes over the work of God's creation. Nor does it speak of the Law of God. Psalm 98 goes directly to the throne of grace in its proclamation of the mercy of God in the salvation of His people.

At first glance, we can see that the Psalm is about a great victory over some kind of wordly trouble. It may have been a victory in battle against human enemies. It may have been delievrance from something like illness or drought. It may have been, as I believe, the deliverance of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C. But what they are delivered from is not mentioned because the important thing is that they were delivered. God delivered them. It was as though He reached down from Heaven with His own right hand and secured His victory and saved His people.

It is no wonder this Psalm is chosen for the day we remember John the Baptizer. For John himself told us of the One who gained the ultimate victory for Himself, and, in so doing, saved His people, not from mere war and pestilence, but from the wrath of God. In becoming a man, dying on the cross, and rising again Christ fulfilled every detail of the first four verses of Psalm 98. I encourage you to open your Bible later today and, reading this Psalm, think about the way Christ accompished these things.

The second point is, "sing unto the Lord." It is an invitation to those who have tasted the grace of God, to honour God. "Show yourselves joyful unto the Lord... sing, rejoice, and give thanks... Praise the Lord." The Psalm is not talking here about some ecstatic or emotional experience. It is talking about the praise and thanksgiving of faith, and holiness. Our "new song" is a new life of believing God and obeying His commandments. That is why we pray at the Communion Table that we may ever hereafter serve and please Him in newness of life. It is why we beseech Him every morning and evening to "give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy 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; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The Psalm ends with a vision of the whole earth united in the worship and love of God. Even nature joins the chorus as the floods clap their hands and the hills are joyful to God. It may be that here, as in other places in Scripture, the sea represents the Gentile nations (see Rev. 13:1), but here they are not fighting Israel, they are joining her in God's love and mercy (see Rev. 13:1). This vision is being fullfilled even now. For we are part of those Gentiles invited into the Church of God, forgiven of our sins and made heirs with Israel of the promises of God. In Christ we are forgiven of our sins and restored to God's blessings. All of His grace and love are ours to enjoy now and forever. This was a major part of the message of John. He was not the Light; he was not the Christ. He came "to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe" (John 1:7). All people have the opportunity to believe and be saved. It is not limited to the Jews alone, or to the religious alone, or the good alone. It is not for men only or Americans only. It is for all people. For "whosoever believeth in Him" will not perish in the eternal death of hell, but has everlasting life with Him in heaven (see Jn. 3:16).

"Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repsent according to his peaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truths' sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."