June 2, 2013

First Sunday after Trinity Sermon

Thy Life
Psalm 119:33-48, Deuteronomy 30:11-20, John 13:1-17, 34-35
First Sunday after Trinity
June 2, 2013

Today we move into the second half of our Church year, which is our annual cycle of prayer and Scripture reading.  The first half has emphasised what the Bible teaches about God and what He has done for us in Christ.  The second half emphasises our response to God.  We could say that the first half of the year is about what Christians believe, and the second half is about what Christians do.

What do Christians believe?  We believe the Bible.  We believe the Bible was given to us by God and that it is His self revelation of His nature and will.  In it we see a loving Father who welcomes prodigals back to His house, who even runs to meet us on the way, and who desires only what is good for us, only that which gives meaning and joy and goodness to life.  In the Bible we see God loving us so much He made the ultimate sacrifice, going to the cross to bear in Himself all of the anguish and grief and, yes, even anger, our sins have caused Him.  Yes, there are legitimate questions about the Bible, and, yes, there are many disagreements about its meaning even among Christians, and, yes, even those who profess to believe it are miserable failures at living out its principles and teachings. But, in spite of all of this, there is, and always has been, a general agreement among all people who read the Bible, whether they are skeptics or true believers, in what the Bible teaches.  Knowing what we know about human beings, such agreement is remarkable in itself.  And what the Bible teaches is summarised for us in the great and enduring creeds of the Church.  We say one of them every Sunday; the Apostles' Creed at Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed at Holy Communion.  They express the essential teachings of the Bible, therefore we do not simply recite them as an academic acknowledgement, we say them as expressions of our faith.  To us they are not just facts, they are the beliefs by which we live our lives.

We say this because we believe what God said through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:20, "He is thy life."  He is our life because it is He who created us.  He did not merely create the heavens and earth, He created us.  He formed us in the womb.  He formed our bodies and put life into them He formed our personhood, so that we are not just something, we are someone.  He is our life because He has preserved our lives to this very moment.  I am not just talking about giving us the necessities that have kept us alive, I'm talking about His supernatural intervention and guiding of our lives in those things that, when we look back over our lives we say, if God had not delivered me from this or that danger, I would not be here today.  If God had not delivered me from this situation or those circumstances, my life today would be vastly different and miserable, if I were even alive at all.

But Moses was writing about something deeper and more fundamental than God giving and preserving our physical lives, Moses was writing about the life of the soul, for it is especially in the life of the soul that God "is thy life."  Naturally we think about the cross when we think about the life of the soul.  In giving His life for us, Christ purchased life for our souls.  But I hope we think about more than simply being forgiven of sin and going to Heaven, because Christ died to help us in this life too.  Christ died to give us what He called abundant life, life that is as good as it can get in this world.  It is no secret that a life lived in the "thou shalt nots" is no life at all.  That is because the things God forbids are the things that destroy lives.  Therefore, God's commandments are not prison walls to keep us from having fun, they are a fence around a home that keep us from harm.  Anyone who has seen young children running and playing beside a busy highway can immediately grasp the value of a good fence, and that is what the commandments of God are.  And look at the hurt and misery that fills the history of the human race because of our willful indulgence in God's "thou shalt nots."  Wars, abuse, violence, hatred, injustice, corruption.  How many children have died?  How many have cried themselves to sleep alone, afraid, and hungry, because of the human infatuation with God's "thou shalt nots?"

But imagine what the world would be like if the entire human race replaced murder with peace, fornication and adultery with fidelity and love, deceit with honesty, falsehood with truth, and greed with contentment. Suppose everyone lived in such a way that, as as our Catechism says, we hurt no one by word or deed, keep our bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity, be true and just in all our dealings, keep our tongues from evil speaking, and labour truly for our own livings rather than covet the possessions of others?  Can we not see that such a world would be fundamentally different from the one in which we live?  Can we not see that life in such a world would be exciting and free and happy?  And isn't that the kind of world God's commandments would create, if we just obeyed them?

I am not suggesting we can build such a world in our present condition.  I don't believe any amount of social engineering, education, or political experimentation can create such a world.  It certainly cannot be created by law or by force.  I think it will be created, one day, by the grace of God, but God will build it, not man.  But you and I have the opportunity to taste that world now, because we have the opportunity to live by God's law, not perfectly, but better than we are currently doing.  And we, by faith, have the opportunity to "see" how wonderful life would be if everyone lived by it God's law.  But, even more than this, we have the promise that we will actually live in such a world one day.  We will live in a place where evil is a thing of the past, where all live in peace and harmony with one another and with God.

But let's get back to the here and now, for we are talking about how Christians live.  We live by the law of God.  We do not think we keep it perfectly, nor do we believe keeping it earns any favour from God.  We keep it because it is a gift from God.  It shows us how to live happy and peaceful lives.  We keep it because it is good.  By His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit  let us walk in the ways of His commandments.

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