November 17, 2013

Sermon, Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

Christians Abide
Psalm 98, 1 John 3:1-8, Matthew 13:24-31
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity
November 17, 2013

 “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1).  “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”  (1 Jn. 4:15).  “Little children, abide in him” (1 John 2:28).  “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not” (1 Jn 3:6).

We are still talking about what Christians do, and today’s sermon is, “Christians Abide.”  The word, abide isn’t used much any more, yet I think we all know it means to live in, or make your abode somewhere.  The word seems to have a sense of place.  It means more than just to live in a house; it means to make your house your home. So when I say, “Christians abide” I mean we abide in God.  We live in Him.  He is our home.  I think we all know this, we know Christians abide in God.  But I am not sure all Christians know how to abide in God.  So today I want to talk about how Christians abide in God.

The first thing I want to say, is that we abide in God by abiding in The Faith.  I mean, of course, the faith found in the Bible, the doctrines, teachings, ideas, values, and life-understanding taught in the Bible.  We express the essentials of The Faith every Sunday in the liturgies of Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. The liturgies express The Faith. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed certainly express it quite clearly.  They express the foundational, essential teachings of Scripture.  Christians may disagree on some other points, but to compromise on these points is to desert the Christian faith.

We abide in The Faith because we believe it is given to us by God.  It is, as Jude 3 says, the faith once delivered unto the saints. God became flesh and taught the faith to the Apostles.  The Apostles preserved it for us in the Bible.  Faithful people have proclaimed and preserved it down through the ages.  Millions have held to it in time of persecution.  Millions have died for it.  Millions live for it.  People often wonder why the Anglican Orthodox Church was founded, and why we established Holy Trinity Church here in Powhatan.  The answer is simple, to keep The Faith.  Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Orthodox Church. What made Bishop Dees feel constrained to leave a denomination that had been his family’s spiritual home for generations?  What made him invest his own personal money into this new and tiny Anglican denomination?  What made so many others in these United States and around the world come out of their denominations and unite with the Anglican Orthodox World Communion?  It was the Faith.  Why did Thomas Cranmer suffer the horrible death of being burned at the stake?  To keep The Faith.  Why did the early Christians go to the lions and the gladiators and the cross?  To keep the faith.  This Faith is valuable.  It is the way of life, the way to God.  We only abide in God when we abide in The Faith.

We abide in God when we abide in righteousness.  According to our reading from 1 John this morning, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.”  Who is the “him” in that verse?  It is Jesus Christ, of course.  It is the One 1 John 3:5 says “was manifested” that is, He appeared, He was revealed, He came to us, “to take away our sins.”  Christians abide, live, and dwell in Him, and “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.”

It is important for us to note that the Bible is not saying Christians do not sin.  If Christians do not sin, then there has never been a real Christian, because even the most Godly among us sins.  Would you compare yourself to the Apostle Paul?  Would you claim that your behaviour is as pure and good as his?  Would you assert that you have lived up to the teachings of Scripture as he did?  Served God as fully and willingly as he did?  Suffered and sacrificed in God’s service as he did?  I doubt if any of us would make that claim.  Yet listen to St. Paul’s words in Romans 7:19: “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”  Paul is saying even he has left undone the things he ought to have done, and has done those things which he ought not to have done.  Even Paul sinned.

Well if Paul sinned, what hope is there for us?  Fortunately the Bible is not talking about sinless perfection.  It is talking about a life-style, let’s call it a life orientation of righteousness.  The Christian’s life is oriented toward God, not sin.  In the days before GPS, people used maps and compasses to find their way.  If they got lost on a mountain road at night, they could find the direction they were going by the compass, and see what lay around them on the map.  If you have ever used a compass you know the needle tries to stay on magnetic north, but it has a hard time doing so. The bumps and turns in the road, and interference from metal and electronics cause the needle to waver.  We sometimes waver too.  The bumps in the road, interference of the world, and our own weakness causes us to go off course sometimes.  But our orientation and general direction of life is still toward God. We abide in Christ Jesus. That is what the Apostle John meant when he wrote these words.

A life-orientation toward Christ, necessarily leads us to purify ourselves.  1 John 3:3 says we purify ourselves, even as Christ is pure.  To purify is to cleanse.  It is to get rid of the things that don’t belong, and increase the things that do belong.  What doesn’t belong in a Christian’s life?  Anything that is not 100% compatible with God’s absolute goodness.  So,“ in this life orientation, in this life of dwelling and abiding in Christ, we make an honest attempt to purify our lives.  We make an honest attempt to run our thoughts, values, desires, and actions through the filter of God’s Holy Bible, and remove the bad and increase the good.  This is part of the way we abide in righteousness, and abiding in righteousness is one of the ways we abide in God.

I want to conclude by referring back to our old friends, the means of grace.  We abide in God through the means of grace. They are given to us by God specifically to enable us to abide in Him. The Bible is a means of grace, when it is read and believed in faith.  The Church is a means of grace, when its people abide in The Faith and in love.  Worship is a means of grace.  Baptism is a means of grace.   Communion is a means of grace, when taken in faith and understanding.  Of course these things are only means of grace to you when you make use of them.  A Bible on the nightstand is a beautiful thing, but the Bible being read is more beautiful by far.  And how can a person say he abides in God and God abides in him if he ignore the means by which abiding is accomplished?  And please tell me, can we have too much grace?  If not then why would we deprive ourselves of any of the means of grace?  They are all part of abiding in God, and, Christians abide. 

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