A Sermon for 4th Sunday after Trinity, 5 July 2020 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy, that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The soaring majesty of the words of Martin Luther’s, A Mighty Fortress, come to mind in the reading of this Collect:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal
This hymn was composed at a time when the protection of God’s powerful hand seemed most comforting to those, including Luther, who faced imminent of possible martyrdom. A classical hymn is no less than a prayer put to music. Its words are as immortal as the biblical truths that the hymn puts forth in rhythmic prose.
Is God your help and fortress? Does He preserve you in the moments of hurt and doubt, and prosper your hand in righteousness during times of prosperity? O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee. We see, not only in this prayer, but in scripture itself, a thing condemned by the world but practiced by God. God profiles and discriminates in his dealings with His people. Those who do not trust in God may not claim the privilege of His protection. He seeks those who have the faith to trust in Him under any and all circumstances of life. Remember that there are only two families and classes among all the people of the earth – past, present, and future – the family of God, and the family of the Prince of Darkness. There is NO MIDDLE GROUND! Trust is all important. We all tend to place our trust in SOMETHING – our friends, our job, our wealth, or our own hand. But trust misplaced is trust abandoned. Trust is so important to God that He places it in the very center verse of Holy Scripture: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.” (Psalms 118:9, Acts 5:29) The national motto of our United States is “In God we Trust.” We consider it of such importance that we place it on every coin minted by our government. Sadly, the motto is dead without the real trust that should back both our money and our motto.
When the storms and billows build upon the seas of your life, you may take courage in the Psalmists words of encouragement and strength: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalms 139:9-10) If we have made our election in Christ sure, we may rely upon the promises found in Isaiah: “… Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)
“. . . without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy.” Apart from God there is NOTHING! There was only a void where the earth now stands, and even the void was created by the Word of God. There is NO LIFE apart from His loving provision. So there can be NO STRENGTH apart from God. He is the PRIME MOVER and SUSTAINER of all things. And can there be holiness apart from God. None whatsoever, for there are none righteous – no not ONE! There can be no holy thought, no holy ground, apart from a Holy God to provide it.
“Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy” God’s mercy is as abundant as a gushing fountain. We can never reach a point when we believe we have had enough. It continually flows forth and bathes us in its resplendent waters of light. If we magnify our Lord, He will magnify His mercies upon us. “. . . that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” Do we not pray to get through the fires of life un-scorched? In the burning building, as in the world of smoke and mirrors, we desperately seek the way that leads to safety. We may grope and stumble until the fires consume us because we have no Guide in the fires. But we do have a strong Guide and Ruler who is our King and Sovereign. His eyes are forever on His own. He will go through the fires with us, sheltering us with His wings, and bring us, unscathed, to safety. But we must keep our hand, and our trust, in Him during the danger. Those things of the world may cause us to break hold of Christ and wonder into places that lead us to perish. Can we cast aside the false glitter and dim lights of this world and keep our focus fixed on that Light that never fails. If we are able to persevere to the last, we shall be saved to enjoy the splendor of Heaven.
How can our saving mercies be granted on behalf of One who has already gained the Kingdom of His Father? How is Christ profited by our grant of mercy? “Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.” The very dying desire of Christ was that we might be saved. His ordeal of torture and earth was all for us. He purchased our salvation with His atoning death if we will only place our trust in that mighty Salvation and answer His call! It is for the sake of His Son that God the Father will admit us into His Heaven as pure and righteous sons of God. Have you placed your absolute trust in Him, Friend?
St. Luke vi. 36-42
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (Luke 6:36-42).
In a world that places a very high premium upon achievement and performance, we are often misled, even by our clergy, to believe that our works are the means by which we are saved. The modern church emphasizes giving almost to the exclusion of all other considerations. The rich man, or woman, will be rewarded with honors and positions of responsibility even if their daily lives do not reflect that Spirit of which Christ spoke. Perhaps the poor widow that spends all of her available time in cooking for the sick and homeless will be forgotten in the perishable minds of men, but shall be more highly remembered and favored in the Infinite Mind of God. God gives us many hints of His Will to be fulfilled in Christ in the midst of the Old Testament. The people of Israel were living as they pleased and believing that all their sins were remitted by the sacrifices of the wealthy. But God counseled: For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) The money-changers of the modern temple would have us persist in believing that we can BUY God’s favor while living as we please, but it was NEVER so. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalms 85:10) Mercy and truth are husband and wife – inseparable! If we will have mercy, we must accept truth with it. As Jesus told the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well, “. . . the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (John 4:23) `Spirit’ is not emotionalism, but love of God and our fellow man. But our love must be directed in truth, for false worship is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.
As we read in our biblically-oriented prayer of Collect, God is the protector of all who trust in Him. We can claim none of God’s protection apart from the measure of trust we place wholly in Him. Without God, we have no strength at all, and our righteousness is as filthy rags. Apart from God, there is no holiness to be had. We lean upon God for His increasing mercies in His Sovereign Rule over us, and to Guide us through the Wilderness of Sin of this present world. Only God can show us the safe and righteous way – we cannot find it alone. In avoiding those things that worldly, we are amassing to ourselves those treasures that are heavenly. These are the Godly petitions we repeated from today’s prayer of Collect.
In our Epistle for today, taken from Romans 8, we discover that there is groaning of the mortal soul that is inclined to the Holiness of God. Such a struggle and groaning is forever present with us until the curtain of time is lifted and time shall be no more. It is not a sorrowful groaning, but an intense desire to see God’s will worked out on earth as it is in Heaven according to that prayer the Lord taught us to say. When sorrow and misery befalls the stranger to God, hope is forlorn and there is no brilliant Light upon which he may fix his eyes from the darkness that engulfs his wretched soul. But the child of God embraces the Light even more earnestly as the dark circle surrounds him, or a loved one. He knows, innately, that the Light is his destination and not the dark fires of Hell that seem to presently surround him. “. . . . weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalms 30:5b)
Our Gospel text calls us to a higher standard of life and Spirit than a rigid adherence to the law can afford. If perfect obedience were possible, there would be no need of mercy; but we can never be perfect keepers of the Law of God, therefore, we must have mercy if we are to be accounted blameless and righteous in entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
Consider the great pardon and mercy shown to us through the substitutionary death of Christ! He suffered that we might forego the eternity of Hell. We should rightfully be punished for our life of sin, yet Christ died in our stead that we, accepting His Lordship, might be pardoned and forgiven. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. This is a mighty admonition to us, for we can never be as merciful as God has been toward us. But God would have us to take on the very nature of mercy in our dealings with others. Though a child can seldom match the understanding of his father or mother, he will nonetheless mimic the nature he sees in his parents. That is what God desires of His children today.
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven So many good Christians misunderstand this to mean that Christian judgment is forbidden. Nothing could be further from the truth. The meaning to us is this: We should not judge with our personal judgments, but with the righteous judgment of God as evidenced in His Word. Jesus Christ gives us commandment that is clear: Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. (John 7:24) We are not only to judge from the heart, but also judge only by the measure of God’s judgment and not our own. If God has declared a certain behavior sin, that is not OUR judgment, but God’s. Simply declaring God’s condemnation of a sin is not our PERSONAL judgment, but HIS! Remember the debtor to the king whose great debt was forgiven by the king and, who, after went out and took a man by the throat who owed him a small sum, threatening to sell his wife and family into slavery? He was forgiven a fortune, but refused to forgive his own servant a small debt. How merciless was he! Are we not the same? The King of Glory has forgiven us an enormous debt, and a multitude of debts, yet we refuse to forgive those who offend us in the slightest measure.
38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. It is not possible to give more than God has given, for He immediately replenishes our bottles of oil the moment we pour out our blessings to others. There are blessings that cannot be measured in simple terms of a piece of bread for a piece of bread. Our giving of bread to the poor is multiplied in return value a thousand times. Our souls have rest and a good conscience thereby. Peace of mind is a possession not enjoyed by the greedy.
Can the blind lead the blind? Of course they can! It is happening in 90% of America’s churches today. Ministers, blind to the love and Spirit of God, are leading their blind disciples ever nearer the gaping abyss that awaits all who do not hear with clarity the voice of God. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? This is a parable of Jesus that has profoundly present implications. Our seminaries have been turned from a concentrated focus on the Word of God to an obsession with church growth, conflict resolution, Scriptural compromise, seeker friendly programs, and, yes, MONEY schemes! If the lay Christian is NOT blind (informed deeply by the Word of God) it is not likely that he can be led by the nose by a blind guide.
Do you know that there are theologians today who believe that they are better informed of God’s Will than Jesus Christ? It is true. There are those among the despicable movement called “Higher Critics” who believe that textual analysis and archeological digs have revealed to them information that Jesus did not have while on his earthly ministry. They obviously discredit Christ as the Son of the Living God, and God Himself! Their new bibles attempt to alter the evidence to support their intentional errors. 40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. I once disputed with a local minister who claimed that speaking in tongues (nonsensical babbling) was required for salvation. We argued the issue endlessly. Finally, I asked, “Is Jesus Christ our perfect example in all things?” Of course, the minister answered in the affirmative to which I followed up, “Do we have any evidence of Jesus EVER speaking in an ecstatic and incomprehensible tongue?” The man REFUSED to answer. If we will have perfect religion, and undefiled, let us be as much like Christ as our earthen vessels will afford.
How many clergymen preach against the sins of lying, stealing, adultery, etc., and harbor those sins in the dark chambers of their own hearts? Of course these sins are condemned by God; however, we must not judge others by a stronger measure than we apply to our own conduct. If we criticize the housekeeping of a neighbor, let us first sweep the trash and filth from our own floors. 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
If we are to have authority as men and women of God, we must see that we follow Christ in love and truth. We not only pronounce the truth of God’s Word to others, but we must make that truth the rule of our own lives. Owning the Spirit of Love and Truth, we shall walk the Valleys and Mountains with our eyes open to the presence and company of God.