Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trinity Five 2009 Sermon

1 Peter 3:8-15, Luke 5:1-11

[S]anctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” “Fear not”. +

I have deliberately quoted from both the Epistle and Gospel just now. In the Epistle we are told by St Peter to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts immediately after being told not to be afraid or troubled by those things feared or threatened by unbelievers: "be not afraid of their terror". In the Gospel that very Lord tells St Peter, later to be the author of the Epistle, not to be afraid.

But what has the instruction to “sanctify Christ as Lord” in the heart got to do with facing tribulation or fear? We are told not to fear what terrifies unbelievers, or not to fear their threats, as it can also be translated, “but” instead to sanctify or “set apart” Christ as Lord within. How is the latter the proper alternative to the former?

Well, to allow worldly fear to oppress us is to allow it lordship over us. It is to act like bodily pain or financial loss is the worst thing that can happen to humans, or that the opinion or respect of those in rebellion against God is paramount. In other words, it is to believe a lie and to “put stock” in the flesh rather than the Spirit.

On the other hand, if we set apart Jesus as the Lord and King within, we acknowledge, even in the midst of strife, that He and His promises to us are bigger than our negative circumstances. It may help to visualise it with the following symbolic picture. Many agents of fear would beat on the gate of our hearts and grimace through any openings they can find as they attempt to surround us, desiring entry and to cow us into submission and despair. But we must counter this by raising up the Cross above the surroundings, letting its light of truth and loving strength dominate the landscape. Thus we set Christ apart as Lord, lift Him up as King and honour Him as God.

To put it more prosaically, when tempted to fear as the world fears or fear the world itself, we can fight by remembering that Christ Jesus is in control in the final analysis and holds us in his heart and hand, that “all things work together for godd for those who love [the Lord]” (Romans 8:28), and that the courage of the Crucified One is available to us. We can fight terror by fixing our heart and mind on Him, reflecting on His beauty, and his omnipotent, compassionate sovereignty.

Another natural reaction to the world's threats and troubles is anger. This is dealt with by the Apostle earlier in the Epistle when he says, in modern language, “don't return verbal abuse for verbal abuse”. Instead, we are told in a quotation St Peter takes from Psalm 34 to “seek peace and pursue it”. In other words, it is not just a matter of attempting to avoid or suppress anger, but of actively praying and thinking about and working for God's peace: which is, again, to set the Prince of Peace apart as Lord and Master of ourselves and our circumstances, to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. Without this, merely fighting the emotion of anger is unprofitable and impossible. We can turn away from unrighteous anger and keep righteous anger righteous only by not allowing anger to dominate our intentions and thoughts. Rather, we re-focus on Christ and thus allow Him, as I said before, to dominate. (After all the word dominate comes from the Latin word for Lord, Dominus!)

An extra reason for comfort that St Peter reminds us of is that most of the time if we are obedient to God in good works we have little to fear even from sinners. The Greek conditional form used to introduce the exception, translated “But and if” in the AV, implies a relatively remote possibility. Yes, there are exceptions, as the many Martyrs and Confessors through the centuries demonstrate, but the norm is for good behaviour to be rewarded even on earth, in this life, not punished. And as long as we follow make Christ's Lordship real by actually obeying His commands, we end up winning whether or not we are persecuted or otherwise suffer here. For the eternal reward is infinite by comparison both to our temporary troubles and our temporary happinesses in this life.

The way to inner peace and away from the overweening, overpowering passions of fear and anger, is deep into the heart of Christ as we go deep into our own hearts. By consciously acknowledging the Lordship of the Crucified and Risen One in the midst of outward troubles we simultaneously crucify the passions and over-reactions and quicken hope and confidence that the final victory is already won. We can, then, bring our fears and angers before Him, to the foot of the Cross, so to speak, And then we can seek His will and receive of His love, wisdom and power so that, as St Paul says in Romans 8, we can “overwhelmingly conquer”. +

1 comment:

poetreader said...

Father Kirby,
This is a wonderful and pastoral expression of the radical Gospel that stands above and beyond all the changes and chances of this mortal life and is the ultimate victory over whatever man or the devil can do to us. I recently wrote a piece reflecting the determination of the three Hebrews in Daniel 3 who were cast into the fire.

Dancing in the Flames

We have no strength,
for the power is yours,
the armies, the weapons, the might.
We cannot rule,
the kingdom is yours,,
and you can enforce your will.
Yours to decide, to make all the rules,
to govern however seems best,
and ours to follow your law,
to follow wherever we can ...
but what you have asked we cannot obey,
for there is a higher law still,
A God that is greater by far than you,
and, honoring you, we yet must refuse;
and, refusing, accept what may come.

And, if to the fire we must be cast,
He will be with us there,
and whether we live or whether we die,
we'll dance in the roaring flames,
dancing and praising,
glad hearts raising,
rejoicing though we may burn.
We'll join our hands and lift our feet,
and turn and turn and turn,
and, knowing Him in the raging heat,
we're hoping that you may learn
that though we seem to suffer defeat,
we have the victory,
and we dance,
and we dance.

----------ed pacht