Friday, July 31, 2009

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Readers of The Continuum, especially new ones, may wish to read what I wrote for this Sunday a year ago , as various situations it addresses have only intensified in the past year. Furthermore, it may be of interest to read what I wrote for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity in 2003, if only for the historic significance of that week.

Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 7:15-21

One of the finest images ever presented in a sermon that I was privileged to hear, was the simple image of drinking seawater. If survivors from a sinking ship are together in a lifeboat, no matter how thirsty they may be, the worst thing they can do is to drink seawater. The salt in each drink adds to thirst, rather than quenching it. Eventually they go mad before dying of dehydration. Each drink adding to the thirst, rather than quenching it, is a good image of addiction; but, at the end of the day it is a picture not only of addictions, but of all sins of the flesh. Each time the flesh is indulged it craves more: "Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied." (Prov. 27:20) Do not drink seawater, and do not try to satisfy lust.

"Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Says today's Epistle. Looking back at the last two weeks, you may recall that this portion of the Epistle to the Church in Rome began with the reality of your new life given to you in the waters of baptism. And, in sharp contradiction to modern heresy taught by that other denomination (the one that embarrasses even the atheists), Baptism is not a license to sin, but the sacrament whereby you have died to sin and come alive with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13,14)

To drink of the Spirit of life in Christ is to find satisfaction that the seawater of sin cannot give. To walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh is to know God "whose service is perfect freedom." To let go the weight of sin, to cut yourself loose from the burden, is the great joy of freedom. It may hurt. Repentance may hurt so badly at first that our Lord compares it to plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand. He is not unaware of the pain it may involve to repent of some sins. He is not unaware of the pain some may feel even as they let go of bitterness and decide to forgive. He is not unaware of the agonies of "cold turkey," whether from real addiction, or from lusts of the eyes and of the flesh, or even "cold turkey" from a wrong romance outside of marriage. The Lord knows that some repentance hurts at first; but afterward it brings peace. Beside which, these sober words must be heard and taken to heart: "for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell." (Matt. 5:29, 30)

These are things that the false prophets will not say to you. The Lord warns of them, coming in sheep's clothing, looking so very holy and good; but inwardly, he warns us, they are ravening wolves. They court your favor. They do not preach that we should repent and forsake our sins; they aid you only in deadly self-deception, just as enablers help addicts destroy themselves. And, they add to the deceptions and errors of modern society by presenting an image of God who has made no commandments, and who approves of sin, and so needs to forgive nothing.

On the first Sunday in July, the day following our Independence Day here in the United States, I told you of a startling statistic I had read in The Washington Times: A full 40 percent of all children born in this country are born out of wedlock, up from 25 percent four years ago. Have we really come to a time when people are so unconcerned about their children that they make no effort to provide stable homes and family life? Yes, we have. And, why not? Children are treated as throw-away objects while they are vulnerable and helpless, still growing in the womb, having no protection of law. This is a sin of our whole country. And, marriage is treated as an experiment, and something that may be redefined by the stroke of legislator's pens and the whims of their votes; as if marriage were man-made rather than ordained of God. And, as if human nature can and should be altered. Indeed, for forty years extreme feminists (both male and female feminists, since many men hold that ideology too) have told us that God made some big mistakes in creating human nature the way He did, and it is their crusade to change it, or destroy it trying to change it. Therefore, innocent children are offered in sacrifice to their god of convenience and egalitarianism, and marriage is offered in sacrifice with the innocents. People in our time increasingly display not only ignorance of the moral Laws of God, but increasingly they display their inability to comprehend morality at all. Sadly, churches are simply going along to get along, and often fail to teach their people what they need to know in order to live. They let them drink the seawater, and make little or no effort to guide them to the water that Christ alone gives; that alone satisfies thirst.

Yes, these are the things the false prophets will not tell you. They preach a different gospel, not heeding the warning of St. Paul:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Gal.1:6-10)

I said on that Sunday, July 5, that the alarming statistic I brought to your attention reveals the failure of the clergy above every other group in modern society. I have come to see that a clergyman may be a false prophet without ever teaching error overtly. All he needs to do, to present another gospel, is to so court your favor that he becomes one who pleases men, and cannot, therefore, be a servant of Christ. In an Anglican context, such a man may enter a pulpit with the intention of watering down the power and the wholesome effect of the Scriptures that are read, and of the Biblical truth that sounds clearly as a trumpet throughout the whole liturgy of Holy Communion. He need merely make it go down, as the song from Mary Poppins says, with "a spoonful of sugar."

I have advised men who study for Holy Orders as follows:

"It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, or to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive- truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting from the stroke, he prevents the healing. If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay and stubble instead of gold, silver and precious stones.

"It far easier to preach if a man (informed by the Tradition of the Church) will ride the scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point, and arrive at their own destination. If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of Hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep. Let the meaning of the scriptures be expounded to their full effect, proclaiming from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care."

The reality is this: The message is the same as always. Repent and believe the Gospel. And, the Gospel is the same Gospel that was preached by the Apostles and that has been taught and "believed always, everywhere and by all." Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day as the scriptures foretold. After his resurrection he was seen by many witnesses. To be saved from sin and death you must repent of your sins and believe this Gospel. Some churches have a new message. We preach the old one, the one that came from the Living God.


RC Cola said...

One of the last times I went to an RC parish, the priest read the event from Exodus 17:10-13. I expected to hear a great sermon about spiritual warfare in the modern world. I expected something inspiring because that story of Moses and the battle against the Amalekites is inspiring.

Instead I was treated to an insipid sermon about being nice while driving. No kidding.

I've always wondered: Why did that priest rob me of the opportunity to know God better? Did he think I was too stupid, too weak, or too sensitive to accept the truth? I wanted to hear something that would leave me pondering the mystery of the incarnation, or the economy of salvation...something. Any thing! But nice.

Thank you for this sermon, and for the many others. Thank you for telling us the truth.

Canon Tallis said...

The problem of preaching against sin and for the faith set down by the apostles in the Gospels and the totality of the New Testament is that you are always going to be stepping on someone's toes. But given the totality of your three sermons, Father Hart, what is a poor priest to do. This morning in my sermon I suggested that this is one of the mornings when many priests would prefer to be indisposed and leave the services and the preaching to someone else. But as St. Paul points out, we have no choice. We must preach the Lord's good news by our lives even before we attempt to put it into words and we can not leave it to others.

But when we do and our congregation hears it and by His grace incorporates it into their lives by means of the sacraments, their reward and ours is great as expressed in the epistle. Indeed, I find that the very theme of our liturgy. The words mean what they say if only we, even we, and others would simply hear, believe and act upon them. I hope that others take the time to read all three of your sermons and find in the the strength to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" what is there.