Gleanings from the Collects: 1 Epiphany

Eternal Father, at the baptism of Jesus you revealed him to be your Son, and your Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove: Grant that we, who are born again by water and the Spirit, may be faithful as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In the ancient Church the baptism of our Lord was celebrated on the feast of Epiphany. The Eastern Church continues that tradition today. It is also called the Feast of the Theophany because it was at Jesus’ baptism that the Father revealed Jesus to be His Son, as confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

Over time the Western Church separated these two events and so this collect does not appear until the 1979 BCP on the first Sunday after Epiphany in an effort to return to ancient practices. The collect is said to be an adaptation of two collects from the Roman sacramentary.[1]

This brief collect is dense with truth. First it addresses the Father as “Eternal.” It is this attribute of God that makes Him so trustworthy. We who are limited by time and space are blessed to trust the One who is limitless. And so we sing, “Eternal Father strong to save whose arm hath bound the restless wave…”

In this collect we see not only the Holy Trinity named but also the nature of their relationship. The use of the possessive “your Son” and “your Holy Spirit” point to the loving unity of the Trinity.

Interestingly the collect moves from Jesus’ baptism to our own thereby revealing the efficacy of the sacrament. In the sacrament of baptism we are “born again by water and the Spirit” and we are made “your adopted children.” Thus regeneration and adoption reveal that baptism is vastly more than a symbolic act. But neither is it “once and done.” God calls us not only to begin the race but to finish it[2]and so in this collect we also pray to be “faithful as your adopted children.” 

While the thought of being faithful to the end can be daunting, we can have confidence that the LORD in His love has provided all that we need to finish the race. Beyond the already mentioned wonders of regeneration and adoption, He has sent us His Holy Spirit, continually empowers us through Word and Sacrament, and makes us “very members incorporate in the mystical body of all faithful people” and “heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom.”[3]The prize for finishing the race is so beyond compare that nothing should prevent us from staying in the race and crossing the finish line. With His grace that is exactly what we will do.

[1]Liturgical book that contains the words and prayers of the celebrant dating back to the 6thcentury. 

[2]I Corinthians 9:24

[3]Holy Communion p83, 1928 BCP

Gleanings from the Collects: 2 Christmas

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This beautiful collect first appeared in the American Book of Common Prayer in the 1979 edition. However it is an ancient collect that is taken from the Leonine Sacramentary[1]from among the prayers for Christmas. Along with the Roman Catholic Church today, the Anglican Church in North America has appointed this collect for the 2ndSunday after Christmas.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded a popular song called “Woodstock” that contained the lyrics, “We are stardust. We are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” It’s a good song but it is not good theology as this collect points out. 

In the garden we were “wonderfully created” but in Christ the dignity of our human nature is “yet more wonderfully restored.” Thus we are not going back to the garden, rather we are going forward to the heavenly Jerusalem[2]. Because of Jesus mankind will go from being keepers of a garden to become a royal priesthood.[3]In the garden mankind knew God as Creator but in Christ we know Him as Father. The epistle appointed for this day proclaims this truth in an astonishing way. “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will.”[4]

As unfathomable as it may seem, our adoption through Jesus Christ makes us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.”[5]While we cannot even imagine all that God has in store for us, we do know that we have a future that far surpasses anything that a return to the garden could offer. Our destiny is not to go backwards but rather to progress from glory to glory.[6]

Like this collect, Leo the Great captured what Christ has done for us through His incarnation. “The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”

[1]The Leonine Sacramentary is a book of prayers attributed to Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome who died 461. It is the oldest surviving liturgical book. 

[2]Hebrews 12:18-24

[3]I Peter 2:9

[4]Ephesians 1:4,5

[5]Romans 8:17

[6]2 Corinthians 3:18

Gleanings from the Collects: 1 Christmas

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, kindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

This collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer was adapted from the collect for Christmas in the Sarum Rite[1]of the 11thcentury. The 2019 BCP has moved it to the 1stSunday of Christmas. It is fitting for that Sunday because the Gospel appointed is John 1:1-18 that has multiple references to Jesus as the true “Light.”

This collect calls to mind the prophecy of Isaiah. “Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

This collect and this prophecy both remind us that there are two manifestations that result from the true Light coming into the world. The first is that we become personally enlightened. Without the light of Christ we were among the peoples who were covered in deep darkness. But the grace of God has changed that condition. His light has been “kindled in our hearts” and we now see our need for Him more clearly every day. His purpose for our lives comes into greater focus. More and more we love what He loves. And while we often fall short, we also see that His mercies are new every morning. It is why we love to sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

But the light of Christ does not stop with our personal enlightenment. We who have received the Light are also to be bearers of the Light. As the moon reflects the sun, so we too are to reflect the Son. We are to live intentionally so that His light “may shine forth in our lives.” The original collect said it well. “Grant that the light which through faith shines in our hearts may shine forth in our works.” This prayer matches the admonition of Jesus, “You are the light of the world….Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify you Father which is in heaven.” (Mt 5).

[1]Used in Salisbury Cathedral in the Middle Ages until the Reformation

Gleanings from the Collects: Christmas

“Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.”

This theologically rich collect first appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer although it is similar to a collect in the Gregorian rite of the 10thcentury. It is repeated in the 1662, 1928, 1979 and the 2019 BCP. 

The collect is well echoed in the proper preface[1]“Because you gave Jesus Christ, your only Son, to be born for us; who, by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary his mother, was made truly man, yet without the stain of sin, that we might be cleansed from sin and given the right to become your children.”

“This day” is in brackets, giving the option of omitting it when the collect is used in Mass throughout Christmas week.

This prayer is one of the most theologically rich of all of the collects. At least 7 core doctrines are proclaimed.

  1. The Trinity – All three Persons of the Trinity are included
  2. The Divinity of Christ – “your only begotten Son”
  3. The Incarnation – “take our nature upon him”
  4. The Virgin Birth – “born this day of a pure virgin”
  5. Regeneration – “we who have been born again”
  6. Adoption – “made your children by adoption and grace”
  7. Sanctification – “may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit”

It is not the point of this prayer to explain or defend these doctrines. Rather it simply declares them to be so. 

It is important to not miss the forest for the trees when considering this theologically saturated prayer. It is a prayer not just for the head but also for the heart. The recitation of these vital truths should fill us with wonder, overwhelming gratitude and joy. Why did He do all of this? He did all of this for us! 

The lesson we can take away from this collect is said so well by St. Athanaius (d.373). “He became what we are that we might become what He is.”

[1]  The proper preface is the variable portion of the Eucharistic prayer that marks the season or occasion. 

Gleanings from the Collects: 4 Advent

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.”

This powerful collect has a long history. It is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary[1]of the 8thcentury, a volume that contained material from the 5thand 6thcentury. The collect is also found in the Gregorian Sacramentary of the 10thcentury and the Sarum Missal that was in use in Britain from the 11thcentury until the Reformation. 

Archbishop Cranmer added a couple of phrases in this English translation in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was the one remaining collect of three, found in earlier liturgies, that begin “Stir up….” These words are echoes of Psalm 80:2 “…stir up your power and come to save us!” 

It was appointed for the 4thSunday in Advent. A version of it was moved to 3 Advent in the 1979 BCP but is returned to its original place in the 2019 BCP.

This collect is appropriately placed just days before Christmas. We call on the LORD to “come among us” with His “bountiful grace and mercy” because we are “sorely hindered by our sins.” This cry of deliverance is a cry for a Savior, whose incarnation we will soon be celebrating. The timing for this prayer could not be more perfect. 

Additionally, calling on the Lord to “stir up your power” and “with great might come among us” is a plea for our ultimate salvation which will come at the Lord’s second advent. In His first Advent He comes in humility with grace and mercy but at His second He will come with power and great glory. Thus both themes of Advent are brought to mind though this prayer.

One commentator referred to this prayer as “dangerous.” As we take a step back and see what we are asking, we can see that he is not far wrong. We who are “sorely hindered by our sins” are asking the Holy One to stir up His power and come among us? Is that what we truly want? Wouldn’t we perish in the presence of His holiness? Yes, apart from Christ, but are not asking to be apart from Christ. We are asking just the opposite. We are asking for His “bountiful grace and mercy” to “speedily help and deliver us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There is another lesson from this collect that comes from what it no longer says. The 1549 collect refers to “our synnes and wickedness” as does the 1662 BCP. In the confession at Holy Communion in the 1928 BCP “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” And yet a reference to our “wickedness” has been removed in this version.  

It seems that modern worshippers are not comfortable facing the full extent of our fallenness. That is a shame because God tends not heal what we hide. To truly appreciate what our Savior has done for us we need to face the depth and reality of what our sin has done to us. It is then that we turn from ourselves to Jesus who comes to us in grace and mercy to “speedily help and deliver us.”

[1]Sacramentaries are books that contain the words in the liturgy that are spoken by the celebrant

Gleanings from the Collects: 3 Advent

O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This collect is taken directly from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the 3rdSunday in Advent and is attributed to Bishop John Cosin. An adaptation of it was moved to the 2ndSunday in Advent in the 1979 BCP but the 2019 BCP has returned it to its original place. 

The Church of South India changed the collect to read “Grant that we….” instead of “Grant that the minsters and stewards of your mysteries…” By doing so they emphasized that all of us are called to do the Lord’s work. While that is true, by making this change they have sacrificed and important emphasis of this week. December 16, 18 and 19 are Ember Days. These are days of prayer and fasting as the seasons change and also traditionally the time for ordinands to prepare themselves for holy orders. 

This specific focus on clergy is highlighted by the New Testament lesson chosen for Sunday. The 1662 lectionary appoints 1 Corinthians 4 that addresses “the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The 2019 lectionary appoints 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 that begins “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Several gleanings can be made from this collect. First, note that the Lord Jesus is being addressed directly in this prayer. In this way we are obeying His admonition to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up workers for the harvest (Mt. 9:38). 

Second, praying for our spiritual leaders helps us as St. Paul commends, “To esteem them very highly in love.” If you are not regularly praying for our clergy this season would be a good time to make it part of your disciplines.

Third this collect makes a very interesting turn in its focus. We are to pray for our leaders to make ready the way of the Lord “by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just.” So it sounds like we are praying for our leaders to impact the proverbial “them.” But then the next line is “that at your second coming to judge the world, wemay be found a people acceptable in your sight.” Thus the disobedient that we are praying for is ourselves. I certainly don’t have to give that much thought before I can agree and say ‘mea culpa.”

Lastly it should be noted that this prayer for the turning of our hearts falls on Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice.” The color for the day is rose and there is a sense of joyful anticipation in air. 

Some may think that a call to repentance is contradictory to a pronouncement of joy, but that is not the case because the one leads to the other. Through repentance our hearts are turned and they are turned from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness, from mourning to joy. The Psalmist tells us “weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). We are to be a people who pass through Good Friday but live in Easter. Living as an Easter people is the best way to prepare for His coming. 

Gleanings from the Collects

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

This beautiful collect was placed for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was moved to Proper 28 in the 1979 American BCP, which is two Sundays before Advent. Most recently it was returned to its original calendar placement in the 2019 ACNA Prayer Book. 

In the Sarum Missal of the Middle Ages, the Epistle reading for 2 Advent was from Romans 15 that included verse 4. “For what ever was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the enlightenment of the Scriptures we might have a hope.” Thus this post-Reformation collect was perfectly suited for the lessons of that particular Sunday. It reflected the importance of Holy Scripture in public and private life, now that the Scriptures could be heard, read and studied in the vernacular. This was a recent privilege for which many literally had given their lives. 

A number of truths can be gleaned from this collect. First it underscores the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. It is the “Blessed Lord” and not man who caused it to be written. Additionally He did not just inspired some Scripture rather He inspired “all” Scripture (ref. 2 Timothy 3:16). This means that it is not just the red letters that are important to us. And since the LORD caused it “all” to be written we cannot dismiss the Old Testament or read the Gospels against the Epistles, as early and modern heresies are want to do. 

The order in which the collect calls us to interact with Holy Scripture is informative. The list is arranged so that one task naturally leads the next. After the text is heard we want to read it for ourselves. Reading naturally leads to study in order to gain better understanding, and so we “mark” and “learn.” Study then leads to seeking ways to apply Scripture as a part of our lives, hence we “inwardly digest” it. 

It is also noteworthy that this list reflects Scriptural priorities. There are many more verses in Scripture about hearing God and His Word than there are reading it. Also there are more verses about reading God’s Word than studying it. And the point of doing these three sacred tasks in these ways is to be comforted by His holy Word and thereby persevere in our faith. His Word is to be our daily manna, heavenly food that sustains us for the journey.  

Perhaps the most important gleaning from this collect is that it reminds us of the source of our blessed hope. Our hope is not in Holy Scripture but rather in the One  revealed by the Scripture, namely “our Lord Jesus Christ.” This vital distinction keeps us from hearing Jesus’ rebuke of the legalistic leaders. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, it is these that testify of Me.” (John 5:39).  As one of my teachers so succinctly put it, “The Scriptures are a treasure map, but the treasure is Jesus.”

As we hope and wait during the season of Advent we can celebrate that God in His goodness has given us the most important treasure map of all time. It is up to each of us to open the map and find the Treasure. 

Cultivating Trust

In normal times the preacher is expected to preach from the lessons of the week, but as you are very well aware, these are not normal times. There is so much fear being disseminated by the mass media and social media that it needs to be addressed. One Roman Catholic Monseigneur even referred to it as “demonic fear” because it pits us against one another. People have actually been killed over the issue of wearing facemasks. And yet Scripture says that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. So we need to hear a balancing word from the Lord. 

Of course it would be irresponsible not to be concerned about the pandemic and about social unrest. It would also be unwise not to assess the risks involved. For example I wrote earlier that because I see worship as essential I consider it worth the risk, but at the same time you could not pay me to go to Wal-Mart these days. We have made some changes in the way that we worship but we also knew that if we take it too far then we end up promoting fear, and fear and worship are like oil and water. They simply do not mix. The question therefore is how do we go about acting wisely while not giving in to demonic fear? The answer is found in Proverbs 3:5,6. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will direct your paths.

Thus we battle fear by trusting in the Lord with all of our heart. And as one biblical scholar pointed out, “With all your heart indicates that trust goes beyond intellectual assent to a deep reliance on the Lord, a settled confidence in His care and His faithfulness to His Word.”

But trust doesn’t just drop out of the air. It is not a spiritual gift that on one day you receive and then you have arrived. To trust with your whole heart is a trust that must be cultivated. It is an offering of ourselves completely to the Lord. It is why we pray each week in our prayers. “And here we offer and present unto thee O Lord ourselves; our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice…” Trusting the Lord is a life decision that you make. So how do you cultivate that kind of trust? Holy Scripture of course shows us the way. 

This first point sounds so obvious that it could insult your intelligence.  And yet I have made a mistake on this point and I have seen many others make the same mistake as well. So while this point should be obvious it is easy to miss. And that point is to be exact in whom or in what we put our trust. The mistake we too easily make is when we put our trust in our faith or put our trust in results rather than only in the Lord. 

This mistake is projected in high definition in the so-called Health and Wealth “Gospel” that uses the name it and claim it approach to life. In this approach if I see a job that I want, I claim that job in the name of the Lord and then trust that if I have enough faith that I will get it. 

Do you see what I just did? I was trusting in my faith or trusting that I will get whatever I desire. But that is not where we are to put our trust. The Scripture does not say to trust my faith or trust in results. It says “Trust in the LORDwith all your heart.” Our trust is in our Father who loves us and knows what is best for us. When we do this then we can leave the results to God. I love this perspective from the prophet Habakkuk. 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Second we cultivate trust through prayer. Psalm 62:8. 

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. 

Again, this is not an over night occurrence. Over time as you develop a life of prayer, and over time as you see how faithful God is to answer your prayers, then you will find your trust increasing. 

Many years ago I was following a prayer plan the included a prayer journal that had you date when you began a particular request and then date it when it was answered. I believe it was after I was introduced to the Daily Office that I stopped using that plan and I packed it old plan. Several years and several moves later, when I opened the journal I discovered that every prayer had been answered, even though I had quit praying for those specific things years ago. The Lord was faithful to hear my prayer even when I was not faithful to keep praying. Prayer increases our trust in the Lord.

Third trust in the Lord increases when we stop leaning on our own understanding. The Psalmist says “and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,” Some translations say “in all your ways submit to him.”  Why is it important that we not lean on our own understanding? It is important for several reasons. 

First, we should not lean on our own understanding because Scripture teaches that our hearts are deceitful. Truth is that if you give me enough time I can convince myself that about anything is not only okay, but it must be God’s will. And that scares me about myself.

Second, as a 19thCentury Scottish Pastor put it, “Leaning on our own understanding is, as far as it prevails, a kind of practical atheism.” As harsh as that may sound it is true.

Third it is especially important that we do not lean on our own understanding because our understanding is so limited. Canon David Atkinson said it well in his commentary on this passage. “For the Lord who holds the future can see further than we can and his covenant love is promised as a deeper security than anything our dimmer understanding can comprehend or our straining eyes can glimpse.

Of course this is not an appeal to blind faith nor is it a rebuke against using our understanding at all. As one country preacher said, “When God breathes in the Holy Ghost He doesn’t blow out our brains.” The point here is that we are to submit our understanding to the Word and Will of God. Our understanding is a tool to comprehend God’s will and not a replacement for the Holy Spirit. Back again to the Scottish preacher about using our understanding. “While we use it, we are to depend on God for success, trust in the promises of His Word, and trust in the care and overruling direction of His providence.”

The preacher saying that we are to “trust in the promises of His word” brings us to a fourth way to cultivate trust in the Lord, and that is through the knowledge of Holy Scripture. The more familiar we are with His promises, the more our trust in Him will grow. Conversely ignorance of Holy Scripture puts us back to leaning on our own understanding and we just saw where that takes us, back to practical atheism.

You will recall that it was mistrust in God’s Word that caused our first parents to fall from grace. How did Satan tempt them into disobedience? By asking them, “Did God really say….? We need to be so familiar with God’s promises that when the enemy comes along and says to us, “Did God really say…? We can reply, “As a matter of fact He did. Be gone Satan.” That in essence is what Jesus did at His temptations.

The fruit that comes from trusting in the Lord can be a great blessing to your life. Allow me to touch on just a few. 

Trusting in the Lord fills your life with joy and gratitude. Ps 28:7 “The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” I heard yet another report this week about how beneficial gratitude is to every facet of our lives. We have better mental health, we get sick less, and we live longer. So cut me off a piece of that pie!

Trust not only confronts present fears but it neutralizes fear of the future. Psalm 112:7.“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.” Some people live their lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. In fact I can’t recall a time in my life when there were not chicken littles running around telling us that the sky is falling. But we don’t have to live in dread of the future. When we trust the LORD with all of our heart we can be at peace that whatever lies before us, even if it is bad news, He is able to work it for our good. A good God can do no less or He would not be good and therefore He would not be God. 

Next is quite a promise! When we trust the LORD He acts on our behalf. Psalm 37:5. “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” The opposite is also true. When we do not trust in Him then He does not act. We read in the Gospels, speaking of Jesus, “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”

This theme of God acting on behalf of those who trust Him runs through all of the Scripture, from Genesis to the maps at the back. Just think of the story of Moses and the children of Israel and their time in the wilderness. Again and again you see God performing wonders when they trusted Him, and again and again you see the  troubles that befell them when they doubted Him. That story is there for our benefit, to make us wise about God’s ways. Do you need Him to act on your behalf? Then trust Him with your whole heart.

There is one last point that I want to make about trust and it is a point that you will not welcome but it must be said. Trust is not truly trust until it is tested. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning says, “The story of salvation-history indicates that without exception trust must be purified in the crucible of trial. David, the most beloved figure of Jewish history, was no stranger to terror, loneliness, failure and even sinister plots to destroy him; yet he ravished the heart of God with his unwavering trust.”

When I was 18 years old I made a commitment to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior. More than anything in the world I wanted to be His disciple. I am now 68, so I have been on this journey for 50 years. To be honest some of those years were very difficult. They were what the ancients called “the dark night of the soul.” Some of those times I was only holding on by the skin of my teeth. Or to be even more accurate He was holding on to me because I had nothing left. 

Nevertheless my wholehearted testimony before you this day is that the LORD has proven Himself utterly utterly trustworthy over these 50 years. He has been faithful even when I was faithless. 

You know that when we are past this pandemic, and hopefully past the social unrest, that another crisis is going to come along. And again the father of all lies will use the mass media and social media to try to paralyze you with fear. Don’t fall for it. The Church prospered even as Rome burned. Why? Because Jesus was still on the throne!

 If I could leave just one legacy to this parish it would be to plead with you to make a decision now to trust the Lord with all of your heart. Make that commitment, enter into that room of trust and then shut the door behind you. When fully trust Him, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate you from His love, then you can live in peace in the knowledge that He will direct your path. Amen. 

How Is Your Soil?

Text: Is 55:1-13; St. Matthew 13:1-23

One of Beth’s favorite hobbies is gardening. My part is the prep work. I till the ground for tomato plants, build raised beds and deliver soil and fertilizer in my truck. My part is small but not insignificant because in the end it does not matter how healthy the plants were when Beth planted them, or how carefully she tends the garden; if the soil to begin with is not good, the results will be bad. 

That, of course, was Jesus’ point in this parable that is before us. The problem is not the seed. In each case the seed was the same. The problem was with the soil and its varying conditions. 

It is worth noting that Jesus does not typically explain His parables but He does in this case. In fact He explains it in detail. He clearly does not want us to miss His point here. Since conditions of the soil represent the conditions of our hearts we can understand why this message must understand and acted upon. It is for the sake of our souls. So how is your soil?

Let’s review. The first soil was a hard path and the birds of the air ate the seed even before it could take root. Jesus says that represents anyone who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it. The enemy comes along and snatches it away. 

Please note that the state of the soil of this person’s heart has nothing to do with their intellectual ability, their personality, or even their character. They are without understanding because, as the prophets put it, they have hearts of stone. Therefore they cannot comprehend the things of God.

If you know such a person, and most of us do, may I suggest how to be there for them. First realize that because it is a heart matter and not a head matter, you must take a different approach with them. You can have them listen to the best of Christian apologists, you can fill their shelves with C.S. Lewis, you can even sneak Gospel tracts into their bathroom, but none of it will work. It will all be water off of a duck’s back. Why? St. Paul puts it very bluntly. They are dead in their transgressions. You cannot argue a dead man into the kingdom.

Does this mean that they are hopeless? Of course not! As Jesus told Nicodemus, nothing is impossible with God. Your best role therefore is to pray for them. Pray that the Holy Spirit will turn their heart of stone into a heart of flesh so that the seed, which is the Word of God, will be sown into their hearts and take root. 

The second soil is rocky ground. They receive the word of God with joy but because of how shallow their soil truly is, they end up falling away. The text says, “he has no root in himself.” 

This is the immature Christian who has been baptized and perhaps even confirmed but has done nothing since to deepen their spiritual life. Their prayer life is shallow if it exists at all. They rarely delve into the Holy Scriptures. They are absent during Christian Education and they only receive the Sacrament if nothing else is happening on a Sunday. Their faith is really more of a feeling and so they are unable to make a defense for the hope that is within them. In the end they do not finish the race.

The third soil may be deeper than the rocky soil but it is mixed with thorns. Jesus tells us that the thorns are the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the thorns eventually take over. 

This is the Christian who has divided loyalties. He has one foot in the kingdom and the other foot in the world and as Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. 

The fourth soil is the good soil. This is what we want. This is the Christian who receives the Word of God, understands it AND does something about it in order to produce fruit… and lots of it. 

This parable is often presented to describe four different types of people but I also think that it is possible to have them be different stages in the life of one person. Either way Jesus is telling this story so that we will address the soil of our heart and seek to make it good soil. But how do we do that?

A place to start is by heeding the words of the Prophet Isaiah in our lesson today. If we do what he says there can be no doubt that the soil of our hearts will be properly prepared to receive the Word of God and to produce fruit.

I love this passage. It is beautifully filled with mercy and hope. And what is amazing is that it is a clear presentation of the Gospel and yet it was written 800 years before Christ. 

Isaiah begins with such a gracious invitation. “Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”  With the imagery used here of water and wine and bread, it understandably takes our minds to the Dominical Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. These are Gospel Sacraments that convey and sustain eternal life. 

Additionally where this invitation is so clearly the Gospel is that it comes to us without charge. It is a gift. This matches the statement of St. Paul to the Ephesians.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

At first it seems like a contradiction to be invited to buy without money and without price. But that is to underscore not that there is no price, but rather that we do not have to pay it. Salvation is free to us but salvation is not free. Two chapters earlier Isaiah tells us who paid the price. 

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”

We also need to see that although we have no price to pay, nevertheless something is required of us. Two things stand out here.

First we are to respond to God’s call to us. Again and again He says “Come, come.” “Come everyone who thirsts…Come by wine and milk…Listen diligently to me…incline your ear and come to me.” Then He adds “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Not only is the invitation passionate and has a sense of urgency, but to say “Seek the Lord while He may be found” implies that a time will come when the invitation is withdrawn. 

The LORD’s urgency here is not from any need that He has. It is because He knows how brief our lives really are. Isaiah said earlier.

“All flesh is like grass,  and all its glory like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall when the breath of the LORD blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

The truth is that the sands of the hourglass are moving quickly for every one of us and so we need to respond to the urgency of our Lord. As we pray in the additional prayers; “…and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The other response to which the Prophet calls us, that in turn will prepare the soil of our heart to receive God’s Word, is that of repentance. Verse 6“…let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Lest you think that this verse does not apply to you because you do not consider yourself “wicked” lets focus on what the LORD tells the wicked man to do in order to see if the shoe fits. What is he to do? He is to “forsake his way.” 

This touches on the heart of our sin nature. Sin is when I insist on having my own way rather than walking in God’s way. It is when I pray “Thy will be done” but then live my life so that my will is done. A W Tozer writes, “The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God’s selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willing accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God’s dominion ends were he begins.”

This understanding of sin goes a long way to explain the current discord that is in our nation. You could probably come up with a list as long as your arm of the various social and political groups that are demanding that things be done their way. The leader of one of these groups actually said, “We are going to get what we want or we are going to burn the whole thing down.” How is that a way to honor God or reconcile us to our neighbor? 

We need to be alert to false solutions even from the Church. A Canon in our Province is promoting the Critical Race theory that has elements of Marxist philosophy in it, much like Liberation theology. I asked a group. “If we have the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule from Jesus why do we need the Critical Race theory? Some said it is because we are not doing a good job at obeying Jesus and so this theory will aide us. I replied, “I don’t look to Marxist philosophy to help me to obey Jesus, I call on the Holy Spirit.”

I said that because God call us to walk in His will and way and not in the way of the world. Again from Tozer. “’What shall we do?’ is the deep heart cry of every man who suddenly realizes that he is a usurper and sits on a stolen throne. However painful, it is precisely this acute moral consternation that produces repentance and makes a robust Christian after the penultimate had been dethroned and found forgiveness and peace through the gospel.” Repentance tills our hearts. Demanding our own way hardens them.

It is important, however, to see repentance in its biblical context. I reject the Puritan image of a sinner repenting because he is in the hands of an angry God being daggled over the fires of hell. Everyone knows John 3:16 but how many know John 3:17? “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  The Scripture says that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Repentance is when the prodigal comes to his senses and realizes that going back home, even if it is to be a servant, is far better than living with the pigs in a foreign land. Repentance is a cause for great celebration. Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Admittedly there is a factor that makes repentance difficult beyond the deadly sin of pride. It is the feeling of being so undeserving of mercy, especially when we take into consideration all that the LORD has done for us. The penitential prayer that we pray during a private confession captures it so well. “Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed me from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed me from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you have clothed me with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established me in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste…”

We find it difficult to forgive people who have used or misused or taken advantage of our kindness. So deep down we wonder how or why God would forgive and accept us after we have squandered his inheritance and wandered far in a land of waste. Why would God abundantly pardon the wicked?

Verses 8 and 9 tell us, and you have probably never heard this verse in its context. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  What the LORD is saying here is that, (thanks be to God), He is not like us. His love is not fickle for He is love. His covenant is not temporal, it is eternal. His promises are not broken, they last to a thousand generations. He does not eek out forgiveness, He abundantly pardons. His word is not weak but always accomplishes His purposes. We can take refuge in Him precisely because He is not like us. He is utterly, utterly trustworthy.

Years ago a German Abbess wrote a book called “Repentance: The Joy Filled Life.” That title seemed like a contradiction. Then I met some of her nuns and they were the embodiment of joy. I realized it was because they properly understood repentance. They were not carrying the unbearable load of guilt and condemnation.

The Prodigal Son understood repentance. He was hoping just be accepted back as a servant to his Father. Instead a robe was put over him, a ring was placed on his finger and he was welcomed back like a man who just returned from the dead. He was even thrown a party. That can be your story too. 

Isaiah too speaks of the joy that follows repentance. Verse 12. For you shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace and the hills before you shall break forth in singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” So rather than running from repentance we should run to it and then revel in the joy and peace that it brings. 

Responding to the urgency of God’s call and living the joy filled life of repentance tills our hearts and helps us receive the seed of Word of the LORD and produce fruit. So how is your soil? Amen.

Walk in the light of the Lord

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord ...

When I was in college, and a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, we would share the Gospel using a tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Law One is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I found law one to be incredibly good news because as a freshman student I had no clue where my life was headed. So I was more than glad to hear that God had a plan for me.

But this idea of law one poses a question. Is it possible to miss God’s plan? Our lesson today from Isaiah would indicate that it is possible and that is why Isaiah is delivering such a strong message. As we look into this passage it is important to see that Israel didn’t miss God’s plan due to a simple oversight or because they were in the right place but at the wrong time. No, Israel didn’t miss God’s plan because of a mistake, they missed God’s plan because of grievous sin. 

But let’s back up. The verses that come before our reading today show us what God’s plan was for Israel. It begins in Isaiah 2:1

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD.

The LORD had chosen Israel to be a model for how life should be lived and how the kingdom of God would unfold on the earth. He would be their God and they would be His people. They would learn His ways and walk in His path and others nations would be drawn to Him through their example. But Israel failed to meet that plan.

Although Israel failed the plan would be enacted when the Messiah of Israel appeared. It is noteworthy that a number of Church Father, such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodoret, Augustine and Gregory the Great all interpreted the mountain that Isaiah speaks about as a metaphor for Jesus. They also interpreted the line “For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” as a reference to the Gospel being preached. The Old Law came out of Sinai while the New Law, which is the New Commandment, comes out of Zion or Jerusalem. And then it goes to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth so that all the nations could walk in the light of God.

Additionally Christ and His kingdom will be marked by peace. “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war anymore.” That is a stark contrast from the kingdoms and empires of this world that only know how to expand their power by the use of the sword.

Because Israel chose to walk in her own ways, the prophet Isaiah is calling her out. He mentions three areas before he addresses their issue that we read today.

First Isaiah confronts Israel for her compromising ways that resulted in unfaithfulness towards the LORD. Verse 2:6“For you have rejected your people…because they are full of things from the east and of fortune tellers like the Philistines and they strike hands with the children of strangers”. They were supposed to be a unique people, like a city set on a hill. But instead their dealings with the pagan people and their syncretism caused them to adopt pagan ways and Israel lost her uniqueness. She ended up looking like all of the other nations.

Second Isaiah confronts them for their materialism. Verse 2:7 “Their land is filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses and there is no end to their chariots.” As St Chrysostom pointed out, “The prophet was not criticizing the use of their possessions but the misuse of them.” There is a vast difference between the wisdom to acquire wealth and the wisdom to use wealth correctly in a godly manner and with godly priorities. 

Third Isaiah confronts them for their idolatry. Verse 2:8 “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands to what their fingers have made.” St. Augustine commenting on this passage reminds us that idols are not just statues. We can make gods of just about anything that acts as the ruling factor in our lives. 

But their syncretism, materialism and idolatry are just symptoms. In the verses that we have before us today Isaiah confronts the true illness which is pride. Verse 2:11. “The haughty looks of man shall be brought love and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.”

Isaiah’s references to the cedars of Lebanon, fortified walls and the ships of Tarshish are about the things that men look to in order to undergird their might and power, which in turn increases their pride. If Isaiah had been prophesying to Rednecks he would be speaking of four wheelers, bass boats and AR-15s. 

And what is God’s answer to such things? The LORD repeats Himself. Verse 2:11 “The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone will be brought low; and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.”

Since the Church is the New Israel it is worth asking ourselves what Isaiah would prophecy to us today. Would he find compromise and syncretism with the world? Would he find materialism or secret idols? Above all would he find pride?

Sadly the answer is yes, in varying degrees. We see all kinds of compromise and syncretism in the mainline denominations, as well as non-denominational churches that causes them to be extensions of the world rather than lights to it. 

Sadly I have seen abounding pride in some neo Anglican church plants. I visited one on a Sunday evening to see what was being planted and I left discouraged. It met in a beautiful stone Presbyterian Church but you would not know that we were in sacred space. Men had their hats on and everyone was milling around in the Nave with either the mandatory cup of coffee or giant water jug. You would have thought they were hydrating to cross the Sahara. Conversations were very loud which made prayer and preparation for the Sacrament very difficult.

When the service began there was very little about it that indicated it was Anglican. That is because the goal of such churches is to be seen as woke and hip. Not only were no vestments there was not even a clerical collar in the room. But of course the leaders’ long sleeve shirts were rolled up in order to reveal tattoos to give them street cred. 

I couldn’t tell who the priest was until he popped up from the congregation to give the absolution. Various women stepped into the pulpit to lead different parts of the liturgy, but it did not come close to following the Book of Common Prayer. They wrote their own version of the Prayers of the People offering prayers that were filled with virtue signaling. 

What bothered me the most was that the “Worship Team”, dressed like a grunge band, was up in the Sanctuary where the altar should have been. Instead the Body and Blood of Christ were placed at floor level on a folding table. 

St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying,“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”For generations clergy have attempted to be faithful to learn and then pass on the teachings and traditions of our fathers. But this new crop of neo Anglican clergy evidently thinks it is more important to be hip and relevant than it is to be faithful. That is nothing more than pride and that is why it is so important for our parish to hold the line and to plant other churches so that we are able to preserve and pass on the treasures with which we have been entrusted. These traditions were given to the Church by the Holy Spirit must not be lost.

A cautionary note, however. It is just as possible for us to slip into pride about keeping our traditions. This kind of pride will turn us from stewards of treasures into liturgical experts, and as they taught us in seminary, the difference between a liturgical expert and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. This kind of pride is to be avoided at all costs because when it takes root in a vibrant church it turns that church into a museum. 

So how do we avoid this grievous sin of pride? In this Gospel lesson, Matthew 10:34-42, Jesus mentions two things and who better to go to than the Jesus who described Himself as “meek and lowly of heart” ?

First He challenges us to be honest about who is sitting on the throne of our lives. He makes it clear that there is only room for one. If it is my ego that is sitting on the throne of my life then I am in trouble. He said, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

I lose my life by getting off of the throne of my life. But if I decide to abdicate the throne of my life and instead give it to anyone or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then I am still in trouble. Even if it looks like a noble choice it is still wrong. “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me….”

Thus we defeat pride when we not only take ourselves off of the throne of our lives but also remove anything else that could be an idol. How do you know if it is an idol? Look at what kind of priority you give it in your life. Consider what kind of influence it has over you? Does it receive the best of your time and treasure and talent? If you take an honest look at your life and conclude that God is your co-pilot then for heaven’s sake swap seats. St. Benedict had a very simple rule for his life. “Prefer nothing to Christ.”

The second thing that Jesus makes reference to in this passage that directly strikes at the heart of pride is having a will to serve. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Of course Jesus is the perfect model for the heart of a servant and we are commended to follow His example. St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant…”

It is especially noteworthy, that on the night before He was crucified, one of the last lessons that Jesus taught His disciples was when He rose from supper, laid aside His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the disciples’ feet….including Judas’ feet. 

How do you know if you are following His example? By answering the question, “Whose feet do I wash?”

Including St. Brigid’s we have trained 5 men to answer the call to the priesthood. We have trained them to be servants to the servants of God, and that is a good thing. But I equally celebrate that we have had three women in our parish to answer the call to be nurses. Debbie, her daughter Brianna and most recently Sheryl Findley. What examples they are of servants. From saving lives to cleaning up vomit they take on tasks that most of us would never do. 

What about Beth and Charmaine and Amy and the social workers of this parish? They deal with people at some of the worst times in their lives and they do so for little money and even less appreciation. 

What about the Craig, Suzanne, Jim and the police in our parish? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do their job, especially in this current dangerous climate. It is a shameful climate that should be beneath the dignity of our nation. And yet every day they literally risk laying down their lives for us. 

What about Wayne, Amanda, Rachel and the teachers in our parish? These servants who are raising up the next generation. Too often theirs is also a thankless job. 

If we had the proper priorities as a society we would take professional athletes on one side and nurses, social workers, police and teachers on the other side and we would swap their salaries. 

My point is that there are many, many ways to be a servant beyond being a cleric. Nor does your role as a servant have to be rooted in the social sciences. Our financial manager at Raymond James has the heart of a servant. Instead of telling us what to do with our investments he asks about our goals and then helps us to make them a reality. I do worry about him a little bit because I am not sure that he is old enough to have a driver’s license but he has been a great help to us.

In fact you can be a servant even if you are not dealing directly with people at all. You can be a servant if you have a paint brush in your hand all day and never talk to a soul. How can that be? St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” So whatever you do, do it as if you were doing it for the Lord. If you are a painter then paint that house as if it is the Lord’s house. If you are a cook, offer those aromas to God as savory incense. If you clean tables in a restaurant then clean them as if they were heavenly banquet tables. If whatever you do you do it as if you are serving the Lord, then you still are washing feet and crucifying pride at the same time.

I truly believe that the Lord loves you and has a wonderful plan for your lives. But pride can prevent you from discovering that plan. Making Him the Lord of your life and developing a servant’s heart will not only defeat pride but also it will open a door and He will show you the way. The Lord will say to you as He said to the house of Jacob, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”