From the pulpit

From the pulpit

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

8 July 2018

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

The gospel lesson this morning comes to us from what has come to be known as Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  Our Lord ascends a hill and begins to teach men how he has come to fulfill the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.  He teaches the true meaning of these sacred writings and calls men to a higher righteousness, a stricter obedience.  It falls upon the ears of the first disciples and the crowds gathered there, in a way that made them wonder and marvel at his authority.  But, if we are honest, it hardly sounds like Good News.  Jesus is always doing things like this in the gospel.  Always contradicting our normal ways of thinking and challenging our simplistic, prideful ways of living in this world.  Take the opening verse of today’s gospel lesson, for instance:

“Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

How could this sound like good news to the people of the First Century?  In their minds, there was no one more holy, no one more devout than the religious scribes and Pharisees.  And yet Jesus tells them that unless they become more righteous than these religious teachers then the kingdom of Heaven is locked and bolted against them.  It must have made their heads swim . . . and yet it also compelled them to want to know more about this new way — which was really the only way — to understand the religious life.  The Lord does not let up one bit, for he is not after men’s outward conformity to a moral standard.  He is not looking to improve their conduct.  He does not want more of their time.  More of their money.  Or more of their work.  For instance, he doesn’t want us merely to abstain from murdering someone.  He wants you and me not even to be spitefully angry.  He wants our entire person, body, and soul wholly devoted to Himself.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  That is what he came to do, and he will stop at nothing to create for himself a people who will, in the end, love God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves.

Massey Shepherd sheds light on the lesson in these words:

In this lesson our Lord interprets the Sixth Commandment, [Thou shalt do no murder].  As always His concern was not like that of the scribes and Pharisees.  For they were concerned about applying specific punishments that would fit the outward crime.  Instead of the evil attitudes and motive from which the outward acts of wrongdoing spring.  Anger, hatred, malice, an unforgiving and unreconciling spirit — these sins are just as deadly in the sight of God as murder and slander, and will receive from Him as severe a judgment.  Righteousness must come from the heart; it is not merely an outward compliance with the law.

It is this righteousness that comes from the heart that we all need.  And yet we all lack it.  So how are we to become a people who live such truly righteous lives?

First, men must repent and be baptized into Christ.  This is what the epistle this morning is teaching us.  Men, women, and children must give up on their own efforts and throw all their life and hope upon Jesus.  This is what the act of baptism does in a very radical way.  St. Paul is teaching the Church, all of the members of the Body of Christ, what baptism means.  In a sense, he is saying, we have all tried to live our lives under our own authority and we have royally failed.  We deserve nothing but hell for our thoughts, words, and deeds — nothing but God’s judgment.  We must die, for the wages of sin is death.  But through the gospel, the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus, God has made a way for us to live.  And it comes to us through baptism.

Listen once again to Massey Shepherd:

Paul sums up the meaning of the Easter experience when Christian believers have through Baptism been incorporated into the body of Christ and with him have won the victory over sin and death, and newness of life in their fellowship with their risen Lord.  That which had been lost by the sin of the first Adam has been regained for them through the work of the second Adam who is the Lord from heaven.  This experience of death unto sin and new life unto righteousness is dramatically and vividly shown through the rite of baptism.

During the time of St. Paul, baptism was by immersion — plunging the person under the water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  This act of immersion was a very clear picture of what was happening to the christian.  The minister stands as Christ in the waters holding the new christian in his arms.  The christian has ceased to fight.  The christian allows himself to be buried under the water, symbolizing the death which all his sins deserve.  The life of the old man is at an end.  It is gone.  It is dead.  It is buried with Christ in baptism.  The minster then pulls the man up from the water, out of sin and death, and he is given new life in Christ.  You could say that the man went into the water a Son of Adam and came up as a Son of God.  And just as surely as the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ like a dove at his baptism, so also the new christian receives the Holy Ghost who is the Lord and Giver of Life.  This is what happened at our baptism.  Through faith in the gospel, our old natural life ended, with all its sins and wickedness, with all of its violations of God’s law in thought, word, and deed, and a new one, the very life of Christ himself, began in us.  From this time forth, this is the way in which we must understand our life.  We are no longer wretched sinners at war with God.  We are his beloved children, and we relate to him in the way that Christ our brother relates to our Father in Heaven.

The catechism in our prayer-book teaches us that in our baptism, three glorious things happened to us.  First, we were made members of Christ.  We were joined so closely to Him that we are said to be his Body.  Where Christ is, there we are also.  Where we are, by God’s grace, so is Christ.  Second, we are made children of God.  No longer Sons of Adam who are characterized by pride, sin, and death, but true children of our Father.  Third, we are made inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven.  By sheer, unmerited favor, God has prepared for those who love him such good things as pass all our understanding and exceed all that we desire.  Our life has been taken from us in baptism and given back to us in a way that will take eternity to understand.

In light of this, let your heart be glad.  Let your glory rejoice.  Let your flesh rest in hope, because Christ has not left our souls in hell but has shown unto us the path of life.  He has shown us that in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand there is pleasure forevermore.  Devote yourself to one who is so devoted to you.  Love the one who loved you first.  And in the end, your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and we together with all the faithful will be with God, world without end.  Amen.


From the pulpit

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

1 July 2018 A.D.

the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and reverence.” I Peter 3:15

This morning, the choir sang the patriotic hymn “My Country Tis of Thee.”  The last verse of that hymn is key.  It says:

“Our Father’s God, to thee, Author of liberty, To thee we sing; Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; Protect us by thy might, Great God our King.”

All this is right and good.  This week the people of our country will celebrate Independence Day.  But more importantly, we should notice that we have been placed in this country, at this time, as Christians by the providence of Almighty God.  For he “hath made of one blood all the nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord.”  We are not here by accident but according to the precise plan and foreknowledge of God.  He has purpose for us, and it is that purpose that I would like to consider this morning.

In the epistle for this morning, Peter is writing to churches scattered throughout the ancient world.  And he gives the church throughout all ages a pattern of teaching, a way of life.  This way of life is how all Christians should live, regardless of what type of government they find themselves under.  It shows that our duty to God and to our fellow men never changes no matter how “good” or “bad” the external situation is.  Let us consider closely what St. Peter has to say through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Please, listen carefully.  Listen closely.

St. Peter says:  “Finally be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [have pity on those who are lost, on those who are hurting and do not know it], be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing.” Remember the words of Jesus “but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Why ought we to behave this way?  St. Peter tells us “knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

Furthermore, St. Peter quotes Psalm 34 as the reason for his admonition to live this way — why we should live this way — for or because “he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile.”  Guile means crafty and deceitful ways of speaking.  Christians must be men, women, and children who are frank, upright, and straightforward in their speech.  Their “yes” must be “yes” and their “no” must be “no.”

St. Peter continues, “Let (the Christian) eschew (reject, shun) evil and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”  And then St. Peter asks a question:  “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?”  Who is going to punish you for being compassionate?  Who is going to condemn you for being peaceful?  Reason should tell us that no one should condemn others for these things, however, we are in a spiritual war and we know that Jesus was the absolute perfection of all these things and that he suffered unjustly to an infinite degree.  St. Peter knows this, so he goes on to address it.  He says, “But and if he suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [blessed] are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.”  He echoes, once again, the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  Our Lord says, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.”

The epistle ends this morning with another command:  When this happens, when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”  Hallow — set aside as holy — the Lord God in your heart.  Seek his face and follow Him.

This epistle shows us a few things about being good citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and also how to live as good citizens of the United States of America.

First, the gospel calls us to act like Jesus, to follow in his steps, at all times and in all places.  We have received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, at Holy Baptism.  The strengthening gifts were given to us when we owned the Christian faith for ourselves at Confirmation.  This precious gift was given to us so that we may speak and show the love of Christ to those who do not know him in a way that is eminently real and genuine.  Know this, brothers and sisters, those who do not know Christ do not know what they are doing.  They cannot see the consequences of their actions.  They cannot see the damage that selfishness can cause.  By God’s grace, you and I do.  We have known the bitter fruit of our own selfishness and ignorance.  And we have found peace with God through his Son.  That is why we are led to repentance and confession.  This is why we trust Jesus’s words “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  In a sense, we are no better than they.  We have just come to know it, by God’s unbounded grace.

We come this morning to renew our allegiance to Jesus.  To commune with him.  To give ourselves to him and receive all of his benefits.  Have you ever wondered why the Church is called the Body of Christ and why the bread from heaven that we will receive is also called the Body of Christ?  It is so that you and I can receive him, and be indwelt by him.  He comes to us in Holy Communion to transform us into the Body of Christ that will go out into the world and show his love to a lost and dying world.

Finally, I would like to ask you to pay close attention to the words of the post-communion hymn (No. 201, in the 1940 Hymnal)*.  It is an ancient Eastern hymn that highlights perfectly what I am trying to say.  Our Lord gives himself to us so that we may become his hands, his ears, his mouth, his eyes, his feet, his Body to be used by him for the salvation of the world.  If we first become good citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we cannot help but be good citizens of America.  Let us just keep first things first.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

“Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark, deacon in charge

*Hymn 201

Strengthen for service Lord, the hands That holy things have taken; Let ears that now have heard thy songs To clamor never waken. Lord, may the tongues which “Holy” sang, Keep free from all deceiving; The eyes which saw they love be bright they blessed hope perceiving.  The feet that tread thy allowed courts From light do thou not banish; The bodies by thy Body fed With thy new life replenish.  Amen

from the Syriac liturgy of Malabar