Preached September 4, 2011
1 Corinthians 15:1–11
St. Luke 18:9–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, so it is evident that we are nearing the midpoint of the Trinity season which nominally consists of twenty-four Sundays in a typical year. The first half of the Trinity season has dealt with an exposition of the fundamentals of the Christian life. There were five Sundays on the Love of God and His relation to man, and then five Sundays on man’s duty, that is to say, man’s relation to God. The final two Sundays, today and next week, we talk about the doctrine of grace that ties it all together, how the love of God that binds us to duty and also enables us to carry out that duty. Thus these two Sundays will be summed up in three words: Love, Duty, Grace.
As children, we learn of God’s covenant love, conveyed to us in our baptism. As we advance in our understanding, we begin to learn of our duties to God in His Commandments. Finally we come to realize that we are totally unable to keep His Commandments by our own efforts, and that we can only remain in His love by His special grace which is called forth by diligent prayer. This same cycle showing that the love of God binds us to Duty, and Duty demands Grace which we obtain only by repentance and prayer is the basic message for these two days.
In our Epistle lesson today, we have St. Paul speaking to the Church at Corinth, reminding them of the Gospel that he had preached to them as being the basis for their Christian lives. He uses the phrase, “wherein ye stand,” indicating that God’s love is truly the foundation of their lives, not simply a peripheral support. But he also reminds them that this is only true provided that they keep it in mind, that is continue to believe and observe, all that he taught them, unless they have believed in vain.
Now how could they have believed in vain? If the things that St. Paul had taught were untrue, then believing them would indeed be in vain, so he next proceeds to go through the basics and outline their proofs. He reminds them of the three fundamental points of the faith, the evidence of God’s love for us:
(1) That Jesus Christ died for the sins of mankind according the Scriptures;
(2) That Jesus Christ was truly dead, and certified by his burial in the garden tomb;
(3) That Jesus Christ rose on the third day, triumphant over death, as written in the Scriptures. That his resurrection was testified to by many people including the disciples, the group of five hundred, many of whom were still living at that time, and finally to Paul himself in his Damascus road vision. It is extremely important that Paul get across the validity of the resurrection, because without that, Christianity is nothing special, so Paul is at great pains to point out the large number of credible witnesses who saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection.
Because of the love of God, bestowed on each of us, we are made sons of God by adoption and grace. As sons, we have a duty to serve God as sons, not as servants, but as sons, as coheirs of the Kingdom with His true Son, Jesus Christ.
St. Paul goes on to say to the Corinthians that he is certainly not all that he could have been because he was one who persecuted the Church before his call..Even so, after receiving the call of Christ, he has worked diligently, 1 Corinthians 15:10b … but I laboured more abundantly than they all:… Paul has worked hard, and produced more results for the spread of the Christian Church than have any of the other Apostles, and yet, was it really Paul doing these great things? No, 1 Corinthians 15:10 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. The key word, grace, appears three times in that one verse! By himself, as a man, Paul with the best of intentions, was able to do only relatively little. It is the power of God, acting through him by grace, that enables him to accomplish so much for the Church. It is the same with each of us. On our own, without seeking the grace of God, we will be able to do very little and it is most likely that our faith will wither and die. We must seek the grace of God in our lives, daily, or we will fail. We cannot do our duty to God. It is just that essential.
We have just been looking at the witness of St. Paul to the Church at Corinth. In particular, looking at what he has to say to them about the role of grace in his own life. Think now about how you go about finding grace in your life. Prayer should certainly be a central part of it. We especially turn to the Sacraments of the Church as the means of Grace, to fill us with the Holy Ghost. It may be necessary to go to Confession if that is particularly suited to the situation at hand, or we may simply need to go to Holy Communion. In any event, we turn to the Church, particularly the Sacraments, when we are seeking grace.
There is a spreading problem in the Church, the problem of apostasy of the clergy. When the clergy lose the Christian faith, they often remain in their positions as pastors or priests because they are not prepared to do any other sort of work. Thus they go through the motions of leading worship, even if they themselves no longer believe the faith they are publicly professing. Usually this is done in private, that is to say, without revealing their true feelings, but at times they go public with their loss of faith, leading their congregations astray with them. I want to read you a brief article from the internet regarding a Dutch pastor who has done this latter, that you may see what his nominally Christian congregation is hearing from him.
Klass Hendrikse is a Pastor at the Exodus Church, a Dutch Protestant Church in central Holland. A conventional service, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse’s sermon is not conventional at all – “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”.
“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.”
In 2007 Klass Hendrickse authored a book Believing in a God that does not exist: the manifesto of an atheist pastor. Church authorities decided to keep him in a job because a study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the Dutch Protestant Church were either atheists or agnostic. Dismissing Hendrickse and others would have put the Church into a critical decline, so in true Dutch fashion, they compromised. A special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out.
Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.
The Rev Kirsten Slattenaar, Exodus Church’s regular priest, also rejects the idea – widely considered central to Christianity – that Jesus was divine as well as human.
“I think ‘Son of God’ is a kind of title,” she says. “I don’t think he was a god or a half god. I think he was a man, but he was a special man because he was very good in living from out of love, from out of the spirit of God he found inside himself.”
Now while this is a single example, I hasten to add, there are many others quite similar, if less outspoken. This is particularly a problem with in our own mother church, the Church of England, where the clergy have become very worldly wise and comfortable in a declining national Church.
Looking at this example, how could a parishioner go to that Church looking to find grace? There is nothing said specifically about the sacraments, but what is said about Jesus Christ completely undercuts all of the sacraments to the point that they no longer have any meaning. They are saying that God does not exist, so the grace of God becomes complete foolishness to consider. They completely ignore the witness of St. Paul to the Corinthians in our Epistle lesson, denying everything that he has said there. These poor people are cast completely upon their own resources, without any sort of divine aid whatsoever. They are told that they are expected to live good, moral lives, basically to keep the second table of the Ten Commandments (the first table is irrelevant because it relates to a God that these people say does not exist), but to do it without any sort of help from God. The best they can hope to do is to live as the Pharisees of the Old Testament, but still failing to understand the New Testament interpretation of the Law. There is no grace at all available to these poor people, and yet, the parishioners think they are happy because they are allowed to make up their religion as they go along. It is the same old story of sinful man, always wanting to do it his own way, rather than following the instructions given by God!
I would ask you next to contrast this with a poem, the text of one of the Holy Communion hymns found in our hymnal. It speaks to what we believe and preach in this parish, although it comes to us from a somewhat earlier time:
O Food of men wayfaring,
The bread of angels sharing,
O manna from on high!
We hunger; Lord, supply us,
Nor thy delights deny us,
Whose hearts to thee draw nigh.
O stream of love past telling,
O purest fountain, welling
From out the Saviour’s side!
We faint with thirst; revive us,
Of thine abundance give us,
And all we need provide.
O Jesus by thee bidden,
We here adore thee, hidden
‘Neath forms of bread and wine.
Grant when the veil is riven,
We may behold, in heaven,
Thy countenance divine.
The Episcopal Hymnal 1940, #192 O Esca Viatorum, Latin, 1661
If you consider the words of the poem, it is entirely about man seeking, and fully expecting to receive, grace in the Eucharist. He approaches with a confident heart, knowing that this is indeed the Body and Blood of Christ that he will receive. He comes with the full expectation that all of his fatigue and weariness will be relieved by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament. He receives the Sacrament, knowing that when it is the final Viaticum, when the veil is riven for his life, he may fully expect to see his Savior in Heaven. There is an abundance of grace in the Eucharist received with confidence such as this.
Which kind of church do you want to attend? Which kind of church gives you help with the cares of this life, and hope of glory in the life to come? I have to ask this in seriousness, because there would be no point to being a Christian if everything were about a complete fantasy. Those who lose their faith, seem to do so, apparently do so because they see no payoff in this life. Where do you find the payoff in this life?
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.