Preached October 9, 2011
St. Luke 7:11–17
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last Sunday, we were talking about how we are to serve the Lord God with single–minded dedication, the fact that a man cannot serve two masters. The closing thought in that meditation was to the effect that this requires not only complete dedication of our will, but also willingness to be completely dependent on God, trusting in Him for our every need. For many people, this is perhaps the hardest part, the casting of all our cares upon God, and relying upon Him for every need. It challenges our sense of independence and self–worth rather severely, and most find this very difficult to deal with.
We continue this morning, the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, with the same idea of living our lives of service to the Lord, lives lived in complete dependence upon Him. Just as we were last Sunday told not to be anxious about how we will have enough to eat or a place to live, we are this Sunday enjoined to remember that our Lord God is there to support us in the sad times that are an inevitable part of this earthly life. The Lord Himself is our consolation, because He promises that the sad times are only for a short time, while we look forward to endless eternal day with Him at the end.
Our Epistle lesson begins with St. Paul writing to the Ephesians, admonishing them to faint not at the thought of all the misfortunes and injuries that he has suffered for the sake of the Church. Ephesians 3:13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. Paul wants the Church at Ephesus to understand that they too will be called upon to suffer for the sake of Christ, and that it is in bearing up under this suffering, carrying the scandal of the Cross, that they have a share in the glory of Christ. They, and we, are to understand that our calling as Christians is not to escape suffering, but rather to rise above it into the peace of God, even in this life.
St. Paul then begins a very beautiful teaching regarding the roles of the different persons of the Godhead in supporting us through our times of trouble.
He begins by kneeling before the Father, the original Father after whom every earthly father is modeled, Ephesians 3:14-15 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, His very Name connotes tenderness and constant love. He is the source for the very idea of fatherhood, with all human fathers but distant and imperfect copies of God the Father. He is our first and original source of comfort for all of the trials that we face in our earthly life since all of life is lived by His design.
St. Paul asks the Father to send to the Ephesians (and to us) a second source of comfort and guidance in our earthly life, Ephesians 3:16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; Paul is asking for the sending of the Holy Ghost upon these weak Christians, that they may be strengthened in the inner man, that is, in their souls. Paul is telling the Ephesians that anything that they receive from the Father will be simply by way of a gift from the inexhaustible resources of the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. They most certainly cannot earn anything from the Father. But Paul is asking that the Father send the Holy Ghost to strengthen their souls, to give them endurance for that part of their race that remains to be run. Each of us has some part of our lives remaining, and we need the gift of the Holy Ghost, sanctifying our lives, to enable us to run the race with joy and confidence, despite the setbacks and hindrances that we encounter along the way. The power of the Holy Ghost is truly immense, and sufficient for all of our needs.
Finally, the Apostle prays that we receive the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Ephesians 3:17a That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; Thus receiving the Holy Ghost will also lead to having Jesus Christ Himself dwelling within our hearts, so that we are strengthened and comforted by the indwelling of the entire Holy Trinity. Truly, God is with us in our Christian lives! Ephesians 3:17b-18 17b that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; Only in this way do we come to realize that we, as members of the Church, are actually in the Kingdom of God’s Grace, seen through the breadth of its liberty, the depth of its security, the length of its continuance, and the height of its glory. All of this is possible only because of Christ’s personal presence there with us, Ephesians 3:19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Our earthly perspective, with all of its very real physical, mental, and emotional problems and difficulties is often pretty dismal to us. We often face great sorrows and a future that seems to have no future. In spite of all of this, we have a holy mystery of consolation and great comfort in the Lord our God; all things are in His hands. He does not ask us to go anywhere that He has not gone before us, and even now He leads the way. We have only to trust in Him, take comfort in Him, and commit our lives totally to Him, knowing that He will provide for all our needs. When we can do this, then we can join St. Paul in his final doxology of praise, Ephesians 3:20-21 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Paul is giving thanks for the power of God that is at work within everyone of us, a power that is not limited by the weakness of human frailty, but rather exceeds all that we may imagine. This power is given to the Church through its Lord, Jesus Christ, by God the Father. This is what is available to carry us through the storms of life!
What St. Paul has been telling us is a story of truly miraculous power given to the Church, but we may be inclined to disbelieve it. We may say, when did such a thing ever happen? When did God ever care about the problems of mortal man here on earth?
One of the reasons for Christ’s coming to earth was to reveal the nature of God to men, particularly to show the personal nature of God, and His compassion for men. Everything that Jesus did during His stay on earth was by design; nothing happened by accident. There were no “chance meetings,” or “accidental encounters,” even though at times events may have appeared that way. The same is true today. Jesus is present with us now, and He knows just what we are going through, day by day. He knows our trials and our sorrows, He knows just how big our burdens are every day.
The Lord sees our struggle, and that helps us; it is good. He has compassion upon us, and that is better. Best of all is when we hear him say, Weep not. Jesus has a heart for love, for sympathy, to beat with ours. Learn to believe in the heart of Jesus, and if you do not know Him, you need to seek Him. As Scripture says, Matthew 7:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Also, Luke 11:10) No matter what our sorrow, Jesus is the unfailing Comforter. His compassion has no end.
When our Lord Jesus commands us to Weep not, it is a word of command that actually carries power to enable change. We read in our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 7:13-15 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. This was the son of the widow of Nain. Scripture records two other similar instances in which Jesus raised the dead. We see that His compassion is willing to reunite the living and the dead, as He will more fully at the Final Judgement. He is a source of limitless compassion for suffering mankind, if they will only turn to Him.
We know, of course, that the devil is very active in our world. One of the places where I have seen his work in my own life is the effective destruction of a wonderful Christian parish where I once worshiped for a number of years as a layman. The long–time priest of that parish became ill and eventually retired, and there was no one ready to step in to fill the gap. The parish was left in an awkward position, with a bishop who wanted to impose female clergy on this orthodox parish, and their position was weak. A confidence man (that is, a criminal who engages our confidence only to defraud us later) appeared, posing as a priest, who “helped them” and he became their rector. Now that a period of some two years or so have passed, the scam is coming to its poisonous fruit, and the parish is about to collapse. Many, if not most of the former members of the parish have left the parish. I tell all this by way of background for an event that I want to relate that happened two days ago.
One of the former parish leaders, a long time senior warden, now a member of another parish, recently died and his funeral was this past Friday. It was heartening to see the badly dispersed members of the now collapsed parish come together to minister, as God’s ministers, to the widow and the family, of our former senior warden. Even though the devil has managed to divide the congregation, and send the members in many different directions, the sense of family and the need to care for each other was evident in this time of crisis. The concern was not just for the grieving family that had recently suffered the loss, but for our whole parish family. There was much discussion about where had various people gone, what parishes were they now attending, how could they be helped. This is all the ministry of God, God’s people caring for and ministering to one another even when divided. We support each other by our presence at events such as this, and by our concern for those that are absent.
In all the trials and sorrows of this life, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is our ultimate consolation during this life. Too often we tend to think of God in terms of judgement, rather than consolation, but that is an entirely one–sided view. We need to keep a balanced view of our God.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.