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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Be Strong and of a Good Courage - Sexagesima 2020


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Feb. 16, 2020



Joshua 1:6: “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.”

The Book of Joshua begins with an amazing occurrence.  God speaks to Joshua personally, just as he spoke to Moses.  God is preparing to “hand over” the leadership of the people of Israel.  Moreover, He is preparing to keep his promise made to Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Moses. These things happen as Israel is, at last, ready to possess the land of Canaan.

Recall that this was not always the case.  After the people first passed through the Red Sea as recorded in the Book of Exodus, being delivered from Pharaoh’s host, they were fearful to take the land.  Even after Moses sent out a scouting party, which returned with good fruit and a good report of the land, the people were fearful.  Whether this fear was stoked by the so-called “back to Egypt” party, we do not know.  All we are told is that the people did not possess faith sufficient to take the Promised Land.  For this reason Israel began the years of wandering in Sinai until the first generation to come out of Egypt passed away.

Our Gospel selection tells of this momentous occasion.  Moses was not permitted to lead the people into Canaan for the conquest because he sinned against the Lord at the waters of Meribah.  Recall this reading from Ex. 17: “And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.”
“Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

Here is where Moses’ sin happened: “And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?”  Note the use of the word “we”, meaning Moses and Aaron.  God is not mentioned or sanctified in this situation.  As a result, God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land from afar, but was not permitted to lead the People into it.  That job fell to Joshua.

One commentator says that these are historical events, which they are. Israel lays claims to its current land based on the promise of God to them as contained in Joshua.  Yet, they are more than mere historical records.[i]  The entrance into Canaan also represents our deliverance from the bondage of sin through Christ.  After all, “Jesus” is a Greek rendition of the Hebrew name “Joshua”.[ii] Joshua in the Old Testament is a Messiah type that would, later in history, be fulfilled through the House of David in the person of Jesus Christ. Through his earthly protector Joseph, he received his lineage of the Davidic line.  From his mother Mary, he received his manhood, and thus His identification with us. 

Now, Joshua is set to deliver the Jewish people into their new land.  They came out of Egypt a slave people, totally dominated by the Egyptians.  Now, after a long period of purgation, they have at last come to the place promised for them.  They are a free people, set to take their inheritance promised to them by God.

There are conditions placed on the people in order to fulfill this promise from God.  He commands them to obey the Law given to them through Moses.  They are to meditate on it day and night.  They are not to depart from it, but let it be their standard of behavior in everything. If this happens, God will make their way prosperous and they will have good success.
Something else is required of them, and specifically Joshua.  God tells him to “be strong, and of a good courage.”  God tells them not to fear, for He will be with them wherever they go.

Beloved, these are prophetic words for this parish. We too must “be strong and of a good courage.”  We must have faith that God is who He says He is and to believe in him with our whole heart. In faith, we must pray, work, and believe in the future of St. Paul’s. God is faithful.  So must we be in all that we do.

To do that, let us do the following:
1.      Worship every Sunday here in this church.
2.      Pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom.
3.      Invite others to share in our worship and fellowship.
4.      Be joyful and strong in all that we do.
5.      “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”[iii]

In so doing, all will be well with us.

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and for ever.  Amen.


[i] David Guzik, ““Commentary on Joshua 1” Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Phil. 4:4

Friday, February 7, 2020

Lord, I am not Worthy



The Rev’d. Stephen E. Stults
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
February 2, 2020

Humility, grace and power are all evident in our Gospel selection for the day. It is an amazing combination of these attributes of God, all condensed in one passage of Scripture.

We all know the scene.  Jesus is entering into Capernaum, when he encounters a Roman officer, a centurion.  From the name, century, we anticipate the size of their command, approximately 100 people, 80 of which were legionnaires, the others were servants.  This command could be as large as 200, depending upon the legion.  Centurions in the legion were roughly equal, except for the primus pilus, or chief centurion.  He was outranked by only eight other officers in a fully-officered legion.[i]

Centurions held places of respect and authority in society. They were drawn from the ranks of soldiers, but according to this ancient source, had to be well qualified:
“Centurions had to be literate (to be able to read written orders), have connections (letters of recommendation), be at least 30 years of age, and have already served a few years in the military. They also have had to be able to boost their soldiers' morale.
The centurion in the infantry is chosen for his size, strength and dexterity in throwing his missile weapons and for his skill in the use of his sword and shield; in short for his expertness in all the exercises. He is to be vigilant, temperate, active and readier to execute the orders he receives than to talk; Strict in exercising and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers, in obliging them to appear clean and well-dressed and to have their weapons constantly rubbed and bright,”[ii]
Thus, centurions were not to be taken lightly.  These were professional soldiers: tough, smart, and battle-hardened. They were used to taking and giving orders, which they expected to be obeyed without question.
Thus, it is amazing how this scene unfolds.  A centurion came unto Jesus, “beseeching” him.  This is an archaic word that we 21st Americans hardly ever use, unless you may be an Anglican.  It means, “to ask (someone) urgently and fervently to do something; implore; entreat. they beseeched him to stay"[iii]  It is doubtful this centurion rarely, if ever, “beseeched” anyone.  Yet, here he is, doing exactly that.

Evidently, the Jewish leaders in the town told him about Jesus, or he had heard elsewhere. Humility is exhibited here, as this tough Roman pagan does exactly that. He courteously greets him, using the world Kurios (Lord), and informs him that his servant is seriously ill with the palsy. Jesus also exhibits immediate grace, as He says, “I will come and heal him.” Christ is willing to go to a pagan’s house and perform an act of mercy. One commentator says everywhere Christ went was better for his being there.[iv] How true.

Now comes another example of humility, followed by power.  The centurion, in the words familiar to us, says, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.”  We employ similar words before we presume to eat and drink the Sacrament of the Altar each Sunday.  They are powerful words, for they acknowledge our true state before God.

The centurion expounds on authority.  He is a man under it.  He takes orders. He also gives orders, and they are to be followed.  He recognizes the same authority in Jesus, instinctively. Christ marvels at this, and turns to the crowd following, saying, (Matthew 8:10-12) “ Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.  12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In a wonderful “teaching moment” Christ exclaims that the Gentiles will hear the Gospel and be joined with the blessed in Heaven, while the very people to whom Jesus came reject him. He praises the Gentile Centurion, and at the same time, upbraids the Jews for their unbelief.  All of this in three or four sentences.  Only Jesus can speak such truth, so succinctly.

In the end, the centurion receives his request.  He is told to go, as the healing is done.  He believes, and his servant is healed immediately. His faith allows the power of God to be accomplished.

Here is the power of God, tempered by Grace. Jesus uses His divine power to heal the servant from afar, just by his powerful Word.  The centurion is given grace to believe it, and act accordingly. He leaves the scene, believing.  As he arrives home, he finds his servant healed, as Jesus said. Recall Christ’s words to the centurion: “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.”[v]

What quality did the centurion have that enabled this?  Faith.  Although a pagan, he had faith that Jesus was who He was.  He did not question, nor quibble.  He believed.
His request was done unto him according to his belief.

In the same way, beloved, let us believe God.  Everything is as it should be in God’s universe.  Do we believe God?  Do we believe that “…that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”? (Romans 8:28).
This priest hopes that you do. In the incomprehensible mystery that is God, all things are as they should be. We must believe God and trust in Him in all things.
Our lives here are brief.  Consider the events of this week, as sport fans saw one of their icons and his daughter taken abruptly from the scene.  St. James tells us this: “whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”[vi]  As we trust in God and believe him, as did the centurion, our lives will be blessed with faith and grace.
In the end, that is what makes the eternal difference.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Amen.





[i] Wikipedia “Centurion” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centurion
[ii] Wikipiedia Vegetius. De Re Militari,[16] II, 14
[iv] Matthew Henry, “Commentary on Matthew 8”
[v] Matt. 8:13
[vi] James 4:14