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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Restoration and Life

Rev. Stephen E. Stults

St.  Paul’s Anglican Church

6th Sunday in Trinity 2020

July 19, 2020

 

Jeremiah 31:8   8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.

 

Today we hear amazing words of prophecy from Jeremiah, the “suffering prophet.”  It was he that was given the most unpleasant task of prophesying doom and destruction to a prosperous and sinful nation. In the midst of their richness and luxury, Jeremiah told them to repent, or else suffer the judgment of God. Those of you familiar with the Book of Jeremiah know that he was ridiculed, accused, jailed, and almost killed for these words.

 

Nevertheless, he prevailed.   After many years of preaching, Jerusalem was attacked, besieged and eventually taken by her enemies. Jeremiah himself survived the siege and the sack of the city. He was eventually taken to Egypt, where he died, an unsung hero for God.

 

During his prophecy, mixed among the words of dire consequences, were scattered some words of hope.  As is common among prophets, their vision encompasses both the near view and the long view.  For example, Jeremiah told the people to repent now and perhaps escape God’s wrath; this they ignored and were punished.  He also foresaw a time of restoration and renewal, which would happen a long time after his death.

 

This selection from his prophecy deals with such a restoration.  After all, life and growth is what God is all about. He is not about death, or destruction, although these occur due to the sinfulness of men.  He does not desire that any should die, or suffer pain, yet he gives Man free will to do what he does.  Usually, this involves selfishness, greed, and ambition of some, to the detriment of many.

 

Yet, this is not what God wants. He wants us to love Him, worship Him, and live under His covenant for our own good.  He wants this, despite knowing our true nature without Him, which always tends to the worse.

 

Here in this selection of prophecy, we see God’s promise coming true.  It did not take shape in Jeremiah’s lifetime, but it occurred some time after, and it occurred again in full force in the 20th century.

 

We know that Jerusalem was rebuilt, starting with the decree of Cyrus the Mede, culminating with the building of the Second Temple under Darius. This rebuilding continued under Artaxerxes, presided over by Ezra and Nehemiah.

 

Jerusalem would again be destroyed and desecrated by the Greeks, after the death of Alexander the Great.  The Greek Ptolemies would attempt to erase Jewish culture until the Maccabean Revolt, which would remove Greek rule.  The Romans ultimately conquered Palestine, which brought prosperity and uneasy peace. The Temple was restored again, beginning in 20 B.C.  Relative peace continued up and through the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, until once again, Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 a.d.

 

Then, in 1945, we see the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Jews from all over the world streamed into Israel.  The state of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, at least the Jewish part, gained new life according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. God’s promise of restoration to Israel literally came true.

 

You may be thinking, “Thanks for the history lesson, Fr. Stults, but what has this got to do with us?”  Good question. Simply this: since our God is all about life and not death, about restoration and not destruction, what message can we glean from the circumstances of today?  It is this.  God can and will restore our country and nation’s peace.  He can make it happen. Only His calming Hand can quiet the madness of the peoples.

 

True, we face threats like we have not seen for many years, even ever in our history. The radical Left is energized by the sheepishness and moral weakness of our local leaders.  No one is willing to denounce this violent denunciation of peace, except for a few courageous national figures.  Many local mayors simply wring their hands while their cities burn. Worse yet, many have willingly surrendered parts of their settlements to the socialist Left.

 

Yet, even this can be turned around by the most non-violent of weapons.  As in the days of ancient Israel, after they had suffered a while, they turned their cries up to God.  In his ultimate mercy, God heard their distress and sent them deliverers in the form of judges.  Note however, that the first step for ancient Israel, and for us, is repentance.  We must acknowledge our own sinfulness before God before He will turn and heal us.

 

This begs a question: what if no one has a desire to repent?  Or, they are unable to see their sin, having their consciences seared by sin?  What can we do? Again, we turn to history.  Even in Israel’s darkest days, there was a faithful remnant.  This faithful bit of leaven (yeast) managed to enliven the whole lump of dough that was Israel.  Their prayers were heard by God.

 

So it is with us.  We are the faithful remnant.  We, and millions of other praying Americans are holding this country up in prayer.[RS1]  We must continue to do so.  If you are not praying daily for this country, please start today…  It is critical to our survival.

 

That being said, for what do we pray?  First, pray for our leaders.  If you use the Morning and Evening Prayer forms in the Book of Common prayer, there are already prayers for this purpose.  Use them, and add your own prayers for peace, for confusion to America’s enemies, and for God’s Almighty Hand to cover this nation.

 

Next, pray for our people.  Diverse and divergent we are, true, but pray that we may recover our common sense of being Americans. Pray for a spirit of repentance and a release of the Satanic pride and selfishness gripping our nation.

Pray for another Great Awakening to sweep across our great land.

 

Do not forget, we are still great, the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, thanks to God’s Providence to us. Pray that God continue His mercy to us, even if for the remnant’s sake.  Our voices are loud and persistent to God.

 

Finally, always give thanks and praise to Him who doeth all things well.

It is by His grace that we live, and move, and have our being.

 

AMEN.

 


 [RS1]er


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Of One Mind

Rev. Stephen E. Stults

St.  Paul’s Anglican Church

5th Sunday in Trinity 2020

July 12, 2020

 

“Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

 

What words for today! Considering the crazy environment today, amid the host of  competing agendas, how can we have anything but a mass of confusion? It seems as if we cannot.

 

What began as largely peaceful protests have become the fertile ground for civil disobedience and widescale destruction. Large, global forces of evil are encompassing us and threatening our liberty and our nation itself. It is likely those who wish to abolish national sovereignty in favor of a “global” government are using these occurrences to fund and to foment radical destruction of our history and heritage.  There are many voices clamoring to be heard, often by any means necessary, including violence.

 

Some of these ideas are truly radical and completely nonsensical, such as the demand to defund local police departments.  We are already witnessing the uptick in murder and violent crime in cities like Chicago and New York, where these revolutionary ideas have taken root.  If one has forgotten (or never known about) the radical days of 1968, when riots and violent demonstrations rocked the country, one might be tempted to think that this is the worst. It is not.  It is bad, true.  It is probably one of the more unsettling times we have lived through, but it is not the worst.

 

Those who lived through the Blitz in London, when the Nazi bombers tore parts of London down, or lived through the recent destruction of Syria would differ in opinion. Those who lived through the Siege of Stalingrad would also disagree. Horrible times, to be sure.

 

This is not to downplay what is going on currently.  It is bad. Yet, this will pass. The question is, is there an answer to this maelstrom of disagreement and discord?

 

There is.  There has always been an answer, but it is one to which the World will not cling, except in times of extreme distress.  Why is it that we forget this answer, often until the train is literally going off the track? What is wrong with the World?

 

Part of it is our natural perversity, and part of it deals with our need to create our own God.  Recalling the words of a wise old Sunday School teacher: “There is a God, and you are not it.”  How true.

 

Yet, we try.  I constantly marvel at my sons’ and the generations after them.  They reject the old rules of Christianity; and have created “scads” of new rules for dating, relationships, and social conduct. The rules are often quite strict, and quite merciless. Violate them and one is cut off immediately.

 

Let’s look at St. Peter’s words for some better context.  He tells us: “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, be pitiful (meaning full of pity, piteous) be courteous, not rendering evil for evil…”  Just this portion is a huge task.  It is something that is not largely done, overall. 

 

Yet, we must try.  Recalling the Summary of the Law, we know there are two things we must do as Christians: Love God with all of our being and love each other as we love ourselves. Both seem so simple, yet we find them so difficult!

 

First, how do we love God?  Those of us in the household of faith worship Him, certainly.  But why?  Simply because He is so worthy of it! We recognize that all things were created by God; they exist for and by His Pleasure.  He delights in His Creation.  We should delight in Him as the Author and Giver of all good things.  We should: “Go our ways into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise; and speak good of His Name.”   Is that so hard?  Is it truly difficult to give thanks and praise to the One who does all things well?

 

Apparently for some, it is. Call it blinded sight, or a dormant faith, or simply a spirit seared by sin, but it creates a huge obstacle for some. They are unable to open their eyes and see.  Pray for them.

 

Second, we must love each other as ourselves. Again, how easy to say, but so difficult to do.  How do we do this?  First, listen to Christ.  He said, “treat others the way you would have them treat you.” Simple, no?  Difficult to do, yes!  For the life of me, I do not know why, except to blame my own inherent selfishness. Frequently, I am reminded with someone with whom I live closely, that the world does not revolve around me.  Here it is: think of others before you think of yourself.

 

If all of us would be of one mind, the mind of Christ, and adopt these two rules, how blessed we would be! If we could just love God first, and then love our fellow man as we love ourselves, most of life’s difficulties would diminish greatly.

 

If we strive for something in this life, perhaps this should be it.

 

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith. THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Suffering and Glory


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
4th Sunday After Trinity 2020

Romans viii. 18. I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Are suffering and glory connected?  Is suffering the lens through which we view our hope of glory?  If so, how does suffering prepare us for the glory to come?

These are weighty questions. One commentator says, “There is nothing like a believing view of the glory which shall be revealed to support and bear up the spirit under all the sufferings of this present time. The reproach of Christ appears riches to those who have respect to the recompence of reward,”[i]   This view is also confirmed in Heb. 11:26, where the writer tells how Moses forsook the luxury of the Egyptian court to share the sufferings of his people: ”[ii] Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

St. Paul certainly knew about suffering.  As he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25: Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”

Yet, through it all, St. Paul never lost his hope of glory. He was fortunate enough to have had a glimpse of glory, as he stated in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 : And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)  4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 

Yet, even without this heavenly vision, one feels that Paul would have kept his vision of glory to come, given by his unshakeable faith.  After all, he had seen the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, when he first received his commission.  

Even that experience did not come without some suffering, as St. Paul spent the next three days blind and fasting. God eventually sent the disciple Ananias to lay hands on him.  After this, he received his sight.  Imagine being given that task!  Ananias complained to God, that this was the great persecutor of the church and he was being sent to him?  Thankfully, he obeyed, and Saul (then Paul) received his physical and spiritual sight.

It’s been said (in the Book of Proverbs and Job) that wisdom does not come without suffering.  Most of us who have some level of maturity would probably agree.  How about our hope of glory?  Is it sharpened by suffering?  Or, is it blunted?  We think it depends on the gift of faith one has.  If one’s faith is deep and rich, we think one can discount the “sufferings of this present time” because of the “glory that will be revealed in us.”  On the other hand, if one’s faith is superficial, sufferings may cause doubt or even a falling away from the faith.  If this be the case, let us pray for a rich and hearty faith!

Why?  Because the scripture clearly states (Romans 8:22) “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”  We need a strong faith to survive the vicissitudes of life without buckling.  I was musing on this very passage the other day, thinking about the nature of nature itself, how things must die for other things to survive. We humans, being at the top of the food chain, constantly harvest and consume other creatures for our survival.  I frankly admit that I am a carnivore, or better put, an omnivore who eats everything!  Even our vegetarian and vegan friends do not eat without sacrifice. Plants must be killed (harvested) for their nutrition, too.

In the wild, animals must prey on other animals to survive.  It’s a tough world at its very core. Thus, St. Paul teaches us about the groaning of creation.

Yet, there is hope. “The glory that shall be revealed in us” refers to the ultimate consummation of our existence, when we will be united with God in glory everlasting.  It also deals with the cessation of pain for all Creation.  Someday, when Christ returns, all pain will cease for Creation, and for those called to His Glory.  Life will be as it was meant to be originally.

This is why we have hope.  It is why those of us in the household of faith look forward to our coming life in Christ, despite what comes our way here.  None of us should expect a perfect life here, for it does not exist. Life is necessarily flawed and imperfect here, being only a faint reflection of our life to come.

This is why we have hope.  This is why we have joy, now, despite our circumstances.         
There is a far greater “weight of glory” waiting for us, that certainly makes our current suffering look paltry and weak. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;  18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

We can do this because we have a Eternal Friend and Companion in the Holy Ghost, who strengthens us and helps us through our difficult times.  With His help, we can look through the current burden of our times to the next phase of our existence, when we will exist without time, without pain, and without sorrow. 

This is our eternal destiny. It is the reason we can “…reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  AMEN.


[i] Matthew Henry, “Commentary on Romans”
[ii] lbid