Trinity Anglican Church
Sermons Table of Contents spacer Eighth Sunday after Trinity
Morning Prayer, 14 AUG 2011
Trinity Anglican Church
Psalm: 119:33-40
1st Lesson: Romans viii 12-17
2nd Lesson: St. Matthew vii 13-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

What confidence the Psalmist has this morning: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.  Give me understanding and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart.”1  Whenever I recite these words, and I recite them every day as Psalm 119 constitutes the bulk of the Little Hours, I know I am a hypocrite.  No sooner will I have said these words, and I will sin again.  So much for enjoying “my delight … in Thy commandments.” 2  Try as I might I continually find myself falling short of the dignity and righteousness that God intends for me.

 

Having given this disclaimer, we should all wonder about the reliability of a sermon on actions and salvation from one whose actions do not warrant such a gift.  It reminds me a bit of a well-worn joke.  A renowned preacher arrives in a small town.  Like a good son, he always lets his mother know where he is by mailing her a card.  Not knowing where the Post Office is, he stops a young boy on the street and asks him.  The kid gives the preacher directions.  The preacher thanks the boy and then adds “If you stop by the local church tonight, I’ll return the favor.  I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”  “I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy says, “You don’t even know how to get to the Post Office.”

 

Fortunately Scripture provides an inerrant description of the path to salvation.  The Gospel lesson today is taken from the very end of St. Matthew’s recollection of the Sermon on the Mount.  It has four parts:

  • the narrow gate,
  • the warning against deception,
  • the warning against self-deception,
  • and the parable of the houses built on rock and sand, which we did not read. 

These together provide a simple message: There are two ways:

  • one leading to life
  • and the other to death. 

There will be those who will deceive you off the path of life; avoid them – let their actions be your telltale.  Beware the arrogant self-assurance of salvation; this will certainly lead to death.  We are implored finally to act as the wise man, who hears Christ’s words and does them.  Our actions have a central role here.

 

Actions matter in ways that simple affirmations of faith do not.  Christ says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” 3   In biblical terms “Lord” is a loaded word.  In the Old Testament Lord replaces the unspeakable Name of God.  Likewise in the New Testament, Lord is the word of recognition, the word used when the speaker realizes he is addressing the Christ.  For example, St. Peter recognizes Jesus as the Christ and subsequently calls Him “Lord”. 4  

The Leper and the Centurion display their faith by calling Jesus, “Lord,” and it is their faith that achieves the healing they desire. 5   Jesus clearly tells us that even those who acknowledge his divinity, even those who acknowledge that He is the Savior of the world, yes, even those who call themselves Christians, may yet be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven.  I’m afraid we’ll have to take St. Paul at his word when he tells us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” 6   We’re going to have to do something to get there.

 

We should be careful not to read this verse out of context.  Salvation is not assured by taking action for the sake of action.  Our Lord is quick to tell us that those who act, even those who act in the Lord’s name, do not get to enter into the company of the saints.  “Many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’”  Christ answers them, quoting from Psalm 119, 7 “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” 8   Going around doing things in the name of God is not the same as working out your salvation.  Christ calls this group of damned “evildoers.”  Their actions are not in accordance with the will of God – they are in accordance with their own human desires: the desire to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed for our holiness.  This group of damned has deceived themselves.  So deceived were they that even as they are condemned, even as they are shown their actions as God sees them, they are surprised by their reception.  So convinced are they of their own righteousness that the damned question the Lord of Righteousness himself.

 

Christ has not set an impossible bar for us to clear; he said “the gate is narrow and the path is hard.”  The path is hard, but not impossible.  After all God desires our salvation – this is why he sent his Son. 9   So at the gates of heaven there is no deep mystery that we need to plumb, no riddle we need to solve.  The deck is not stacked against us – instead we need only to follow.  Not every one who seeks entry to the Kingdom of Heaven will be admitted “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  It is so simple: do God’s will – and yet I will fall countless times today, tomorrow, and every day until I can learn to love God’s ways over my own. 

 

What does the will of the heavenly Father look like? “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value went and sold all that he had and bought it.” 10   The kingdom of heaven is an all-or-nothing deal.  The merchant cannot go out and sell 99% of what he has and keep 1% “just in case”.  The price of the pearl is everything.  He can either have all of the pearl or none of it.

 

So it is with the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven requires an absolute yearning, as the Psalmist says “When I think of your ways I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments; With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.” 11  We cannot say, “Lord I’ll accept 99% of the Gospel, but on this one little thing, this 1%, I’ll remain in control.”  If we have sold our souls for a little bit, we’ve still sold them completely.  And herein lies the lunacy of sin – because we realize that having been offered salvation through an act of incredible love, the pearl has already been bought, and is now given as a gift.  We’d have to be idiots to walk away from a deal like that – but that is what we do every time we sin.

 

During one of my retreats in college, the retreat master read another of St. Matthew’s descriptions of the kingdom of heaven: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 12   He then asked us what our greatest treasure was.  We were young men, trained by nuns, learned in the catechism – we knew the answer.  Every one to a man answered: “Jesus.”  The retreat master had been around this block before, so he turned the table on us.  “Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver,” he continued, “what would you sell Jesus for?”  We all squirmed.  This question could not be answered from memory.  The retreat master let the silence hang there like smoke over a cannon.  Finally he said “What was the last sin you committed?  You sold out Christ for that.”

 

The Gospel lesson today reminds us that our actions count.  It is not just faith alone that matters.  You are called to act, to “walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.  But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” 13 We must be ever vigilant then that we do not become “debtors to the flesh,” 14 for Christ tells us: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done.” 15   Indeed, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” 16   Blessed will we be when we can ask with St. Paul: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” 17  

 

Brothers and sisters, victory is not for those who beat the air, 18 contenting themselves with knowing what is right, comfortable in good feelings and the pride of privilege.  Victory is for those who fight, 19 who run the race, 20 who set themselves vigorously to do the will of God.  In this perplexing world and with our limited capacity it is sometimes difficult to see what is right and what is wrong, but whatever we do we must be right in “do[ing] justly, “lov[ing] mercy,” and “walk[ing] humbly with our God.” 21 So that when we at long last stand in judgment, may we be able to truly call out “Lord, Lord behold your servant.”

 

Let us pray:
Graciously grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as are rightful: that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may be enabled to live according to Thy will.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

1. Ps 119:33-34.

2. Ps 119:40.

3. Mt. 7:21.

4. Mt 16:22.  Interestingly, Judas Iscariot never calls Jesus “Lord” like the other disciples.  He always calls Him “Rabbi” (See Mt 26:25, 49; Luke 9:54; John 11:12, 13:37).

5. Mt. 8:5-13.

6. Philippians 2:12.

7. Ps. 119:115.

8. Mt. 7:22-23.

9. John 3:16

10. St. Matthew 13:45.

11. Ps 119:59-60, 131.

12. St. Matthew 13:44.

13. Ecclesiastes 11:9.

14. Romans 8:12.

15. Revelation 22:12.

16. Revelation 22:14.

17. Acts 5:6.

18. 1 Corinthians 9:26.

19. Ibid.

20. 1 Corinthians 9:24.

21. Micah 6:8.

 

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