Just Passing Through

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (July 5) 2020
Epistle reading: Romans 8:18-23
Gospel reading: Luke 6:36-42

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity: “O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord.  Amen.—Book of Common Prayer (1928 American edition), p. 194

Yesterday was Independence Day, and I know we’re all giving a lot of thought and anguish to the state of our country.  I always like to preach on the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day whenever possible.  But sometimes I preach on other Biblical passages or topics.  And on occasion I’ve preached through parts or even entire books of the Bible on successive Sundays.  The long Trinity season, which we’re in now, is an especially good time to preach a sermon series.

Like any system, there are pluses and minuses to lectionary preaching.  For the most part, I stick with the lectionary in our Prayer Book in preaching.  But sometimes I do not, and I know that I’m well within the classical Anglican tradition of the past 500 years in doing so.  We have to remember that for 400 years from the time of the English Reformation, the normal pattern for Sunday worship in Anglican and Episcopal churches was Morning Prayer and sermon.  Holy Communion was celebrated only a few times a year or, at most, once a quarter or once a month.  It was only in the 19th century with the Oxford Movement and the later Ritualist Movement that Holy Communion began to be celebrated every Sunday.  And really only in the 20th century did the Holy Communion become the normal and regular Sunday service for most Anglicans.

I’m glad that the Eucharist has achieved its proper place as the normal and regular Sunday service for Anglicans today.  At the same time, I do believe something important has been lost by the neglect of Morning Prayer with the beautiful sung canticles of praise, the readings from the Old Testament, and the recitation, said or sung, of the Psalms of David.

Having said all that, I was struck by how our Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for today are amazingly appropriate for this Independence Day weekend in the year of our Lord 2020.  A collect, by the way, is simply a short prayer that summarizes, or collects, certain themes and ideas.  The Prayer Book collects for the Sundays and Holy Days of the year summarize and collect together themes and ideas that are related to the Bible readings for those days or some other related aspect.

Our Collect for today, the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, begins by referring to God as the protector of everyone who trusts in him.  This is a wonderful and amazing truth about Almighty God that we need to remember and meditate on during these troubled times.  God will protect us because we trust and put our entire faith and confidence in him.  Over and over Holy Scripture declares that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a strong rock and tower of defense for those who trust in him.  And isn’t it interesting that the motto on our money is “in God we trust.”

Our Collect for today also states that God is the source of all strength.  It refers to God as the one “without whom nothing is strong.”  So many of us long for strength during these unsettling days.  We want our leaders at every level of government to be strong.  We even see slogans all over the place declaring such things as “VB strong.”  But without Almighty God, there is no real and abiding strength.  We’re strong only through the grace and power of Almighty God.  We dare not trust in our own strength.  The arm of flesh will fail us ultimately.  But God who created and sustains the entire universe with its billions of stars and planets and all the forces and powers of nature is the source and basis and sustaining cause of all these things.  And it is God’s strength that we must rely on.

Our Collect for today also prays that Almighty God would pour forth his mercy upon us so that we “may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.”  The great challenge that we who are Christian believers face is to not be overwhelmed by the chaos and evil we see and experience in this world.  Precisely because we are Christian believers we have a highly developed sense of right and wrong.  We know because of the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ that burning and looting stores and shops and vehicles is wrong.  We know that shouting and yelling profanities at police officers, not to mention taunting and challenging them, is evil; a violation of the Fifth Commandment that requires us to honor our father and mother and, by extension, all those in lawful authority over us.

We can be overwhelmed by the chaos and evil and respond with anger and the desire for retribution.  We can respond with pessimism and gloom and despair and simply want to withdraw from civil society.  We can respond with fear.

But the proper Christian response is to carry on, to continue our earthly pilgrimage, and to not get so caught up in the affairs and struggles of this life that we forget our eternal destiny.  “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come,” the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us.  That continuing, or abiding, city is, of course, the heavenly Jerusalem.

As Christians, we are to be salt and light to this world; good citizens of our nation; always seeking to help and improve our society and bring about justice and righteousness and peace whenever and however we can.  The ultimate focus of our attention, however, needs to be elsewhere.  As the apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

As Christian believers, we are risen with Jesus Christ.  We have died to sin, Satan, and the evil and the lies of the prince of this world.  That old man of sin, that sick and perverted and hateful and disobedient fallen human nature we’re all born with, has been crucified with Christ.  And because of this new reality, we must keep the thoughts of our hearts on things above, not on things of the earth.

“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us,” writes St. Paul in the opening verse of our Epistle reading this morning (Romans 8:18).  It’s not that we don’t suffer and experience pain and sorrow in this earthly life.  We most certainly do.  But these sufferings pale in comparison with the joy and the happiness, the glory and the victory that will one day be ours as Christian believers.

And so on this Independence Day weekend, let’s give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty and freedom we have as citizens of the United States of America.  Let’s pray that God will intervene in our nation and in the hearts of all our fellow citizens and leaders to work for peace and righteousness, harmony and justice.  But let’s also remember that God is in charge of history and all the affairs of humankind.  As Christian believers, we put no confidence in the flesh, but in the strength and the power and the unfailing might of Almighty God.  And let’s pray as well that God, who gave his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our redemption, will increase and multiply on us the blessings of his mercy and so rule and guide our hearts and minds that we may so pass through things that are temporal that we finally lose not the things that are eternal.

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