Sermon for the 10:30 service on Sunday September 6th 2009 at the St Andrew Parish Church.
In preparation for this sermon, having read all the Scripture readings appointed for today, two passages stayed with me for the entire week, and a third one entered my mind as I began, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, to write. The first was a warning, and no doubt a reminder from the Psalmist:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them
– the Lord who remains faithful forever.
Perhaps even as I mention the faithfulness of God, words of the songwriter come to mind:
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassion, they fail not,
as Thou has been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed thy hands have provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me to me.
This was the God whom the Psalmist knew. The God of Abraham, the God of Issac, the God of Jacob, who had been faithful to them in so many ways. In rescuing them from Pharaoh with great power through the plagues. In rescuing them from the pursuing Egyptians by turning back the mighty Red Sea, thus inspiring the words of the well known sanke:
How great is our God! How great is his name.
How great is our God! Forever the same.
He rolled back the waters- of the mighty Red Sea.
And He said, I’ll never leave you, put your trust in Me
And so the Psalmist was amazed that anyone could willingly chose to trust in mere man who according to the Scriptures, - is dust and unto dust shall he return. Compared to God, who the same Scriptures tell us - “is from everlasting to everlasting”.
The second one is passage of Scripture, which in essence, is a summary of the messages contained in all four readings today:
“He has done everything well”, they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”.
This was the response of the people who had brought Jesus to a deaf and almost mute person and for whom Jesus had performed a great miracle of healing. So we too can identify with the crowd and exclaim that:” He has done everything well”. For we know the story well. How John declared that:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.
That is God, became Incarnate, took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And we all know the words that remind us that:
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God….and that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus”
And, further, we know by heart the most famous verse of scripture, in which Jesus assured a world ruled under the bondage of Sin and the fear of death that:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life “.
And now the gospel reminds us how Jesus at the beginning of His ministry as recoded by Luke declared that:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And having declared that God had sent Him for this purposed, “Jesus became obedient, even to death on the Cross”. And we who believe and trust in Jesus, are assured that we have eternal life – which is forgiveness of sins, death to self, and a new life in and through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this possible because He, Jesus has done all things well.
And so can sing with the saints in heaven and on earth the words of that wonderful hymn:
Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me.
He left His Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace,
Emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all immense and free; For O my God it found out me.
The third passage of scripture that entered my mind forms the basis for our reflection today within the context of the fact that in Jesus God has done all things well.
Our Lord was addressing the people of Jerusalem with whom he had a special attachment as it was there he was to put to death on a Cross, after a mockery of a trial. So He said in haunting words which resonate across the centuries:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her children her wings, but you were not willing.
My friends at STPC this Sunday morning, do we not hear the voice of God calling out to the nation, O Jamaica, Jamaica, how long I have longed to see you worship my Son Jesus, who does all things well, but you were not willing. How many times have I sent prophets through the church, the body of Christ, to warn you not to place your trust in princes, in mortal man who cannot save, but you were not willing? How can you place your trust in don men, in community leaders, who share out money for school children and for pregnant mothers? Money gained when gunshots ring out, and knives are drawn and somebody’s blood stains the ground and a nation recoils in horror and in fear. How can you place your trust in these men who when they die or are extradited to the USA, their plans come to nothing, and mayhem returns to the area? How can you place your trust solely in the hands of your political leaders to rescue a nation under economic, moral, political and social stress, when they possess only limited wisdom, little strength, are struggling with their own moral failings and are only here for a season compared with the Lord God Almighty of whom the hymn writer declares in that wonderful hymn “My God how wonderful thou art”, a God who has:
“Endless wisdom, boundless power and awesome purity”
How can you spend so much hours listening to the music of your favourite entertainer, so much time allowing your favourite talk show host to penetrate your mind, so much time being entertained by various sporting activities, yet have so little time for prayer, for worship and to praise the Creator of heaven and earth and everything in them? O Jamaica, Jamaica. No wonder young shottas who fear neither God nor man are killing our people. No wonder children who fear neither God nor man are killing one another in the schools. No wonder men who fear neither God or man are raping and killing our women and children. All primarily because a large section of our population has turned their back on the God of Jacob, the Son God, Jesus Christ who does all things well, and placed their trust in princes, mortal men who cannot save.
But the God of whom the hymn writer declares:
O love that wilt not let me go….O joy that seekest me through pain.
The God who in Christ Jesus, who died on the cross for all mankind, is calling out to Jamaica once again through the church. The God of whom the Psalmist says:
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities:
This God is who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love”, will heal this nation if we turn back to him with a contrite heart and in repentance. This is the message that we the Baptised ones need to share with the nation in this time of trouble. We who fear God, and who know that , “the angels of the Lord encampeth around them that fear Him”, need to boldly share the good news that , even though the times are indeed evil, though the killings continue unabated, though the economy is in bad shape, though many young people and even the old are engaging in gross immorality, though many politicians act corruptly, though too many members of the police act as judge, jury and executioners, Jamaica can change, as Jesus, who is the same yesterday today and forevermore still does all things well – even what seems impossible.
The challenge for the us individuals in the church is to discern what is the will of God for each member of the body and then forgetting about self, to be obedient, even to the point of suffering. For each congregation to truly become a missionary church, as thus to be “going out” to those who have placed their trust in man or ultimately in themselves, and sharing the good news. For each denomination to live in fellowship with others, despite doctrinal, historical and cultural differences, so that the body of Christ may be built up, and those who look on may see a united body declaring the wonders of God, through a Christ who does all things well. And so begin to put their trust in the God of Jacob and not mere man.
But In order for that kind of transformation, and for that kind of unity to take place, the church, the body of Christ needs to be renewed. And the clear message that the Lord is sending this morning as we reflect on the Psalmist’s recommendation to trust in the God of Jacob, and the reminder from the gospel that Christ has done all things well, is that for renewal to take place, we the body of Christ, individually and collectively, out of love for God and neighbour, must deny self, and surrender completely to the Spirit of Christ which lives in us by faith and by grace. Because in the same way that the enthronement of self in the hearts of those on the outside of the church, has led to the dependence on mortal man, and thus causing havoc on the society, unless we who claim Christ, day by day, learn to deny self, the flesh ,which the scriptures tell us is “ at war with the Spirit”, there can be no transformation, no unity and no renewal which can then renew our society which in such desperate need of healing.
That is why the Epistle from James reminds us that:
“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says, is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and , after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do so, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.
And what does the Word of God say to us this morning:
“Thy word O God have I stored up in my heart that I may not sin against you”.
Which takes us back to the assertion from John that Jesus is the Word made flesh.
The fundamental fact therefore, that all Christians must learn and obey is that, it is only when we are in Christ that we can do all things well. When the Living Word is in our hearts. It is only the indwelling Spirit of God that can so alter our disposition to trust in mortal man, and in the self, that cannot save. And so as flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God, neither can mere man worship God in Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth. It is only when we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, through Baptism, Confirmation, constant prayer, constant repentance, living in humble obedience to God’s Word, sharing in the fellowship of Public Worship, participation in Holy Communion and doing good deeds, that we will be renewed and help to renew and transform this nation. So today we give thanks to the God who can do abundantly and exceedingly more than we can ask and imagine, the God who does all things well in and through Jesus Christ. And that God, the God of Jacob, the faithful God, the God who is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, will always respond if, with a contrite heart, we invite Him into our hearts and ask for mercy. He will respond as He sent his Son, who does all things well to proclaim freedom for the captives, to rescue sinners not the righteous. So the shottas, the rapists, the corrupt politicians, the police who are guilty of extra judiciary killings, the immoral, the prostitutes, all of us who have sinned and fallen short of His glory can be assured of His forgiveness and His justice, if we truly repent, turn to His Son in faith and invite Him into our hearts. All because Jesus does all things well. So let us close by singing prayerfully the words of that powerful crusade hymn.
Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus; Come in today, come in to stay; Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.