Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2010

Singing at Midnight

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, June 13, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:  The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.   And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.   And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,  And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.   And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.  And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:   Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.  And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.  (Acts 16:16-25)

     The ability to sing is one of the wonderful gifs that God has given to us.  Through our songs, we are able to express a wide range of our emotions.  We sing of joy, pain, sadness, and loneliness.  If we look through the book of Psalms, the inspired hymnbook of the people of God, we find songs that express a wide range of the deepest feelings of the human heart.  Amazingly, as we read through the Scriptures, we find that the people of God have been able to sing even in their most difficult hours.

     As we look at Paul and Silas at this point in their lives, we see them in tremendous suffering, for they are being persecuted because of their stand for Jesus Christ and his gospel.   But we also see great joy in the midst of that suffering. Though they have been beaten and thrown in prison, they sing songs at midnight.  How is it possible to sing praises to God though they were  in this terrible condition of suffering?   What can we learn from these two disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we watch them singing at midnight in the prison.

     First, we learn that the Lord Jesus Christ takes away the bitterness of our sufferings. Notice carefully what I said.  I did not say that the Lord always takes away our sufferings.  I said that he takes away the bitterness of our sufferings.  We have to admit that these two disciples of our Lord are suffering severely.   The devotion of Paul and Silas  to our Lord Jesus Christ did not give them a guarantee that they would be shielded from sufferings, not even suffering imposed upon them by an ungodly people.  The people of the city have turned against them because of the owners of the demon possessed slave girl. They were upset because once the demon was exorcised from this girl, then the profits that they made from her fortunetelling were gone.  Her owners turn the city of Philippi against the missionaries, have Paul and Silas arrested, and tear off their clothes so that the beatings would be more painful to them.   They were beaten with rods.  You remember that Paul said in II Cor. 11: 24-25, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  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.”  This  incident is one of those times when Paul was beaten with rods.  Then, after the beating, they are taken to prison, and not just any prison.  They are taken to what we might call today, a maximum security prison.    They were taken to the innermost cell of the prison, and their feet were placed in wooden stocks that were probably attached to the wall of the cell.  These stocks often had several holes in them, which would allow the body to be stretched in torture.  We aren’t told in this account if Paul and Silas were tortured while they were in this cell, but it is a possibility.

     Think of how Paul and Silas must feel after their beating, after being dragged to prison, after being placed in the stocks.  They are bruised and bloody.  Their bodies have been put in this awful posture which was a form of torture in and of itself.  How do you suppose they felt, both physically and emotionally in this condition?  How would you have responded to such a situation?  Do you think you would have been tempted to be angry, to despair, or to be depressed?  But how do Paul and Silas respond to all of this treatment?  They sing praises to God at midnight.  They were praying and singing.  We aren’t told the specific requests they were making in their prayers.   Perhaps they were praying for deliverance.  Perhaps they were praying for comfort.  Perhaps they were praying for the people who had put them there.  But whatever they were asking for in prayer, their praying was mingled with joy because we are told that they were singing praises to God.  Later on, the apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, the very place where he was imprisoned here, would tell them, “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6).  Paul had set the example for them on how to combine prayer and praise, for he had mingled his requests in prison with thanksgiving to God.  What an incredible thing it is to be in so much pain, to have so many needs, to be crying out to God in your time of need, and at the same time, blend those desperate cries with thanksgiving.  Even in the midst of their suffering, they were worshiping God.

      Is that the way we respond when we are undergoing severe trials?  Can we sing at midnight when our bodies are racked with pain and when everything in the world seems to be going against us? Some people have wondered what Paul and Silas were singing.   We don’t know for sure, but they were probably singing psalms.   No doubt they knew their Psalters quite well,  and there are many songs in the Psalms which would be appropriate for singing while in prison.  Perhaps they were singing Psalm 28: “Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.   Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle” (Ps. 28:1-2).    Perhaps they were singing Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my going” (Ps. 40:1-2).  Maybe they were singing Ps. 79:   “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.   Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed.   Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die” (Ps. 79:9-11).   They could have been singing Psalm 142:  Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.   Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me” (Ps. 142:6-7).  Psalm 42:8 even says, “Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.”  Paul and Silas were living proof of the truth of Ps. 42:8, for God’s song was still in their hearts even in the darkest night.  There are so many Psalms appropriate for this occasion, just as there are Psalms and other passages of Scripture that are appropriate for every circumstance of life.  But the important thing to note is, that even while they are in prison, in the most difficult circumstances of their lives, they do not stop worshiping and praising God.   How could they sing under these conditions?

            First, they could sing because they knew that what was happening to them was part of the plan of God for their lives, a truth that you can always rejoice in as well.  No matter what you are going through, whether it is tragedy, sickness, personal problems, even death—whatever, we may face, we can have assurance that God has a plan and purpose for our lives, and that even this circumstance will work together for good.  Paul and Silas didn’t sit down and start wondering whether they had done something wrong, as we often do.   We say to ourselves, “Oh, I’m suffering—I must have committed some terrible sin.  If I were living the Christian life in the proper way, none of these bad things would be happening to us.”  What would be thinking if we had been Paul and Silas?  We might have thought something like, “We were forbidden to preach the word in Asia.  We started to go to Bithynia, so we went to Troas.  Then suddenly, Paul had this great idea to go to Macedonia.  Now we have come to Philippi, and look what has happened to us.  We must have made a wrong turn somewhere.  We must have misinterpreted the will of God, because we’ve had nothing but trouble ever since we got here.” But Paul and Silas didn’t think that adversity means that we have sinned, or that we are out of the will of God.  They knew that this was where  God led them, and if God led them to preach there in Macedonia, then God had also had a purpose in permitting them to be beaten and thrown in prison.  Remember that it would be through the beatings, the stocks and the prison, that the Philippian jailer and his whole household would be saved.  Never think that just because you are suffering, that  anguish and distress somehow means that you are outside the will of God.  God didn’t promise you a life free of suffering–he promised you the ability to sing while you are suffering if you would only place all your faith and confidence in him.  This confidence that Paul and Silas had, that even these terrible events were part of the will of God for their lives, gave them trust in God. There is nothing like trust in God, to bring us peace, a peace that can allow us to worship even when we are in the stocks and covered with stripes.

      What is the most difficult thing to do when you are having trials and troubles? Some would say that the most difficult thing to do is sleep.  I know I have trouble sleeping when I am troubled about anything.  If I am nervous, I can’t sleep.  But think of being able to sleep if you are faced with possible execution.  One of the amazing things you find in the book of Acts is the peace and serenity the people of God have when they are going through trials.  When Peter was in prison, you remember, he slept.  The angel had to wake him up to deliver him from prison.  Peter was sleeping peacefully, even knowing that he may die the next day.  It is very difficult to sleep when we are hurting or when everything in our lives is going wrong, but confidence and trust in God can allow us to sleep peacefully.

     Trust in God not only gives us the ability to sleep, but also the ability to sing hymns and engage in worship.  Maybe Paul and Silas were hurting so badly that they couldn’t sleep as Peter had done.  But if they couldn’t sleep, they could sing.  Do you want  peace of mind–a peace of mind that permits you to sing even with your body covered with stripes?  In order to sing at midnight, you must have this trust in God, that he has brought you to this place in your life, and that he will continue to direct you. If you really believe that truth, you can sing with stripes even in the midnight of your life.

     Another reason they could sing was that they knew that nothing, not even the prison and the suffering,  could rob them of their fellowship with God, another truth we desperately need to learn.   No matter what happens to us, we are not separated from fellowship with God. Paul said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.   Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.   For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,   Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).  Let the world and Satan throw everything in the book at us, our fellowship with God cannot be destroyed—not by rods, stripes, stocks, or  prison.  Even there we have fellowship with God.  Paul and Silas were in prison, but God was in that prison as well, and their fellowship with God was not diminished.   Though they were in prison, they could sing, know that God heard their song, and was pleased with their song, because they still had this unbroken fellowship with God.  In such a time of suffering, fellowship with God may be all that has been left to us.  When time, sickness, suffering, and death have taken everything away from us, what remains is something that can never be taken away—fellowship with God.

     It’s so easy to worship and sing when everything is going well. It is so easy to sing Psalm 103:   “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.   Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:   Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;   Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;   Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:1-5).  Yes, we can praise the Lord when he heals, when he delivers, when he gives us all those good things, those tender mercies.   But can you bless the Lord when you are sick?   What about when you are in captivity? What about when every outward external blessing has been taken from you?   Can you still sing?

     Singing at midnight takes a miracle, doesn’t it? Anybody can sing Psalm 103, but it takes something else to sing Habakkuk 3:   “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:   Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18).  I will rejoice in the Lord—in the Lord—in the Lord himself.   I will rejoice in who he is, because at this point in my life, there is nothing else to rejoice in—no blossoms on the fig tree, no fruit on the vines, no food in the field, no flocks, no herds.  In other words,  there are no outward blessings at all to rejoice in.  But I will rejoice in the Lord—in the Lord.   We may lose everything, everything may be taken away from us, but nothing can take away our fellowship with God and our joy in him alone.   I suppose the real test of our faith is whether we are rejoicing only in the gift, or in the Giver?  In times of blessing, we rejoice in the gifts.  What about when the gifts are taken away?  Can you still rejoice in the Lord?”  You say, “Well, I’ll rejoice and praise God when everything in my life gets worked out.”   You may be waiting a long time.  With that kind of attitude, you may miss weeks, months, even years of opportunity for worship.  We must worship in the bad times as well as the good.  Can you sing with Paul and Silas at midnight? What kind of night are you going through right now?  What time is it in your life?  Is it bright sunshine, or is it midnight–a cold, dark, painful midnight.  Are you singing?  You say, “But it’s not natural to sing songs when everything goes wrong like that.”  You are right.  It’s not natural.  It’s supernatural!  But isn’t that what the Christian life is supposed to be?  It’s not natural, but the people of God can sing at midnight, even though covered with stripes.  How is that possible?

            We can sing, covered with stripes, because of another body that was covered with stripes.  Isaiah said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).  This morning, we celebrate that Christ came to this world to be beaten, scourged, and covered with stripes.  Because he suffered in this way for us, his sufferings mean our healing.  By his suffering, we have access to the most holy place, and there we can go in, see the glory of God, even at midnight, and have fellowship with God.

     It is a wonderful, personal blessing to be able to sing at midnight, but such a blessing is also beneficial to others.  We are told in verse 25 that when Paul and Silas sang at midnight, “the prisoners heard them.”  I’ll bet they did.  They must have been listening to Paul and Silas, thinking, “Who are these men who can be beaten, covered with stripes, cast into prison, and still sing at midnight when all these terrible things happen to them.”    As Christians, we do a lot of talking, but in our generation, not many people are listening.  But I think they may listen to a people who can sing at midnight.  The sad truth is that we respond to our trials and troubles with the same anger, the same hopelessness and despair, as the world does.  But if we sing at midnight, if  we express our continual love of God no matter what we pass through, if we express our trust in his providence, if  we sing praises, if we worship through it all, —someone will be listening. I wonder if the jailer listened.  Maybe it was the incredible ability of  Paul and Silas to sing at midnight that brought him under conviction, that caused him to come running in after the earthquake and ask, “What  must I do to be saved?” Christian people, I know that our sufferings are real; I know that they are severe; but are they worse than those of Paul and Silas? Even if they were, isn’t our God still able to give us the ability to sing in the most severe trials?  The world is listening for such a song.  Let us sing praises to our God, a song we can sing even at midnight.  Amen.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Indwelling Trinity

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, May 29, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;   Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.   I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.   Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.   At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.   He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.   Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?   Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:16-23) 

     In an old episode of the The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer comes to live with the Taylor family for awhile, and after one night, they are ready for him to leave.  Benjamin Franklin once said that houseguests and fish begin to smell after three days.  There are times when houseguests seem to overstay their welcome.  Some houseguests arrive without even receiving an invitation.  Then you start looking for polite ways to ask them to leave, but some people can’t take a hint.

     On the other hand, there are some people that you love to have as houseguests, perhaps even for an extended stay.  If I were to ask you whom you would like to have as a houseguest for a considerable length of time, who would it be?  Would it be a famous athlete, movie star, teacher, or religious leader?  Today, I am going to suggest someone to you that you should love to have as a houseguest, and not for just a few days, or a few weeks, but forever.

     On this Lord’s Day, we come to celebrate one of the most mysterious doctrines of the Christian faith—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  Unfortunately, we often treat the Trinity as nothing more than a terribly difficult teaching to try to unravel.  We often forget that when we deal with the Blessed Holy Trinity, we are not dealing with an abstract philosophy or doctrine, but rather with persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  While it is impossible for us to explain how three persons can be one God, we affirm, it to be true, as the Athanasian Creed puts it, that we believe in only one God, not three gods.  The first article in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states, “And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”  Our Articles of Religion do not try to explain that mystery.  We merely accept it as one of those incomprehensible teachings of Holy Scripture.

            As difficult as it may be to understand the Trinity, the doctrine is of tremendous help and comfort to us.  Part of that comfort is found in this 14th chapter of St. John, for we are told in this verse that there is a sense in which each of the three persons of the Trinity dwells in us.   In John 14:16-17, Jesus gives us the promise that the Holy Spirit, the one we normally refer to as the third person of the Holy Trinity, would come to dwell in us:  “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;  Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”    Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church.    Now, all the baptized have received the Holy Spirit, for we read the promise given by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).  In our baptismal service, we pray, “Give thy Holy Spirit to this Child (this thy Servant), That he may be born again, And be made an heir of everlasting salvation” (BCP 276).  The Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit, this third person of the Holy Trinity dwells with us and in us.

     The Holy Spirit dwells with us as a Comforter.  Though the KJV translates this word as “Comforter,” it may better be translated as “Counselor,” or “Advocate.”   It is the word “paracletos”  which refers to someone called to aid or help us.  You may see translations such as  “counselor,” “advocate,” or “helper.”   The verbal form of this word is sometimes translated as “encourage,” “exhort,” and “comfort.”  Our Lord has just told his disciples that he is going to leave them.  They must have been terribly saddened by this news, but he tells them that he is not going to leave them alone.  He is going to send them another Comforter, another Counselor who will be with them always, the Holy Spirit.  The wording here seems to indicates that Jesus says “I will send you another comforter, one like myself.”  After all, in I John 2:1, a verse that I say each Sunday during the Comfortable Words of Scripture, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”  The word that is translated there as “advocate” is the same word used here and translated as “Comforter.”  Jesus Christ is our Advocate, our Comforter, our Counselor, and he tells the disciples that when he goes away, he will send another one like himself, to also be their Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor.  Though Jesus may not be with his people in bodily form, he will be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. 

     Realizing that the Holy Spirit will be like Christ helps us to better understand and relate to the Holy Spirit as a person.  The Holy Spirit is not a force, or a power, but a person, a person like Christ, so much so that, at times, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Christ.    The Holy Spirit is a person, like Christ, who does those things that Christ does for his people.  He will be our advocate, and he will be the Spirit of Truth.  That is, the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus, will guide us into truth, and keep us from error.  What a comfort it is to have the Holy Spirit with us always!  Like an advocate, he will stand beside us to defend us.  Like a counselor, he will be there to instruct us and to guide us.  As a helper, he will be there to give us strength when we are tempted, to give us courage when we are afraid, and to give us power when we are confronted with impossible challenges and obstacles.    Like a comforter, he will be the one called alongside us to encourage us when we are tempted to despair, to console us when we are faced with the great tragedies of life, to reassure when we feel as though we have been abandoned, and to calm us when we are afraid.    What a wonderful thing to realize that God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Spirit dwells in us!

            But John 14 goes even further in this description of how God dwells in us, for in verse 23, Jesus says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  Jesus says that “we,” the Father and the Son,  will come to the believer and make their abode with him.  The Father and the Son come to take up residence in the believer who keeps the words and commands of Christ.   Now we have the other two persons of the Holy Trinity spoken of as dwelling in the Christian.  The word that is translated there as “abode” can be translated as “home.”  Interestingly, it is the same word that is used in John 14:2, where Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there you may be also.”  Our Lord Jesus Christ has gone to heaven to prepare a mansion, a home, a dwelling place for his people.  But incredibly, at the present time, we are the home for the Father and Son.  Just as our Lord went to prepare a dwelling place for us in heaven, the Father and Son prepare a dwelling place for themselves in the heart of the believer.      

     This truth must have been of great comfort to the disciples.  Remember that the disciples are sad that Jesus is going away to leave them.  In John 14:18, Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless.”  The word for “comfortless” in that verse is “orphanos,”  from which we get our word “orphan.”  It means “fatherless,” but it was also used in Greek literature to refer to being left alone by someone important, such as a teacher.    Jesus is telling them that he is not going to leave them as orphans, he will not leave them alone in the world, but they are going to be happier than ever before, happier than they were when he was with them in the flesh, because now, they are going to members of a happy family.  Every day you will have close, intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as you would with those family members who dwell in your home.  How can we describe the wonder and beauty, the honor and privilege of having the Holy Trinity making their home in us?

            Every home needs a father, but think of having the most wonderful of all fathers living in your home.  Think of God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, making his home with you.    Wouldn’t you feel safe and secure knowing that you had such a Father to defend you, protect you, and provide for you?    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Father that you knew loved and accepted you as his child in spite of all your failures and shortcomings.  You have such a Father!  In Romans 8:15-17, we read, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.   The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”  In these verses you see all the members of the Holy Trinity working together once again.  Because of what Christ has done, we are joint-heirs with Christ, inheriting the blessings that he inherits.  He is the Son of God, but we have been joined to him.  Therefore, we are children who have been adopted into the family of God.  But how can we know that we are really the children of God?  The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits, giving us assurance that we are the children of God.  We are no longer filled with the fear that we might be separated from God because of our sins.  Because of what Christ has done, we know that we are accepted by the Father, and the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts to give us assurance that we are accepted with God just as surely as the Son of God is accepted with the Father. 

  A home also needs a Father that is a wise disciplinarian, someone who will correct us, chastise us when we need it, so that we will not destroy ourselves by our own sinful behavior.  In Hebrews 12:5-11, we read,

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?   But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.   Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.   Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

No child enjoys being disciplined, but we all need it.  If God does chastise us from time to time, it is only to make us more holy, so that we might be more and more conformed to the image of Christ.  Though he sometimes must chastise us, he always tempers that chastisement with his love and mercy.  Remember how the Psalmist said, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.   For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).    It is a wonderful thing to have a father who remembers how weak and frail we are, and pities us when he sees how feeble and insubstantial we are.  Who would not want such a Father to make his home with them?

            Then, the Son is said to dwell with us.  In Gal. 2:20, Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  Whenever we look at the life of the Apostle Paul and see all of the incredible things he did for the cause of Christ, we may wonder what was the secret of his success.  How could he have accomplished all those things?  Paul would take none of the credit for himself.  He would say that he was able to do all that he did because Christ lived His life through him.  Christ had taken over and had taken possession of every faculty of his being, so that the works that Paul did were not his works, but the works of Christ himself.    If we want to accomplish anything at all for the cause of Christ, we must surrender ourselves completely to him, ask him to take over our lives and live his life through us.  Only when Christ lives his life through us will we be able to overcome the great temptations that we face.  We cannot overcome the least temptations in our own strength, but if Christ lives in us, then we can live holy and godly lives.  Christ never yielded to even the strongest of temptations, and if we will allow him to live his life through us, we can put to death the sin in our lives.  Paul said in Romans 8:  “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.    But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.   And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”  Notice that in these verses the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.  It is by the Holy Spirit that the Father and the Son dwell in us, for he is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son.  But notice, that the Spirit of the Father that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you.   The Spirit of Christ dwells in you, and because he dwells in you, because you are united to him, the dominion of the sinful nature can be put to death.  Have we even begun to scratch the surface of what it would mean if we truly believed and acted upon this fact that God the Son lives in us? 

            As you can see, we have the testimony of Scripture that the triune God dwells in us.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are certainly more than houseguests.  They do not come to stay awhile and then leave.  They come to stay permanently, and we would want it no other way.  In Jeremiah 14:8, the prophet laments, “O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?”  Jeremiah didn’t want the Lord to be like someone who just came to stay overnight.  Jeremiah wanted God to stay with his people forever.  Our Lord promises us in John 14 that the triune God would not be just a temporary guest, but rather he would take up permanent residence with us.    Since God has come to say, it  means that you will become his temple, for wherever God chooses to take up his permanent residence is his house, his temple.  Aren’t we told that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Therefore, since the triune God has come to make his home with you, you are a temple of the Holy Trinity.

            As I close, let me ask you this question, “With whom does the Holy Trinity dwell?”  Jesus answers that question for us in John 14.  Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.”  In verse 23 he said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  The Triune God dwells with those who love Christ, with those who keep his words.  But we can love him and keep his words only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The promise of the New Covenant was that God would give his people the Holy Spirit in order that they might love him and keep his commandments.    The promise of the New Covenant that we find in Ezekiel is this:  “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:  That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek. 11:19-20).  The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we might love God and walk in his ways.    Our Lord not only commands us to love him and keep his commandments, but also gives us the ability to obey these commandments by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is wonderful to end this season of the Church year with Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday, for on Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit being given to us, and on Trinity, we celebrate how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for the Blessed Holy Trinity to live in us.  Today, rejoice that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have come to make their home with you, and in you.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

Living Bread–A Sermon

Living Bread

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, June 6, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.   I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.   This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:47-51)

     There are many different words that we use to describe bread.   We often speak of fresh bread, stale bread, old bread, or molded bread; but who ever heard of living bread?   In the passage before us today, we see that “living bread” is the kind of bread that Jesus promises his people. This is the most unusual, special  kind of bread that has ever been made. This bread can do what no other bread has ever been able to do, for it gives life to the dead. Surely, no other bread can make that claim. If a man is dead, truly dead, there is nothing that can restore his life to him. Yet, there are people in this world who are spiritually dead.    The Scripture teaches us that by nature we are all dead in trespasses and sin.   All those who are outside of Jesus Christ are spiritually dead, having no communion and fellowship with God.   Is there any hope for them?   Their only hope is this living bread that Christ has come to give them.  Put this bread to their lips, and they come to life, for the first time, seeing all the glory of God, transformed into people who love God above all things.   

     This bread that our Lord Jesus Christ gives is unusual, not only because it gives life, but also, because it preserves life forever. You will remember that our Lord is contrasting this bread with the bread that Moses gave the children of Israel in the wilderness, which was, indeed, miraculous.  They did not provide this bread for themselves by planting, reaping, threshing, grinding, and baking.   This bread was supplied to them by God himself.   When they woke up in the morning, the manna was on the ground, and all that they had to do was go gather it. People have speculated about what kind of bread this was. No one knows for sure but some say that it tasted like a wafer made with honey. We don’t know much about that bread except that God gave it to the people.   We also know that this bread would spoil very quickly. For that reason, they could not gather much of it to store away because it would perish in a matter of hours. Some commentators have said that this manna was, in a sense, dead bread.  After all, it even putrefied and bred worms.  It was good bread for the people, because it gave them the nourishment that they needed in the wilderness. It gave them life in the sense that it supplied the nutrients that the people needed in order to physically survive.   But we might be able to describe this bread as dead bread, for all it did was supply physical life to those who ate of it.  Jesus said that the fathers ate of that bread in the wilderness, and they died. The Jews boasted about how God gave the Fathers manna, but Jesus reminded that all those people who ate of it died, some of them even dying under the curse and wrath of God.  Paul tells us that God was not pleased with most of them, and he overthrew them in wilderness because they had no faith.  But Jesus  says that he is going to provide a different kind of bread for his people.  The bread that he would give would be the kind that a man could eat of it, and it would give him everlasting life.  

     What would people give for that kind of bread? What do you suppose people would be willing to do, willing to pay, if you advertised on television, “We have a bread that if you eat it, you will never die.” Supermarkets would be swamped. Store managers would be able to ask the most exorbitant prices, but people would be willing to sell their possessions, mortgage their homes, if they could only have this bread that would give them eternal life. Yet, Jesus offers a bread that will save people from death. Those who eat of it will not suffer the eternal death of being separated from the blessings of God forever and ever.  Those who eat of it will not perish. They will attain the heavenly Canaan, unlike many of the Israelite people who died before they reached the Promised Land.  Even the sting of physical death is taken away by this bread of life.  A few moments after our brother in the Lord, Mr. Leake,  died Thursday evening,  Mrs. Leake and I were standing beside his body.  It was amazing to see how this sting of death had been taken away, for we knew that Mr. Leake was not dead.  We knew that he was more alive than he had ever been, and that he had entered into real and true life in the presence of his Saviour.  

      People would pay any amount of money for this bread that would give them real, genuine life that would never end.  They are desperately trying to do so in a futile attempt now.  As Jesus said, they are laboring for the food that perishes.   We live in the midst of a generation that is giving all that it has in order to consume dead bread, a bread that cannot give them real life.  People live by the philosophies of hedonism, or materialism, thinking that those things will give them life. But all these philosophies and pursuits are dead bread. Money, drugs, sex, alcohol, music, fame, power–put them altogether, mix the ingredients, and it is still dead bread. But people keep going from one philosophy to the next, one religion to the next, one person to the next–but all these things are dead bread. That’s why I say that if you offered people bread that would give them real life, abundant life, eternal life, there would be no way to accommodate the people who would line up for a chance to purchase it.

      Such bread is available, and you don’t have to buy it. The Lord said through the prophet  Isaiah,  “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.   Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.   Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:1-3).     In this passage, the Lord laments that people waste all of their time and energy on things that cannot bring them satisfaction.  Yet,  there is something that will give you all the peace, joy, and contentment that you could ever desire, and it costs you nothing.  You can have these blessings without money, without price, for they are the gift of God.  This bread that gives life and satisfaction is the free gift of God.  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  If you receive this gift, if you eat of this bread, you will live forever. The manna preserved the children of Israel until they got to the land of Canaan, but the bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, will preserve us in this life and throughout all eternity.  It will preserve us until we reach that heavenly Canaan to which we are travelling.  Each Sunday, when I give you the bread in the sacrament of Holy Communion, I say, “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life.”  It is the body which our Lord Jesus Christ gave on the cross of Calvary that is the bread of life that preserves us now and throughout eternity.

     This bread is unique because this bread is a person, Jesus Christ himself.  He was born in Bethlehem, which means, “house of bread.” How appropriate that the bread of life would be born in the house of bread, and that His Church would become the house of bread where the bread of life is offered to others! In the Old Testament tabernacle, the priests had to put out the showbread. There were twelve loaves to represent the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.  They put out fresh showbread every Sabbath day to symbolize that God would provide bread for his people.  Each Lord’s Day, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are, in a sense, putting out the showbread just as the Old Testament priests did, for Jesus is the true showbread.     Each Lord’s Day, Jesus Christ, in the preaching of the word and in the celebration of the Sacrament, is presented anew and afresh to his people.  Jesus Christ is the bread of God, the bread that gives life to his people.

     Jesus said that the bread which he would give for the life of the world was his flesh. He uses the future tense here, saying, “I shall give”. The Lord was looking forward to the cross, knowing that soon he would give this bread to the world. He gave that bread to the world by dying on the cross. He is saying that he would give his body over to death, to die as a substitute, taking upon himself the wrath of God that was due to sinners. Jesus gives us this bread by giving up his life as a sacrifice for our sins. The Scripture tells us over and over how the Father gave the Son.   “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).   “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all….”  (Rom. 8:32).   It is true that the Father gave the Son, but we also need to remember that the Son gave himself.  Jesus said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of myself’ (John 10:18). The Apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for Me” (Gal. 2:20).  As you partake of the Lord’s Supper, remember how Jesus willingly, voluntarily, out of love for you, laid down his life. He gave his flesh, so that he could give this bread which would preserve us body and soul unto everlasting life.

     The bread is Jesus Christ, and if you feed on him, you have everlasting life, because Jesus is life. In John 6:57, we notice all the references to “life” and “living”. “As the LIVING Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”   Jesus is saying that the Father, the ever-living one, the true and living God, the source and fountain of life, the “I am that I am,” the one  who was and is and ever shall be, resides in Jesus.  If you feed on Christ, the life of the Father that was in him will reside in you.  Think again of a piece of bread, and how it has life in it.  If you eat of that bread, that life is in you. The same thing is true of Jesus Christ.  He is life.  If you have him, you have life, the life that is in the ever-living Father.

      Have you eaten of this living bread? This bread is available to all.  Here we see another way that this bread is superior to the manna in the wilderness. That manna was only for Israel at that time, but this bread that Christ gives is for the world, not just the people of Israel. You need not wait to eat of it.   You can eat of it right now by believing in Jesus Christ, by believing that he is the bread of life, by believing that the only way that you can be saved is through Jesus Christ giving his flesh for you.  As we have seen, the phrase “giving his flesh” refers specifically to his death on the cross. To believe in him as the bread of life means that you believe that the only way you could have everlasting life was through Jesus dying on the cross for you.  If you believe that fundamental truth, then you believe that Jesus is the bread of life. If you believe that, then you are in fact, eating his flesh. Christ is not bread for you unless you believe that he died on the cross in the place of sinners. If you believe that he is the bread of life, that is, if you realize that you are dead without him, if you know that you have no hope of eternal life apart from him, if you receive him as your only source of hope and life, then you are feeding on him by faith.  Each Sunday when I distribute Holy Communion to you, I say, “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart BY FAITH, with thanksgiving.”  By faith, we take this bread and this cup, and by faith, believing that his sacrifice is our only way of salvation, we feed on him, and we are preserved to everlasting life.

     I love to make bread. There is something fascinating about making bread, especially the kind that has yeast. You put it in a warm place, and you can see it rise. You know that there is something wonderful going on in that batter.   It seems to be alive–a living organism.  How much more that is true whenever we feed upon the Bread of Life! We know that he is living bread. He is living inside of us; he is making us alive, and keeping us alive. He lives in us, he works in us,  he purifies our lives, he makes us holy, and He gives our lives meaning and purpose.   When the trials and adversities of life come our way, we find that he is still there, living within us.  We find that the life which he has given to us cannot be destroyed.   We find his life within us actually strengthening and invigorating us when all the trying circumstances of life would be destroying most people.  We find that in the midst of our troubles, even facing death itself, we are being renewed. We find the truth of what Paul said, “Though the outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (II Cor. 4:16).   The life that Christ gives is a life that increases in its power and efficacy day after day.

     As you partake of the Holy Sacrament this morning,  look at the bread and hear our Lord Jesus Christ saying, “This is my body. The bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. This is the bread which came down heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.” Think of how Jesus Christ has created within you a life that cannot perish.   Think of how he did it, by coming down from heaven and giving his flesh on the cross. Think of what an unusual, unique bread it is. Remember that this bread is living bread, bread that gave you life, and bread that will sustain your life forever.

     This week, we have all been saddened by the loss of our dear friend and brother in Christ, Mr. Robert Leake.  As long as this church exists, as long as I am pastor, and as long as you are members, we will remember how much Mr. Leake loved the sacrament of Holy Communion.  If he could speak to you at this moment, he would tell you that what he believed throughout his life was really true:  the body and blood of Jesus preserves us unto everlasting life.  He would tell you that what our Lord Jesus said was true:  “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.”  Today, in the midst of our own personal sadness that we are temporarily separated from our brother in the Lord, let us also rejoice that he has entered into fullness of life because he was a partaker of the Bread of Life,  and that we are still united to him in our common worship of our blessed Lord who came down from heaven to give us this living bread, his flesh, for the life of the world.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

Eternal Worship 

A Funeral Sermon in Memory of

Mr. Robert S. Leake 

Preached on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D. 

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.   And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.   And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Rev. 5:11-14)

     The book of Revelation, though it contains many mysteries that theologians and Bible scholars constantly debate, is filled with some of the most beautiful descriptions of how God is to be worshiped and adored.  If one wants to know how God is to be approached, if one wants to understand the reverence which should characterize our words and actions in the presence of a holy God, then one should study the book of Revelation.    In this book, God pulls back the curtain for us and allows us to see what heavenly worship is.   Someone has said that the book of Revelation is a worship service.  The book of Revelation describes for us what we will be doing in heaven for all eternity.  Though in our day, people often imagine that heaven will be a place where they get to enjoy what they loved doing most while they were in this world, heaven is, in fact, an eternal worship service, in which the people of God praise, adore, worship, and bask in the radiant presence of the Triune God forever and ever.  The Christian could ask for no better way to spend eternity than to delight in the presence of God throughout all the ages to come.

            As we think back over the life of Mr. Leake, we think of all the things he enjoyed doing.  We think of how he enjoyed his work, how he took such pleasure in his dogs,  how he loved his family,  and, as Father’s Day approaches in just a couple of weeks, I want Tim and Kristen to know how proud he was of all that they have achieved and accomplished.   But those of us who knew him as a brother in Christ, as a member of St. Paul’s, remember him as one who loved to worship God.  Many of you know the story of how Mr. Leake came to be a member of our church.  We were a new church, just getting organized, and we ran an ad in the newspaper about our new congregation.  At just that time, Mr. Leake was looking for a church home.  The morning that our Church ran that ad, Mr. Leake had risen early and prayed before he went to work, “Lord, please give me a place to worship you.”  When he got to work that very same morning, someone handed him a newspaper, and as he was looking through it, he saw our ad.    He immediately called me and asked me to describe one of our worship services.   As I talked, he kept saying that he was so excited and that tears were coming to his eyes.  After he and Mrs. Leake had visited our church a few times, I went to visit them.  As many of you know, our congregation, at that time, was composed almost entirely of former Presbyterians.  Mr. Leake, on the other hand, was born and raised Episcopalian, having served from his childhood as an acolyte.  The bishops and other clergy in our denomination had trained us how to conduct a worship service, but there were gaps in our understanding.  As I talked with Mr. Leake that evening, he would say, “Now, I notice that you do this, whereas,  I have always done it this way.”   I would say, “We’ll do it that way from now on.”  Then, he would say, “I noticed something else you do.  Why do you do it like that?”  Finally, I said, “Mr. Leake, we’re just a bunch of Presbyterians who don’t know what we’re doing.”  From that time forward, Mr. Leake took me and the other members of our congregation under his wing, and he trained us.  We had many sessions together where he would walk each one of us through every part of the liturgy.  Without Mr. Leake, we would probably still be stumbling our way through various parts of the service.  If our worship service today runs smoothly, it is because of the way Mr. Leake trained us. 

            Throughout the years that we have been together, Mr. Leake has gently, but firmly, corrected us and guided us.    I remember several years ago I was doing something  in the worship service, something that probably no one else would notice, and he came up to me after one of the services, pointed out my fault, and said, “When you do it that way, it looks sloppy.”  He was right.  Those kinds of details were important to Mr. Leake, not simply because he was interested in a formal style of liturgy, but because he believed that the worship of Almighty God deserved our best, our close attention.  He was always watching out for us.  Just a couple of weeks ago, one of our acolytes did something backwards, and from his second row seat I could hear Mr. Leake whispering instructions.  The passing of Mr. Leake is a huge loss for our church, and we are already missing his guidance.

            Though we are going to miss him, we would not begrudge him the joy that he is experiencing now.  Knowing how much he loved the worship of God, we cannot begin to imagine the happiness and pleasure he is enjoying right now, serving God perfectly, worshiping him in that place where the adoration of Almighty God is carried out to perfection.    In Isaiah 6, the prophet sees the Lord high and lifted up, and he hears the seraphim  around the throne of God, saying,  “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).  That verse, of course, is the inspiration for the “Sanctus” that we sing every Sunday morning in the celebration of Holy Communion.  That threefold repetition of the word “holy” is a reference to the Holy Trinity, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each person being praised as holy.  In Rev. 4: 8, written some 700 years later, we read that those worshiping God are still saying the same thing:  “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”  It seems that worship in heaven never really changes.  From the time of Isaiah to the time of John on the aisle of Patmos, the song is still the same, “Holy, Holy, Holy, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  The last time I spoke to Mr. Leake, he came up to me after the Sunday morning service.  It was Pentecost Sunday, and he was explaining to me that he would be gone the next week.  He said, “I really hate to miss Trinity Sunday.”  Mr. Leake always enjoyed the high festivals on the Church calendar, especially my attempts to deal with the Trinity on Trinity Sunday.    Well, Mr. Leake will never have to regret missing Trinity Sunday again.  Where he is now, every moment is a celebration of the glorious Trinity, and throughout all eternity, he will be singing praise to the Triune God, “Holy, holy, holy, which was, and is, and is to come.”

            I also remember how much Mr. Leake enjoyed Easter, celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  When John saw the glorified Christ in Revelation chapter 1, he fell as his feet as dead, but the Lord Jesus said to him, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:17-18).  What do people do in heaven?  They praise and glorify the risen Christ, for Rev. 5:14 tells us, “And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”  The great joy of the Christian is that Christ is risen, that Christ lives forevermore, and because Christ lives, we shall live also.  On Easter Sunday morning, Mr. Leake used to go to every person that he greeted, shake hands, and say, “Christ is risen.”  He was the only member of our congregation who did that, and we are going to need someone to take over that role that Mr. Leake had of celebrating that Christ is risen, for surely what we celebrate each and every Lord’s day, and what we will continue to celebrate throughout all eternity, is that Christ is risen indeed.

            Then, of course, the heavenly worship service celebrates that Christ was crucified for us.  In Rev. 5:11-12, we read that the great congregation, the tens of thousands, the thousands of thousands, say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”  The focus of attention in all our worship, whether in heaven or on earth, is on that Lamb that was slain.  Because Christ was crucified, because he died in our place, because Jesus was that lamb without spot and without blemish that was sacrificed to make atonement for all our sins, we have eternal life.  I said earlier that the book of Revelation is a worship service, but more than that, it is a service of Holy Communion.  After all, what is heaven but an eternal service of Holy Communion?    When Jesus instituted the Eucharistic feast, he said, “Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:27-29).  We are all looking forward to that day when we will sit down at the table with Jesus in the eternal kingdom and enjoy fellowship at his table.  All our celebrations of the Lord’s Supper here on earth are foretastes of that eternal feast of Holy Communion we will enjoy in heaven.    One of the great Anglican preachers of the 18th century was William Romaine, Rector of St. Anne’s, Blackfriars.  In his book his book, The Life, the Walk, and the Triumph of Faith, he wrote the following about how the Eucharist is a little bit of heaven on earth:  “What an honour is it to be admitted to a feast instituted by the Lamb of God, and for the enjoyment of the love of God! What a blessing is it to sit down now to the marriage supper of the Lamb; and to partake by faith of its spiritual realities and delights! There is nothing beyond this upon earth; and it has sometimes been to the believing receiver a foretaste of heaven.”  

     If you go through the Scriptures, you will find that the blessings of salvation are described in terms of a meal, a great banquet.  How wonderful it is that the blessings of salvation are described in the context of a great supper, in the context of feasting, eating, and drinking.  Sitting at a great supper with someone implies celebration, fellowship, intimacy, and acceptance.    When we want to express our friendship toward someone, when we want to develop a closer relationship with another person, we often do it in the context of a meal.  We invite them to our homes for a meal, or, perhaps, take them out somewhere to eat.  But we encourage this relationship in the atmosphere of a meal.   Is it any wonder, then, that the central act of our worship as Christians should be done in the context of a meal, a feast? 

            Those of us who knew Mr. Leake, know how much he loved the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  That’s why he spent so much time and energy to teach us how to observe it in the most beautiful manner possible.    I suppose that every time I serve Communion, I will expect to see Mr. Leake kneeling there, whispering that prayer he always said under his breath as I placed the bread into his hands.  Those who have knelt beside him at Communion would have heard Mr. Leake pray, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”  One of the great disappointments that Mr. Leake experienced in the last few years was that, because of various health problems, he was no longer able to assist me in serving Holy Communion.  But a few weeks ago, during the Eucharist, he saw that I was a little short-handed, and he got up from his seat, came to the altar, and helped us distribute the wine.  I’m so glad that he got to do that one more time before the Lord called him home.    But now, in heaven, he no longer has those limitations of body that plagued him.  He has been healed, and he is able to serve in the way that he always wanted to serve his Master. 

            In the Parable of the Great Supper, our Lord Jesus once again compares the kingdom of heaven to a great feast.    After all the preparations have been made,  the master of the house sent an invitation to the banquet in the words, “Come for all things are now ready.”  We are all invited to come now to that feast by faith in Jesus Christ.  We can begin that great celebration with him now as a preparation for the eternal feast that is to come.  Then, one day, we will receive the invitation to experience it in all its grandeur in the eternal kingdom.  I think that last Thursday, the Lord said to Mr. Leake, “Come for all things are now ready.”  Knowing how much he loved to feast at the Lord’s Table, he must have received his invitation with joy.  For though we may be sad at thoughts of leaving our loved ones behind, there comes a time when we must leave these joys for greater ones: the joys of falling down before the throne, the joys of casting our crowns before the Lord, the joy of eternal communion with the Lamb that was slain—the joy of eternal worship.  Those are the joys that our brother in the Lord knows now.  May God grant grace to each of us so that we might all look forward to that time when we will see the heavenly banquet set before us, and answer with joy the Lord’s invitation, “Come, for all things are now ready.”   Amen.

Read Full Post »