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Archive for July, 2010

Miracles and Means 

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, July18, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

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

In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far.  And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?  And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.  And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people.  And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them.  So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.  And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away. (St. Mark 8:1-9) 

When I look back over the last 50 years, I am tempted to say that this generation has been more obsessed with miracles than any other generation, but that would be an inaccurate assessment of human history.  Human beings have always been obsessed with seeing miracles.  The time of Jesus was no different.  People were always hungry to see a miracle.  You remember at one point in his ministry, our Lord said with some frustration, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48).   On another occasion Jesus said, “This is an evil generation: they seek a sign” (Luke 11:28).  The Jews were especially obsessed with seeing miracles.  The Apostle Paul once summarized their attitude as, “the Jews require a sign” (I Cor. 1:21).   As we look back over the history of the Church, those who could do miracles, or those reputed to have the ability to do miracles have always had a large following.  Of course, in the last 50 years, America has been obsessed with the miraculous, and it doesn’t matter whether the miracles are performed by Christians, those in other religions, or those involved in the occult.  The important thing is that someone can perform a miracle, no matter the source of the miraculous powers.  Among Christians in the past 50 years, this obsession to see miracles has led to much erroneous teaching.   We want a miracle every day.  Every second, we want to see the miraculous being performed.  We have so many miracles, and we classify every occurrence, no matter how normal as a miracle, it is as though nothing is a miracle. 

            Those of us who are not preaching and teaching on miracles every second of the day, those of us who are not teaching people how to perform miracles every moment are often accused of limiting God, as though we don’t believe that God is still able to do wonders.  It is not that we do not believe that God can still do the miraculous, but we do believe that there are many misconceptions and false teachings concerning the manner in which God works.  We believe that God still has the power to do the miraculous, but we believe that God normally works through means.  Even when he does the miraculous, he uses human instrumentality, and uses things that we provide in order to accomplish his work.  Unfortunately, the Church has often been plagued, especially in the last hundred years, by people who have taught that if you have faith, you don’t have to use means.  You can just wait on God to perform the miraculous.  A few years ago I was listening to a faith healer telling people to throw their medication in the aisles, to throw their medication from the balcony as an act of faith that God would heal them.  He said that they wouldn’t need their medications.  He taught that all they needed was faith in God.  It never seemed to occur to these people that God could heal them through their medication.  It didn’t seem to occur to this man that God can use medication to keep people healthy.  If God heals us so that we don’t need medication, wonderful!  But if God uses medicine to heal us, it is no less the work of God.  God uses means to work his will.  No doubt, he can work without means when he chooses, but normally, throughout the course of our lives, he works by the use of means.   The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this truth in a concise manner:  “God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure” (III. 3) For example, sometimes as we read through the Old Testament, we find that when the people of Israel faced their enemies in battle, God would tell them to fight, and he would promise that he would be with them when they fought and give them victory.  That is the normal way that God gives victory to his people.  They must put forth the physical effort to fight.  On the other hand, God can sometimes work without human means.  Sometimes he will send an angel to destroy an invading army.  In Hosea 1:7, God said, “Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, or battle, by horses of horsemen.”  God can work in that manner, but it would certainly have been wrong for the people of God to say, “Since God has promised on that occasion that he will not save by bow, sword, or battle, we can throw away our weapons and refuse to ever fight again.  We will trust in God, and God will take care of us.”  Valentine Blacker, in his poem, “Oliver’s Advice,” has Cromwell saying to his troops, “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry.”  In other words, “We have faith in God, but we still have the responsibility to keep our powder dry so that our guns will fire properly.”   God can work without means, but normally he works through means.  In his ordinary providence, God works through means.   Even in those times that God is working in a very powerful way, he makes use of mean and our actions.  We are not told to sit back and let God do it all.

            For example, when it looked as through Paul and his companions were going to lose their lives in a terrible shipwreck, they were promised that not one of them would die, but they had to stay in the boat.  Did God preserve them?  Yes.  But he preserved them in the boat.  They had to remain in the boat or they would have been lost.   In Acts 27:31, we read, “Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”  Now, they could have said, “God has promised that not one of us will die.  Therefore, if we jump in the water, we will still be saved.”  Paul says, “God has appointed that you will live, but the way you will live is through staying in the boat.”  God saving them in the boat was just as much the work of the Lord, just as much the preservation of God, as if he had picked them up and floated them to shore on a flimsy cloud.

            We can say that even though God can do anything he wants to in this world all by himself, it pleases him to normally work through people to accomplish his will here.  Our Gospel Reading for this day shows that even when he does the miraculous, when he works in this world to meet the needs of others, he will work through us.  All through Scripture we find that the Lord can certainly work without means, but he prefers to use means.  He uses us, and he uses objects to accomplish his purposes.  In the story of Moses and Pharaoh, God could have changed Pharaoh’s heart without any plagues or miracles.  God could have reached down and changed Pharaoh’s heart the first time Moses appeared before him.  Moses could have said, “Let my people go,” and God could have changed Pharaoh’s heart in a split second, and he would have said, “Sure.  Go!”  Instead God works on Pharaoh’s heart through Moses and through  the miracles he performed through Moses.    God used a man.  He uses means.  God could have killed Goliath without David.  Goliath could have walked out in front of the people of God, blasphemed, and God could have struck him dead with a heart attack or a lightning bolt.  Instead, he uses David, a slingshot, and some smooth stones.  Even when our Lord does miracles, he often asks for human instrumentality. 

            In our Gospel Reading for today about the feeding of the four thousand, we find that our Lord does a miracle, but not totally without means.  Whenever he looks at the hungry crowds, he doesn’t say, “Don’t worry about it.  You can sit back and take it easy.  I will take care of it.”  Instead, he asks the disciples a very important question.  He asks, “How many loaves have ye?”  Now, why should that make any difference?  Why does the Lord need any loaves?   Couldn’t he make loaves out of thin air? Of course, but he makes use of what we have.   He looks at the multitudes, and then looks at the disciples and says, “What do you have?”    I want you to keep that question in mind:  “What do you have?” The Lord does a miraculous thing, but he does it through what we have.  We think that if God is going to do the miraculous, he will do things without us.  But the Lord works with what we have.  Here is the normal method in which our Lord seems to work.  The disciples gave what they had to Jesus, and Jesus multiplied that and the disciples gave to the people.  Now, was using what the disciples had really necessary?  Christ could have worked completely without the disciples.  He could have floated food down from heaven.  As a matter of fact, he could have just filled their bellies without them even having to eat, or by even miraculously taking away their hunger.    But he wanted his disciples to learn this lesson:  you give what you have to him, he gives back to you, and then you give people what he has given you.   In this age, when people are hungry for miracles every second of the day, we need to learn that God uses means to do his wonders.  He looks at us and says, “What do you have?”  Make use of it, and he will work through what you have.

            When you are sick, the Lord asks, “Do you have a doctor?”  Well, if you do, go to the doctor.  Going to the doctor does not demonstrate a lack of faith.  We go to the doctor with the faith  that Jesus will use the means, the means of a doctor to heal the sick.  If we didn’t believe that, we would tell our people in the medical profession to stop ministering to the sick.   After all, if you believe this erroneous teaching, people in the medical profession are keeping people from having faith in God.  Their very existence is a proof that people do not have faith.  This false teaching says that if people had faith, they wouldn’t need those people in the medical profession.   No, we believe that God works through those who have been trained in medicine.  When I was a boy, we went to service one night where there was a woman who was always talking about God’s power to heal.  As she got older, she developed heart trouble, and she had heart surgery.  When she gave her testimony, she talked about how the Lord had healed her.  I remember on the way home from the service, someone in our car was talking about how the Lord healed her.  But my dad said, “Yes, but she didn’t just pray her way to health.  She went under the knife!”  Yes, and it was right that she should.  God works through means to accomplish his will, and God works through surgeons to heal.

            What do you have?  You have a brain.  Use it the way you should.  Now, I’m probably going to sound a little like Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuller here, but a good mental attitude is very important in healing.  As a matter of fact, the explanation for so many miracles of healing now is just this—faith healers give the people hope, a good positive attitude. Then, the brain takes over in many cases, and the result is healing.  The miraculous healings reported in many false religions and the occult can be explained in this manner. Their prophets and teachers give their followers a positive attitude, and the body works better when your mind has the proper attitude.  We know that the brain can release powerful healing elements.    There has been a great deal of research recently on the power of laughter.  Even the wise man in the book of Proverbs said, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Prov. 17:22).  Modern medical research has proved that laughter relaxes the body and relieves tension.  We know that laughter boosts the immune system and releases endorphins, those chemicals in the brain that just make you feel good.  We know that laughter even helps with cardiovascular problems.    We often pray, “Lord, make me happy.  Give me joy.”  Then, what do we do afterward?  We go get in bed in a dark room, using means that are opposed to the increase of happiness.    It might be better to pray, and then go pop in a DVD  of your favorite comedy.    What do you have?  Use whatever gives you a good case of side-splitting laughter.  Use that and see if the Lord doesn’t use those means to make you a happier person, and a healthier person in the long run

            Even when it comes to something like feeding the hungry, we should make use of what we have.  Here, our Lord made use of seven loaves.    God makes use of what we have to feed the hungry.  Again, God could fill every hungry belly in the world right now without any human instrumentality, but he has chosen to meet those needs through us.  Remember how James described a very typical attitude we have toward the poor, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,  And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:15-16).    James describes how we often say to those in need, “I’ll pray for you, brother.”  It is true that God could supply that brother’s need through our prayers, but he usually does it through our sharing with him out of our own material resources.    What do you have?

            The Lord also uses means in the conversion of the lost.    Again, our Lord could speak to hearts without us.  The Lord could appear to every person in the world in a dream, a vision.  He could send an angel to explain the Gospel far better than we could explain it.  But he has chosen to speak to the world through us.   Remember how Paul said, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).  Well, we could say that there are many ways they could hear without a preacher.    The Lord could speak directly to them.  The Lord could send an angel.  But he doesn’t.  He has chosen to use us.   Remember how the angel told Cornelius to send for Peter, and the angel said that Peter would tell Cornelius words by which he could be saved (Acts 11:14).  Why didn’t the angel tell him the words?   He was right there and could have done it better than Peter.    But God uses people as the means through which other people will be saved.    Jesus said, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”  Why didn’t the Lord just stay here and go teach all nations himself?  He could have gone place to place and performed miracle after miracle, but his method was to choose us, that we would be the means by which the lost would be saved.

            The same principle is true in our sanctification, that process by which we become more and more holy, more and more like Christ.  God uses means to makes us pure and holy in mind and body.  We often pray, “Lord, make me a holy, godly person,” and then we sit back and wait for God to do it.  When we don’t make any progress, when we keep giving in to certain temptations, we say things like, “Well, God just hasn’t taken that sin away from me yet.”  In fact, we wind up blaming God.  We say, “I want to overcome this particular sin, but God just hasn’t given me the strength yet.”  While it is true that sanctification is a mighty work of God, he works through your efforts to become a godly person.  As you worship, listen to the preaching of the word, participate in the sacraments, pray, study the Scriptures, and meditate, God works through these things to make you a godly person.  It is through the discipline of the Church, through avoiding sinful things, through avoiding temptation, that you become more like Christ.  Modern Christians are lazy.  They don’t want to work on themselves, and then even excuse themselves by saying that working on yourself is legalism, that trying to be a virtuous Christian is opposed to the grace of God, perhaps an indication that you are not trusting in the power of God to do it all for you. These are just the excuses of a lazy, undisciplined people.    We fall for these kinds of false teachings that encourage us to work up enough faith so that one day we can totally surrender and then, automatically, all our struggles with sin will be over.  The fact is, every Christian should be involved in a daily improvement program.  We should be dealing with the sin in our lives and making a determined effort to overcome it and put it to death.  You should be picking various virtues such as love, kindness, gentleness, meekness, and using all the means available to grow in these virtues.    People often say, “Oh, I wish I had a closer walk with God.”  No you don’t.  If you really wanted a closer walk with God you would have one.  What are you doing to achieve that closer walk with God?  You say, “Well, I’m praying.”  Good, but that’s only a start.  The Anglican faith, if it is followed as it should be, is one of the greatest means of achieving that closer walk with God.  Our Prayer Book, our sacraments, our daily system of   prayer, our celebration of the various holy days and seasons, are great means to achieving that closer walk with God.  But we want a closer walk with God to be achieved by magic.  For several generations now, popular Bible teachers have been saying that that holiness of life was achieved through a one-time experience rather than through the daily, agonizing effort of struggling with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  God will make you a holy person, but he asks, “What do you have?”  You have eyes, hands, feet, ears, and you are to use those eyes, hands, feet, and ears to worship, pray, and read.  From the use of those means, the miracle of a holy life will spring.

            If we understood this teaching of Scripture, it would prevent a great deal of foolish behavior.  It is true that our Lord can work without means, but only in cases of absolute necessity where no other means are available.  Christ does not do the miraculous for the lazy and for the sinfully presumptuous.  What would you think of the person who says, “I don’t need a job, because the Lord will provide for my needs”?  It is true that the Lord has promised that he will provide for us, but he usually provides for us as we use our hands to work for a living.  People often come to our church looking for a handout.  They seem to think we are the way the Lord provides.  Paul says, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thess. 3:10).   Paul didn’t say, “Not working is an expression of faith that you believe the Lord will provide.”  God will provide as you use the means he has provided—a healthy body and mind to work for a living.  I remember hearing preachers who would say that a preacher doesn’t need to prepare his sermons.  All he needs to do is get up in the pulpit, and God will give him something to say, erroneously interpreting that passage in which Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about the defense they are to use if they are brought to trial for their faith (Matt. 10:19).   Somehow that verse was lifted out of its context and applied to sermon preparation.    It doesn’t seem to occur to these people that God can speak to the preacher as he studies ahead of time, using the brains and effort that he puts into his preparation.  For a pastor not to prepare his sermons is tempting, testing God. 

The correct interpretation of Scripture on this subject prevents us from presuming on God.  It’s interesting to me that after this feeding of the four thousand and after the feeding of the five thousand, they gather up the fragments.  Why?  Did they gather up the fragments for statistical purposes so that they could brag on how much they had left over?  No, Jesus explicitly tells them that he want them to gather up the fragments “that nothing be lost” (John 6:11).  They were going to eat leftovers.  Why should it be a concern on the part of our Lord that nothing be lost?  After this miracle, shouldn’t the disciples have thought that they would never have to worry about food again?  Why economize on food when you have someone who can make food out of thin air if he wants?   Why should I have to lug around this basket all day when the Lord can make food any time he pleases?  By making them take up fragments, Jesus is saying that though he can do the miraculous, most of life is lived using your common sense, economy, and planning.    What you can do, and what you are responsible for doing, the Lord won’t do for you by miracles.  To even ask him to do so is presumption and tempting God.  The Lord doesn’t do miracles just because you like to see them, like some kind of glorified magician who exists for our entertainment.  He does the miraculous in cases of necessity, but he insists that you do what you can do, and are responsible to do.

            So-called “faith” in these days is often nothing more than laziness.  The Lord provides, but he usually provides through our hard work.  Real faith works.  Real faith does what it can.  People often say, “Well, I’m just depending on the Lord.”  Good, but depend on him while you are using the brain, the hands, and the feet he gave you.

            This Scriptural teaching also prevents us from falling into fatalism.  We often look at various situations and say, “There is nothing we can do.”  There is so much you can do, and our failure in the Christian life stems primarily from the fact that we have not used the talents, gifts, and abilities that God has given us.

            We can still see wonders today.  We need to examine ourselves by the question, “What do we have?”  Then, we need to obey the command of our Lord, “Bring it to me.”  We are often discouraged and say, “We don’t have enough.”  We have enough right now.  If we would give all that we have and are into the hands of the Master, there would be enough.  Let us say, “I surrender all,” believing that no matter how little that may be, God will work through what we have, and multiply what we offer to him.  The power and sovereignty of Almighty God are not excuses for laziness and fatalism, but rather they are spurs to action, activity, and giving what we have completely to him.  Amen.

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Getting Away from It All 

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, July 11, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

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

Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!  Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.   And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD.  Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders.  And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.   Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the LORD.  (Jer. 9:1-6) 

This is the time of year when people try to get away from it all.  We take trips to have a little relaxation, try something new, see things we have never seen before, and enjoy ourselves far away from many of the responsibilities we must take care of day by day.  We try to get away from the job, the normal routine, and the stresses and strains of everyday life.   Sometimes, we just want to get away from people because people are such a nuisance.  But it seems that the world is shrinking and that it is getting far more difficult to get away from it all.  I remember a few years ago there was a TV commercial where a guy is all alone on the beach, puts down his lounge chair, and he has the beach all to himself. He settles back for a nice day of being alone just watching the tide.   Then another guy comes on the beach, and puts his chair right next to his.  He had the whole beach to pick a spot, but he wants to sit right next to this guy.  Of course, it ruins the whole experience of  getting away from it all.

            I remember that on one of our family vacations to Colorado, the motel put us on the floor with the loudest group of people you have ever heard.  There must have been 20 loud teen-agers all around who were in constant arguments with their parents.  We literally had to go 10,000 feet up the mountain to get away from it all.  In those  areas of the country, such as Colorado, some of the residents don’t want you to move there.  They want you to spend your money and go home.  When we were in Colorado a few years back,  we found that the people there particularly don’t want anyone from California moving there.  I was in one of the shops looking for a T-Shirt and there was one that said, “Feed the Bears, Litter the Roads, Pass on mountain curves, Tell a local you’re from California.”  Below those lines there was a big red cross and the words, “The Colorado Paramedic Association thanks you for your support.”  Many people who live in Colorado thought that they were going to find peace and tranquility in the Rockies, but now it is becoming so crowded, especially with Californians. 

Trying to get away from it all is a big industry just now.  Certain areas of the country advertise themselves as the place far away from everything.   There are islands that advertise themselves as places  free of all the tourist traffic associated with other vacation destinations.  There is a monastery in Colorado which will only house a few people at a time, so you can go there and have some peace and quiet far away from the crowded tourist traps.  It is getting more and more difficult to find such place. 

It’s all right to get away from it all for a while.  Even Jesus told his disciples to get away from the crowds in order that they might rest. But there is a danger in this desire to get away from it all.  Sometimes, when we find that isolated spot,  we begin to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just stay here—if I could always be away from people and all of  their problems.” Jeremiah seems to express that desire in this passage of Scripture:  “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them!”  Jeremiah says, “I wish I had one of those little quiet getaways, way out in the wilderness.”  That thought of living in the wilderness has a great attraction for people these days.  Glacier National Park calls itself the last wilderness in the Continental United States.  When you are there, away from all the noise and stress, you say, “I wish I had a little lodge right here.”  I remember when my family went to Glacier, it was interesting to see how many people are building homes close to the park, homes high up on the mountainside.  But, sure enough, before long, there is another little lodge close to theirs, and then another and another, and soon the whole mountainside is cluttered with little lodges.  It just seems that you can’t get away from people, no matter where you go. Wouldn’t it be great to get away from it all, permanently?

We can see that Jeremiah had a similar desire.  He says that he wants to get away from his people because they are all adulterers.  He says that they are an assembly of treacherous men.    In verse 3 he says that his people use their tongues for nothing but telling lies.  They are not valiant for the truth.   They proceed from evil to evil.  They don’t know the Lord.   You can’t trust your neighbor or your brother.   Everyone is a slanderer and a deceiver.  All they want to do is commit iniquity.  As a matter of fact, they are so in love with sin, they tire themselves out trying to find some new kind of sinful activity in which to engage.  They refuse to know the Lord.  Does that description of people sound familiar?  It doesn’t sound much different from our culture at the present time.  Living in such a society, the natural response is to get away from it all.  I’ll go to a little lodge in the wilderness and just live peacefully surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Pastors are tempted to do that, and many pastors do.  After they have tried faithfully to preach the truth, and it becomes obvious that people don’t want to listen, but rather seem intent on destroying the pastor’s life, many have packed it in and said, “We are leaving. Let them just go to hell.”  I saw a story the other about a pastor who was leaving a church, so he was giving his farewell message to his people.  He said, “This is my last message to you. If what you have told me of your former pastors is true, every one of them should be turned out of the church. If what you have told me about one another is true, every last one of you should be hanged. Now let us stand for the benediction.”   I guess every pastor has fantasized about giving one last speech like that.  At some point, many Christians face the same temptation.  We live in the midst of a people so in love with their sin, they seem bent and determined to go to hell.  Let them go.  We are going to leave all of this behind us and live a life of peace in the mountains. 

 It is a temptation, but the Christian is not at liberty to do so.  The Christian is in the world, and the Lord Jesus Christ wants us to remain active in it.  In John 17, our Lord Jesus Christ prays this for his disciples: “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.   I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:14-15).  The Christian is not of the world; that is, he has not adopted the philosophy and lifestyle of this world.  He has a different set of values and a different purpose for living his life than that seen by the rest of the people in the world.  But that relationship to the world does mean that we are no longer in the world.  The Christian is in the world and is to be active in the world.  In John 14, 15,  and 16, Jesus kept telling his disciples how much they would be hated by the world.  He taught us that the world is going to hate and persecute us.  Now, if you were facing such a guaranteed future, the  great temptation would be to get out of the world.  It would be tempting to say, “We will distance ourselves from all of this evil that is in the world.”  Most of us don’t have a desire to die to get out of the world.  Most of us would probably like to hang around a little longer.  But we have found other ways to get away from it all. 

Sometimes we simply choose to ignore the world, the evil, and the suffering of the world.  Last week, my son-in-law and I went fishing on Lake Ouachita, and it was such a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains.  It looked so peaceful, and you couldn’t help thinking, “I wish I could stay here, and just spend my time fishing and looking at the mountains.”  When I got back I asked someone, “What’s going on in the world.  I have not read a newspaper or listened to the news in over a week, and I think I am a better person for it.”  How tempting it is to ignore the world and refuse to get involved with a sinful, suffering people. 

Sometimes we get away from it all using a theological argument.  We can say, “Everything that is happening is the will and plan of God.  There is nothing we can do to change it.”  But if we look at Jeremiah, we see that he is weeping.  Jeremiah believed in the absolute sovereignty of God.   He knew that the destruction that was coming on his people was part of the plan and purpose of God, but he still wept for them.  Jesus knew that the destruction of Jerusalem was part of the plan and purpose of God, but he still looked at the city of Jerusalem and wept over it.  Our theology of the sovereignty of God often becomes the little hut in the wilderness that helps us get away from it all, but we must never harden ourselves in this way.  We must always look upon our sin-sick culture, weep over it, and beg God to grant it repentance and salvation.

Another manner in which we get away from it all is through cultural isolationism.   Many conservative Christians think they are holy because they have isolated themselves from the surrounding culture.  Many evangelical Christians become Christian isolationists.  Some Christians have run from the world and lived as hermits. Some Christians have run from the world and formed communes.  Most Christians have never taken that route, but we have tried to stay away from everything that is in the world, rather than being engaged with the world, trying to make disciples.  We couldn’t cut it in the world, we couldn’t stand the stress and strain, the wear and tear, so we retreated.  We locate evil in the world, and do everything we can to stay away from it.  In many ways, we have become “neo-Manichaeans.”  The Manichaeans were an early heretical group in the Christian church.  St. Augustine was a devout Manichaean for 10 years. A form of Gnosticism, the Manichaeans believed that everything in the material order was inherently evil, and this belief , in some places, led to an ascetic isolationism.  We have done the same.  Rather than trying to think critically about the culture, understand the culture and engage it, we decided to have nothing to do with our culture.   In order to retain our purity, we left the world.  Isn’t it strange how that strategy backfired, even in our own children whom we sought to protect from the world?  I think of how strict, conservative, Christian parents have tried to protect their children from the world.  But be honest, how many of those children who were so shielded and protected from the surrounding culture really came to have a passion for God?  We became Manicheans and it was a disaster.  We taught our children that music was evil, politics was evil, art was evil, literature was evil,  and business was evil.  We gave them the impression that all we could be involved in was church activities.  This was our method of getting away from it all.  Those people in politics, art, and business were looked upon as evil compromisers, and we need to get away from them because they are great sinners.  So, we isolated ourselves, became a Christian ghetto, the world went to hell, and so did our children whom we were determined to protect from the world.   

It’s because we don’t understand what is going on in our culture that the Church has been so powerless, and why the Church has become nothing more than an expression of this culture.   In one of the saddest ironies, in our efforts to separate ourselves from the world, we became exactly like the world, and we don’t even know that we did.  For example, I know that many Christians are not interested in philosophy, because Christians think that philosophy is all that high-brow intellectual stuff, but most Americans don’t realize, and most people in churches don’t realize, that they do adopt, over the course of time, the ideas of important philosophers.  Many conservative Christians would not be able to define the philosophies of modernism and post-modernism, but they think like modernists and postmodernists without even realizing that they have swallowed the basic tenets of these philosophies.  The philosophy of the world took over the Church, and the poor Church doesn’t even realize that it happened.  While we were busy staying away from all that bad philosophy, that philosophy permeated every area of our lives, even the life of the church.  We pay a high price for our cultural isolationism.

But someone may object that we are commanded to be separate from the world.  That is true, but our separation from the world does not consist in isolating ourselves from the people and ideas that we find in the world.  Our separateness consists in holiness of life, being obedient to God’s commands.  Our separateness does not consist in being aloof, unconcerned, and unengaged with the society that is around us. 

            Many of us came from certain fundamentalist and evangelical backgrounds that had isolationist tendencies.  Now that we have become Anglicans, we need to realize that historically, Anglicans have had no difficulty in being involved with the world and engaging the culture.  Historic Anglicanism has not had difficulty in encouraging its people to be involved in every area of society and influencing it for Jesus Christ.  Historically, Anglicanism has not been isolationist.  On the contrary, Anglicanism has produced great politicians, great artists and musicians, great scholars, and great educators.  Historic Anglicanism has not retreated from the world. 

            Yes, we live in a very sinful age.  There is the temptation to go to the lodge in the wilderness, but it’s time to come out of the wilderness, to get back into the fray again, and call this world to recognize the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ over every area of life.  Yes,  we all have temptations like Jeremiah.  We have thin skins.  We don’t like to be criticized, but God has called us to minister in a world where we will be constantly criticized, mocked, and lampooned.  We are called to minister to a people who don’t understand or appreciate what we are trying to do.  We have a very unpopular message to proclaim–a message of exclusivity that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.  We have a message of approaching doom if people do not repent.  People ignore us and laugh at us.  We just want to get away from these people.  It seems as though no one is receiving the message.  Nevertheless,  Jeremiah warned people day and night with tears.  What fruit did he have in his ministry?  He must have been thinking, “No one is listening. Why should I continue?”  Jeremiah  preached a message that no one wanted to hear, but the amazing thing is that even though Jeremiah had that temptation, he did not leave.  He kept proclaiming the message, in spite of all the hatred and the persecution that followed.

            Jeremiah didn’t  go to that little lodge in the wilderness, and neither must we.  We must hear the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ:  “I do not pray that you take them out of the world.”  We must hear the call of God and stay at the task no matter how much the peace and quiet of the wilderness might try to lure us away, no matter how much we want to get away from it all.  In Jer. 20:9, Jeremiah went through another period of discouragement where was tempted to give it all up, but he couldn’t.  He said, “ I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.”  Though we may want to get away from it all, the Christians have a fire in their bones, the word of God, and they cannot keep silent.  May God give us grace, not to isolate ourselves from the world, but remember that Christ Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.   We are the light of the world, and we cannot hide this light under the bushel.  Let us be involved in this world, letting our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.  Amen.

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When Foundations Are Destroyed

A Sermon

By the Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D.

St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church

July 4, 2010 

In the LORD put I my trust: How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?  For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.   If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.  (Ps. 11:1-4)     

The eleventh Psalm describes a time in David’s life when he was in a trouble so severe that some people thought the wisest course of action for David to take would be to run and hide in a safe place.  There are often times in our lives when we are tempted to run from the dangers and trials we face.  What is one to do when everything around us begins to crumble, and it seems that there is no place of refuge?  This Psalm describes for us the proper response to this particular kind of predicament.  This Psalm is not so much a prayer, as it is a confession of faith in God even when we are in the middle of troubles, so David begins this Psalm by saying, “In the Lord I put my trust.” 

            As you look at this Psalm, you realize that David is addressing someone when he makes this confession that his trust is in the Lord.  Someone has said to David, “You are in danger.  Flee as a bird to the mountain.”  David is saying, “How can you ask me to run away?  I have put my trust in the Lord.”    But these people who are his advisers remind him that there are people who are at this very moment aiming arrows at his heart.  Furthermore, this is a time when the foundations have been destroyed, and the question is asked, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do.”  The foundations that are spoken of in this verse are the foundations of justice and order that support a society—those foundations that keep a culture from crumbling.  But David is living in a time when these foundations have been destroyed.    In other words, David is living in a period of time when that particular society was in chaos.    The nation and the community are totally corrupt.  If it is true that David is living in such a time, what can righteous people do when they find themselves living in a period of such disorder and confusion?  What can the righteous accomplish when the whole fabric of society has come unraveled?

            These are very relevant question for us in these days, because, as Christians, we are facing exactly the same situation that David is facing in this Psalm.  We live in a nation where the foundations are being destroyed.   We are witnessing an all-out assault to remove the foundations on which this country was founded.  Though not all of our founding fathers were Christians, the vast majority of them were.  Even those who were not Christians were basing their ideas for a new nation on those Christian principles that we find in the word of God.  Our founding fathers based their ideas of justice, equality, and freedom upon those teachings that we find in Holy Scripture.  Those foundations are being destroyed, for in this age of religious tolerance and pluralism we are told that no one religion should influence the decisions of those in political power.  As a matter of fact, we are told that those in authority should not be influenced any kind of religious beliefs when they are making political decisions.  One of the foundations of this country was a morality based upon the word of God, but since we have rejected the word of God as the foundation of morality, one person’s concept of what is right and wrong is as good as the next person’s.  When such a situation exists,  eventually there will be no basis for determining what is right or wrong other than what is decided upon by a majority, or by those who have the most political or military power.  One of the foundations of this country was a strong family, but our families are being destroyed because the Biblical concepts of father, mother, husband, wife, marriage, and children are no longer followed.    We no longer build our families on the solid rock of God’s word, but on the ever-shifting, ever-changing sands of public opinion. 

How do we live in a culture when these foundations have been destroyed?  Do we flee as a bird into the mountains, run in fear because the ungodly are in authority and power, or is there some other response that is more appropriate for the people of God?  Day by day, more and more foundations are being shaken in this country and in our lives.  Political and economic changes appear to be on the horizon that will threaten our way of life.  What can we do if the economic foundations of our country are destroyed?  As we look at how laws are interpreted, how the Constitution of the United States is being reinterpreted to mean things totally different from what the founding fathers intended, we see that the foundations of our government itself are being destroyed.  What can the righteous, the believers in Jesus Christ do, when the foundations of a society are destroyed?

This is a very important question, because Christians are the only people who have the answer.    When the foundations are destroyed, it goes hard for many people, and they fall apart.  They feel the world has come to an end.   They fall into deep despair and depression.  But there is an answer to this question, “What can the righteous do?”  This question does not end in hopeless resignation, but in a bold reaffirmation of faith.

First, the righteous can face even the disorder and the chaos with a holy serenity.  The great saints of the Bible have always been able to say with Job, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Whatever we might not have that we once had, God has seen fit at this particular time to allow us to be deprived of it.  God has holy reasons for even allowing the foundations to be destroyed.  But even if the foundations are destroyed, look at what David says in verse 4: “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven.”  Even if the foundations of our society are destroyed, the foundation of God’s sovereign rule and reign, the foundations of his government can never be destroyed.  If all the banks fail and our life savings and our life’s work is snatched away from us, the Christian can still be serene through it all because his treasure is not on earth.  His treasure is in heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt, where thieves cannot break in and steal.  Therefore, while the Christian can experience hurt at the loss of many things, he looks to heaven and sees his treasure there, eternally safe and secure, and that holy serenity calms his mind and his fears.  So many times we behave exactly like the people of the world, don’t we?  We experience loss and we say, “I am ruined.”  But the Christian can never be ruined.  The people of this world lose this world’s goods and say, “I have lost everything.”  The Christian can never make that statement.  The Christian can never say, “I have lost everything,” because if you are a Christian, Christ is your everything, and there is no way that you can lose him.  Your everything is seated on his throne, a throne that has a foundation that can never be shaken.  What can the righteous do?  The righteous can trust put their trust in the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, even when foundations of our society are crumbling.

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The righteous can look cheerfully toward the future.  If there is a person who ought to be able to see something good, even in the darkest hours, it is the Christian.  I know that we get irritated with those people who can look on the bright side, those people who can see the silver lining in every cloud, but the Christian certainly ought to be able to find something to be thankful for even in the midst of the most terrible troubles.  We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are the called according to his purpose.  The destruction of the foundations of our society is not a good thing, but God can cause even that destruction to eventually work together for good.  Perhaps upon the ruins of this society, God is going to erect something even better, something nobler, and something that will last and stand the test of time.  Even when the  foundations are being destroyed, we see, as the writer to the Hebrews put it,  the “removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27).  If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?  We can look forward to receiving that kingdom which cannot be moved (Heb. 12:28).  We can look forward to that city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The righteous can do their duty.   Just because the world is crumbling and the social order is deteriorating, that does not absolve us of our responsibility to do all that we can to right the wrongs, to rebuild the foundations.  It is tempting in these days to flee to the mountains, to give up on the world and everyone in it.  Nevertheless, we must continue to teach and spread the word of God in a world that is hostile to it.  We must live in such a way as to show others how right it is to live according to God’s word.    Even if the judicial system becomes corrupt,  we have a responsibility to try to live according to the law, to uphold just laws, to see to it that godly men are elected who will work for and uphold just laws.    The world may follow the devil, but we still have the responsibility to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.    Christians have often found themselves in those places where the foundation had been removed, but they did not hibernate and give up.  They continued to struggle, to fight, to overcome in the name of Christ.  It is easy to be obedient and upright when the whole society is supportive.  The testing ground of our faith is when we are living in a world where the foundations have been destroyed.    In such an hour we are tempted to give up the fight, to yield to the immorality of the world, to give up on spreading the kingdom of God.  The foundations have been destroyed.  What can the righteous do?  They can do what that little band of Christians in the upper room did 2,000 years ago.  They can turn the world upside down.  If the foundations are destroyed, what the righteous do?   The righteous can fight to rebuild the foundation, even lay a better foundation.

After all, these other things that we look upon as the foundation of our lives and our society are not really a firm foundation at all.  The law, economics, justice, concepts of freedom, not even the Constitution of the United States itself, can be firm foundations.  The only firm, lasting, foundation is our Lord Jesus Christ himself.    Jesus said, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:   And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it”(Matt. 7:24-27).  Any nation, any family, any person that does not build on the foundation of Christ and his word is doomed to destruction.  That nation, that family, that person, may stand for awhile, but when the times of great testing, when evil and trials come in like a flood, they will not stand.  If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The righteous can build their lives on Christ and his word.  On this Fourth of July, we give thanks for those foundations that were laid in place for our nation, but we mourn as we see those foundations being destroyed.  In such a time, what can the righteous do?  The righteous can trust in God, and they can labor and fight with all their might to see that all people and nations have Christ and his word as their solid foundation.  Amen.

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Groaning for Redemption

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, June 27, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

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

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.   For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.   For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,  Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.   For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  (Romans 8:18-23)

            When you spend as much time as I do in hospitals and nursing homes, you hear a great deal of groaning.  I hear people groaning in pain, some are groaning in despair, and some are groaning in deep sorrow.  When young people are ill or injured, they groan, but they groan with a hope that their bodies will be restored to full health, and they will be able to resume their normal activities.  When my cousin was terribly injured a few weeks ago, he did a great deal of groaning, but he was groaning with the expectation that he would be restored to health with many good years ahead to experience life in a body that would function close to normal.  But elderly people have little hope that these present bodies of ours will be restored to the full vigor of youth that they once enjoyed.    Many people groan to be released from the pain that they are experiencing.  Some people have been made so sad by the various tragedies of life, they too groan for some sort of release from this present pain of mind and spirit.  Some even groan, hoping for death.  They believe that even death would be preferable to the pain that they are experiencing.  Then, there are those who have hope for a better life in another world, and they groan for that day when they will be released from all these pains to enjoy a life that is free from all these distresses of body and soul.  There is a desire in many people to be “redeemed,” in the sense of being set free from the pains and sorrows of this life.

            In our epistle reading for today, St. Paul tells us that creation itself groans for redemption:  “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22).    Paul says that it seems that even inanimate creation, even the natural elements, even the animals that are not capable of rational thought, know that something is wrong in this world.  The world shouldn’t be filled with this kind of suffering, decay, and death, and the creation itself longs for liberation.  This passage teaches us that even the non-rational part of creation longs for deliverance from the consequences of our sin.  Paul wasn’t saying that even inanimate creation had a soul and was capable of thought.  This may be a poetic way of describing the horrible effects of man’s sin on creation.  On the other hand, people like C. S. Lewis made a strong case that perhaps some animals, especially pets, may have a place in heaven.  I’m not sure how literally we are to take this passage in Romans 8, but I have a friend  who uses this as a proof text that all animals go to heaven, because it clearly says that the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.  Even animals are looking forward to that time when human beings are fully redeemed in every way, because they are going to share in the fruits of that redemption as well.  If you want a proof text that all dogs go to heaven, this may be it.  Even if we are not to take this passage that literally, what sin did to the creation is so terrible that Paul personifies all of creation, gives it a voice, and poetically describes that natural world as looking at us and saying, “We will be glad when you are delivered from the effects of your sin, because on the day that happens, the entire universe will be delivered from the effects of sin.” 

            You see, when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, that sin didn’t affect human beings only.  After the fall, we became subject to decay and death.  But death and decay not only came to us, it came to all of creation as well.    The whole universe has suffered the consequence of our sin.  When Adam sinned, God said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;   Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.”  I grew up in an area where grass burrs were plentiful, and if you walked through  most yards in our town, you would probably pick up some grass burrs, and you know how painful they are.  I used to have a pastor who said that grass burrs were proof of the fall of man.  Had it not been for the fall, we could walk through fields with bare feet and never experience any kind of pain.  The ground was cursed because of our sin.  As a result of our sin, this world became a violent and bloody world where the motto is “Eat, or be eaten.”  Whenever I hear people talk about the beauty of nature, I wonder if they have ever seriously observed nature, or at least watched a National Geographic special.  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe, and Scripture teaches that there is much beauty in nature.  The creation itself reveals the glory and beauty of God.  But nature also reveals the effect of man’s sin.  There is much that is horrible in creation.  I was watching one of the nature specials the other night about anacondas, these huge snakes that squeeze their prey to death.  They were showing a scene where an anaconda was squeezing a turtle to death, but the narrator said that it may take 20 hours for that turtle to die.  Now, I think that is a pretty horrible scene.  I’m glad I don’t believe in reincarnation, because if I did I would be afraid I might come back as a turtle!  No wonder the creation itself longs for the day of redemption.  In his poem In Memorian, Tennyson speaks of nature being red in tooth and claw, and how difficult it is to believe in a God of love when we see that nature is so violent and the creatures in it suffer such horrible pains and death.  But we must see that the condition of nature is the result, not of God’s original design, but rather, the result of man’s sin.  In verse 20 Paul said, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.”  The creation suffered as a result of man’s sin, but this passage tells that creation itself has hope, for verse 21 tells us that the creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.  The creation is looking forward to a liberation.

            Creation will be liberated from its bondage to corruption.  The word for corruption in verse 21 is the word “phthora,”  which is the same word  Paul uses in I Cor. 15 when he talks about how these mortal bodies of ours are sown in “corruption,” but raised in incorruption, not subject to perishing or being destroyed.  Sometimes this word for corruption was used in a moral and ethical sense, referring to moral corruption and decay, but that is not the sense in which it is used here.  We are talking about the non-rational part of creation, so it would be wrong to think of creation looking for some kind of deliverance from sin or a sinful nature that human beings have.  The bondage of corruption refers to the death and decay that has come into the world as a result of man’s sin.    Nature seems to be locked into an unending cycle of decline, decay, death, and decomposition, which is nature’s bondage, and it seems that it will always suffer that kind of bondage.  Right now,  the creation is experiencing what Paul calls vanity, or futility.  Paul says, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, futility.”  The creation still works in a beautiful, orderly fashion.    God has made it in such a way that it still runs smoothly in spite of the consequences of the fall.  But, as a result of the fall, it became subject to futility; that is, creation cannot fully achieve the end for which it was brought into existence.    Creation wasn’t mean to be something subject to decay and death.    But Paul says that even though this is the condition of creation right now, it will not remain this way forever.  The universe is not going to be destroyed, but liberated, transformed, and permeated with the glory of God.  As someone has said, “The universe is not head for annihilation, but transformation.”  The NIV translates verse 21, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  The Good News Translation has it, “Yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Right now, as we look at creation, in the midst of all its beauty, we also see slavery to decay and corruption.  But the creation is looking forward to the time when it will be delivered from this slavery to decay. 

            But one day, the horror of death and decay will come to an end.  We are told that the creation will be liberated into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  Let us look at the phrase, “the liberty of the children of God.”  Literally, the passage reads, it will be liberated “into the freedom of their glory.”  Liberty, of course, is the opposite of the slavery and bondage we have just been describing.  Creation is going to go from slavery to liberty.  How is that transformation going to be accomplished?  Paul tells us that creation will share in the glory that is going to be bestowed upon the children of God.  When we are totally redeemed, when all lingering vestiges of the results of our sin have been taken away from us, the effects of sin are going to be taken away from creation as well.  The children of God are going to be glorified.  We are going to receive glorious bodies like the glorious body of Christ, and when that happens, all of creation is going to be transformed as well and reflect the glory of God in a way even more amazing than it does now.

            The creation is earnestly anticipating the liberty of the future.  Paul goes on to tell us that this eager anticipation on the part of the creation should be obvious to us, because he says when you look around, it seems as though the creation is groaning and travailing in pain.  These groans and travails are not death pangs, but birth pangs.  These are not the death throes of creation, as though it is about to go out of existence.  No, these are birth pangs.  These are not groans of despair.  These are groans of hope.  These are the kinds of groans that a woman in labor has—groans filled with hope that the child will soon be born.   At the present time, creation is travailing like a woman about to give birth.  Paul uses the phrase “until now” to show that the travail has been going on for quite some time, and the travail is not over.  She is still in labor, groaning.  Just as that woman in labor has hope that this will soon be over, so the creation has hope that all of this suffering, pain, decay, and corruption will soon come to an end.

            When Paul says that the creation groans and travails  “together,” he doesn’t mean that creation groans “together with believers.”   He means that the entirety of creation, all parts of it are joining together in this groaning, this longing.  One commentator puts it like this, “The entire creation, as it were, sets up a grand symphony of sighs.”  Creation is looking forward to the day when Christians will be completely, finally, and totally redeemed in every way.

            The idea that nature itself would be renewed is one of the key Old Testament visions about the Messianic Age.     In Isa. 65 we read, 

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.   But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.   And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.   There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.   And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.   They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.  And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.   The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD” (Isa. 65:17-25). 

Of course, in Rev. 21 and 22 we have the vision of the new heaven and the new earth.  How we are to interpret these passages is difficult, but they do point to renovation and transformation of nature where there will be the eradication of all harmful aspects of nature and their replacement with peace and harmony. 

            In Romans 8:23,  St. Paul shifts from the creation back to us.  He says that not only does the creation groan, but we also groan.  Since creation groans, how much more should we groan who have the firstfruits of the Spirit!  As you remember, firstfruits point to the certainty of the final harvest.  When the people of Israel gathered the firstfruits of the harvest, they looked upon those firstfruits as a guarantee that more was to come.  In this passage, St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is our firstfruits.    The Holy Spirit has been given to us, and he is the guarantee of even greater blessings that we will receive in the future.  The Holy Spirit has given us such wonderful blessings in this life, but we still groan for a better life, a better world.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives now is a pledge that we are going to receive the full blessing of our redemption at the time of the resurrection of our bodies.  It seems odd that the presence of the Holy Spirit, who brings us so much joy, should also cause us to groan.  But the Holy Spirit in us is a constant reminder that we have not experienced all of the blessings of our salvation.  Notice how Paul says that what we are groaning for is the redemption of the body, the time when this body will have been delivered from things like sickness, age, decay, and death.  Though we have been redeemed spiritually, we are still awaiting for the final blessings that await these bodies.  Like the creation, we live in frustration, our bodies still being subject o the bondage of decay, pain, and death.    But the Holy Spirit is the pledge of the adoption, the redemption of our body.    We groan within ourselves.  We are groaning for the completion of our redemption.  We are groaning under the burden of the imperfection that we see in our lives.  The Holy Spirit is the firstfruits.  He is purifying us, making us more like Christ, more holy each day, but as we grow in holiness, we also have a hunger for more holiness.  Presently, we only have a partial enjoyment of the harvest.  The firstfruits of the Spirit have whetted our appetite for more.  It is true that right now, in this present life, the Holy Spirit gives us joy, and when we think about the future we rejoice because of the hope we have, but this interim period fills us with a kind of painful longing.    There is a longing for the glory that shall be revealed in us.  It is a groaning like the groaning of creation to be liberated from this decay and death.    In II Cor. 5:4-5, Paul said, “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” You see once again how Paul talks about how we are groaning to receive that new body that the Lord has prepared for us.  Again, he mentions that the Holy Spirit is the earnest, the down payment, the guarantee, that these bodies are going to be clothed with immortality.

            Thus, this word “groaning” has a reference to both present pain and a longing for the good things that God has prepared for us in the future.  I know that as Christians we have a great deal of joy, and we want to show the world that we have joy.  But even in our most joyful moments in this world, there is present with us this groaning, wanting to be home with the Lord, wanting to experience the full blessings of our redemption.  There was a time in Church history when Christians always looked sad, and they thought that those sad expressions were a sign of spirituality.  We have rightly rejected such ideas, but now the church gone too far in the other direction.  Though we have many joys in the Christian life, we still do some groaning.  A few weeks ago when our dear brother in the Lord died, didn’t we all groan a little?  Every time someone near to us dies, don’t we stand at the graveside and groan a little.  Don’t we groan for the time when will no longer see our loved ones and ourselves wracked with pain?  Don’t we groan for the time when we will never have to be separated from our loved ones?  Don’t we groan for the time when will never again have to use those words, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”?  We groan for the redemption of the body, which Paul refers to in this passage as “the adoption.”  Now, it is true that we have already been adopted into the family of God.  At our baptism, we were adopted into the family of God, but the fullest expression of our adoption, the crowning proof that we are the children of God, will be when these bodies of ours are raised from the dead, that moment when we receive a body like his glorious body.  The resurrection of the body is the redemption of the body.  It is also the full manifestation of our sonship, our adoption, so much so, that in this passage, Paul makes “the adoption” and the “redemption of the body” equivalent expressions.  There is certainly more to our adoption than the resurrection, but evidently, we are to see the resurrection of the body as the culminating act of our redemption. 

            There is coming a day when these bodies will be redeemed, and we should be groaning, eagerly longing for that day, for on the day that our bodies have been redeemed, when all of the effects of sin have been removed from these bodies, all effects of our sin will be removed from creation as well.    All of creation is looking forward to that moment.  As we look across our planet, we see such things as earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, hurricanes, floods, and many other kinds of natural disasters. Whenever we see these things we should see them as the birth pangs of the creation, longing for the day when the creation will no longer manifest such effects of the curse.  When we see brown pelicans mired in the oil in the Gulf of Mexico, we should see them as groaning for the day of redemption when such things will never happen again.  When we sin, when we fail our Lord, when we hurt one another, when we experience any kind of mental suffering or anguish, when we see loved ones taken away from us, it is permissible, even spiritual, to groan, to groan for that time when we will never groan again, when we will never walk the halls of hospitals and nurses homes and hear those terrible cries of pain, when we and the entire universe  will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  Amen.

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For the Sake of Fathers

A Sermon 

Preached on Sunday, June 20, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

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

 And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?   And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba. And when they had called him unto David, the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he said, Thy servant is he.   And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet.   And the king said unto him, Where is he? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in Lo-debar.   Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar.   Now when Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he answered, Behold thy servant!   And David said unto him, Fear not: for I will surely shew thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.  (II Sam. 9:1-7)

One of the Biblical teachings that is difficult for us to understand is why we often suffer because of the actions of others.  Since we have embraced so fully the concept of American individualism, we want to believe that what others do has no affect on my life. What other people do means nothing, because I alone control my own fate, my own destiny.   If other people are good, that has no bearing on my life. If other people are bad, what does that have to do with me?  But anyone with common sense knows that our lives are constantly affected, for good and for bad, by the behavior and decisions of others.  What other people do has enormous for our own lives, and the way you behave has an impact on others.   For example, if our government makes good decisions, the people as a whole are blessed. If the government makes bad decisions, a whole society can be thrown into chaos and disorder.   If parents make bad decisions and live ungodly lives, their children are going to be affected by such bad behavior.  This realization that the behavior of others may adversely affect our lives makes us angry.    We lash out in anger and say, “Why should I suffer because of the behavior of others.  I didn’t do anything to deserve this.  These terrible things came upon me because of the actions of others.” 

But let’s look at the other side of the consequences of behavior of others on our lives.   For just as it is true that the bad behavior of others may affect our lives, it is also true that the good behavior of others has beneficial consequences for our lives.  Since this is Father’s Day, I want to show you that the Bible teaches that we are blessed because of what our Fathers have done. So many good things happen to us, not because we have done anything to deserve them. Very often, the good things of life come our waybecause of what a Father has done.

We find an example of this principle in the passage before us. David has come to power, and his house will replace the house of Saul.   As you know, when one family replaces another family on the throne, there is always the fear that the new family will try to exterminate the old family, just to make sure that there will not be a rebellion on the part of the old family to regain the reins of power. But when David comes to the throne, he does something entirely different. Rather than punishing the house of Saul, he seeks to do good to them and bless them. He asks if there is anyone in the house of Saul that he might be able to bless.   In verse 1 he says, “Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Remember the story of David and Jonathan, what close friends they were, loving one another as they loved their own selves. Jonathan is dead, but his memory lingers on in the mind of David, and he wants to do good for those who belong to Jonathan, so he asks Ziba, “Is there someone in the house of Saul that I can bless.” Ziba says, “Well, there is a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” His name was Mephibosheth.   So, David says, “Go get him and bring him to me.” Now, if you are Mephibosheth, a member of Saul’s household, and David, the new king, sends for you, what would you think was about to happen?   I’m sure Mephibosheth thought, “This is it. I’m being taken to the king just in order to be executed right before his eyes.” But David reassures him that he is not going to hurt him, but rather, he is going to bless him. Notice what he says in verse 7: “Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake.”   Why is David blessing Mephibosheth?    It isn’t because Mephibosheth is a good person, though he may have been.  It isn’t even because Mephibosheth is lame, and David feels such sympathy for him.  You see, David isn’t blessing Mephibosheth because of anything special about Mephibosheth.  David doesn’t even know Mephibosheth, doesn’t know anything about him, whether he is good or bad, deserving of undeserving of his favor.  But David knew Jonathan, and David says, “I will show you kindness, just because of who your father was.”

It is a principle taught throughout Scripture that God blesses people because of their connections with other people.   For example, when Jacob stayed with Laban, Laban became very prosperous. Laban didn’t attribute his prosperity to his own ingenuity.  He knew that he was being blessed because Jacob was living with him.  When Jacob wanted to leave Laban’s household, Laban begged him to stay:  “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake” (Gen. 30:27).   Laban knew that he was blessed, not because of who he was, or because of anything he had done.  He knew that God was blessing him because Jacob was living with him. That same thing also happened in the house of Potiphar when he hired Joseph.   You remember how Potiphar hired Joseph to be overseer in his house.  The Scripture describes for us how God blessed Potiphars household because of the presence of Joseph:  “And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.” (Gen. 39:5).  Why did God bless Potiphar’s house?  God didn’t bless Potiphar’s house because of who Potiphar was.  Potiphar was probably an idol worshiper. God blessed him because of Joseph. How many times do we read in the OT that God would not destroy the people just for David’s sake? They deserved to be destroyed, but God didn’t do it because of David.  For example, we read in II Kings 8:19 that even though Jehoram was a wicked king, “Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah, for the sake of his servant David.” In I Kings 15 we read of King Abijam:  “Three years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.   And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.  Nevertheless for David’s sake did the LORD his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem: that he walked in all the sins of his father before him; his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David”   Here we see an ungodly man who was blessed and his son was blessed, not because of anything they had done.  They were blessed because they were descendants of David.  All of these verses show that sometimes God does indeed bless people, not because they deserve to be blessed, but because they have some connection with other people that God has blessed.   That principle holds particularly true for fathers. People are blessed for the sake of their fathers.

It is a wonderful thing to have a father who was loved and respected by others. Many good things can happen to you just because of who your father was.  I would challenge fathers today to work hard, strive to be successful, make contacts with people, and become respected in the community and in the marketplace, if not for your sake, for your children’s sake, so that one day, when your children need help, someone may come to them and say, “I don’t know you, but I knew your father, and I will show you kindness for his sake.”   Whenever Fathers are faced with temptations to do things that are wrong in the sight of God, they  should keep in mind the future generations, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and strive to live in such a way that generations from now, their descendants will be able to look back and say, “We are blessed for the sake of our father.”   It is one of the duties of fathers to do all that they can to see that the future generations are blessed because of their efforts.   Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.” Did you hear that? A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. This is a clear command of Scripture. Don’t just think about yourself. Don’t just think about your children.   Think about many years in the future and how your grandchildren and great grandchildren may be blessed because of your present behavior.  One of the great mistakes of my life was that I did not realize soon enough that I am not living for myself.  I am not even living for my daughter.  I am living and working for my grandchildren, and their grandchildren.   If you want to be a good man, then leave something for them as well. The sad thing about our modern times is that we are so possessed with our own happiness and our own pleasure, that we don’t think of the future generations. I know that little bumper sticker is funny that says,  “We are out spending our children’s inheritance.”   While that may be humorous, the command of Scripture is that a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. The good man thinks about those future generations so that they will be blessed for his sake.

There are many ways in which fathers can bless the children of future generations. One of the ways we can be a blessing to future generations is by living a life of self-sacrifice and hard work. We can bless them materially in these ways. You don’t necessarily have to be a millionaire in order to do so.  As I look back over my life, I realize how very little I had to do with how I have been blessed.  My grandparents and great grandparents did not have a great deal of wealth, but they worked hard, saved, and many blessings have come to me because of their foresight.   I was just blessed with that heritage, that’s all. I can claim credit for nothing. 

There was a time in this country when children were blessed because of the love and hard work of their fathers, but we are such a selfish generation now, I don’t believe that future generations are going to be as fortunate.  We are only concerned with our own lives and our own happiness, we couldn’t care less about the future generations. As a matter of fact, our country is a perfect example of a land being cursed because of its fathers, rather than being blessed because of them.  Let us live diligent, godly lives so that future generations will be blessed for our sakes.

There is much we can do to provide for the future generations in a material sense, but let us especially be concerned to leave them a legacy of spiritual blessings. God blesses children, even spiritually, for the sake of fathers. Just as the wealth, influence, and reputation of a father can secure future blessings for his children, God blesses children because of the actions of their fathers. God blesses children in future generations because of the godly lives of fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. God promised in the Ten Commandments, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, and showing mercy to thousands, to shoe who love Me and keep My commandments.” I know that verse makes our skin crawl. All my life, I’ve heard preacher after preacher try to explain these verses away. Some people see a contradiction in the Bible at this point, for in these verses we have seen that God blesses because of fathers, and he curses because of fathers. But there are other verses which say that people will not be punished for the sins of the father. You remember that in Ezekiel’s day people said a Proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” (Ezek. 18:2)    In other words, the people in Ezekiel’s day were saying, “We are being punished, not because of anything bad we have done, but because of what our fathers did.”  But what was God’s response?  He said, “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.   Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:3-4) God was saying, “You are not suffering because of the sins of others.  You are suffering as a result of your own sin.” Well, which is it?  Does God visit the iniquity of the father to the third and fourth generation or not?  Yes, he does. God’s word plainly says so. Is this a contradiction in Scripture?  There is no contradiction here, but we need to understand that the people  in Ezekiel’s day were excusing their own ungodly behavior and its consequences.    Ezekiel was saying, “No, you are being punished for your own sin. Don’t blame your fathers.” You remember that one time John the Baptist said, “Don’t say we have Abraham as our father. God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”   Both the Old and the New Testament talk about what a great blessing it was to be a descendant of Abraham.   The word of God and the blessings of the covenant were given to them.  Even the Apostle Paul said in Romans 11:28, “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.”  Though many of the Jews were engaged in persecuting Christians, persecuting the gospel, Paul says that they were beloved for the fathers’ sakes.  But what the Jews had done was to say, “We don’t have to live godly lives. We have Abraham as our Father, and God will never judge or punish us simply because we are the descendants of Abraham.”  That was a false application of the promises to the fathers.  These passages do not negate the truth that God blesses and curses because of the actions of fathers. These verses merely show that we have the responsibility to live godly lives ourselves regardless of how good or how bad our fathers might have lived.

But these verses do not negate the solid biblical teaching that the actions of fathers have enormous impact for good and bad upon our descendants. When people complain, “That’s not fair,” we are letting our concepts of American individualism lead us to an erroneous conclusion.   The Bible often focuses God’s covenantal dealings with people.  God makes a covenant with a people, and that covenant may take the form of having ramifications for the future generations.  After all, we continue to suffer because  of the sin of our first father, Adam.  He was your representative, and when he fell, you fell. That is covenant theology. What the covenant head does has ramifications for those under him. When the covenant heads of households, fathers, sin against God, it has consequences for the family.   When they are obedient to God, that obedience has consequences for the entire family as well.  As I read the story of Noah, I don’t read anything there that says that Noah’s sons, his wife, or his daughters-in-law were particularly righteous.  As a matter of fact, Ham seems to a particularly disrespectful person.  All I read is that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  All I see is that Noah was righteous in his generation, and God saved Noah’s family for his sake.  God blessed Noah’s family, and the whole human race following, because of one righteous man.  God blesses people for the sake of fathers.

Of course the main problem we have with this principle is the part about curses coming upon us because of the sins of father.  No one objects to being blessed because of what the fathers have done.   The most amazing example of being blessed because of what someone else has done is that we are blessed because of what Christ did.  You have received the most wonderful blessing, the forgiveness of sins.  Why have you been forgiven all your sins?  Did you do anything to deserve that your sins should be forgiven?  St. Paul tells us in Eph. 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  God has forgiven you because of something someone else did.  You have been forgiven because Christ died on the cross for you.     As St. Paul put it in I Cor. 15:21-22:  “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  We were cursed with death because of what Adam did.  We are blessed with life because of what Christ did. 

Isn’t our baptismal service a perfect example of this principle?  In baptism, we are totally helpless.  We do nothing.  Baptism is an act of the grace of God.  In baptism I do nothing, but  I receive everything.  In our catechism, our children say that at baptism they  are “made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven?”  Those are great blessings.  What did they do to receive them?  Nothing!  They received these blessings because their parents, their sponsors brought them to the baptismal font.  They are blessed for the sake of the fathers, the mothers, the sponsors who brought them to the font.  They are blessed because of the faith of others who came before them.           

God blesses his people because of fathers. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God keeps reminding the people of Israel that he is blessing them because of their fathers.   In Deuteronomy 4:37 we read, “And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them.” God loved the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and blessed their children after them. They were his people,  not because they deserved  it or because they had done something special, but because God loved the fathers.  Look at Deuteronomy 10:15:  “The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples as it is this day.” It was the love of God for their fathers, not their own righteousness, which made them the people of God, and which allowed them to see such great and mighty miracles in being delivered from Egypt. God had done all of that for the sake of the fathers.  In Proverbs 20:7, we read, “The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him.”   This principle of blessing children for the sake of fathers is seen especially in God’s promises to Abraham.   God told Abraham, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1).  After giving him that command, God said, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).  Abraham is to walk before God and be blameless. He is to walk in his integrity, and he is promised that his children will be blessed after him.

You may object that those kinds of promises were only made to Abraham, or kings such as David, but actually, this promise is made throughout Scripture.  In Psalm 25:12-13, we read, “What man is he that feareth the LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.   His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.”  There again is the promise to the man who fears the Lord and who walks in the ways of the Lord, that he will be prosperous and that prosperity will extend to the children–they will inherit the earth.   In Psalm 37:25-26, we find, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.  He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.”  Again, we see a promise to the righteous man that concerns his descendants.   We often leave out the part about the descendants. We just say that God promises that we won’t be deserted so we won’t have to beg for bread. But remember, the promise is to the descendants, as well. They won’t be begging bread. The blessing of the righteous man comes upon his children. The righteous man is a merciful man, and he lends to those in need, and God promises that such a man’s descendants will be blessed.  Take another verse in Psalm 112:1-2: “Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.   His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.”  One of the great mistakes we have made in our individualistic style of religion is that we have forgotten the importance of the descendants.   We think that all that matters is my own personal relationship with the Lord. We have completely lost the covenantal emphasis, that God will bless future generations for our sakes. 

It is not difficult to understand how God blesses because of fathers.    The godly man is the man of the book of Proverbs who teaches his children wisdom, who teaches them the fear of God, who teaches them the commandments of God, who teaches them the virtues of industriousness and hard work, and who teaches them to overcome the temptations of the world.  All of these virtues are the pathway to blessing.  The godly man is a hardworking man who is determined to provide as much as he can for his children and their children.  Perhaps we are not wealthy, and we will not be able to leave millions to our children, yet there is still so much more that we can leave them.   We can leave them an example of a godly life, an inheritance of what it means to live in obedience to God. 

What will be said of our children and grandchildren? Will it be said, “They were shownkindness for their fathers’ sake”? You may be asking, “What can I do in order that future generations will be blessed for my sake?” Again, I think Abraham provides the pattern to follow.  Walk before God in the integrity of your heart, and you will be a blessing to the future generations. Now, I know that God blessed the people of Israel because God chose them in his grace, but never forget the aspect of human responsibility. God blessed Abraham because he chose him and promised to bless his descendants. But I want you to notice something God told Isaac, Abraham’s son: “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;  And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:3-5).  Why did God bless Isaac? We could say that God blessed Isaac simply because he was a descendant of Abraham.  But we must never forget that God blessed the future generations because Abraham obeyed the voice of God and kept his commandments.  These verses show that we must not presume on the grace of God.  If we do not walk before God blameless, if we do not walk in integrity, then we cannot claim the promise that our children will be blessed after us. There is a link between the godliness of children, and the faith, prayers, and holy lives of parents. God does bless children for our sakes, just as David blessed Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake. And you should commit your live to live in such a way that your children and grandchildren will be blessed for your sake.

To give one final example of this principle, let us remember that the Bible teaches from beginning to end that we are blessed for our Father’s sake. On Father’s day, let us turn to the ultimate example of the Father who blesses his children, our heavenly Father himself. Why do we receive any blessings at all? Do we receive these blessings because of something we have done to deserve them? “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isa. 43:25).  Why did God save you? He saved you for his own sake, in order that his grace and mercy might be magnified.  Whatever kindness we have been shown, it was for the Father’s sake. As I read this story and I look at Mephibosheth, I think of how Mephibosheth was from the wrong family.  Mephibosheth was lame.  But this lame man from the wrong family is privileged to sit at David’s table.  Mephibosheth is a perfect picture of our own condition before God.   we are from the wrong family, a family of rebels who wanted to overthrow the rule and reign of God himself. Not only are we from that family, we took part in the rebellion. Furthermore, we are lame in our feet. We have no strength to come to the king’s house.   But we are invited to come and sit at the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and enjoy his blessing throughout all eternity. What a privilege, and it all comes to us for the Father’s sake!  Yes, we are permitted to come to the table, because the Father gave his only Son to die for us, so that might be forgiven, cleansed, and sit in his presence.  St. John wrote, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (I John 3:1).  We are blessed for one reason only:  for the sake of the Father. On this Father’s day, let all Fathers commit themselves that their children will be blessed for their sakes, just as we are blessed for the sake of our heavenly Father.  Amen.

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