Be Strong and of a Good Courage
A Homily for Septuagesima Sunday
January 28, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott AZ
Text: II Timothy 2:1-13
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the bestowal of the Episcopacy to the Anglican Church in North America. This was the church that was founded out of the conference at St. Louis, a gathering of orthodox churchmen who were concerned about the direction of Anglicanism in the west. Sensing that they could no longer fight the direction that the church was moving they founded a new organization, one that would give those whose consciences were troubled and could no longer stay in the mainline body a place to practice their faith, and provide protection for their congregations from the onslaught of new heterodox and sometimes even heretical theology.
The Anglican Church in North America was not the first attempt to break away from unbiblical forces in the mainline church, but it was the first major attempt. A handful of smaller groups had been started and were seeing success in the propagation of the gospel. Sadly, it would only take a couple of years before the four men consecrated that day were at odds with each other and now we have what is commonly called the alphabet soup.
This past fall four of the groups that came out of this early foundation came together to formally proclaim a desire to work together for the glory of God. This was the first major attempt to do so in over 20 years. The fact that it was 40 years after the conference at St. Louis was not lost on anyone. The number forty holds significance in biblical literature. There was the forty years of wandering in the desert for Israel and the forty days of fasting in the desert for Jesus and of course, in a few weeks we’ll enter our forty day fast of Lent.
As our continuing Anglican movement moves forward, we’ll be faced with many challenges, including the aggressive propagation of progressive theology, biblical liberalism, and even popular prosperity gospel preaching. All posing a serious threat not only to Anglicanism in America but all of Christianity.
This morning we read of Joshua, who as we read is being proclaimed the leader over the nation of Israel which has been wandering in in the desert for forty years. They are about ready to enter the land of milk and honey, the promised land. As God is calling Joshua into this new role he states: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
This is the call and our challenge as Christians living in this time and place. To be strong and of good courage, to live boldly under the Lord, to not let our decisions be shaped by fear, but by the love of God, for God is with us wherever we may go.
What then is Christian strength and courage? We learn this in our epistle lesson this morning. St. Paul is writing to his dear friend Timothy. St. Paul would have been Timothy’s mentor or spiritual father. We can see that the saint has great affection for the young man, writing as a father to a son, encouraging him through the things that many young presbyters face and even giving him practical advice about his health.
Here is the key to what we need to know this morning and what the saint is telling his spiritual son: our strength is not our own, or strength comes from the Lord. We don’t gain it by going to the gym or reading lots and lots and lots of book, but by submitting our hearts, minds, and souls to the Lord, by giving our selves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable living sacrifice to Him. We become strong by submitting every ounce of ourselves to the grace of God.
This is what the saint says to his spiritual son: therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let us be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. How do we do this?
First, we forsake pride and arrogance. We forsake the idea that we know best. We started this morning talking about the four men who were consecrated bishop this day forty years ago. The churches that have come out of that movement have been plagued with pride, and a love of power. Men who cared more for their own way than submitting to the will of Christ, submitting their minds and hearts to him. Of course, much good has been done by the continuing Anglican churches and we can and should give thanks for what God has done with them, but the schisms we’ve seen have often stemmed out of a desire to have one’s own way.
No, for the Christian we submit to the Holy Word of God, we give ourselves up to prayer, while we flee from pride and vainglory.
Next, we seek the Lord by reading the Holy Scriptures, we read with earnest seriousness. For, if we do not, we will not know him. We pray that our hearts and minds may be conformed to the will of the Lord, we fellowship with our fellow Christians, and we partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
These are there to strengthen us in the grace of Christ, to strengthen our hearts and minds, but we leave at the door our own self-centered ideas, and seek to be with one mind with our fellow believers.
The saint goes on in instructing his young friend on how to practice this strength: thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
We know from St. Paul’s life that he endured much hardness, that for the glory of God he endured many torments that Christ’s grace would shine through. We all have burdens to bear, hardships to endure, frustrations to travel through, but we can either rebel against God, we can do what Job’s wife says and curse God and spiritually die, or we can pray that God would use these trials to sanctify us. To teach us to learn to better dwell in His grace, to learn to find our strength in God.
For if our strength is found in the Lord we can endure all things. They may not be easy, they may very well be frustrating, and painful but Christ bore the pain of the world’s sin, and so we can trust that he will be with us in ours
Part of the glory of the cross is that: as Christ suffered, we know that he can sympathize with us, that he is with us through all the troubles that we face. We are not alone. No matter how dark the day may seem the Lord is with his faithful. So, persevere, press on to the glory of God. Do not grow weary in this life time, but rather seek in all things to glorify God for we know that he is by our side.
The saint continues with what seem to be three disconnected thoughts: No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. The saint continues with the soldier analogy, that we might be aware that we will come upon strife.
We are not to seek out fights, but there are times when it’ll be a struggle to continue on and the devil will tempt us with all manner of distraction. We may sit down in the evening with a warm cup of tea to read our Bible and we’ll remember that we have a pile of dishes in the sink that need washing. We may start to pray and find our mind wandering to every distraction that comes along. We may be getting ready for church, and our spouse does something that bothers us, and we pick a fight with them. We may be sitting in church, and notice that the priest makes a mistake in the liturgy (and trust me, he makes plenty) and we will fixate on that letting it distract us from our worship of the Lord. Someone may say something annoying at coffee hour and we’ll refuse to talk to him for a month.
These are all distractions from our service of the Lord, this is where our battle is. Chose gentleness over anger, kindness over frustration, and grace over nitpicking. Resist the temptations and snares of the devil, and seek to glorify God in all we do. Forgive your spouse, your friend, your brother in Christ. The devil seeks to create disharmony, and seeks to distract you from the worship of the Lord both in your home, the church, and in the world. For Nothing is more frightening to him than Christians who Loves and serves her Lord faithfully.
This is the war that St. Paul is talking about. Not a culture war, though there are things in our culture we should be boldly opposed to. The war that happens when the devil tries to take the faithful from the service of their God.
Now, when the saint says: No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, he is not saying “don’t go grocery shopping,” or “don’t pay your bills,” or even “don’t vote.” No, he is saying don’t let these things consume you.
Of course, we are called to be responsible citizens. We are called to vote our conscience, informed by scripture and the facts of the situation. We are called be responsible stewards of our money, of our time, and of our possession but not at the cost of glorifying the Lord. God comes first, then all these other things. Do not let them entangle our focus.
The second of these three random seeming thoughts is: if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
So much strife came out of the 1977 conference, so much pain, because there was a rebellious streak, a desire to have it our way or the highway. Not a desire to submit to the Lord and strive after Him. Instead, if a man wanted to be a bishop and the group he was in wouldn’t make him one, he would find another that would, taking his parish off to whatever group would do this for him. This is an all too common story.
But it is easy to point at bishops and wag our fingers and say “shame, shame,” but how often do we do this? How often do we pout and run away when we don’t get our way, instead we are called to “play by the rules,” for sometimes it is a good thing to not get what we want. Sometimes it is a good thing to face frustration, for it builds our character, and builds our trust in the Lord.
We learn to submit ourselves to the will of God, we learn to submit ourselves to what we read in scripture. As you read there will be parts that you don’t like. If your thoughts have been formed by modern thinking some of St. Paul’s teaching on morality will trouble you. If your thoughts are often proud, the call to humility will be hard. If you find your neighbor to be an infuriating person, the call to love him will be difficult.
The scriptures, and good preaching on the scriptures do two things: they comfort the afflicted, and they afflict the comfortable. So, if you’re reading the word and something makes you uncomfortable, pray about it, talk to your priest about it or a friend who is knowledgeable in the scriptures, but don’t throw it out because you dislike it. No, run the race by the rules, run the race by submitting your hearts and minds to the will of God as found in the scriptures. This submission is the true strength found in the Lord.
The saint’s final thought of the three points is this: the husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
We labor in all of this, we strive against the temptation of the devil by the strength we receive from Christ, in the Holy Spirit that we may be partakers in the fruit of the Gospel. We strive to be ever growing in the grace of Christ. For to do this is to be partake of the fruits of Christ is to be a partaker of His grace.
So grow not weary but persevere. Delighting in the fruits of of the spirit is the strength we have in Christ.
So often in popular culture the Christian is characterized as being dumb and thoughtless. This is the antithesis of what a Christian is called to, is called to be thoughtful. The Christian is called to have a have a skeptical mind, one that reads the news with open eyes and realizes that not everything in print is true, but also does not immediately reject that which she does not like but digs deeper that she may have understanding.
He is called to read the word of God, to let that shape his worldview by marking, reading, and inwardly digesting it. To let that be His guiding star, but then to dig deeper to understand why the saints say this or that and how those words shape our lives. No, we are not called to be ignorant or thoughtless, but to be a deeply thoughtful people, to learn the facts and to understand. For we live in a time with an abundance of information, but all too often that information is misleading. So, read, dig deep, seek to understand and pray always that the Lord will help you understand that which your read.
When you read St. Paul’s writing you will notice that he constantly comes back to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Likewise, this thought should shape our mind and worldview, for it is in that death and resurrection that we find our life, and our hope. It is easy to put our hope in a president, a governor, a spiritual leader, or a new family that has come to church, but our hope is to only be in Christ.
We can have good leaders that lead us into better times but men will always fail. We are all corrupted by sin, and as such there will be come a time that the leader will say something hurtful, or he will stumble, or will become distracted along the way, so we need to have our trust anchored strongly in Christ for he will never fail us. He will never disappoint us.
We too return our minds constantly to Christ crucified, dead, and raised, finding our strength and courage in Him.
We remember also the saint, by this point in his life he is imprisoned for preaching the gospel. We remember, that even in that he gave glory to God, and so we are to give glory to God, no matter how rough things may seem the Lord is sovereign over all, and working out all things for the good of the church and our souls, that one day we too may join with all the saints in singing glorious praises onto our Lord.
We are also reminded that the word of God cannot be bound, for no matter how dark things seem for the church, the will of the Lord will overcome that darkness, the light will continue to shine in it. There may be times that it is a mere flickering, but throughout all of history that light has never gone out. There may be times that it seems like it all too much, but the word of the Lord will not be snuffed out. So, take heart, be courageous, and persevere.
We end this morning with an early church doxology or song of praise:
If we be dead with him, shall also live with him:
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him:
If we deny him, he also will deny us:
If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
As the church sang this song, and we read it today we are reminded that we are called to die to our own will, to die to our own selfish desires to crucify them to the grace of Christ. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be driven, that you shouldn’t aspire to do great works, but that all these aspirations are given over to the Lord. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have goals, but that your first goal should be to glorify the Lord.
It means that whatever you are called to do, you should do it to the glory of the Lord, that if you are called to be a mother, strive to raise up godly children, if you are called to be a politician, be an honest one that seeks to fight for the downtrodden, the hurt, and the sorrowful, seek to be a wise and good statesman, if you are called to be a worker, work with all your might and with integrity that the Lord might be glorified in all you do. If you are retired, give time back to the glory of the Lord, volunteer for your church or a charitable organization.
Sacrifice your life before God, dying daily to your sin, and being raised again and again in Him.
When we suffer do not grow discouraged but let God use it to sanctify you. Let God’s glory shine through in that. For even though today may be hard, our promise is in the eternal kingdom. Remember that on that last day we will be welcomed into the royal court of the king. Not because we earned, but because we have put our trust in the Lord.
So too, in that suffering do not curse God that you may die, nor forsake him because of cultural pressures, but persevere, love him with your heart, your mind, your words, and your actions. This is the great challenge to live out our love for God every day and in all things.
But if, like St. Peter, we stumble and fall along the way, we forget God in our actions, or turn away from him with our words he will not forsake you, but seek you out as the one who has wandered. He will not forget his children despite their unbelief.
For we pray with the father of the child with a mute spirit, who has been tormented for many years: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
We will be faced with trials, hardships, frustrations and pain and so in these times when it seems so dark we pray with that father that the Lord will help our unbelief. That the Lord would give us hope despite the setbacks.
So today as we look back on the fortieth anniversary of the granting of the episcopacy to the continuing Anglican movement. As we look forward with optimism for all that is in front of our church, that is in front of our denomination. as we look at what is next to come, we place all our trust in the Lord. We make his death and resurrection the center of our lives, and we ask that God would give us the ability to be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. That the next forty years of Anglicanism, of ministry at All Saints, and of our personal lives would not be marked with disunity and strife but at they would be marked with an earnest desire to do the will of the Lord.
Let us be bold in Christ to come before him and sing praises to His name. That His light in us may shine before all men, and that they may see it and praise the father who is in heaven.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.