Being Vessels of Honor to the Glory of the Lord
A Homily for Trinity 17
October 8, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: 2 Timothy 2:19-26
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
I returned early Saturday morning from our provincial synod in Atlanta. Joining the Anglican Province of America at the synod were three other Anglican denominations that stemmed out of the same founding movement in the 1960s and 1970s. We gathered as Christians who had strove to be faithful witnesses for orthodox Anglican Christianity in an age that values that less and less. We gathered to make a commitment to work together for the glory of God.
One of the most common questions I’ve received is “why aren’t all these groups one?” The very simple answer is “sin.” Of course, it is more complicated than this – but all too often a slight, a want for power, or pride has gotten in the way of unity. So, the continuing Anglican movement has been plagued by this, they had not heeded the exhortation we find this morning in 1st Timothy – to flee our youthful lusts.
Our time together ended with worshipping together in a penitential service of Holy Communion. I have always struggled to see Holy Communion as a strictly penitential office, instead seeing it as a time that we come to the Lord as sinners and receive his grace with grateful hearts. But I understand why we approached it this way, and I think it was important to corporately acknowledge our sin and repent of it with one voice. Of course, each presbyter there could point to a time someone from another jurisdiction had slighted them, or behaved badly, or frustrated them. Some, probably even saw the sin of those in their own denomination and were frustrated and heart sick over it. Without forgiving those sins and committing to move towards God together, and to work with one voice for the propagation of the gospel what do we have? We strive to forgive and more importantly we flee from our youthful lusts and passions.
To get stuck in those sins and passions is a sign of spiritual immaturity and it is easy to do, for this reason St. Paul warns the young pastor Timothy against dwelling them. No, instead he is to flee from youthful ways, but if we were simply to flee we would be no better off. We would be like the man Jesus talks of in the Gospels who is emptied of demons but not filled with a good thing, and so the demon comes back and brings his friends, the man is worse off. If we simply flee our sin we will soon find that we are back in that sin, or in something much worse has come to fill our hearts.
This was often the problem with the continuing Anglican groups. This isn’t the first time that groups of orthodox Anglicans have tried to come together and because of pride and sin we ended up with more groups than we started with. Three of the groups there, while they trace their roots back to earlier times, were somewhat officially started after an attempt to come together in the early 90s. Yet, pride got in the way and we scattered. Even in my short time as an Anglican minister there has been wild jumping of ship from one jurisdiction to another. A slight and bad look, or some perceived offense and the parish or diocese was off to some other home. I have found it better to stay, bear the frustration, and let God work the thing out.
What is the point of me telling you this story of our sordid past? First of all, all of us in leadership bear this sin, I found that there were those at the synod who had slighted me, who had hurt me personally, or whose sins I could remember vividly and I’m sure there were some who could say the same of me. I found myself on an elevator at one point with someone who had come into my old diocese for a brief period and then, without explanation up and left for another. We made cordial and pleasant conversation, though it would have been just as easy to ignore him, or be cold. Perhaps there was a good and godly reason for this action and I do not intend to point my finger at him, but it is an easy example to look at for it was still frustrating at the time.
Likewise, the first step in becoming a saint, is to acknowledge the fact that we are sinners. It is much harder to acknowledge our sin, to repent, flee from it, it is much harder to forgive those who have sinned against us than it is to ignore sin, to pretend it is no big deal, and just bury the hurt it has caused deep within our heart and carry on.
We don’t bury sin, we acknowledge it, we repent of it, and we flee from it. For none of us is innocent, we have all sinned, we have all gone astray, preferring our own will over the will of the Lord. Not just in this matter of unity, but sin can cause destruction in all aspects of our life. Because of this destruction, instead of being content to sit in it we flee to the Lord.
This brings me to my next point. We can flee from sin all we want, but if we don’t flee towards Christ, then we have nothing. Our coming together last week in Atlanta was a beautiful and good thing, but if the churches aren’t committed to being Christ’s faithful witness, if we aren’t committed to doing the work that we have been called to – the making of disciples, then the gathering will be nothing more than a clamoring gong, there will have been no point in coming together.
Life together is hard – perhaps America’s staggering divorce rate can speak to this, but we do not need to look this far away to know this, we can simply look at our own experiences. Whether it be frustration with our spouse, our children, our neighbors, or our fellow parishioners. Life together and life as a denomination is just as hard. Community is made up of sinners, and the thing about sinners is we sin and that sin will inevitably hurt someone.
It is for this reason that every time we come together to pray we confess our sins corporately. We ask God for forgiveness, and we make a new commitment to flee to the Lord.
I have found with myself there is always the temptation to look back at my sin, to look back and over analyze ever bad choice I’ve made and wonder how I could ever get better, how I could ever be forgiven. Perhaps, you know this feeling too. It is the same with those who have hurt us, we wonder why they would be so cruel to us, and often betray our call and justify not forgiving them.
If we become fixated on the past we run the risk of following Lot’s wife. As Lot and his family fled the sin-filled city Sodom, the Lord warned them to not look back. Yet, as they made their way across the desert Lot’s wife ignored this command and looked back and she was turned to a salt pillar. We do not know why she looked back, perhaps she realized she had forgotten her favorite frying pan, or was morning the loss of her friends, perhaps she was wondering where the Lord would bring them and felt sorrow over the fact that they were now homeless. It’s impossible to say what she was thinking, except that somehow the command of the Lord and the promise for their future in Him wasn’t enough for her.
And what of our own past? What of the sin we committed that we are now fleeing? What of the hurt that others have committed against us? The Lord has called us out, called us to be precious vessels, but do we look back? It can be a hard thing to boldly step out in faith. We might think that we are too sinful, we might think that we are too old, or too young, we might feel under qualified, we might even think that the thing He is asking of us is an impossibility. If we aren’t intently focused on following the will of the Lord, striving to dwell in his grace and boldly making that grace known, our hearts will become stone too and we are no better off than we were before.
We can become fixated upon our own sin or the sins of others and no longer enjoy the grace that we have been freely offered. Instead, we are invited in, invited to join the family of Christ. We are not left out in the cold but we are one body, one faithful witness to grace which we enjoy – so flee from your sin and flee into this grace. And when we follow the will of the Lord he does not abandon us, he does not leave us to wallow but he guides us along our journey. Even in the darkest of valleys, he is there with us.
And what does St. Paul say of those who flee this sin, what have they done? If we find that we purge ourselves, by the grace we find in Christ, we become vessels of honor, sanctified and ready for the master’s use. When we flee the sin that we know, when we seek the forgiveness of the Lord for those sins and seek to forgive those who have sinned against us we are being made into vessels for the Lord’s use.
This process of sanctification can be long and painful, and we make our way through it by the grace we find in Christ and constant prayer. Often, we find that we think we’re fine as kind and then we meet an old friend at a conference, or are we lying in bed thinking, or we are listening to a sermon, or talking to a friend at coffee hour and suddenly we find this overwhelming feeling that we must repent of something. So, we do and we grow. But sanctification isn’t just about sinning less, as much as it is about sinning less it is doubly about learning to trust in the Lord for every ounce of our needs. It is about trusting that as the Lord has called us to faithfulness he will be faithful. He will not leave us abandoned but do all that he promises.
We were designed to be in communion with the Lord and to do his will, we were designed to walk with him in the garden, to be his friend, and to enjoy Him for eternity. We cannot empty ourselves of our own imperfection by our own power, but instead we are invited into a great love affair with the Lord, we are called to love him so deeply that our wills are no longer bent towards the destruction of sin. We are called to renew this love time and time again.
A reason that many Christians classify marriage as a sacrament is because it not only trains us to love better, but because it is a beautiful reflection of many people’s walk with the Lord. Romance often starts out with passionate excitement, but then time goes on, the honeymoon ends and we discover that life with another person is hard.
Many of us were thrilled to meet the Lord, our hearts fluttered with excitement and we were passionately in love with him, then life got hard, or we just realized that we were not much better than we were the day before, or life just slowly moved along. We trudged, seeking to do good, but it was difficult. Yet, as in marriage, where we continue to work on loving our spouse, in our walk with the Lord we are invited into continually running home to Him, continually recommitting ourselves to growing in his grace. Like in marriage, where those who have been married for a decade know their spouses better than they did after a week, those who have been running the race faithfully for a life time have a deeper and more knowledgeable faith than they did on the day of their conversion.
In our continual running to the Lord we become vessels ready for every good work. How much better does this sound than the strife of sin? The Lord says come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laidened and I will give you rest. A life of good Christian work is a far lighter burden than that of the burden of sin, for Christian service does not come with the burden of regret, does not come with the knowledge of the fact that you have hurt people, does not come with the soul crushing pain of being separated from God. So, come unto the Lord, do the good work he has prepared for you, and flee from the sin that burdens you.
We have worked our way through repentance, through the burden that sin often has on us, and to the call to be good vessels, but what does one who is a good vessel look like? The man or woman who has fled their sin, fled to the lord follows righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.
As Christians, we are called to seek not only righteousness and faith, but to be charitable, that is loving, and to seek to live peaceable lives. As we saw earlier all too often the church is rich with strife, but this is not our call. No, instead we seek to live at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is for this reason I have sought to be friends with those Christian leaders in our community who are committed to the work of the Gospel, even if they come from a wide variety of backgrounds, whether they be Baptist, or non-denominational evangelicals, or Eastern Orthodox Christians. Our peaceful living together and witness to our community is more important than the form of our worship. We set this lifestyle up as an example to all those whom we cross paths with. We do not need another holy war, but we need to foster Christian fellowship.
So, our lives are to be filled with kindness. We are not to beat someone over the head with the Bible, but to patiently teach them of the goodness of the Lord. We are not to sue our neighbor for some slight, but to forgive and gently bear with them, in order that we might teach them of the grace of Christ that we so much enjoy.
Our lives of gentleness, and meekness in the Lord, are not there to glorify ourselves, they are to glorify the Lord and to instruct those who do not know him about the goodness and grace that we experience and enjoy. The Saints exhortation this morning to his spiritual son Timothy ends with the thought and hope that to those who we bear with gently, those who do not know the Lord may be grant(ed by God) repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him (that is the Lord) to do his will.
This is the ultimate goal and call of the Church, Christ’s final commandment was that we would go into the world and make disciples of all nations. It starts here in our little Christian community first that you and I would be continuing to grow as disciples, repenting of our sins, growing in our faith in Christ and love for one another, and increasing in the knowledge and wisdom of the Lord. Yet, we are not to be satisfied in that alone, but as we flourish we are to invite others. Each of us, is called not only to be disciples of the Lord but to disciple those whom we meet, to come along side of them and invite them into the joy that we know.
The Christian’s call is then, not to wish harm upon his enemy, but to strive boldly, hope vigorously, and pray fervently that that enemy would be captured by the Lord and turned to do his will.
So let us with zealous prayer flee from those youthful afflictions of lust, pride, vainglory, angst, and anger, flee unto our Lord Jesus Christ the comfort and savior of our souls, that he may fill the holes left in our heart by our sin, and his glory may shine brightly through them, and let us pray with all our might that we may be made gentle, meek, and kind, that we may grow as disciples and that we may with boldness make disciples of all nations, that all those whom we meet, whether they be the good, the bad, or the ugly may be captured by the love of the Lord we enjoy, and come to praise and glorify him with us.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen