Our Unchanging Lord
A Homily for Trinity 15
September 24, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Deuteronomy 7:6-13
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 we are going to look at the Old Testament lesson because it gives us insight into the heart of God. It shows us three important aspects of the Lord’s character and despite popular belief, usually perpetuated in the secular world, the God of the Old Testament does not change in the New Testament, instead his character is immutable. That is the Lord we meet in Genesis 1 is the same God we see in Revelation 22.
First, the Lord creates for himself a holy people, not that those whom he calls are particularly holy upon their calling, but that he makes them holy. Secondly, that he calls them not on any merit of their own, but because he uses those from the humblest of situations. Finally, he keeps his covenants, he upholds his promises with steadfast love, not abandoning his people to their sin and frailty but carrying them through the night.
In this passage, the Jewish people are called holy, the church shares in this calling. We see a similar phrase repeated in the New Testament, for example we see this in St. Peter’s first epistle:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.
So, we should have a firm understanding what it means to be holy. Is being a holy people meaning that we are a bunch of folks who get our righteousness from our own actions? That we can take pride in how good we are?
No! Holiness stems from obedience to God. It comes from submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit, being given to reading the word of God, constantly in prayer, and having fellowship with our fellow believers that we may carry one another’s burdens.
Last week we talked extensively about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is when we are growing in those gifts, growing in learning what it means to have a life set aside to the Lord. Holiness is not merely doing good things, for doing good things is nice, and the world has benefited from such good works, but Holiness is submitting ourselves fully to the Lord and out of that submission comes true goodness.
We see the work of this holiness when we grow in the gifts of the spirit, when we start to exemplify them more than we exemplify the works of the flesh. When we prefer self-control over gluttony, patience and gentleness over anger, love over hatred we are becoming holy. Holiness is a seed that the Lord plants in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit tends to, cultivates and we grow in over time.
The people who God has set aside in this are treasured by Him. Not only the Israelites, but those who dwell in Christ. They are treasured so deeply that He sent his son to die on the cross that we might live. We are invited to dwell richly in this promise. Life can be difficult and discouraging, but can cling to the truth that we are treasured, we take our hope and joy in that simple fact.
However, those who have been called to the Lord were not called because of any works of their own. God may call great leaders unto himself, but more often he calls simple men and women and rises them up to be leaders, to do great things in his power, not for their own glory but for His.
Let us think about a few examples throughout the Bible:
The Israelites themselves were a relatively unknown family, insignificant. The patriarch Abraham couldn’t even have a child until he and his wife were far older than she should have been. Yet God gave him a son, and out of that lineage came the entire nation of Israel. From that lineage came Christ our Lord.
How about Ruth, she owed her mother-in-law Naomi nothing, she wasn’t even an Israelite, and yet through her faithfulness and love for Naomi that she not only saved Naomi but from her lineage came King David, and Christ our Lord.
And what about King David? He was certainly the least of his family. It almost seemed a mockery of the armies when he announced that he would fight Goliath. Yet His reaction to the giant shows how we are to react to adversity: For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?
David, this insignificant shepherd boy steps out in faith trusting the Living God for his life and substance, over comes an adversary that had made the entirely Israelite army tremble in their boots. David in his humility does not trust himself but the living Lord. Likewise, when we face adversity we trust the living Lord. For the Lord has overcome and in his triumph, we triumph.
Before we move on to other examples of God using the humble and lowly to bring glory to Himself I want to talk a bit more about David, because he’s an important example. For he also stumbled and fell. We can relate to David because we can become comfortable in our salvation and become proud, forgetting that our calling, salvation, and that our righteousness stems from the Lord himself who calls us to a life of humility. Like David, we can become puffed up and proud, and when we do that we too can fall into sin.
David becomes so proud that he justifies to himself that it is okay to seduce a married woman because she’s pretty, to cover up his sin he gets her husband killed because the woman has become pregnant. But God, demands repentance when we fall and does not let David hide his sin. It is the same when we stumble and fall, and like David we flee from that sin, we repent, do an about face and come running home to the Lord that is the giver of life. Like David we cry out:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
And the Lord hears our repentance and gives us new life day after day.
What about New Testament examples? How about St. Matthew who we remembered this week? He was a tax collect, an outcast of society. Yet when Christ called him, he dropped everything, followed the Lord. By the grace of God, he penned a Gospel that we still use today to learn about the goodness and glory of Christ.
What about St. Peter who was a humble fisherman who even in his following of the Lord bumbled along, or Saints James and John who Christ affectionately named the sons of thunder, for reasons we can only imagine.
How about St. Paul? If you’re thinking “well, that’s nice, he used people coming from humble beginnings, what about people who are just no good?” Well, St. Paul who when he was known as Saul oppressed the young church. He watched and encouraged the people to kill the first martyr a young deacon named Stephen. Yet God called him, and used him profoundly.
And let us talk a moment about Christ himself.
If God had acted in worldly standards Christ could have come out of nowhere, he would have destroyed the Romans, driving them out of Israel, smashing them for oppressing his chosen people. He would have come in all glory, not to redeem his people, but to punish the wicked.
Instead, Christ was born of the virgin Mary. He was born to a humble existence. If he is not the incarnate God, born of human flesh, he would have gone unnoticed, just another little Jewish baby, from a relatively poor family, in a relatively poor and insignificant city. If he is not the Christ then his birth would have been perfectly insignificant.
Not only that, in his time of ministry, although he drew hundreds and even at times thousands to hear him speak and teach, he often slept outside, we know this because he told those who wished to follow him such. Today when a great Christian preacher comes to town we put him up in the nicest hotel. When we go to conferences we spend a great deal of money to do so. Christ slept outside. God works through the humble, and the simple.
At His crucifixion, even those who loved him abandoned him.
Christ’s life and death were the life and death of a humble man – not flashy, not showy.
Yet, I am not done with the example we see in Christ. There was an atheist philosopher who once said of Christ was really God – he would have ripped himself off the cross, and killed those who were trying to kill him. He would not have stood for such injustice and humiliation. This is not the Character of God. God was not satisfied to let his people suffer in our sin that darkens our hearts, and condemns us to the shameful death that Christ died. Yet in dying that death for us, he calls us unto true life in Him.
No, if Christ is God, His death on the cross is exactly what we would expect from Him. It is no surprise to us that he died, for God treasures his people, and will leave the 99 to bring back the one, he will die for us when we deserve that die.
Are we starting to see how God works? He does not work through haughtiness, pride, or vainglory, he works through humility, he works through the small, the sick, the meek. It is when we are humble and meek that HIS strength is magnified. Our strength as Christians is not our own. For when God works in us, he is glorified, we are strengthened and there is nothing that is impossible when we dwell in the Lord.
As we read the Old Testament lesson this morning we are reminded of this fact, God could have called anyone to be his people. He could have called one of the many massive nations with proud and strong kings that surrounded the Israelites to be His people. He could have called someone like Goliath to be his servant and judge – but he didn’t he called an insignificant family and made them significant. He called a man past his prime and his wife who was well beyond child bearing years to be the patriarch and matriarch of his chosen people.
God works through the humble to glorify himself, so take heart, no matter how big or small you are God is working in your humility and smallness. God is calling you to repentance and drawing you to him that you might have true life for God is faithful beyond our own imagination.
Finally, this morning we are reminded that God does not forget his people. Instead, he remembers his covenant, he does not break his promise to his people. We can see this again as we trace our way through out the history of scripture where God works through adversity to redeem his children time and time again.
How about Joseph, whose brothers hated him, who was nearly killed by his own kin. Yet the evil they did by selling him into slavery God used to redeem the family. For despite all the adversity Joseph faced, eventually he had the power to provide food for not only all of Egypt but his family as well. He does not forget Joseph or his brothers.
How about the Israelites exile to Babylon, where they were not forgotten but redeemed through unlikely means?
How about God’s providence in the early church? By all worldly measures and standards, the early church should not have survived, Christ left it to be led by a rag tag group of eleven men, who were discouraged and disheartened, yet by the encouragement of the resurrection and the empowering of the Holy Spirit preached Christ’s death and resurrection? Who were almost all martyred, who watched one of their first deacons be stoned to death as an example? Yet the church still flourished because God was faithful to them.
What about examples from the church, how about St. Patrick? Who was captured as a slave, and had such a big heart for the Gospel decided he would return to the land of his captivity to tell them of the goodness and grace of His God. Who was never forgotten by the Lord and the Lord used him to converted a nation.
What about St. Columba who sinned so grievously that he was given to option of being executed and exiled and chose exiled and in his exile the Lord brought to repentance, not forsaking him. It was in that repentance he brought the Gospel to the Pict people of Scotland and founded the great monastery on Ione.
And what about our own humble little church? The provision of the Lord over time. Not to our own glory but to God’s. Remember, how he has worked to preserve, to invite others into it. How, although we started only with a handful of people and many of those faithful have gone to their rest, the church has been sustained and quietly grown over time and continues to grow. Has he ever forgotten our fellowship?
And what of our own lives? I can point to a dozen times when everything seemed impossible that God worked things out, not only that I might have a closer walk with him, but that he would be glorified. Can’t we all point to times like these in our lives?
God does not forget his people. It may be that we walk through valleys of darkness, that we may feel helpless and lost, pained and scared, but God is with us. Though we may feel a dark cloud dwelling over us we still worship and serve a good and merciful Lord.
So, we rejoice, we take heart and learn to trust the Lord for he will not abandon us. In another translation, the lesson we read today ends with this exhortation: “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.”
The rule of life for the Christian is that we Love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
This is what we strive to do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not on our own. We are learning what it is to submit to the Lord. It is in this submission that our ego grows smaller and the grace of God grows large within us.
Let us therefore go out of this place with all humility. Let us approach the throne of grace not in our own righteousness, but in Christ. Let us be confident that we are a Holy people, set aside not because of any righteousness of our own, but because of the righteousness that God has put upon us in Christ, and take the deepest comfort in knowing no matter where we go, the Lord is our good shepherd seeking after us, guiding us and comforting us for He is a very good and merciful God. For God is still merciful to the sinner who repents, still calls the humble and meek, and is still faithful to those who put their trust in Him.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.