The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
Press on, Do Not Draw Back
A Homily for Trinity 13
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Hebrews 10:35-39
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
We are not of those who shrink back, instead we persevere and press on constantly striving for the kingdom of heaven. The world may beat us down or we may grow discouraged with all we see and hear, but we persevere running for the prize.
This is the call that the Epistle writer reminds us of today and the theme of the week that the collect shows us. The world can be a discouraging place, we need only turn on the news to confirm this.
This past week, as I read one story after another of friends, or friends of friends struggling to salvage their worldly possessions in Texas in the after math of hurricane Harvey, my heart was heavy for them. Then news of Irma broke, and the fires in California and the Northwest, and what is someone as insignificant as me to do? I could barely keep up with praying for these people, and even in that I felt useless.
It is easy to grow discouraged, it is think that your little acts of compassion are insignificant and unimportant and be tempted to stop. To thinking “what is the use, this is bigger than me.”
Likewise, it is easy to look around at this world and think “what is the point,” those who party all night long seem happier as I am, they seem to find spouses and settle down while my nights seem long and lonely. It is easy to see all the world has to offer and wonder what the point of seeking God and His virtue? For the devil can make even the most hideous of things seem attractive.
Even standing firm in the classical Anglicanism way can seem like a practice in frivolity. We see churches that practice more modern worship or have even compromised the gospel flourish around us. But the lesson has an important reminder for us.
DO NOT cast away your confidence! Do not grow weary dear friends, do not grow jealous of those who do not have faith in Christ for their ease is no easier, and their happiness is not the eternal joy that we know. Instead, let your heart burn with compassion, and let the light of Christ in you shine in the darkness. Let it burn bright in the night. For this light will overcome the darkness.
Similarly, it is easy to think, “ah, but times were different when these books were written.” Most of these men knew Jesus, so their confidence was great. It is likewise, easy to twist these into words of false hope, into worldly hope.
But let us think for a moment about Christ, and about his apostles, let us reflect on the lives they lived.
We are told that Christ had no home, no place to lay his head. He was, essentially, an itinerant preacher, he wandered from town to town, teaching about the coming kingdom of heaven. He was often met with crowds, many of whom misunderstood him and undoubtedly there were those in the rural crowds who eventually called for his execution in Jerusalem. The religious authority of the time sought to and eventually succeeded in killing him. He started with a band of ill-educated, rag tag men. Men who were fishermen, outcasts and even some who were described as the sons of thunder. We can only imagine why – I suspect they were very loud and perhaps a tad uncouth when they were first invited to follow Him. One of his closest followers even betrayed him, and lead him to his death. The betrayer lead Christ to his death with a kiss.
And yet, the remainder persevered, pressed on without ceasing, preached the word fervently. Yet what became of them?
The reality is, we don’t know what exactly became of many of them, but we have stories that we believe to be true. Of the 12 only John survived to an old age, the rest we are told were martyred, often in gruesome and cruel ways. And even John was tortured and exiled to an island to live out his days in loneliness.
We know of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons who was newly elected to serve the poor, the widows, and the hurting in the church, we know of his death at the hands of a man named Saul. But Stephen didn’t fade away, didn’t recant the faith, he didn’t back down, instead he prayed for his persecutors and preached the Gospel fervently unto the end.
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.
Life can be wearisome, and it can be frustrating to see the world around succeed when we only have failure, to have happiness when all we want to do is grumble. So, we can cry out with the Psalmist, why do the heathen succeed while we are so frail? Why does it seem evil is rewarded while righteousness seems to be punished?
And certainly, we bring these frustrations and exhaustions to the Lord. We cry out to him day and night, but we press on in great hope. For our hope is the eternal life with God, and what greater thing can we hope for than that? Our hope is to put on the cloak of Christ’s righteousness and to be reborn to walk yet again with God in the garden in the cool of the day.
The writer reminds us in order that we persevere in this race that we need patience. This past week I was joking with someone about the need for patience and how it is a fruit of the spirit, we laughed about how impatient we can be. Yet patient stems out of walking in the spirit. Patience is part of our Christian witness and as much as we laughed, I think we knew that this was true.
When was the last time that you turned on the news and grew weary and angry with all that was going on? Grumbling and being cynical about our world is the easy route, but it is not the Christian way. We are called to be confident in the Lord, extend compassion and love to those whom you disagree with and they will test your patience, but persevere. We are called to be patient, for we know that God is working out all things for his good.
It is hard to see people act so foolishly, it is hard to see the world reward unrighteousness behavior, but more is demanded of the Christian. We are not invited to sharp, stinging, witty remarks, nor to unkindness. No, we are invited to dwell richly in the spirit, invited to bear his fruit which is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there are no laws. Yet this is hard, isn’t it? We lose patience with our friends, our family. We fail to love. We fail to be joyful. How often do we fail to bear these fruits?
But be patient dear Christian! For the spirit is working to grow these gifts in you.
But how do we grow? It seems so hard, but God has given us tools that to learn to grow in His grace. These tools are prayer, reading the word of God, corporate worship, partaking in the sacraments, and fellowship.
We pray not just in church, but every day we come to the Lord. We talk to him, we might say “Lord, today I’m frustrated, my neighbor is being a real pain, please direct me and give me patience,” or perhaps “Lord, thank you for your kindness this day in providing the sunshine and the birds that sing.” Our prayers can be short and sweet, or they can dive deep into our heart as we pour our struggles out before the thrown of grace. We share our mind and heart with the Lord and the Lord will shape them. Submit your will to His and he will guide you. It is hard, and it takes discipline, sometimes it is easier to just forget about prayer and go on with your day, but come to the Lord in prayer daily, come to the Lord in prayer with regularity.
Likewise read his word. For so many want to hear his voice, and we have one surefire way to do so. Pick up your bible, open it up and read. Use the lectionary in the front of the Book of Common Prayer to find readings, or pick a gospel or one of the general epistles of Saint Paul, or read the creation narrative and delight in God’s goodness, and let your heart be sorrowful for the fall. Find a way to be daily in the word, learn about him and delight in His goodness.
We come together regularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our risen Lord. This is what corporate worship means, the coming together as a community, as the body of Christ. We come on Sundays, we come throughout the week. I have been encouraged to be able to worship with so many of you, not just on Sundays but in the mornings at morning prayer and on Wednesday evening at evensong. I know that not everyone can make these and that’s okay, but persevere, do not forsake the body, for it is in corporate worship that we learn to praise the Lord with one voice. It is in corporate worship that we confess together our sins, we receive absolution, we partake in the word of God together, we break bread, and we sing songs of praise. This time of togetherness is a good thing.
Likewise, the sacraments, in particularly Holy Communion acts as spiritual food for our bodies. We can reach out and touch, to taste and see. We can commune with each other and the Lord in the spiritual act of Holy Communion. We see God mystically acting within the congregation during this time.
Finally, fellowship, we get to know each other better. In our coffee hour, we often talk about fond memories of growing up sailing or laugh about ridiculous things our children or grandchildren have done recently, but this is how friendships are built. And these friendships allow us to come alongside each other. The seeing that the person next to you in your pew is someone who struggles and takes joys just like you, give you confidence that when your heart is breaking you can call them up and say “hi my friend, today is hard, would you like to go for a walk?” Or “dear father, I need your prayers today, it all seems too heavy to carry on.” Fellowship, though it may seem frivolous at the time, builds deeper relationships, and it is in these Christian friendship that you can find encouragement in your darkest days, and love and joy in your lightest of days. So, we break the non-sacramental bread, we laugh together and take such deep joy in that time.
It is through the grace of Christ working in these tools that we learn patience, that we start to delight in the spirit more and more until we blossom with fruit. It is through these tools that we are encouraged to persevere no matter how dark the night may get.
I know that I am by no means old, but growing older has been a strange experience. I am no longer the youngest kid on the block. I was used to men older than me being ordained, and happy to be there, though I was technically their elder in ordination. I was even used to having men older work for me within the church, being junior priests under my cure, but having men younger than me, prayerfully considering holy orders, whether it be in a low protestant churches or in the Anglican way has been a relatively new experience for me. There is one piece of advice that I always give them. It is not my own advice but a thought that I stole from Charles Spurgeon, a great English Baptist preacher. His advice was if you want to and can do anything other than preach, go and do it.
It is the best and only piece of advice I know to give someone who his discerning his call to ministry, for ministry is hard, and the world will tempt you with all kinds of shiny objects – money, prestige, and pride to name a few. I also know that if a man is truly called to be a pastor, God will not allow him to do anything else. Even if he runs to Tarshish, God will bring him back to Nineveh. God will make clear to him his calling.
Why do I tell you this seemingly inapplicable anecdote? Because it is easy to grow weary wondering if you are doing enough. Wondering if the Lord wants something more. Searching frantically for something deeper, but if you are utilizing the tools of prayer, reading and studying the word of God, worshipping with your brothers and sisters, regularly partaking in the sacraments, and fellowshipping, God will correct you if you have wondered from His will. When we use these tools, we can dwell confidently in God and He will direct you, will call you to repentance, for He is always drawing you into something deeper, even when you can’t see that.
If you have a sin, he will correct you, if you need to grow in patience, it will come, if you need to grow in love, your heart will be made tender.
These things are not necessarily easy, for sin likes to implant itself deep within our heart, and just as ripping out a root system can seem brutal to the ground, so the removal of sin from our lives can feel painful, but our heart is made lighter when we find freedom from our sin-filled shackles. The Lord is working in us, redirecting us, bring us to something deeper. So, stay involved and practice healthy spiritual disciplines.
Press on, have faith, take comfort in these small things for we take hope in the greater promise which is the establishing of the kingdom of heaven. Which is the hope to one day walk with the Lord in the cool of the day.
We live by faith that this will happen, not shrinking back, but pressing on boldly. For we may be few, but the disciples were fewer, we may feel poor of spirit, but the Christ was literally poor. We may be discouraged about our friend who keeps going back to his same mistakes, or the friends we’ve lost over time, but Jesus’ disciples seemed to constantly stumble, and at the crucifixion he was abandoned and denied by his most ardent follower, and betrayed by another with a kiss.
Do not grow week, do not pull back but press on in faith for he knows your pain and sorrow. Let God work it out to His glory. When suffer, not only do we have an empathetic savior we are partaking in his suffering and being molded into His image.
So, do not draw back, but believe that He is working all this out to save our souls. This is the end goal.
I want to end with one more practical thing for you to think about and challenge you to pray for. We haven’t talked a tremendous amount as a body about Church growth and so first, I want to ask you to be praying that God would guide us to be a faithful witness in our community, that others might be drawn to worship with us. Although we haven’t talked a lot about this together, Ben and I have talked a fair amount about it. Church growth is a good and beautiful thing, and I think we all want to see our body grow larger and more diverse, we want to run out of room and wonder what is next, but true growth begins when you and I are growing in our walk with the Lord.
The first step to church growth is for us to be committed to growing spiritually. A Psalm that we read this past week at morning prayer reminded us that if the Lord doesn’t build the house, our labor will be lost. So, to grow numerically we must be growing in our own faith, growing in our walk with the Lord.
We are, therefore, challenged to press on, to be committed to growing in the Lord, utilizing the tools that he has given us, that we may be growing daily in our walk with him. Let us not grow weary or discouraged, instead continue to bring our joys and heartaches to the Lord.
Let us not, therefore draw away but, but press on until our day is done and trust fervently in the Lord, that he will work all things out to His glory.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost Amen.