A Homily For Advent 1
December 10, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Romans 15:4-7
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and redeemer. Amen
The Advent call is that our hearts and minds would be conformed to the Love of God and in that we would learn to Love the Lord with our whole selves and that we would love our neighbors selflessly. We are called to make straight our ways, to let God work in the desert that is our heart. Last week, we talked about returning to love the Lord, that even if you’ve stumbled and fallen along the way, that He calls us back to him again, and again.
This calling draws us deeper into preparing our hearts, and minds that we would come to the fullness of the love of Christ. As we travel through Advent we are regularly reminded that 2000 years ago the incarnate Lord came into the world to save sinners, that he comes into our hearts to save us, and conform our hearts and minds to the will of the Lord, and finally that at the end of days he will come again to judge the living and the dead. During this season, we take this time to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for each of these events, not by some works righteous, but by seeking Him, and submitting to the Holy Spirit’s sanctification.
The Epistle lesson this morning picks up where we left off last week, and draws us deeper into understanding the answer to the question of how do we come to love the Lord with our minds? For, as mentioned, our minds are to be transformed and conformed to the will of Christ, and in doing so we come to know him deeper.
One of the books that was tremendously formative shortly after my coming to Christ was the reformed-Anglican Theologian J.I. Packer’s famous book “Knowing God.” If you have not read it, it is a book that draws extensively from scripture to outline the nature and character of God and what it means to know Him. Not only did this book draw me into a deeper desire to know the Lord, not simply emotionally, but intellectually, it also started me on a trajectory of wanting to know about the Anglican way of worship and life. While there are parts of the book that I found troublesome then, and still do today, it challenged me to want to know the God of the Bible, and to walk with Him emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
God wants us to know him, wants us to love Him, not only emotionally, but with our minds as well. Think about your spouse, think about how unhappy you would be if all you knew about her was that you find her pretty. Your life would feel empty and miserable. Instead, when you first courted her you found out about her likes and dislikes, her hopes and dreams, you probably even found out about some of the ugly things, how does she fight? How does she handle conflict and pain? Eventually, your love for her grew and you married her.
As time goes on, you’ve learn more and more about your spouse. At five years, you knew her better than you did when you first laid eyes upon her, and now, you know her even better. You know what makes her exceedingly happy, what makes her sad, and what upsets her. You can probably even recognize her footsteps as she walks through another room. But you must desire to know your spouse, if you do not, it will be a long, lonely, and miserable marriage for feelings are fickle and our bodies fade.
It is the same in our walk with God, he calls us to know him, it is not merely this passage from Romans that calls us into knowing the Lord, and calls us to loving him with our minds but it can be traced throughout scripture: we are called to submit to Christ that our hearts and minds would be renewed.
When Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand and lied to the Lord, all humanity was corrupted, including the body: the heart, and the mind no longer sought to walk with the Lord in the cool of the garden. Yet Christ’s saving work acts to redeem every corner of our being that it might be conformed to the will of the Lord.
This morning as we read from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans we are reminded that the scriptures were written for our learning, were written for the task for coming to know the Lord better, to know his will, to grow in his comfort, that our minds may be turned back towards him. As we learn to delight in the word of God our minds are renewed into a deeper and deeper understanding of who the Lord is.
I had a moment when I was at my first seminary, where I realized I was not approaching the scriptures as the word of God, inspired by Him that we would know Him more deeply, but as a document to be analyzed and used. Certainly, God wants us to use scriptures, but not to prove or justify our personal preferences as seemed to be prevalent there. Scriptures are used to comfort us in our time of need and to give us hope that returns us back to the Lord, time and again.
When I realized that I was not using the scriptures to pursue a living knowledge of the Lord, I had to wrestle with that fact. I had to decide: would I chose to trust the word of the Lord as the authority and former of my mind or would I chose my own intellect, that could dismiss portions of scripture because they are unseemly, because they do not let me live as I please, or simply because I do not like them? This is the question that is put before us when we wrestle with the Lord. Do we approach him as Lord and submit or do we flee preferring our own wills?
If we want to be earnest Christians then we do what the collect for this week calls us to do: we hear, read, mark, and learn the word of God. But not merely as an intellectual act of the mind, we take what we have read and inwardly digest them. The word of God, becomes our spiritual sustenance, reading the scriptures is as important with our walk with the Lord as prayer, fellowship, and partaking in the sacraments is. It gives us strength and comfort for the journey.
Yet, the habit of reading can be challenging. Just as when we sit to pray we find our minds may wander, when we sit to read tiredness may take over, or we may notice that pile of dishes that have been sitting in the kitchen sink for an embarrassingly long time, or remember that we wanted to check the news or the weather. A thousand distractions will come flying at us as we try to establish this habit, for the devil knows that our comfort and hope come from reading the word of God. Knows that when we read the scriptures we come to know God more deeply.
Press through the distractions, make the time to spend in His word daily. Even reading a little will help carry us through, will help our minds be conformed to the will of the Lord, and will help us to know his character a little more.
But remember the act of knowing God isn’t an intellectual feat, it is that we would be brought into a deeper communion with Him and with each other. We are called to live at peace with our fellow Christians. Not to say “Ah-ha! All Saints is the best an only Church and if you don’t come here you’re a heretic,” but to say when we see a friend from another church, “brother!” Or “Sister! How wonderful to see you today, is it well with your soul?” It is to care for both those who worship with us, and those who walk with God elsewhere, and with them have a like mind to seek to glorify God.
Yesterday, over dinner when talking to the Bishop we came to the subject of the recent synod where we worked to strive towards unity with other traditional Anglican groups across the country. As many of you know, at this synod in October we signed an agreement between four of the largest groups to work together, to the glory of God. That was a wonderful thing.
For as long as I’ve been in classical Anglican churches this idea of unity has been on the forefront of the minds of the Christians involved. Although, sadly, historically this hasn’t always been the case, recent work by the bishops has slowly born fruit which I am thankful that we are able to enjoy.
However, this is my warning, we learn from the scripture this morning and in general that unity is meaningless if we do not have Jesus Christ as the center of it. For our unity is not found in the wills of men, but in Christ alone. So, we as individuals and as a parish are called to be letting the word of God conform our hearts and minds to know Him more deeply. This in turn brings us into a deeper fellowship with other believers, and helps to remind us that the end of our faith is not to preserve ourselves, but to work to glorify God.
Knowing the scriptures not only comforts us, gives us hope, and allows us to know the Lord, it protects us from heresy. It is easy for a preacher or a teacher to pick a verse here or there to back up his point, but ignore the orthodox Christian religion. (Here I use orthodox to mean – conforming to the beliefs that the church has always held). So, we equip ourselves with the knowledge of the Lord, that we would know when we hear something off, to ignore it.
How then are we to read? As we read the word we are equipped not merely with our intellect, but we pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the word for us, that we may grow into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Some will say that the Holy Spirit is working a new thing, introducing new truths, but God’s character does not change. Instead, the Spirit works to help us understand more deeply that which has been recorded in the scriptures. Within Anglicanism we draw on three pillars to help us illuminate truth. These three pillars are: reason, tradition, and scripture.
Reason, is merely seeking to understand the Lord and the world better. It is seeking to be intellectually honest in our pursuit of the truth, to be logically rational in that which we do. While, we have seen some who use this argument to push some churches away from the orthodox truth, instead we submit reason to that which the word of God says and then seek to understand what it means.
Next, tradition does not mean, any tradition, but rather submitting our understanding to the Vincentian Canon – which tells us to believe only that which has been believe at all times, in all places, by all Christians. This rule returns us to the ancient ecumenical councils. We let these councils form and shape our understanding of scripture, so long as that which was taught does not contradict scripture. When the councils raged, and questions of the nature of the divinity and manhood of Christ came up, the bishops vigorously debated but finally recognized that the belief that he was fully man and fully God was held by all Christians through all times.
No matter how pleasant the study of tradition is, or how much you enjoy spending time thinking, these are both submitted to the word of God. Tradition and reason may not supersede the scriptures, but instead they are formed by it. If tradition is contrary to His Holy Word, or if our thoughts fly against His thoughts, then we turn away from them, and seeking to know Him better.
Finally, a practical thought on developing a habit of reading the word of God. If you are struggling to establish a habit of reading: pick a translation that you find easy to read, but is still true to the original text. There are a few I can recommend, ask me, if you are wondering. Then, either pick up one the bookmark I handed out last week for advent, or open the front of your prayer book, and pick one set of lectionary lessons, the morning New Testament lessons, or the evening Old Testament lessons for example, just one until your habit is more formed, and then sit down and read. Read slowly, and prayerfully, chew on what you read, ponder what God is doing. Is Christ evident in what you’re reading? Are there things that you’re struggling with in it? What does this tell you about the nature of God? And then over time your habit of reading will form, then you can expand what you read, pick two lectionary lessons. Don’t grow weary when this habit isn’t formed overnight, but press on.
Today, we are reminded of the specific call: to Love the Lord with our mind. To seek him in His Holy word and let that Holy Word be your hope, and comfort in times of trials, be the way in which your mind is conformed to His will, and be a source of unity between us and all believers. So, let us earnestly seek to Love Him and let that love transform our minds to the glorify God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.