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Love that which Thou doest Command
F. Earle Fox
Trinity XIV - 09/05/10
Jer. 7:1-20; Psalms 42-43; Gal. 5:16-24; Lk. 17:11-19
The collect for today, the 14th Sunday after Trinity, asks God.... "...that we may obtain that which thou doest promise, make us to love that which thou does command...."
Do we typically love, do we cherish, honor, obey that which God commands? Not so's you'd notice. Do we have any idea of the goodness of the commands of God? And of how they lead to the fullness of life? Not much, I think. The Hebrews of Jeremiah's time did not. We may occasionally even feel "O, You are always telling us what to do...!" like teens feel about their parents. I remember feeling that way about my parents.
Jer 7:1 ¶ The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
God Himself was speaking through Jeremiah, putting Jeremiah's life at risk.
2 "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD.
Jeremiah was commanded to prophecy in perhaps the most public place in the city, the gate to the Temple, through which everyone had to pass -- a very dangerous position for a prophet with harsh message.
4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'
...as if the Temple would save them from the Assyrians coming from the north. God could save them, and and said He would. But the Temple without God was worse than useless, it was a lethal delusion.
Last week we looked into our inability to see beyond the flesh to see persons, to see souls, to see the spiritual world behind, beyond, and undergirding the physical world. Such a people cannot see God behind the whole world, and thus are locked into the world itself as their savior. They are self-condemned to idolatry, to trusting the world, the flesh, and the devil -- because they will not submit to the law and grace of God.
9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!' --only to go on doing all these abominations?
11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD.
So did the Lord see again this incredible mockery, some 600 years later -- during Holy Week...
12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 14 therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.
17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.
All, or almost all, of Western civilization is returning to paganism, including the worship of the queen of heaven, one avatar of the Great Mother, about whom we have been learning, who is the primal enemy of all Biblical religion. Idolatry will always betray its worshippers into the very evil from which it claims to protect them.
19 Is it I whom they provoke? says the LORD. Is it not themselves, to their own confusion? 20 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place...."
The world, the flesh, and the devil cannot protect us. They can only confuse and destroy us. They eat us up.
This passage from Jeremiah reads so aptly for today that it is scary. How many Americans love that which God commands?
I walked through the capital building and the Senate building in Washington, DC, one day eight or nine years ago, to visit a well-known conservative Senator on the homosexual issues. I wanted to tell him that we are in a winnable war -- IF we know how to pursue truth in the public arena. All the evidence is on the Biblical side. He was not interested in dealing with the issue directly and openly. He was afraid of the attacks which would certainly be delivered against him.
As I walked out, I surveyed the buildings, and thought of Jeremiah's words about the first Temple, which took place under the Babylonians, and of Jesus' prophecy that the later Temple built by Herod would one day not have one stone left upon another, which happened just a few decades later. I wondered what God had in mind for our capital buildings -- and -- our National Cathedral. Our Temple, if you like.
The National Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral for the diocese of Washington, DC, stands on the highest ground in Washington. It really is the National Cathedral, with a charter from Congress. It is a magnificent building, and the largest building on the horizon. The site, towering over all the rest of the District of Columbia, was picked around 1900 to help make clear that the Christian faith was the undergirding foundation of America.
I would occasionally go up into the front towers where there was an observation gallery from which you could see in every direction over our capital city. I would spend time praying there for the renewal of the Church and of America. My primary prayer was, and still is, that God would raise up truth-seekers in the Church, in education, and in the government. Truth-seeking is the royal road to God. It is our most powerful weapon -- the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of Truth.
Several miles away, across the Potomac River, I lived on another hill top, Beacon Hill, from which I could see the cathedral back across the Potomac, miles away on the opposite hill.
I would pray weekly up on Beacon Hill for America, for the Cathedral, and for the world, which I still do here in La Habra, Friday mornings as I hike around for a couple of hours, praying that God will raise up truth-seekers in the Church, in education, and in politics.
We must preach the same message to our people that Jeremiah preached to his people two and a half millennia ago. We will either follow God or we, as a civilization and as a nation, will die.
The National Cathedral stands on the highest ground in Washington. It is easily the largest building on the horizon, and towers over all the other buildings and monuments. But almost nobody knows of it, or recognizes it, or even looks for it. The Christian faith has become irrelevant.
The National Cathedral had become a pagan temple, no longer teaching the Christian faith. The same sort of sexual license which flavored Baal worship in Canaan is being promoted by the leaders of the Episcopal Church. The Christian religion is dead in the minds of our people and politicians so far as the public arena is concerned. We MUST regain our public testimony. We Christians must learn to love that which God commands, and stop grousing about having commandments. We must put the sovereignty of God again at the center of our relation to God.
In the remaining lessons we move out of the public realm, with prophecies at the gate of the Temple, to more personal issues -- and yet the same issues:
In Psalms 42-3, which appear to have been a single Psalm which got divided, we hear the lament of one who is depressed and under some kind of persecution. It may be David in one of the troubled times of his life. He is being mocked by those who do not believe in God. But in the midst of it, he maintains his faith. He looks for God who seems to be absent. "Like as the heart desires the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God.... ...while they daily say unto me, 'Where is now thy God?'" It appears to be someone who had been up high in the world, but is now in the depths of trouble, and, like Job with his wife, is being mocked for his trust in God.
There were atheists in the days of King David, probably at all times, persons who, at least, scorned taking God seriously as a moral director, who had no intention of letting God tell them to change their ways "or else". They thought there would be no "or else".
"Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me?" He feels the inner torment of loneliness and failure. Back and forth he goes in the psalm, between the depression of his situation and his hope and trust in God.
"Upon the harp will I give thanks unto thee, O God, my God." David played the harp for Saul to calm Saul's depressions. Now it may be David in need of someone to play the harp for him. But David looks forward to giving thanks to God upon his harp. "O put thy trust in God..." he speaks to his own soul, "...for I will yet give Him thanks, which is the help of my countenance, and my God."
The psalm is a powerful testimony to faithfulness in the midst of depression, fear, and rejection. How many of us have been in some similar situation? There will be dark nights of the soul which probably each of us needs to traverse in our journeys to the Kingdom. God sometimes puts us out on the back side of the desert to test us, to find out whether we will trust and obey Him under hard circumstances.
Jesus says more than once, "He who endures to the end will be saved." Our faithfulness in the midst of our own despair, our waiting upon God, will help create in us a fortitude which nothing can conquer. Do not back off, resolve to go through and out the other side. You will come out stronger and healthier than you went in.
We are heading into hard times, so we must be continually preparing ourselves personally and our families -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
In the Epistle from Galatians, we read:
Gal. 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.
This points to just what the other lessons were indicating. The flesh and the spirit are opposed to each other because they come from two entirely different worldviews. The life of the Spirit can operate only in God's world, only in a world which is not a locked-up closed circle, a world in which there is communication between those in the world and God who is outside the world, holding it in existence and giving it a reason for its existence.
Nobody inside the circle of existence can give us either our existence or our reason for existence. So nothing in the world can give ontological stability or moral stability. That means that persons caught in the Fallen world are trapped with only the resources within that world. There is no Creator God, and thus no stability from outside, only that which they can cobble together on the inside by controlling and manipulating the world around them. That means controlling and manipulating the people around them, their primary competitors for the resources of the world.
There is in such a world no deep joy, only surface "good feelings", so the world seeks to make itself feel good rather than pursue honest, open relationships of faith, love, and hope -- which produce the joy of the Lord, and that peace which passes understanding.
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Those who do such things are entrapping themselves ever more deeply into the closure of the circle, locking God out. They might not want God, not on any terms because they value their independence more than their survival.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.
The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of Pentecost, the fruit of the security of our being on the Hand of God. We know who we are, and where we are going. The world in rebellion does not know either of those.
Imagine a world where the people are always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful -- those three which, says St. Paul, endure. That is the world for which God is preparing us by His law and grace. "...give unto us the increase of faith, hope, & charity; and, that we may obtain that which Thou doest promise, Make us to love that which Thou doest command...."
In the Gospel, Jesus healed ten lepers, one of whom was one of those unwelcome Samaritans. Jesus more than once pointed out that the "chosen of God" were not always the obedient to God.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
Nine of the ten saw a healing. One of the ten saw a person behind the healing, and returned to give thanks. Life is about personal relationship. That is the meaning of the law of love. We are to care about and care for one another. It is the command to care. We may reply, "But I don't care!" To which God replies, "You are commanded to care!" We have the ability to refuse, but not the right. If we exercise that ability wrongly, we destroy ourselves.
If we do not see the persons behind the activities and the events of our lives, then we will not be able to respond with compassion. We will be too involved in manipulating the activities and events to our own advantages. We must do that to survive in a world with no God, a Person, He Who Is, behind the world.
But in a world created by God, our safety, our security, our stability depend on Him who created and owns the whole world. So, we do not have to seize control of resources or of persons to secure ourselves.
If we knew and understood that the law of God is designed specifically to set us free, not to put us into bondage, that the law, as Jesus said, is made for man, not man for the law, we would indeed be pursuing the law (and therefore also the grace) of God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The power of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Pentecost, is that which turns the law of God into the road to freedom. With the mothering gift of a secure being, we can joyfully seek the law of God as the road to putting that secure being to work for God, ourselves, and one another.
The Hebrews had a hard time doing that, and we Christians, most of the time, have hardly done better. But God wants to set His people free in a new way which will astonish not only ourselves, but the world which is continually spiraling and dipping toward self-destruction.
Please turn to page 229, Book of Common Prayer (slowly & deliberately, together) Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which Thou doest promise, make us to love that which thou does command; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Date Posted - 09/05/2010 - Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012