Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 2012
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us pray: Grant to us, Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Last week, I attended a diocesan synod of The Anglican Province of America, our sister jurisdiction. We have, over the past year, begun to cooperate in many ways. We share our sacraments, assist each other in parish ministry and jointly consecrate bishops to serve the church. It is a remarkable – and all too rare – example of churches and people coming together to serve the Lord. Such cooperation is not easy. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain good communication, to live out the teachings of Jesus and to practice forgiveness. It is far easier to break apart and form our own little organizations and believe we have it right. Just as it is so easy to serve some secular god than to serve Jesus Christ, it is much easier to convince ourselves that we have God all to ourselves in some perfect church. Certainly, that is what the Pharisees thought about themselves. But the longer I serve the church founded by Jesus Christ, the more I am made aware that no church is perfect, just as none of us is ever perfect – no matter how hard we try. Or, no matter how hard we convince ourselves that we are pretty exceptional human beings.

 

Perhaps true humility comes from knowing how badly we can depart from God's world. Knowing that we are lost without God is the beginning of our returning to Him. To the fount of true wisdom, understanding and love.

 

Last Wednesday, I was called upon to preach to the synod at a solemn evensong. This was held at St. Paul's Church in Melbourne, Florida. A week before that service, Bishop Grundorf sent me the lectionary texts for the evening. Because it was Evensong, some of the texts were unfamiliar. The First Book of Maccabees is one that we rarely read. It is part of the Apocrypha. Yes, we should read these texts, but often do so as an afterthought. There was a more familiar text from the Acts of the Apostles, but the Psalm reading was what drew my attention.

 

Psalm 27 includes this phrase: “teach me thy way, O Lord.” Teach me thy way. It is a simple enough phrase, one that we might regard as pretty basic. We do hope that God teaches us His way, that we might understand and follow it. Pretty simple stuff. But somehow this simple phrase wouldn't let me go. Like a relentless musical phrase that might keep repeating itself in my mind, this phrase seemed to grab hold of me demanding to be proclaimed. Teach me thy way, O Lord. Teach me thy way. The second part of this sentence reads like this: “lead me in the right way, because of mine enemies.” Teach me thy way. And lead me in the right way.

 

Just as all true wisdom comes from God, so should we all look to God for true instruction. That is something that Jesus would have wished of the Pharisees. In today's gospel reading, Jesus says this very provocative statement: “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is a very harsh statement. It tells Jesus' followers, as well as the Pharisees that they may not make it. That their conviction that heaven is theirs for the taking is simply not true. That they have lost out when it comes to being with God. Something is missing in their lives. We might imagine their confusion. “But we have followed all your laws,” they might say. “We do no murder. Surely we have achieved all you have commanded.” But they fail to ask the essential question. So convinced that they are righteous in God's eyes, they fail to ask Him to teach them the way. How God must have yearned to hear these simple words: “teach us thy way, O Lord.”

 

Jesus was reminding the Pharisees that they had drifted away from God's teachings and had begun to create a new religion of their own. These things happen. We have seen it. We can read about nearly every day. Not only in the secular world, but in religious organizations that pretend to be Christian. Have they ever prayed the words, “teach me, O Lord, THY way?”

 

Teaching the faith accurately is part of what we all need to do. The office of bishop is regarded as a teaching office. But the purpose of that office is to teach the faith, not some unique bit of personal wisdom of details of some arcane bit of theology that has little relevance. Yes, there are some areas that I might provide a measure of insight – personal insight – but it all comes from God.

 

And that message is always one of love and forgiveness. We might think that when Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees” he is condemning them to hellfire. But He is not. He is trying to wake them up, bring them to a realization that God's message is more than a set of rules that are clear cut and easily followed. Jesus is telling all who will hear that the fulfillment of the Law requires more than just following a few simple guidelines. Following the Law, God's Law, requires work. It requires humility and understanding and constant learning.

 

Just as a good teacher knows that repetition is a necessary tool to instruction, repeated exposure to the Scriptures will give us the instruction we need to stay on the true path to God. The reading of Scripture and frequent attendance at worship services are not guaranteed to make us perfect. Besides, that is not the goal. The goal is to draw us closer and closer to God, that we may live with Him for all time in a spirit of love.

 

We are, as Christians, always students of God's Word. Though it is always available to us, we are continually seeking, if we want to know God, and understand of His way.

 

It is my hope that we may always grow in a knowledge and love of God, praying continually: “Teach us, O God, to know thy way.”

 

Let us pray: O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 


Synod Mass, Anglican Province of America
July 11, 2012
I Maccabees, Acts 8: 24-19;7; Psalm
27