A Brief Snapshot of John the Baptist and His Message to the Waiting World – “FOCUS!”

A Brief Snapshot of John the Baptist and His Message to the Waiting World – “FOCUS!”
3rd Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2011
the Rev. Michael Trent Shaw

Gracious, Loving Father in Heaven,

You are greatly to be praised for Your power and majesty – in fact for all You are;
But in this day and age we must remember You are greatly to be praised for the blessed fact that you have done great things for us, Your people.

As John the Baptist admonished the people of his day,
Help Your flock, O LORD
to restore completely our vision of You
in holiness
and in
the unsurpassed glory of great, great, great LOVE,
and in Your purpose of our whole lives.

Restore the vision
regularly,
daily,
hourly,
each moment;
we entreat You.

Make us whole again.
Make your people holy,
So that we may, having disposed of our own selfish ideas and agendas,
clearly and completely and unstintingly and caringly
reflect Jesus’ wondrous, healing, powerful glory ever outward to
this waiting, wanting, unknowing world.

We ask Your Holy Spirit’s presence always among us,
testifying and bearing witness to all these things,
Guiding, guarding, comforting, and counseling us in
All things.

In the matchless name of our LORD and Savior Jesus,
AMEN.

 
Many stroke survivors tell of a particular side-effect that manifests with the sudden illness and lingers for some time afterward – a lessening of or inability to concentrate or focus. Somehow the sense filters (especially those related to things visible and audible) are desensitized. Going into a very active and noisy environment can be completely distracting, unnerving, side-tracking. In the midst of such a stimulus circus, the need to exit or at least find relief becomes the new focus, if wayward focus can be refocused. Ooh, look! A bird!

Who among us hasn’t experienced or even practiced something like this. Attending to a quickly nimble, active, curious toddler in a busy toy store during the lead up to the gift giving portion of the Christmas season, you notice that she or he has lost focus on your movement through the store. In fear of losing the child, you sternly look at them like this and point at your eyes and say, “Sweetheart…insert name here…FOCUS…look at me……FOCUS…”

It seems to me, in this rather distracting day and age, practically everyone suffers with a similar affliction, with similar effects.

Here in the hyperactive west we have at our immediate disposalnot only print, news, and televised media, for example, we have a virtual stimulus invasion of multimedia. Constant contact with a whirlpool stream of stuff practically demanding our attention. All.The.Time. Within that whirlpool stream are even little side currents, as if the main torrent were not enough to occupy us. Eddies. Whirlpools within the whirlpool. Our focus is under assault. Assault without ceasing. I wonder if at times we even realize…

This is true of all the world around us. Sensory chaos. Competition for attention. Ideas seeking eyes and ears and hearts and bank accounts and minds and…

Souls.

Yes, there is and always has been competition for our very souls. One of the reasons I like Advent so much is that it is a soul refocusing time. A time of penitence. A time of return. Not only is Jesus returning, we are to account for our returning ever to him when we tend to take that wayward stroll or two. Or three. A time of anticipation. Wait. Watch. Prepare. Expect the Second Advent.

Tell me something. Does the following sound like you? Friday night was a full moon evening. Clear sky. Perfect temperature. Beguiling breeze. Mars circuited adjacent to the Moon. It was as if Mars was the Moon’s advance man, if you will. I could have sat outside in our back yard oasis for hours. Do you fancy yourself like me, an amateur astronomer? What a wonderful thing to focus on from time to time! The immensity and wonder of creation. By itself, it practically dares you to contemplate God.

On the same token, focusing on both Advents is much more the beneficial exercise. It is an exercise in the eternal verity of God and His love for us.

We are a people between Advents. It is a wondrous time. It is a harrowing time. We grasp and know the reality of the First Advent. The LORD be praised. He is faith-full. We have plentiful corroborating attestation from that great cloud of witnesses of 2000+ years of Christian testimony and 2000+ years of the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of quite literally hundreds of millions. Amen? AMEN.

Since He has performed the manifold ministrations of His First Advent to perfection, we may be very well assured He Shall gather His faithful children like the Good Shepherd he is at His Second Advent.

Here the focus is crystal clear, full high-def fidelity. The air is rarified and sweet. When attempts are being presented to drag us down into the dark whirlpools of the world’s troubling godlessness, we have the crystalline alternative ever before us.

Of the world, there are nearly infinite political ideologies, pluralistic worldviews, the latest in self-actualization, the newest in appeals to appearance enhancement, the latest perfect person to emulate and idolize, the promise that self-indulgence of practically every sort is a fundamental human right, manifest destiny anyone? The world is both awash in and saturated by such human agendas. It is a restless cacophony of noise, mean to distract us from Him. From Jesus.

Listen. Listen. Powers and principalities are at work here. There is a dark spiritual reason that distractions are so numerous and deafeningly loud.

Do we not know this?

Have we lost awareness?

Have our filters been desensitized?

Have we let ourselves get in over our heads in the deep of the whirlpool?

What and/or whom are we focused upon anyway?

Are we focused on our belly buttons? Some new methodology that will bring riches, fulfillment, better everything, better everyone? Riches? Power? So called security?

Or…

Are we in the dark?

Isn’t the world in the dark?
Is there anything left to believe in?

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

Who was John the Baptist anyway?

The Biblical accounts are nearly all we have on this rugged individual prophet. The only historian of the time, Josephus doesn’t give us much else than Scripture. So, what do we know?

He was sent from God. What a purpose/mission statement, eh?

Are we not sent from God, each and every one of us…without exception?

The LORD our Redeemer formed us from the womb. He formed us from the womb to be his servants. There’s scripture homework for you. Please take a look at Isaiah 44:24 and 49:5 for these references to our origin, our purposes, and our foundation.

Furthermore, John the Baptist came as a witness to the light of the world. A witness to the One out of whom would continuously flow an unending, depthless river of living water. Living water.

The light was and is of utmost importance. Focus on Him. Always. And all ways.

John’s purpose was to draw attention, not to himself, not to some peer reviewed strategy paper, not to some enlightened group of mystics, not to a glorified think tank. But to one whom whose sandal he could not possibly dare to loosen.

John had a focus. To focus the world on a person. Not a thing. Not a mystical concept. Not a personal, advantage-taking way of making friends and influencing people and bending fortune in our direction.

A person very like us in historical, time/space reality. A person LIKE US.

But not as we are, because he was sinless; because he was, and is, and shall be Emmanuel, God.

WITH us. With us between Advents.

John the Baptist was so focused on his role of heralding of the earthly appearance of God in flesh that he was known to say “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (see John 3:30)

Beloved, we must decrease (step back, drop our personal agendas, and so on) so that Jesus will increase. Increase despite our imperfection, shine because of our total reliance and dependence upon Him!

John decidedly, emphatically, forcefully, permanently set himself aside. Transparentized himself. Disappeared his self in order that the supremacy of Jesus’ holy self and purpose shone as the very brightest of light.

John, in no uncertain or waffling way whatsoever, shows us by his example that, unless Jesus as LORD, Savior, and God is our focus…unless this is so…we are left in the whirlpool…in the dark without THE LIGHT.

Is that our desire? To remain and dwell in darkness?

Our true importance in the scheme of all creation is wondrously and totally dependent upon that fact of true and unending life in Jesus! The Light.

To illustrate this, please allow me a moment of reflection on a seemingly insignificant moment in my life some 43 years ago. (My, oh my, that’s a big number.) My 6th grade boys Sunday school teacher, Mr. Art Hiltibran, had a knack for object lessons showing us what Jesus was like. One Sunday in particular, the lesson was on the faithfulness of Jesus. In our Sunday school room was a long table. Standing at one end of the long side of the table, Mr. Hiltibran instructed us one by one, to go to the opposite end of the table. He told us that under no circumstances were we to look at anything except his eyes the whole time. After that he said, “All right, one by one, starting from the other side of the room start walking toward me in a straight line toward the table. Keep moving until you reach me where I am. This will work just fine.” To my memory not a one of us 15 or so boys exactly were able to do as instructed. As we ambled, eyes on Mr. Hiltibran, to the table, we paused, looked down at the table, climbed onto it, and made our way to our teacher. After we had all – we thought – successfully completed the task, Mr. Hiltibran asked us, “Why did you look at the table and not keep your eyes on me?” We all protested that if we hadn’t looked down at the table we would have ended up getting hurt or something. “Men (I recall he called us men with some regularity), here’s what faith means. You respond in faith when I am faithful to advise you at the right moment to get onto the table. You need not fear that I would have let you bump yourself into the obstacle. I tried to assure you.”

“You did not know it, but I gave you reasonable assurance that it would work just fine. Your reasoning skill should have assured you that somehow I would prevent you from ramming into the table . But I guess reason was not enough.”

“You (really we all) require a greater assurance than our own reasoning skills provide us. Reason works OK up to the point of ramming into an obstacle. At that point, we’re on our own.”

“Gentlemen, if you had completely focused on my instructions, I would have advised you exactly when to reach out to the table to get onto it. I would have been faithful in my protection of you. That’s a kind of faithful assurance. But the real thing, the true article of faithful assurance comes only from Jesus.” I think at this point he may have, in his baritone voice, sung a bit of Blessed Assurance Jesus I Mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Mr. Hiltibran went on, “Reasonable assurance often has us giving up. Faithful assurance always has us looking up. Up toward Jesus.”

“Reasonable assurance often has us giving up. Faithful assurance always has us looking up. Up toward Jesus.”
Brothers and sisters, the LORD has told us He will never leave us or forsake us (see Joshua 1:5 and Hebrews 13:5). Furthermore, He has emphatically promised us he will be with us even to the very end of the very end (see Matthew 28:20). We have faith-full assurance. We may focus our continual gaze on His face ever and always.

It is imperative that we do so at such a time as this!

E’en so LORD Jesus quickly come!

AMEN.

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Sermon upon the Spiritual Disciplines of Worship & Study

Sermon upon the Spiritual Disciplines of Worship & Study

the Reverend Michael T. Shaw

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

September 4, 2011

 

Gracious, Loving Father in Heaven,

 

We pause and draw near You

to

bless You in worship,

in gladness and with thanksgiving

as we gather.

 

Grant us, we entreat You

the ability to worship you

in spirit and in truth,

with all our hearts

with all our minds

with all our souls

with all our strength.

 

Give us further, we pray

an ever deepening sense of the reality of

Your holiness and Your love;

the reality of who You eternally are,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe, LORD,

help our unbelief.

Let us know, deeply and

see clearly that You are…

 

Infuse and inspire a fresh ruah

of Your Holy Spirit among us now

and always!

 

May we grow in adoration and worship of you

in all times and seasons of life;

good, bad, joyous, despairing,

and in between.

In times even of indifference and ignorance,

be gracious to us,

break into our apathy and shine your glorious countenance

vividly into our dry, parched searching souls.

 

We ask, not simply and only for our own benefit,

but also that the light You shine into our lives

be a clear reflection of Your truly loving Self!

 

For Your glory

and the expansion of Your kingdom into a wanting and waiting world

 

We ask these things in the name of Jesus, our LORD and Savior,

AMEN!

 

Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be opening up a good number of passages. By now, y’all know I like handing out homework…

 

As you have experienced over the last several weeks, the clergy have been preaching on

the spiritual disciplines. Now, here am I to speak with you and the disciplines of worship and study. Interesting pairing. Liturgy/worship happens to be an area of specialty for me, and one that I explore with a good deal of interest and energy.

 

This should only take a few hours,

oh, this isn’t seminary and I’m not teaching a worship course…

ooops

 

I do hope you’ll allow me an indulgence, however. What follows is technically much more a teaching than an actual sermon. We are talking about our adopting several spiritual disciplines. So think of this space right now as though it were an abbey. You know, a monastery. And I’m serving as your teaching abbot. We’re all, then, modern day monks and nuns, practicing practical, everyday spiritual disciplines in service to and worship of our God and King. I could begin talking about a movement called the New Monasticism now, but there’s this time element thing…

 

 

Back to the practice of spiritual disciplines. You know, being in the world, and NOT of it. Take a look at John 15, for an example of this. Being in the world would include our being in service to one another and those to whom we must be light and salt. The needy – in all sorts of ways – world. The world is not the best reality. Sometimes, it’s not even that real. Think of the concept of virtual reality for a moment. We’ve known about this type of thing for a really long time. For example, Disney World. How real is that? Fantasyland, anyone? There are virtual reality computer simulations, movies, television, internet…. We substitute virtual reality in place of real reality. The presence of God among us.

 

Our reality – the ultimate reality starts when we engage in worship.

 

Let’s begin.

 

Worship – I like short, pithy, to the point definitions. Worship is the act of giving, or a better word still…ascribing glory to God. God already possesses glory. It’s one of His attributes that sets Him apart. We just serve in worship to call our full attention to God’s glory, then.

 

WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM


Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,
and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

If we don’t worship God, we’ll find something or maybe someone?!?!?!…

 

But wait. Here in the highly enlightened 2nd decade of the 21st century aren’t we seeing this now? Church attendance in the case of just about every denomination is off in the wrong direction. In my opinion primarily this is occurring because of the replacement of the worship of Almighty God by the worship of the independent, fully autonomous human self. In the so-called post-Christian west humankind’s position in relation to authority and rule is we are now in first place. We are sacrosanct. We have all the answers. God, the One who first loved us into being and who loves us still with his abiding provision of all good, is no longer our first love. Here’s some homework for you, take a look at Revelation 2:4 which says “you have abandoned the love you had at first”. Now Jesus told us about what I’d call the great loves in Mark 12. Remember the Great Commandment and the one like it? What’s the first and Great? To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandmentgreater than these.”

 

We cannot forsake attendance at church services and the worship of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and substitute a very much less than appropriate and far more damaging worship of self. If you know anyone who no longer attends church, lovingly advise them to come back home to church, where we are trying to give God our first love, so that all is in good order. So that He who first loved us is back in our hearts, minds, souls, and strength…in first place. The place of worship.

 

What does that look like??

Psalm 100:4

English Standard Version (ESV)

4Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his
courts with praise!
Give thanks to him;
bless his name!

 

 

Thank God for Himself. Really. It is my belief that we most regularly and really encounter God when we enter focused periods of thankfulness. Where else does all this good and beautiful provision come from anyway???

 

Does your worship experience sometimes go like this?

 

“By the third song, I was really worshipping.” [OK, Who or what were you worshipping before the third song?]

Do we tend to come into church on Sundays, or any other time, with another agenda? Under the influence of life distractions? You know, bills, kids, jobs, interruptions, interruptions of our interruptions, things, stuff…ooh, look a bird! Distractions…distractions…distractions…

But…remember Jesus’ telling us in Matthew 18, where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.

Here He is – among us. Now, don’t over-analyze here and get into the how question! Take our LORD at His word. There’s a timely reminder. Take Jesus at His word. He tells His people – that’s us, folks – that where two or three are gathered in His name – He is there among them.

He is here – among us! Stop and contemplate that for a moment.

He is here. In the ministry of word and the ministry of sacrament. Hopefully this is where we practicing Anglicans excel – in the ministry of the word and the ministry of sacrament, but I diverge. Back on track. He is here – among us!!! Especially and actually here.

Wow.

There’s a permanent given. The real deal. A declaration. Reality in a God-ward direction, if you will. We can go from Sunday to Sunday knowing in our minds and hearts that He – is there – among Us! Take that promise and treasure it. It is a pearl of exceeding great price. Live each Sunday on your way to church in great expectation of the reality of the presence of the LORD! And, if that’s not enough, gather as the church as often as possible, because…where two or three are gathered…

Hold onto that promise! Live that promise! Love that promise into the lives of those you know who need to come back home to church!!!

Worship. Proclaiming the greatest worth. The surpassing worth of God. Our Father. The One who very, very, very lovingly created us. The Son who very, very, very lovingly sacrificed Himself for us and died and rose again so that we may truly live now and in eternity in heaven with Him. The Holy Spirit who – take a look at Romans 6:16 – who very, very, very lovingly testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Beloved children. Provided for children. Truly loved. Truly provided for.

Worship the LORD. Look at Psalm 29:2. “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

OK, now. That preacher can just go on and on and on about worship, but what about the discipline of study? Well what happens when we study a particular subject? We spend time poring over material devoted to giving us knowledge – and in line with what we have been exploring this morning – heart, soul, mind, and strength knowledge of God.

2 Timothy 2:15

King James Version (KJV)

 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Σπούδασον – The word rendered study – is better translated be focused intently on diligence. We should be diligently focused on God. I ask you, Where else should our focus be?

The spiritual disciplines can and should appropriately and effectively draw our focus upon God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen and AMEN!

© September 4, 2011 the Reverend Michael Trent Shaw — All rights reserved.  No distribution of any kind whatsoever is allowed without the express permission of the author.

 

 

 

The Yoke of Grace – Sermon for 3rd Sunday in Pentecost 2011

Sermon – The Yoke of Grace

the Reverend Michael Shaw

Third Sunday after Pentecost

July 3, 2011

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 
Psalm 145:8-14 
Romans 7:15-25a 
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 

 

 

Gracious, Loving LORD of Heaven and Earth,

 

Your yoke is easy, your burden light.

You are the bread of life.

You are the light of the world.

You are the gate for the sheep.

You are the Good Shepherd.

You are the way, the truth, and the life.

You are the resurrection and the life.

Forgive us when we forget who you are for us and what you have been, and are now, and will ever and always be able to do in, with, and for us to bring rest for our souls.

Bring these gifts of yours back to mind and heart and emblazon their imprints upon our lives. Enable us through the power of Your Holy Spirit to shine forth brightly into the dark world. And grant us the rest of your Holy presence, we pray; AMEN.

 

Brothers and sisters of Epiphany Celebration Church, I bring you, from the parish and clergy of Trinity Church in Winter Park, warm greetings and the shared hope of grace and peace in our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

 

In our world in the second decade of the 21st century the vast majority of us are bodies in motion at a seemingly unending velocity. What does your to-do list look like for the coming day?

 

–Make bed(s)

–Check your calendar (to-do list)

–Make breakfast

–Prepare for work

–Take out trash

–Fix doorknob that inexplicably came off the front screen door for the thousandth time this week

–Check your car’s oil level (you were supposed to do that day before yesterday)

–Fight traffic

–Work

–Fight traffic

–Clean up the mess that the dog made when she knocked over a vase when exuberantly greeting you upon your return from the day’s work

–Get dinner

–Clean up after dinner

–Take out trash

–Take trash out to the road

–Sweep floors

–Check mail

–Update your checkbook

–Take time for spouse and children (individually and collectively)

–Prepare for the night’s rest

–Sleep

 

That’s a sort of typical day, isn’t it? Doesn’t take into account the myriad unexpected interruptions that occur at the most inopportune times.

 

We’re in motion at a constant velocity until the outside forces of the day finally wear us to a frazzled lump, exhausted. We find ourselves in a nearly continual DO mode. DO this, DO that, DO this and that and this and that, and by the way, when Doing all this and that DO these and those, too!

 

On our to-do lists is there a regular entry that reads

 

Take time to BE with the LORD ?

 

While studying our Gospel passage for today I once again, as is most often the case, found that there is so much here that it could well be the source for a veritable series of sermons. In the interest of time we’ll restrict ourselves to verses 28, 29, and 30.

 

28Come tome, all who labor and areheavy laden, and I will give you rest.29Take my yoke upon you, andlearn from me, for I amgentle and lowly in heart, andyou will find rest for your souls.30Formy yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

We’ll look at several of the key words in this passage. Originally, I had wanted to start with the word come, but the word yoke kept getting attention ahead of the others, so let’s start with yoke. In farming, of course, a yoke is a restraining device placed upon the necks and shoulders of animals so they can pull together with the objective of working together as one. Knowledgeable farmers will, upon introducing a new ox to a team, pair it with an experienced elder one. As the new ox tends to pull in just about every direction that attracts his attention, the elder tends only toward the next furrow to be plowed. This has the effect of making the inexperienced ox focus on the one necessary thing.

 

Now, let’s move on to the other key words. COME. This is a bidding. A grace-filled invitation. It does not present itself as an onerous, slavish command. It is essentially a gentle word. It encourages thoughtful, decisive action on the part of the person being sought. Can you picture Jesus…during every part of your day by the way…eyes ablaze with eternity, holiness, and loving-kindness…arm extended…hand outstretched…and saying to you, “Come to Me”? Can you picture Him in that way? Take a moment to do so now, if you will… And may I challenge you to take a moment at least at the beginning of every day this week?

 

Of course, after the word come is “to ME”. There is the Savior doing the asking. The winsome Redeemer of the lost. The Good Shepherd of the sheep. True grace of God personified. Always present. Remember Jesus address just before His ascension at Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He always stands ready to give us His rest.

 

Now, we’ll review the next few words as a whole. ALL who LABOR and ARE HEAVY LADEN. This phrase here can be seen to accommodate several types of people. Remember, the yoke? In Judaism, yoke is a common metaphor for the law. Jesus took upon Himself the yoke of the law and fulfilled it. Moreover, He took upon Himself the oppressive yoke of our sins and forgives them (as we confess and repent). ALL who are heavy laden by these yokes ought to come to Him. We need to realize our sin – what we say and do and don’t say and don’t do which willfully separate us from God and from one another – is a substantial, burdensome, wooden, iron bar, an obstacle to to rest in the LORD. Another group is contained in this substantial phrase, ALL who LABOR. Remember the never-ending to-do lists? Recall the days of excessive must-dos? Burdened by all you need to tend to? Come to Christ Jesus! Acknowledge the ultimate reality of His wonderful presence. And He will give you rest.

 

We will be given rest, simply by being attentive and responsive to His humble and gentle request to Come to Him. What is this rest? It is the peace which passes all understanding. It is the depthless, endless river of living water.

 

See John 7:37-39

Rivers of Living Water

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out,“If anyone thirsts, let himcome to me and drink.38Whoever believes in me,asthe Scripture has said,‘Out of his heart will flow rivers ofliving water.'”39Nowthis he said about the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were to receive,for as yet the Spirit had not beengiven,because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

Rest. We can have rest due to the presence of the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit, given to us at baptism. Living here. And there. And there. And there…

 

In the next phrase, Jesus states, “LEARN FROM ME.” Here’s one of the finest to-dos of all time. I think we know how to do this – we are His disciples after all – but let’s see. Jesus is known as the Word Incarnate. We have the word written to dwell upon, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, so that we can come to know Him.

 

Hebrews 4:12

English Standard Version (ESV)

12Forthe word of God is living andactive,sharper than anytwo-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, anddiscerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 

 

In the Holy Eucharist we observe the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Christ is abundantly present here. Those participating in the service, lay and clergy, compose the body of Christ. We most certainly learn amongst each other.

 

Now, let’s change course for just a bit. We’ll engage in a contrasting scenario. The world has a yoke for us, too. There is sweetness, intrigue, happiness, fun, enticement, plenteous stuff, pleasure, affirmation… But just underneath are bitterness, envy, impurity, jealousy, selfish ambition, and any one of a number of yokes that when they accumulate on our backs and shoulders make up a diabolically massive yoke.

 

See John 15:19

John 15:19

English Standard Version (ESV)

19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but becauseyou are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

 

Now, Jesus gently and humbly stands beside us in the forefront of His yoke, always ready to guide AND lead. And the world? Well…it yells, begs, borrows, steals our attention, cajoles, lures, ensnares, flatters, beguiles, and induces us. It piles on an ultimately unbearable yoke.

 

The payoff phrase, if you will, is next:

 

AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

 

Jesus’s rest – and I think we’re discovering what it truly is – sings a beautiful song to our souls. Have you heard the songs? The soul is the very essence of what makes me me. You you. Us us.

A seminary professor of mine regularly greeted just about every single person at least once every semester by saying, “How is it with your soul?” He wanted to know if we were regularly coming to Jesus.

 

Ultimately, we have to choose – practically every day – the yoke we’re going to take on; the yoke of mercilessness (the world’s yoke) OR the yoke of grace (Jesus’ yoke).

 

Did you notice a word or phrase missing from the subject passage of today’s Gospel? Oh, come on, you may be saying. Nobody’s supposed to add or subtract from God’s Holy Word. We are to come to Jesus for rest. There it is. Pure and simple. But notice, there are no restrictions on when we are to do this.

Revelation 3:20

English Standard Version (ESV)

20Behold, I stand at the door andknock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus is always at the door knocking. He is always bidding us come to Him for rest. We can take advantage of the yoke of His grace at any time. We may be in the middle of to-do list item number 63, and we can come to Him then and there. We may be momentarily idle (I’m told this does happen once in a while), and we can come to Him then and there. At the summit of joy. In the pit of peril. In the slough of despond. He bids us come to Him for rest.

 

Grace upon grace! Unsurpassing peace!

 

Chris Rice is an American songwriter who works in the contemporary Christian music, contemporary folk, and adult contemporary genres. On the subject of coming to Jesus for rest may I leave you with the words of his song:

 

Chris Rice – Untitled Hymn (Come To Jesus) Lyrics

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!

Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!


And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall…so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!

O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside, then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!

And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!

 

AMEN.

Sermon from First Sunday in Advent

Recently had the privilege of serving in a supply role at another church, St. Philip’s in Orlando.  My sermon appears below.  Would add to the awake, ready, prepared, alert, vigilant stance that prayer is one of the keys.  Don’t know about you, but the force of the call to prayer this Advent appears to have quadrupled.  Anyhow, here goes:

1st Sunday in Advent 2010 (November 28)

Michael Trent Shaw, preacher

Advent Prayer for Hope in Christ’s Coming

All-powerful God,
help us to look forward in hope
to the coming of our Savior.
May we live as he taught,
ready to welcome him with burning love and faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Liturgy of the Hours, Fridays in Advent

I bring you warm Advent greetings from your extended Anglican family at Trinity Church in Winter Park.  I am thankful to Fr. Paul for the opportunity to serve, celebrate and preach here at St. Philip’s on this first day of the Christian New Year.  By the way, Advent (particularly this first Sunday of it) is my favorite time of year.

The central thrust of this truly wonderful liturgical season is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promise of the coming of Messiah—again.

Let’s look at the good news in today’s Gospel reading. Along the way, we’ll make forays into the Isaiah and Romans passages and Psalm 122.  There is much to be learned from these Scriptures, so I’ll commend them to you, and ask you to take as homework reading them together prayerfully and reflectively throughout the upcoming week.

There is a great, great deal to unpack from today’s Gospel reading, but we’re going to draw a bead on two big targets – what God wants for us and who we ought to be and how we ought to act in response.

What are we getting ready for at this time of year, at this time of our lives?  As individuals.  As families.  As the body of Christ, the church.

At the surface, we see the answer right in front of us.  Tis the season. City sidewalks and houses dressed in holiday style, people laughing, making lists, checking them twice, people passing,  pageant practice, choir practice, lights to be strung, trees to be decorated, shoppers rushing home with their treasures, Santa’s big scene, in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.  At the surface.

No doubt, many of us have heard that “Jesus is coming.  Look busy!”  We have become quite adept at looking busy, and purposely being busy, but our LORD wants something else.

As per usual, many of us are allowing ourselves to be lulled into the 21st century equivalent of :

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.

At the surface, life was business as usual.  Day-to-day life appeared normal.  Typical activities were the order of the day.  People were busy.  Life was a series of doing activities.  Things just need to get done.  What about underneath the surface?  Life isn’t just about appearances, is it?

Let’s look at Genesis 6:5 and 11 for the back story: 5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

11Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

Does this back story sound familiar?  American society in the 21st century is awash with frenetic, perpetual motion activity, go…go…go…do…do…do.  Life as usual.  What about the thoughts of our hearts, and the resulting actions that come from these thoughts?  As things go in today’s culture we leave precious little time for thoughtful contemplation.

At Noah’s time business as usual distinctly appears to require no time with the LORD, no expectation of His powerful, merciful, just, healing kingdom.  How’s our time with the LORD nowadays?  Are we watching full of hope for his coming again?  Certainly, we do NOT want to be utterly surprised and completely unprepared for His coming – again!

Martin Luther, the great Reformation figure, is recorded as having said, “Christians should live as if Jesus had died this morning, risen this afternoon, and was coming again this evening.”

The Gospel passage for today is a sequence– an integral one at that – within what theologians and scholars have called the Olivet Discourse.  It is comprised of the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew’s book.  It is part of a Bible student’s work to understand the context of the passages under consideration.  In working through these chapters, we discover an often repeated set of verbs.  Be awake. Be ready.  Be prepared.  Be alert.  Be vigilant.  Jesus uses them to get our attention.  Methodical repetition within a confined area of text is utilized for emphasis.

The principle of readiness is the prominent theme.  In chapters 24 and 25 the verbs are used five times.  That’s what we’d call driving the point home.  It also serves as an indicator of what you would call a Gospel imperative.  Be  awake. Be ready.  Be prepared.  Be alert.  Be vigilant.  And if that’s not enough.  Look at verses 42 and 44.  What do you notice?  A professor friend of mine would ask his classes in biblical studies, “What are the therfores there for?”  My sisters and brothers, our LORD is underlining and putting in bold type (in effect, announcing in the best orator’s voice) the need for his children and his church to be awake. Be ready.  Be prepared.  Be alert.  Be vigilant.

Well, then what does all this be awake be ready be prepared be alert be vigilant look like?

As believers are we to go it alone in being so ready?

At a first glance at the text of this passage from Matthew, it may look that way.  In examining the koine Greek, though, we find that those be awake, be ready and so on, verbs are plural.  In other words, Christians as individuals AND as the body of Christ are to make themselves awake, ready, prepared, alert, and vigilant.

In my family’s story are recorded the times we played a game called manhunt.  The basic idea is for the hunted to not be found, and for the hunter to find the hunted.  Let’s just say we adjusted the rules – somewhat.  In our version, the hunteds’ objective was to frighten the absolute, living daylights out of the hunters.  Let me set the scene.  The game was always played well into the evening and with no lights on in the house.  Being a musician, I have in my possession some particularly appropriate organ/orchestral music and a fine stereo system with a subwoofer, so you begin to see the picture.  Participants included our son and some neighbor friends of his, then in the range of 14-17 years of age.  They were the hunters.  My wife and I, the hunted.  Debbie and I knew how to hide.  And we had some serious scaring skills.  More than one time we hid in the garage in the folded down front seats of Debbie’s SUV, flashlights at the ready…like so…  As the boys came into the garage and up near the windows of the SUV, we popped up suddenly and…well, I don’t believe I’ve heard any screaming of similar pitch and intensity since the first Beatles appearance on the old Ed Sullivan show…  And the pathetic thing is that we accomplished this scaring of the boys on more than one occasion.  It seemed like they were never awake, ready, prepared, alert, and vigilant enough to endure what was coming their way.  If only they had been ready…

Dr. David Lose, the preaching chairman at Luther Seminary writes:  “Is this passage frightening? I am tempted to say that it should be only if we are unprepared. For the ones who are prepared, Christ comes again as King; for those caught up in the daily activities of eating and drinking and being busy with the world, with no heed for the kingdom of God, he comes as thief. Yet while this is undoubtedly true, I suspect there is still something more. For whether prepared or unprepared, Christ always comes at us unawares. Not even exempting himself, Jesus says, “No one knows the day or the hour.” And this is inescapably unsettling. God’s mercy may temper our fear, but it does not and should not remove it. For God’s love for the vulnerable is the fierce love of a mother, and God’s desire to protect all of God’s children is the determined love of a father.

There is a scene in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children, learning that Aslan is not a man but a lion are not only startled but down right alarmed. “Is he – quite safe?” Susan asks. “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” replies Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” Lucy asks. To which Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Safe? The God of fierce love and determined mercy? The God of unlooked for judgment and unrelenting justice? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. And knowing that makes all the difference.

When the prophet Isaiah thought about the advent of God, he envisioned ever walking in the light of the LORD.  David in Psalm 122 proclaims gladness when going to the house of the LORD.  Paul in Romans forewarns us to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

What a contrast against the predominant mood and methods of today.  We walk in our own highly esteemed light.  We have progressed in knowledge and wisdom to the point that we have all the answers all the time, right?  Are we really that wise, that strong?

Psalm 105:4 – Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.

In the presence of the LORD, His children find mercy, love of immeasurable magnitude, justice, peace, wisdom whose depth cannot be plumbed, infinite knowledge, a great, grand vision of His kingdom!

Where, in our present earth-oriented circumstances, do we find our LORD?  Through prayer.  Persistent, pertinacious, persevering, penetrating, regular, relentless,  tireless, unshakable prayer.

What of the armor to which the apostle, Paul, is referring?  Read Ephesians 6:10-18.

Furthermore, are we glad when we go to the house of the LORD?

Where dear friends are we most ourselves as children of God?  Where do we learn, hands and hearts on, best about His kingdom of justice, mercy, and peace?  Where do we come for His instruction on how to love the LORD our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, and for training on how to decisively love our neighbors as ourselves?

At and as the church!

Austin Farrer was a 20th century English priest, theologian, and philosopher.  I studied a bit of his work during my masters studies in seminary.  I offer an Advent thought of his:

Our journey sets out from God in our creation, and returns to God at the final judgement.  As the bird rises from the earth to fly, and must some time return to the earth from which it rose; so God sends us forth to fly, and we must fall back into the hands of God at last.  But God does not wait for the failure of our power and the expiry of our days to drop us back into his lap.  He goes Himself to meet us and everywhere confronts us.  Where is the countenance which we must finally look in the eyes, and not be able to turn away our head?  It smiles up at Mary from the cradle, it calls Peter from the nets, it looks on him with grief when he has denied his Master.  Our judge meets us at every step of our way, with forgiveness on his lips and succour in his hands.  He offers us these things while there is yet time.  Every day opportunity shortens, our scope for learning our Redeemer’s love is narrowed by twenty-four hours, and we come nearer to the end of our journey, when we shall fall into the hands of the living God, and touch the hearts of the devouring fire.

Are we awake, ready, prepared, alert, vigilant?  As Christians?  As the body of Christ, the Church?

May we pray so.

Amen.

Sermon: Praying with Fire

July 25, 2010

St. James, the Apostle

Pentecost Season

Sermon: Praying with Fire

Trinity Anglican Church

Preacher: The Rev. Michael Trent Shaw

Luke 11: 1-13

Romans 8: 16

Luke 5: 1 – 11

Supplemental scripture references:

Exodus 34

Malachi 3: 2,3

Matthew 3: 11

Luke 12: 49

Acts 17: 22-28

Hebrews 7 :25

Lord, we, your disciples, at your instruction come to say, “Teach us to pray.”  Help our minds grasp the overwhelming necessity, our spirits be testified to by Your Holy Spirit fire, our souls experience at each and every time of prayer the depth of your love.  Teach us to pray.  LORD, teach us to pray.  We implore this for your Name’s sake, Amen.

This passage and its parallel in Matthew’s Gospel account – see Matthew, chapter 5 – are among the most preached upon Biblical texts in the world.  In fact, one of my preacher’s helps states that due to the scope of what we have before us, “only the boldest of preachers will dare take on the entire lesson”.  OK.  How are we set for time?   My dear Trinity Church family, please trust me.  We’ll only look at some highlights.  This is a master class in the School of Prayer.  A master class given by the Master…Jesus.

One word of  recommendation, if I may.  This sermon is interlaced with several Scripture passages.  Many of you know by now, I’m prone to teach.  So, please make note of these passages and read and dwell on them this week.  That’s your homework.

Combined together we all have prayed the LORD’s/disciple’s Prayer millions of times.  And yet, we all return to it time and time and time again.

Something in it draws us in.  Some One in it draws us in.  You and I are being reeled in like fish.  The prayer fascinates us.  We take the bait…as it were…time and time and time again.  And it’s good bait isn’t it?  That’s some truly heavenly food at the hook end of the line isn’t it?

Who is this Good Fisherman?

Luke, the doctor, Gospel writer and historian early on in our subject book recounts the following story.  Read Luke 5:1-11

So let’s look with refreshed eyes, minds, hearts, and souls at this prayer, shall we?

Take a moment…

Taken as a whole, what do you notice about the text of the prayer itself?

There are not a whole lot of words.

The original, koine Greek – 38 words.  Two popular translations, the ESV – 36, the NIV – 34.

If you laid out the words on a fresh piece of paper or up on screen like ours here, you’ll notice a tremendous amount of blank space.

May I suggest that this is the LORD’s strong indication that we should listen for His presence and his testimony.  Remember Romans 8:16?  We won’t spend significant time here, but I would highly recommend prayer time throughout the upcoming week with this passage as your focus.

If we who have received the Holy Spirit’s adoption as sons and daughters are provided His internal witness that we are children of God – does not the Holy Spirit provide us witness of his presence and testimony?  In other words, pay attention, before, during and after prayer.  Prayer is a holy activity which provides a moment of that which will make us whole.

The Regular practice of prayer

Teach us to pray – The disciples for a long time had noticed something they growingly knew they needed.  Jesus’ practice of prayer had really gained their attention.  Jesus prayed a whole lot.  Doesn’t bringing Jesus’ practice of prayer to mind encourage us to pray a whole lot – regularly?  Picture Him.  On the Mount of Olives.  At the various occasions of healings.  In the temple.  Walking along the Galilee at night.  In the Upper Room.  At Gethsemane.  Before the Jewish and Roman rulers.  On the cross.  At Emmaus.  At the right hand of God, always making intercession for us – (Hebrews 7:25).

Look at the very first word of the prayer.  Pater (in the Greek).  Father.  Papa.  Dad.

We have immediate access.  Remember Moses’ immediate access?  The burning bush.  The refining, holy fire of God’s presence.  After Moses’ time on Sinai, he came down from the mountain and his face shone because he had been talking with God (Exodus 34: 29).

We have further evidence of that fire in the next words of the prayer.  Hallowed be your name.  Sacred, holy, worthy of eternal veneration.

So now, you can see, we’re praying with fire – in a manner of speaking.

This is the Fire of presence – Father… burning bush…on the mountain of Sinai…pillar of fire, leading the children of Israel out of bondage…the refiner’s fire – read – Malachi 3:2,3

Refining us like gold and silver, removing that which is of no lasting value.

And yet, the Father is also (from our processional hymn this morning):

Father-like he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his hand he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Widely yet his mercy flows.

Is this not also tender fire?

Father.

There’s a second fire.  The Fire of purification – from the Son – read Matthew 3:11 – We are to take up our crosses daily, be made righteous through his righteous blood and sacrifice, and in turn, by grace, be purified.

I think we’re discovering that this passage, Luke 11:1-13 is a very Trinitarian passage.

In further support of this, make note of the 3rd fire, the Fire of preparation  the Holy Spirit’s fire.  The Holy Spirit prepares us with Help, Comfort, and Counsel.   His counsel we’ll do well to recall from Romans 8:16.  Remember your homework!

So we have prayer with presence, purification, and preparation.

Application – Pray with fire

Are you missing something in your spiritual life?  Is it lacking punch, drive, meaning, power, force?  Then pray.  Realize, along with the noted 20th century priest, humanitarian, theologian, Henri Nouwen, that “we come to the shocking, but at the same time self-evident, insight that prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.”

At the beginning, in the heat of the day’s activities, at eveningtide – do you find yourself breathless?

What better way to begin than in prayer to the Father?  Martin Luther, the reformation icon, began his day, at 2am mind you…any insomniacs here(?) began his day in this way.  In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Followed by multiple hours of prayer.

You’re no doubt asking yourself by now, he’s really been having fun with alliteration, isn’t that enough?

I must answer:

Nope!

There’s one more p.  For persistence.  Read Luke 11:5-13.  Persistence!  Persistence!  Persistence!

And I don’t mean occasional bursts or flurries of hurried activity.  We must be:

Persistent.  Pertinacious.  Persevering.  Relentless. Resolute.  Steadfast.  Stubborn.  Tenacious.  Tireless.  Unflagging.  Unshakable.

Trinity Church, may our prayers be set afire with presence, purification, and preparation!

Beloved of Christ – let us be persistent in prayer!

Amen.

© 2010 – The Rev. Michael Trent Shaw – All rights reserved.