Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent
Posted on 12/12/2005 3:34:09 PM PST by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, we have this sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent:
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent (2005)What a reminder that being faithful does not necessarily entail being successful by the standards of the world! But Rev. Edwards is of course right: by whose standards today would we have found any of the early martyrs successful in their day? But they were faithful unto death, and we see the fruits of this today. May our heirs find us to have been so faithful to our Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this and every third week in Advent are Ember Days. These days, of which there are four sets in the year, are set aside as days of prayer and fasting for the ministry and the ministers of the Church. The Collect and the lessons for this Sunday of the season very clearly point us in this direction and serve as a kind of appeal from the Church to each of us who hears them to consider the character of the Churchs ministry and, having done so, to pray for her ministers.
It is noteworthy that the lessons and the collect focus on the proclamation of repentance as well as forgiveness. If we are to be forgiven, we must have a change of heart and mind. Our natural inclination in our fallen state is not to seek to deal with shame and guilt by seeking forgiveness, but by seeking a way to stop the pain. Many of us dont really want to be forgiven, but to feel better. But there is nothing we can do, no ritual we can devise, that can do anything more than deaden the pain, bury the guilt, deny the shame. No lasting joy can come out of that, and as soon as our defenses are down, the guilt, the shame, the pain will be back in greater force than before. And all our defenses eventually will go down. Even if we are successful throughout our life in keeping them up, the coming of the Lord will destroy all defenses against reality, and we will be laid open before him with whom we have to do. If his coming is to be a joy for us and not an occasion of everlasting terror and regret, we must have the aid of the Lord himself to repent so that we may fully receive his forgiveness.
The way that God begins to aid us in our repentance is by sending messengers to prepare his way. His coming will be sudden; its time is a mystery known only to God; but it is anything but unannounced. He sends a messenger to say, He is coming; prepare the way; straighten the paths; let righteousness go before him; let truth flourish out of the earth.
The mission of the Churchs ministry above all is to prepare the way by the faithful proclamation of the coming of the Lord and by the faithful stewardship of the mysteries of God. (The mysteries of God of which the Collect and the Epistle speak are the sacraments and the Scriptures, which cannot be separated without great danger.) The purpose of this faithful proclamation and stewardship is to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, by which action alone we may hope to be found acceptable in the sight of Christ when he comes in majesty to pass sentence on the world at the end and fulfillment of all things.
This is the ministry of the Church. Who are the ministers of that ministry? Of course, it is now quite fashionable to say that all baptized persons are the Churchs ministers, and for a change that which is fashionable to say is also true. Yet, I suspect that often the reason that many people who say it do so is to diminish, not to say denigrate, the particular ministry of those whom the Church calls and ordains to specific roles within the Body. This kind of thing is an example of one of the worst sorts of sin, which is saying something true in order to encourage a falsehood. In this case, the true saying is that we are all ministers of Christ through baptism into his Body, but it is false to draw out of that (as our dogmatically egalitarian society is bound to do) that there is no setting-apart of particular ministers within the Body with a particular charge of stewardship of the mysteries of God a charge which sometimes requires them to tell other members of the Body things that they would just as soon not hear, such as that they need to repent and believe the Gospel and to act in accordance with it and that this doesnt just mean being conventionally nice to people, but that it requires us to lay down our lives for them.
Certainly, we are all ministers of Christ in a general sense, but some are called to particular ministries, not just because it makes for efficient division of labor, but because such particular ministries are essential to the health of the Body of Christ. The ministers of the Church may be equal, but they are not the same, and to act as if they were is to picture the Church as a body in which all the cells are the same, which is peculiar to say the least. If a body is to be a body and not a formless colony of essentially separate elements, some of its elements must have a species of headship. It is small wonder that churches which soft-pedal or ignore this often act brainlessly, running hither and yon from one gimmick to another heresy after the example of the proverbial decapitated chicken. There are particular kinds of ministers in the Church. There have to be.
Yet, when we speak of and pray for the ministers of the Church, we are not limited to the sacred orders of Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. Married folk in the Church also have a particular ministry. Within the family, fathers have a ministry that is exactly parallel to that of the priest in his parish: To proclaim the Word of God to his family-congregation, to teach the Faith, to exercise and enforce godly discipline, and to preside at the family table. There are numerous other particular kinds of minister in the Church, as is apparent from Scripture: teachers, healers, evangelists, exorcists, interpreters and so forth. The point is that some have these particular callings and others do not, and that this week we are called to pray not just for the general ministry of the Church but for her ministers in particular.
And what is required of these ministers? That they be successful? No, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. Success according to worldly standards is not a particularly accurate gauge of faithfulness. The faithful proclamation of the Gospel seems as likely to empty pews as to fill them (or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is likely to empty pews before filling them). This does not appear much to bother God, who seems to have trouble counting, which is no surprise, really: After all, his own Son was faithful in proclaiming the Gospel and was reduced to being nailed to his pulpit and preaching to a congregation of about three at one point before the others repented and came back. It is required in stewards that they be found faithful faithful unto death if required.
But this is a small thing when set against the glory to be revealed. It is not hard to endure when one looks toward the joy that will ensue upon the coming of the Lord, when the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. This is the end to which we look, toward which we strive, and for which we long.
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