Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter
Posted on 05/22/2006 3:08:00 PM PDT by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, here is another fine sermon:
Sermon on the Fifth Sunday after Easter (2006)This is another remarkable sermon, for several reasons--perhaps not the least being Fr. Edwards' comment about the authority by which James wrote: So this business of being doers of the word and not hearers only is not something that James just made up on his own. It is a part of what he received directly from the Lord Jesus. (Interesting, that: Apart from a few clearly-recognizable passages, the apostolic writings in the New Testament are singularly free of the apostles personal opinions about things. The apostles are speaking as Christs ambassadors and delegates with his voice and authority.) How often do you hear something like this in an Anglican church? Methinks usually we are more likely to hear someone who is unable to assert that the New Testament writers had such authority.
Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. [James 1:22]
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
There is no plainer way of putting it than that used by Saint James in todays Epistle: Genuine faith is active faith. Pure religion and undefiled is not a matter of passive listening, still less of feeling good about ourselves and being comfortable what we hear. Instead, it involves putting what we hear into practice.
It is evident from his Epistle that James was well acquainted with the pitfalls that await Christian congregations that forget this essential fact. The problems he addresses are found at all times and in all places, which is one reason why his letter was included in the canon of Scripture in the first place and also why it is referred to as a catholic or general epistle.
James point throughout his letter is that Christians both as persons and as groups must avoid being what he calls double-minded. Basically, double-mindedness means professing to believe one thing and yet acting as if we believed something else. James is very clear that, for Christians, integrity between belief and behavior is not optional it mandatory, and the failure to achieve it, if willful, means not just that we will go to hell but that were already living in its suburbs.
If I am going somewhere in my car, it is necessary for me to turn on the engine, but that by itself is not sufficient to get me where Im going. Starting is not arriving, and just thinking good thoughts does not make goodness real. In the same way, it is necessary, but it is not sufficient, to hear the word of God; it is necessary, but it is not sufficient, to make an open affirmation that what we hear is true. Jesus himself tells us that this is so: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. [Matthew 7:21]
So this business of being doers of the word and not hearers only is not something that James just made up on his own. It is a part of what he received directly from the Lord Jesus. (Interesting, that: Apart from a few clearly-recognizable passages, the apostolic writings in the New Testament are singularly free of the apostles personal opinions about things. The apostles are speaking as Christs ambassadors and delegates with his voice and authority.)
It is worth noting particularly that James is well aware of our propensity to deceive ourselves that we are acting with godly integrity when in fact we are being double-minded. You could probably attain a good appreciation of this if you interviewed people about their driving habits, especially as they relate to posted speed limits. You would find a few, no doubt, that would be up front about their simply driving as fast as they think they can get away with. You would find a smaller few who always drove between the maximum and minimum limits. Most, however, would tell you that everyone should observe the posted limits, yet on being pressed would admit that they rarely did so. If further pressed to supply a reason, you would probably hear a number of excuses in mitigation that when stripped to their essentials would reveal their conviction that personal convenience, impatience, indiscipline, and reluctance to be ill-thought-of by other drivers justifies their self-exemption from observing the law that they say everyone should obey. Not to put too fine a point on it, their answers would reveal them as being in the exact center of their own universe.
James practical example of this propensity for self-deception concerns an issue that he considers so important that he returns to it at length later (in chapter 3): If any man among you seem to be religious, he writes, and bridleth not his tongue, but decieveth his own heart, this mans religion is vain. An outwardly pious demeanor is given the lie by malicious speech, gossip, and whispering campaigns. Doubtless James had before him the warning of Jesus that, every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. [Matthew 12:36] If this is true where idle words are concerned, how much more must it be true when the words are not idle, but still lack charitable intent? All of us at sometime in our lives have let our tongues run free, yet never apart from the conviction of the Holy Ghost would we willingly claim anything but the highest and most selfless motives if we were asked why we did so.
The same pattern is at play in each of us whenever we exempt ourselves from any aspect of Gods known will for our way of living: Typically, we do not say, I know this is wrong, but Im going to do it anyway. Rather, we say, There is a greater good at stake here, for which I am justified in violating this precept of behavior. Interesting, isnt it, that almost never is the so-called greater good we deem to be at stake at variance with our personal wants, preferences, opinions, and desires. Yet so often in such cases we hold ourselves to be virtuous, acting selflessly for the greater good and so deceiving ourselves about the true nature of what it is that engages our attention and effort. When the mirror is brought to our face and we see ourselves and our actions for what they really are, our immediate response all too often is to go away and immediately forget what we saw in it.
Well, we might say, thats just human nature. This statement is not really an excuse; it is a confession. True enough, this is human nature as we experience it in this world, but that fact merely demonstrates that human nature as we experience it is profoundly unnatural and a far different thing than human nature as designed by God, ordered in his Word, and exhibited in his Son. There is a seed of corruption at our core which, if not addressed and transformed by the indwelling of God himself, will bear poisonous and bitter fruit that will be the everlasting death of us and perhaps of others as well.
There is a way to avoid this, and James tells us what it is: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. This isnt just an exhortation to doing good works outwardly and visibly, because even people with very corrupt motives can visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. The hard part is keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, which has to do with our interior attitudes and dispositions. What James is saying is that our focus must be away from ourselves and toward others and our actions, like those of Jesus, whose Name and sign we bear, must be directed toward their genuine benefit in accordance with the known will of God.
This is difficult, not just because of our innate selfishness, but also because as soon we begin to do it we show up as a hostile blip on the infernal radar screen. Jesus is very clear about what happens then: He tells his disciples that the day will come when whoever kills them will think he is doing God a favor. In this mornings Gospel, he says that, In the world ye shall have tribulation, but then he goes on to tell them and us to be of good cheer. Why? Because, I have overcome the world. It is in this assurance that, if we do so with penitent and thankful hearts, we can come to his table and receive his Body and Blood to our everlasting benefit and not to our condemnation.
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