Sundays:  Pastor's Class 9:00 AM (Ephesians)
               Divine Liturgy 10:30 AM

Wednesdays: Pastor's Class 10:00 AM (Psalm 119 deep dive)
                    Divine Liturgy 7:00 PM

Ash Wednesday:

Imposition of Ashes 11:00 AM
Divine Service with Imposition of Ashes 7:00 PM



Public and Private Blessings

November 23, 2016 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross

Verse: Psalm 100:4

Elder Brewster, who was the pastor of the small group of English Reformed Christians who first celebrated a harvest festival in this hemisphere, knew what it was to be hungry. His party had landed in Massachusetts in December of 1620. Most of their energy had gone into building shelters to pass the winter. For many months the entire company had only half the food it needed. During those stressful times, Elder Brewster would demonstrate his contentment before the people. He would raise a plate of clams toward the sky to thank God for the bounty of the sea. Eventually summer came, the forests teemed with life once more. There were game animals -- that company would have considered the turkey a game bird - and God's providence would lead them to Indian corn, and to cranberries that ripened in the bogs. In autumn there were fruits and nuts. The good Elder was just as grateful for times of abundance as he had been for life in hardship. They had sought a place to worship in peace. Their spiritual bread was the Word of God, and with it they were well supplied. For that they were most grateful of all.

Three hundred and ninety-six years later, what has happened? The English Reformed became the Congregationalists, and still later the United Church of Christ. Massachusetts became a colony, then a state of the U.S.A. The harvest festival was proclaimed a national holiday in 1863, and is now a traditional annual feast. The dominant culture is completely different. There was an endless stream of immigrants; risk-taking fortune hunters, Africans brought in as slaves, homeless exiles groping for a solid foundation for their lives, each repeating the Pilgrim experience as they faced the hardships, first of a natural wilderness, then a social one. Today much is changed, but the holiday remains as a reminder of our debt to the Creator.

This morning consider your good fortunes in being part of this civilization. You came here today in a car, probably not your family's only car. You live in a comfortable home, have abundant food, four of five telephones around the house or dangling from your belt. You can choose among fourteen brands of soap. For almost every ailment there's an over-the-counter pill. Our society has built-in protections against many of the worst catastrophes. Sometimes those catastrophes hit hard, but no civilization in history has coped with them better than ours. Almost all deadly diseases are under control. Yet listen to us complain! For all the public blessings we ought to be on our knees, begging God not to take away what He has given. Recent events indicate that "the Lord taketh away" is not such a remote possibility. As the Psalmist charges us: be thankful unto Him and bless His name.

Beware lest this become a day of national self-congratulation, self-satisfaction, and self-sufficiency. Don't ever overlook how important God's mercy has been. He has chosen to overlook our national pride, our shameful tearing down of the marriage laws, our obsession with security, our religious laxness. No, I am not prophesying that God is going to punish this republic or any portion thereof. But if He doesn't, the reason will be His patience, because we certainly have deserved the worst that He can throw at us. Do you think His patience will last forever?

So much for public blessings; what about the private ones? Also on this level we can't see the good things as clearly as the problems. We find ourselves in stressful situations every day, which makes it harder to be truly thankful. We are constantly dodging irresponsible litigation, uncontrolled children, ridiculous taxes. It is much harder to get an education than it used to be, although it's much easier to get a diploma. The surfeit of broken homes breeds its own trouble as children grow up without the cultivation that a traditional family provides. The whole society needs the model of the patriarchal family, which is itself a model of heaven. We have no room to talk about a nation gone wrong if our own lives are out of order. Every individual needs to repent.

Today is a day to remember Jesus. As we look to Him we see what blessings are really ours. In Him we have a certain Savior, a faithful Friend, and a kindly King. From Him we have in our hearts the peace that passes understanding. From Him we have assurance of forgiveness because of the atonement He made for us. From Him we have protection against the assaults and temptations of the devil. He is with us to comfort us in difficult and stressful times.

Yes, we lift up our eyes to the hills, but particularly to one hill, to Calvary. Of all the gratitude we show this day, let the deepest be reserved for the sacrifice of our peace which was upon Jesus. Notice, it was not the sacrifice of our prosperity. Jesus did not die to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. He died to make us righteous. He rose again to finish the blessing even as He had already finished the curse. He rose again to return to His heavenly Father, to send the Holy Spirit, to call us to salvation by faith. This faith can never be a public blessing. Nations cannot believe. They can repent, they can amend their behavior, they can improve, but they cannot belong to God. Nations can enjoy the public blessings, but the private blessings are far more important, because a nation might live for a millennium and a half, while individuals live forever. You are not only more important than the sparrows. You are more important than nations, kingdoms, and peoples. Regeneration and sanctification must be private blessings. They are totally undeserved, yet God grants them in His mercy. For this above all let us thankful. Bless Him for His victory over evil; bless Him for His care to seek you out for rebirth and renewal; bless Him for relieving the dreadful stress of an accusing conscience. Bless Him for comfort and peace. The world gives no such peace. The world can have no such peace. Yet it abounds toward forgiven sinners. AMEN.