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The Pursuit of Holiness

November 27, 2016 Pastor:

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come, that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance. (Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent)

The church prays this prayer because it seems as if God is asleep in the heavens. We face many perils in our lives, and cry out for help, but nothings seems to get better.

But our gracious Lord is not asleep. We know this because the Bible says in Psalm 121:4, “He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” But even if he is asleep, like Jesus was in the boat on the stormy sea of Galilee, he will quickly awaken to our cries! and command the threatening storms to cease, and be still! And so as the church admonishes us each Sunday, let us pray! Indeed, let us “pray without ceasing.”

The source of all our troubles can be traced back to what today’s Collect names “the threatening perils of our sins.” But sin is a word that falls on deaf ears, both inside and outside church. You can deny it if you like, rename it or redefine it if you must, no surprise there, because as the poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Human-kind cannot bear very much reality.”

But however popular it is to live in a state of denial today; or in a state of perceived reality, no matter many fools may share it with you: your sins will not disappear, nor will your troubles. Live life as fast as you can! Work hard! Play hard! Devote yourself to saving the planet, or to social justice: it changes nothing. Spend every waking hour streaking through cyber-space, or intoxicate yourself into oblivion if you insist. But you will find no peace, no rest, no calm, no satisfaction because the baggage of your transgressions, the peril of your sins, will always do you in.

To sin means to break divine law, and that is to play with fire! We’re not dealing here with fleeting decisions made by a body of lawmakers: who are themselves flawed and foolish. But to sin is to transgress all that is good, right, true, pure and holy.

But by doing so. By violating the Bible’s moral code, which is written in stone, you don’t only break a law, but your break away from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. From him who is your Lord and God, your Creator and Judge, your Father and Savior and the very source of Life itself. By crossing this line you crack-up your life, rupture the planet, fracture the cosmos, and take down everyone around you.

Whether you know it or not, guilt is a communicable disease! When a child, for example, is violated by a pedophile that child feels guilt, and it is real. One can counsel all day long, “you didn’t do anything wrong,” but it doesn’t help, because the perpetrator’s guilt has easily spread to the victim; who now needs confession and absolution, for it is the only cure for sin that there is. As Holy Scripture says, “the Blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from every sin.” And, “who’s
ever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

The whole world is awash in such guilt, and each person at any given moment is either the perpetrator, or the victim of someone else’s sin.  What sin? For that we need only turn to St. Paul in today’s Epistle where he admonishes us to wake up from comfy comas. To shake off the drowsiness of the perceived reality we all together pretend is real. To awake from the sin of self pity. To stop living in the bubble of relentless anger. To rid ourselves of the love of quarreling. Of contention and division. Of jealousy. Of intoxication. Of immorality and sensuality, whether factual or virtual. He teaches us to cease the pursuit of happiness; and the insatiable desire to do everything and anything except the thing we are doing right now. Worshiping God; and filling up on the one thing needful that rescues us now, and redeems
us eternally.

But this isn’t all that St. Paul prescribes as he predicts the end of all things? As he sees the imminent return of Jesus to “judge the quick and the dead.” He teaches not only to “cast off the works of darkness, “ but also “to put on the armor of light.”

This is baptismal talk! For in baptism we renounce the dark devil, his wicked works, and wicked ways, and we are dressed with the shining glory of Jesus himself. With his righteousness, which is the brilliant armor of light that “exposes the darkness” wherever it is to be found. An armor so seamless that not one fiery dart of the devil can penetrate it. One that makes us invincible now and in the final judgment. As we sing in the hymn:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

But though we are baptized only once, we renew our baptismal vows every day. By daily repentance we drown the Old Man, and rise up to serve God in righteousness and purity forever. This, too, is worship. This, too, is liturgy. The most difficult part to be sure. But one we must work at, train for and make new strides in every day of our life.

As virtue without the worship of Christ means little, even so the worship of Christ without virtue. And so when we pray in today’s Collect that our Lord should: come down and deliver us from the threatening peril of our sins … we are not only asking for forgiveness, life and salvation, which he has richly grants us. But also for the dedication to live pure lives. To conquer sin now, and be free of its clutches today. This is the will of our God. This is how those who are “strangers and pilgrims” on the earth, prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and there is no more gladdening pursuit in the world, than the pursuit of holiness.

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and come, that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance.” Our God answers this prayer at the altar today. Come and eat! Amen.