The man who performed miracles and the crowds that pressed against Him

Epiphany 6

All the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all” —Luke 6.19

Have you ever seen a celebrity in person? People often go wild when they do. We were at a play one night near Times Square. The show was boring, so at intermission we left the theater. We no sooner stepped outside than we heard women’s voices and saw a lot of commotion. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back my wife was gone. She had run into the crowd and joined the screaming fanatics. There was a man standing beside me, likewise bewildered. I asked him, “What’s going on?” He said, “I have no idea, my wife just suddenly ran into the crowd.” The cause of this riot was: Al Pacino. I guess he had also been at the show and left early, and when the women saw him they all went nuts. The crowd pressed in on him wanting to see him up close and touch him. I’m glad we left the play early. It was a spectacle to behold, and I have to admit to being jealous. I wish I could have that effect on women; it might have changed the course of my life. I just don’t draw big crowds and women generally run from me.

Jesus also drew big crowds. But why? I can see why Al Pacino would draw a crowd. He’s a big star. But Jesus was not a movie star. Up until about two months before this event recorded in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had been an unknown. He was just a guy living quietly with his mother in the unimportant town of Nazareth. But John the Baptist had been a kind of star. Israel was a very religious country and John was viewed by many as a prophet, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.” And John had given his blessing to Jesus, indicating to the crowds who had come to the Jordan River to hear him preach that they should look to Jesus. So, John the Baptist made Jesus a kind of religious celebrity. But then Jesus disappeared into the wilderness alone to pray for six weeks. It’s easy to be forgotten in six weeks. So the fact that John had pointed to Jesus as the one whom Israel had been waiting for doesn’t alone explain the sudden explosion of Jesus’ amazing popularity among the Jewish people.

Billy Graham could draw great crowds, and the Pope in any generation can draw massive crowds of the faithful. But Billy Graham had a well-organized machine helping him. His rallies were planned weeks in advance. And the same is true of the Pope. He seldom if ever just shows up somewhere in the street unannounced. So how is it that Jesus, a relative nobody from Nazareth, could excite such large spontaneous crowds wherever he went?

He could draw crowds to hear him preach because he had a charismatic personality, a good delivery, a great message, and the endorsement of John the Baptist who had pointed to him as the one on whom Israel could pin its highest hopes. But Jesus had one more thing going for him that no one else had. He had power; power to heal every disease and infirmity. He could do things that no one had ever done before. Every tribe has had its great medicine men and holy men, its great healers, and its wisdom teachers. But Jesus took it to a whole new level. There was seemingly nothing he could not do. And so the crowds followed him wherever he went and continued to grow because hurting and suffering people wanted healing. There were many in Capernaum that saw him heal a paralyzed man and many others saw him in a synagogue restore an insane demoniac to perfect sanity. The crowds of sick and suffering souls swarmed to Jesus because the word on the streets was that he could work miracles. And he didn’t disappoint them.

This is where, for modern men and for strong liberated women, the story of Jesus becomes complicated. It’s complicated because we want to believe what the Bible says about Jesus and what the church teaches, but the first premise of the modern age is that there is no such thing as miracles. Miracles are events whose cause is supernatural. But the philosophical foundation of the modern age is scientific naturalism, the unassailable belief or secular dogma that everything about human life and the universe we inhabit can be explained by natural causes alone without reference to a Divine Creator. The modern age is a secular age that holds steadfastly to a blind faith, a vain philosophical premise beyond question, that divine grace may not be invoked as an explanation for anything. And anyone who does is just being superstitious or unreasonably romantic; a denier, if you will. According to the modern philosophy a mature and intellectually responsible realist believes that every phenomenon in this world, especially the many miracles ascribed to Jesus, have scientific natural explanations. The faith of the modern age is that if we can’t explain something now, eventually science will explain it. Science will show that God had nothing to do with it. God is an illusion.

So you see the problem. If God had nothing to do with it, how do we explain the miracles of Jesus? And how do we account for the crowds that swarmed around him, trying to touch him? Why does Luke say that “power came forth from him”? What power did he have? If it wasn’t by God’s grace that he healed the blind cleansed lepers, and cured the sick, by what power did he do these things? If it was his own human power— some special talent he had—why didn’t he say so? Why did he lead people to believe that his power came from God? Was Jesus a deceiver, nothing but a magician? That’s what those who doubted him said he was. They said he was demonic, and that his power came from Satan. The doubters today don’t say that. They say that Jesus was a good man but they say that his apostles were the real deceivers, that they invented all these fantastic stories, stories about events that in fact never happened. And when I say “modern age,” I’m not saying that this era of hyper-skepticism began with the higher Biblical criticism that came into vogue in Germany in the last century. The modern age that made an idol of human reason began in the mid 1700s, a period known ironically as “the Enlightenment.” The quintessential Enlightenment intellectual was Thomas Jefferson, a man of corrupt sexual morals with no faith in miracles. He called the twelve Apostles not “saints” but “mountebanks and charlatans” and then engaged in a project to edit the New Testament in such as way as to exclude all the miracles. The fact that Americans have been raised to idolize Jefferson goes a long way towards explaining why our churches today are so mind-numbingly liberal and largely ineffectual. God doesn’t like being dismissed as an illusion. Our Lord doesn’t like it when we insult his Apostles.

And let’s, for a moment, remember Jesus’ Apostles. In relating the story of the calling of Peter and Andrew, and James and John, Luke tells us that they were moved to follow Jesus because of the miraculous catch of fish. They had not caught much that night. But Jesus told them to take their boats out a ways and then drop their net. They then hauled in so many fish that it filled the boat. These young men were so impressed by what they had heard and seen in Jesus that Luke said, “They left everything and followed him” (Lk. 5.11). It takes a lot for men to leave their jobs and their wives and their homes and devote themselves to a guy they had just met. Their commitment to him says something. On the other hand, the world is full of clever charismatic leaders who have gained a fanatical following. But not many go on following when the leader dies in disgrace. And fewer still are willing to die for their belief in that leader decades later. James was beheaded. Peter was crucified. John was boiled in oil. Bartholomew was flayed alive. On top of all the other miracles they had seen him do, they were beheaded, crucified, boiled in oil and skinned alive rather than deny that Jesus had revealed himself to be God by raising himself from the dead. Who but God could do such a thing? Their enduring faith in Jesus speaks volumes, does it not?

The skeptics will argue that the Apostles’ devotion to Jesus was impressive but that they were mistaken about his miracles. That although we can’t yet explain how Jesus did whatever he did, that there must be a natural explanation for all of it. And one day science will explain it and on that day don’t you know we’ll all be rising from the dead. It’s inaccurate to say that the modern age is faithless. The modern age lives and dies by a blind faith fanatically held in the power of science to explain everything about life and this universe. And that is why so many millions today are lost souls, wandering hopelessly through this valley of tears with no clue as to the true meaning and purpose of life. When you fall victim to a fallacious philosophy that denies the soul and insists that human beings are no more than the sum of their chemical parts; when you begin to see yourself as nothing more than a random collocation of atoms, a complex piece of tissue no different in essence from an amoeba, a direct descendant of apes, don’t be surprised if you begin to act like apes and wiggle through life aimlessly like amoebas. It matters greatly what you think a human being is. The great gift that Christ came to give us is knowledge of ourselves. What is a human being? We are all sinners in God’s sight. What dignity then have we? Who are you that I should care about you more than any other beast in the jungle? We are the creatures for whom Christ died on the cross; that‘s who we are. We are the reason there is a universe and you, my friend, are the reason Christ redeemed it.

After Peter had hauled in that enormous catch of fish, he fell to his knees and begged Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But rather than depart from him, Jesus called Peter to join him on the mission. “I will make you a fisher of men,” he said. What Peter would learn was that Christ came into the world to save sinners, a task he would accomplish by dying on a cross for the sins of us all. Christ came to lift Adam’s heirs out of the abyss of idolatry and paganism into which we had fallen and reveal to us the truth about life. We are not on this beautiful earth by chance for no reason. We are each here for a very specific purpose. God made us in his own image, as a living souls, so that we might love him and love others and by so doing prove ourselves worthy of the kingdom of Heaven into which he calls us each by name. That is why Jesus did not depart from Peter. Jesus loved him. And when you love someone you don’t give up on them.

The modern age has given up on God. But don’t you give up on God. Trust in God, as the prophet said, and for your faith God will reward you. Don’t be among those who discount Jesus’ miracles as so many transparent fictions. Believe in him as the Bible says and by the power of God’s grace that came forth from him, Jesus will heal you. On the deepest level, Jesus will give you the reason for living. Living is not easy. He will not make it easy but he will fill your heart with the sure and certain hope that all the suffering we have to endure in this world is worth the glory yet to be revealed (Rom.8.18).

You may feel like saying, “Okay, but the people back then could actually reach out and touch him. That made it easier for them to believe in him.” But Our Lord, foreseeing that difficulty, went to great pains to make up for it. He knew that future generations would need to touch Him as well, so He gave them the means to do that. “I am with you always even to the end of the age,” He said before ascending into heaven. He ascended to the Father but Christ has not abandoned us. He is present among us, really and truly today, as he was then. “Where two or more of you gather in my name, there I am in the midst of you,” He promised, (Mt. 18.20). Jesus Christ comes to his faithful people around the world every day disguised under the appearance of bread and wine, and when the faithful reach out to receive Him, the power of God’s grace flows forth from Him. Just as He did then, so He does today. Whatever your suffering, whatever your sin, when you come to the altar of God kneeling before Him, give it all to Him and He will give his grace to you. And there will come a moment in that exchange when you will know that everything, absolutely everything, written about Jesus in the Bible is true. And then you will have learned the hard way, as repentant sinners must do, that the true purpose of life is to know Him and to love Him who loves us without end.

Fr. Jansen String

The Beatitudes: A Call To Holiness

All Saints 2018

Mt. 5.1-12

In last Sunday’s sermon I addressed the subject of spiritual maturity teaching you, from the Bible, that a mature Christian is one who loves, honors, and obeys the word of God. The word of God, revealed to Moses and the prophets and to the apostle’s of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been by the grace of God recorded and written for our learning in the Bible. The words of that book is food for our souls every bit as much as meat and vegetables is food for the body. Show me a mature Christian and I’ll show you a man or woman who hungers to learn more about the Bible and about the God who is the primary actor and subject of that book. Show me a person who comes to church but has little interest in the word of God and I’ll show you a soul who has a lot of growing up to do.

God has put us on this earth for a reason: to know Him and love Him, to serve Him in this world faithfully and be in communion with Him eternally in the greater world to come. A spiritually mature person knows this and seeks to fulfill his or her destiny by loving and serving God. But the world is full of many religions worshipping thousands of various deities. Does it matter which one we serve? Yes it matters. It matters absolutely. Faith begins by recognizing that God is not whatever we want God to be. Human beings did not invent God from out of their own imaginations. God created human beings from an act of divine will. And God revealed himself to the first humans. But human beings rebelled against God and invented many deities more to their own liking. And they soon forgot entirely who God was. God could have quit on this project, but because God’s motive in everything is love, God did not abandon his favorite creatures nor give up on winning back our love. Moved by divine pity God called out Abraham and his tribe, those who become known as the Jews, to bear witness to His word. “You shall have no other gods but me,” our Lord said to Moses on Mt. Sinai. By which he meant there is no other God but me, all the various faith traditions of the world other than the one founded on the revelation of God to Abraham and Moses are false (Ps. 96.5).

When it comes to the worship of God, diversity is not our strength. And to make the point even more clear and certain that there is but one true and living God, God came to the Jews in person, in the man Jesus Christ and revealed himself to be not only our Creator and Lord of all but our Savior and Redeemer, as well. The world tells us that a spiritually mature person is one who affirms all faith traditions on the grounds that they all essentially say the same thing and accomplish the same good. But what good is there in worshipping someone other than God’s only begotten Son, who alone guarantees the promise that, “All who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16)? Contrary to the confusion of the world, a spiritually mature person is one who sees Jesus for who he is, the Word of God incarnate (John 1.1-14)—the world’s Savior, and worships Him exclusively.

If asked, “Who do you think you are to talk like that, buster?” a spiritually mature Christian may reply with certainty, “I am a creature of God, a sinner in God’s sight. I’m the guy Christ died for, buster.” Or when asked, “What do you do?” She may say with passionate conviction, “I live each day to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ by obeying His every word in the hope that on the last day when He judges my soul He will look down upon me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Who doesn’t want God to be pleased with him or her? All of us who confess the faith of the Creed implicitly say we want that. But how many of us are willing to do all that God requires? Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his church explicit instructions to “observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28. 20). A mature Christian is one who is all in for Jesus, who does not listen idly to the word of God and give lip service to believing it, but who takes the word of God to heart and really lives it.

The Bible has a name for Christians like that: they are called “saints” (Col.1.1–5; Rev.22.21). Saints are the holy ones of God, those who are dedicated to serving Him by doing what His Word commands. Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. After Easter, this is the most ancient of the Christian holy days. The early Christians began to keep this day in honor of the martyrs, to remember those who gave up everything rather than betray the faith. Jesus told his church that if you wish to be counted among the saints you must “take up your cross daily and follow me”(Lk.9.23). We each have a cross to bear. We each have others who need us to be there for them but who will not be there for us. We all have undeserved suffering to bear, we all have those who oppose us, torment us, accuse us falsely, and aim to hurt us. We all cry out at times without being heard. We all have friends who when we need them most desert us. We all are attacked by devils that are relentless in their attempts to break our faith. We all are surrounded by unbelievers who want us to join them in their unbelief. We live in a world that hates Jesus Christ and resents no one more than his disciples. His disciples are those who follow him in the way of the cross, who dare to take up the cross he sets before them and carry it to the end no matter what. Jesus has many disciples who are faithful believers on Sunday morning. But when Friday comes with a crown of thorns, many run from the cross and cowardly shout, “I never knew the man!” But those who run to the cross, who dare to die to self so as to rise to the new life of grace, are called, “saints.” And it is to them that the Lord will say on the last day when the trumpet sounds, “Come, O blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25.34).

How I long to be in that number when the saints go marchin’ in. That’s a great joyful spiritual song that’s makes you want to kick up your heels and dance for the Lord. But it raises a serious question. Do you long to be in that number, and if so, are you willing to do what it takes? Some will say, “I’m willing and I know what it takes to be a Christian. Just believe in Jesus, that’s all it takes. All you have to do is confess your sins and accept Jesus as your savior and he takes your sins away and sets you free. As the Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2.21); and once saved always saved. You can be certain that if you believe in Jesus you are saved. That’s the promise of God. Amen, brother.

But that begs the question, what is belief? Can a person be said to be a believer if he confessed faith in Christ once long ago but never darkened the doors of the church again, not even to say a prayer or surrendered his soul to the socialist cause and then lived his life with his fist in the air? Christ did his part to secure our salvation by giving himself to death on the cross for our sake. But what is our part? Is nothing required of us other than a sincere confession of faith? I take issue with those who say that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and after that, no matter what you do, you are assured a place in his heavenly kingdom. To the contrary, it’s hard to listen to the Sermon on the Mount without feeling intimidated by the high expectations that Jesus sets for his disciples. After telling them that for the sake of the gospel they must be humble servants of each other, and endure suffering and loss courageously and without regret; that they must learn to love nothing so much as the Word of God, worship, prayer, and the beauty of holiness; that they must be merciful even to their enemies and not give in to sensual lust or lash out in anger but bear every burden and brush off rejection to keep the faith. And in case they didn’t understand what he meant, he made his point absolutely clear: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” he said (Mt. 5.48).

The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s game plan for Christians. He delivered this sermon to his nascent church on a mountain not far from Capernaum. And you can be sure that after hearing it many of those in the crowd quit following Jesus and never came back to his church, as it were. Most people like religion as long as it doesn’t infringe too much on their lifestyle. Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount is the ultimate alternative lifestyle. The spirit of this world goes one way, Jesus says go another way. The world says do your own thing. Jesus says do God’s thing. When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the holy mountain talking idly to themselves while Jesus was transfigured before them, God called them out and said to Peter emphatically, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” There are those who pay Christ lip service and there are those who listen to him. Which kind of Christian are you? Believers are those who obey his word and seek the perfection of holiness. If you don’t accept the goal of holiness and seek the perfection that Christ demands of his followers, for all your church attendance and confessions of faith, you aren’t really a believer at all. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom heaven,” Jesus said, “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me you evil doers. (Mt. 7.21-23). And again he warned them who were confident in their salvation without suffering for the sake of keeping the faith, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7.19–20). Saint Paul, the great expositor of Christ’s teaching put it like this, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6.7-8). In other words, salvation is more than saying, “I believe in Christ, I believe in the cross”. Salvation is God’s reward to those who prove their faith by seeking the spiritual perfection of the Beatitudes. Faith begins for each us in baptism with a confession but faith is infantile until it becomes a way of life that seeks the perfection of holiness.

The saints are those who do not run from the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount but embrace the high calling to which Christ has called us. That calling to the perfection of holiness he summed up for us in these few words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”( Mt. 6.33). In modern English that means put God first in your life and prove it by seeking to be a saint. A common saying is that wisdom comes with age. But that is humanistic nonsense. Wisdom begins in a fear of the Lord, in an awesome respect for God’s word and those at any age who have not yet determined on this are not even in the game. The kingdom of God that we are called to seek is not a feeling of inner peace nor is it found by looking into your center. The church is the visible body of the kingdom of God on earth and all who would be saved must enter it faithfully to receive the forgiveness of sins and be in Holy Communion with God. The Sermon on the Mount is a call to sinful humanity to come out of one’s self and live for God in the community of Christ’s body the church, the institution he founded to be the ark of our salvation.

Christianity is not a do-it-yourself religion. We either do it Christ’s way or we lose our way. Don’t be one of those who hides behind the excuse, “I don’t need organized religion. God loves me just the way I am.” Well yes, God loves each of us; his arms outstretched on the cross embrace us all. But remember also what he said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men” (Mt. 5.13). Just as salt can lose its taste so a Christian can lose his or her faith. Don’t let that be you. And it won’t be you if you do one thing: take the Beatitudes to heart and make it your goal in life to become a saint. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us how to do it. A saint is an ordinary man or woman who becomes extraordinary by trusting Jesus enough to begin to live for him and then having begun to live for him never quits trying, every hour of every day, to honor his every word.

The Mature Christian

Pentecost 23
Oct. 28, 2018

Hebrews 6.4-6

In the passage from Letter to the Hebrews that we read this morning, the priest chides his congregation for being like children, and then he lectures them about Christian maturity. I do not wish to chide you or lecture you. But picking up on the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews, I’d like to talk to you as a pastor and friend about spiritual maturity. Who is a mature Christian and what distinguishes a person with a mature Christian faith from one whose faith is immature and childish? I’ll begin by drawing attention to something easily overlooked. The New Testament reading this morning is from Hebrews 5.12-6.1; 9-12. It omitted verses 2-8. I don’t know why the authorities who designed this lectionary did that. But they did. I wish they hadn’t because these omitted verses, especially Hebrews 6.4-6 contain a powerful teaching about Christian maturity. The preacher who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, although he wrote it 2000 years ago, has an important message and warning about the cost of discipleship that we Christians today need to hear. Hebrews 6.4-6 is the heart of his message and so it’s to those verses that I wish to speak. We’ll look at those verses in a moment.

But first, as a way into this vast subject of Christian maturity, I’d like to introduce you to the Lectionary. For some of you this is elementary but for others this will be new. What is a lectionary? “Lectionary” is one of those words we only hear in church. It means a selection of readings from scriptures appointed to be read at religious services. Let me show you our lectionary. Take out your Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 889. You see there in big bold letters the Lectionary. This is where our readings come from for each Sunday. You see that there is a Psalm assigned for each Sunday. In the column that says lessons, there are three readings assigned for each Sunday: one from from the Old Testament, another from the epistles of the New Testament and then a reading from one of the four Gospels. You notice also that it says year A. And in year A the first Gospel reading is from Matthew. You’ll notice as you turn the pages that in year A, especially as we get to the season after Pentecost, p. 896, all of the Gospel readings are from Matthew. Now turn to page 900. This begins year B. And in year B you’ll see that the gospel readings are mostly from Mark. Turn to page 911 and you’ll find there the readings for year C, and you’ll note that the Gospel readings in Year C are mostly from Luke. The lectionary is designed so that over a three year cycle we read through much of Matthew, Mark and Luke with significant portions of John included each year. This means that every three years we read through all four gospels.

Now look at page 910. Can you find today’s reading? What is next week’s Gospel reading? No, it’s a trick question. Turn to page 15. There are 7 Principle Holy Days. When is All Saints’ Day? What are the special instructions for All Saints’ Day? Right, we keep it the Sunday after November 1. So next Sunday we’ll celebrate All Saints’ Day; but with what readings? Turn back to page 921. Here you’ll find the readings for Holy Days. What is the gospel reading for All Saints? Matthew 5.1-12. Matthew 5.1-12 is called what? Put down your Prayer book and take out your Bible and find Matthew 5. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. You can see that Matthew 5 is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and these first few verses are known as what? The Beatitudes. So it’s a safe bet that the text for next week’s sermon will be from the Beatitudes.

So the point of this primary instruction is to remind you that our Bible readings each Sunday are not chosen randomly by the parish priest but they are the same throughout the church. And great thought and care is given to offering readings for each Sunday that reflect the theme of the season. So during Advent we have readings about the second coming of Christ and about John the Baptist announcing Christ’s coming. At Christmas we read of his birth. During the eight Sundays of the season of Epiphany we read of God’s revelation of his Word to the Jews and to Gentiles. In Lent we read about temptation, sin, repentance, and conversion. During Holy Week we read about Christ’s Passion and death. During the Easter season we read about Christ’s resurrection and ascension. And during the long season of Pentecost we read stories that teach us how to live a mature Christian life following the example of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” The lectionary is designed to take us through the New Testament every three years with appropriate readings also from the Old Testament and from the Psalms. The Old Testament reading is almost always a prophecy and the Gospel reading shows its fulfillment. So, if you come to church every Sunday for three years, you will read all four gospels as well as the most important prophecies and stories in the Old Testament, plus the Psalms and if you pay attention and if the preacher does his job and preaches from the lectionary text, you will really learn a lot about the Bible.

And of course that is the whole point of it. We come to church to receive the sacraments and to, thereby, have our sins forgiven; to pray together with the church; and to hear the Word of God read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit. The Bible is the Word of God. That means that the Church has deemed the books of the Bible to be uniquely authoritative sources of doctrine. The Old Testament books are authoritative for us because they contain the words of Moses and the prophets and Jesus commending them to us. At age twelve, when he was teaching the rabbis in the Temple, he taught them from the books of the Old Testament which he thoroughly knew and loved. And the New Testament books are authoritative because they contain the teachings of Christ, revealed truths that heaven has handed down to us from his mouth, and through his apostles who received the inspired teachings from him, in person. The Bible is, therefore, a book unlike any other book. Each Sunday when we say after each reading, “This is the word of the Lord”, we are reminded that the stories and prophecies in the Bible not only speak to us of God but that God addresses us directly and personally in these words that we are, therefore, required by faith to receive, honor and obey. The word of God demands our solemn attention. Mature Christians have a responsibility to, as one of our Collects puts it “to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s word written in the Bible. The word of God is food for our souls. You don’t become a mature Christian by eating junk food but by eating healthy portions of the word of God on a regular basis.

The word of God written in the Bible is the foundation of our religion. Someone once asked me what is the difference between the catechism and the Bible? A catechism is a short book of religious instruction usually presented in a question and answer format. For example, a typical catechism would ask, what are the Ten Commandments? And then it would give the answer. Then it might ask, what is the Lord’s Prayer? And then give the prayer. And then it may ask, why do we call Jesus the Son of God? And then give a short answer. So a catechism is a kind of question and answer book from which we learn elementary doctrines of the Christian faith. We traditionally use a catechism to teach children in Sunday school or to instruct candidates for baptism and confirmation in the basics of the faith. And so there have been in the history of the church many catechisms. Just as there are many American history textbooks, each generation of Christians looks for a new way to teach the same old truths.

So catechisms come and go out of style but the Bible is what the church says it is. You can’t add books to it as the Mormons have done or subtract from it as some Protestant sects did at the time of the Reformation. The Bible is the rock on which our religion is built and so you can’t change it without changing the religion. Nor is the Bible an answer book. As anyone who has read the Bible knows, the Bible often raises more questions than provide answers. Catechisms are designed to be easy reading. The Bible is just plain difficult reading through and through. For one thing, the Old Testament, which runs over a thousand pages, tells the history of Israel from its beginning with Abraham right up to Christ; that’s over a thousand years. If you’re not in to ancient history, the Old Testament can be really tedious reading. The New Testament epistles are also difficult reading. For instance, many of them were written by Saint Paul whose writing style was so challenging that even Saint Peter complained in one of his letters that he couldn’t make sense of much of what Paul was saying. The four Gospels, which tell Jesus’ life story, are relatively easy and fun to read. But they are also complicated by the fact that Jesus’ birth, miraculous life, suffering, death and resurrection fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. So without a good grounding in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Gospels make no sense. If you’ve tried to read the Bible but gave up because you felt overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Everyone who attempts to read the Bible experiences that to some degree. Mount Everest is an intimidating mountain to any would-be climber, and the Bible is a very intimidating text.

Students are often expected to memorize the catechism. No one will ever memorize the Bible. Nor should we try. The Bible is a word spoken to us by God our heavenly Father. So the best way to read it is to welcome it as you would a letter sent to you from your Dad. You read it over many times and cherish it. And hold on to it. Read it over again and think about it some more. And hopefully, act on it and grow to know and love your father all the more for his having written to you. That’s how mature Christians are, they love the Word of God and cling to it and cherish it above all things.

Now, in your Bible, turn to Hebrews 6 and let’s read verses 4–6. “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.”

That’s a mouthful but it comes down to saying this: mature Christians love, honor and obey the word of God; in season and out of season, in war and peace, whether the cup is full or dry they “keep the faith once and for all delivered to the saints”, (Jude 3) and never ever commit apostasy. Apostasy is to turn away from Christ, deny his divinity, abandon the church, leave the faith and no longer live the word of God. If you apostatize, the apostle tells us, you are as good as dead. Or, as the preacher to the Hebrews put it, once you partake of the divine nature and receive the Holy Spirit, and taste the goodness of the word of God, you commit to Christ. If you leave him after that you become then no better than the faithless goons who cast lots for his clothing after nailing him to a cross. We’re not talking in the abstract. We’re talking about our children and grandchildren, our parents and grandparents, our friends and neighbors. We’re talking about an American secular society that treats religious commitment as if it were a fashion. We don’t have control over others, but we do have control over our own decisions and actions. Others may fall away, but don’t you fall away. There is nothing more important in this world than that a man or woman hear the word of God and act on it. A mature Christian will give up everything rather than knowingly betray the word of our Lord. This society is filled with childish Christians who are Christians in name only. Don’t be deceived or seduced by their cavalier attitudes. But above all things, keep the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and always to the end love, honor, and obey.