Sermon by The Rev. Don Armstrong
August 17, 2003

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penguin
"Did you ever have a day like this?"
From The Rector's page,
Grace & St. Stephen's, Colorado Springs

Joke (not by Don Armstrong - added by the webmaster):

Question: "What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness with a Unitarian?"

Answer: "Someone who knocks on your door but isn't quite sure why..."


Sermon preached by Don Armstrong

Note: I have heard that a lot of people were planning to preach on the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows (depending on perspective) of General Convention this morning.

Here is what I preached to the almost one thousand people who ventured forth on a hot summer's day to our unairconditioned church in Colorado Springs:


Don Armstrong In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I live not far from one of the county's dog parks. If you don't know: These are places set apart by the county where dogs can run free. There are paths and open spaces and most importantly for dogs: other dogs.

Almost every time I go to or from my house, I find myself behind a car headed for the dog park. The closer the car comes to the park, the faster the tails wag, coming to almost a complete blurs as their owners steer into the parking lot.

The other day I was behind a car in which the dog thought he was going to the park, the closer they got-the faster the tail went, but the owner drove right past the park, and the tail slowed and eventually drooped in despair.

What I sense in those wagging tails is pure unbounded joy. The dog park is a foretaste of heaven for these animals: and the mere expectation of going there causes an exhibition of grateful praise! Something akin to singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord with all your heart.

Now how is it that those dogs arrive at such perfect bliss and unbounded joy?

I would say it comes from obedience and trust, total surrender to their master. They are obedient in confidence that their master has only their well being in mind. They surrender their own willfulness and follow where their master calls trusting he will give them joy.

As people often say-Dogs are wiser than we think. And it is to just such wisdom that our Epistle calls us to this morning.

"Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."

The Greek here is literally translates: "redeeming the time because the days are evil."

That the days are evil, no one would argue: Perhaps this could be said of every age. But the threat of terrorism is particularly poignant. And the church's own turmoil seems to compound the effect.

But what does it mean to redeem the time?

I think St. Paul has in mind here doing what it takes, making a conscience effort to live in a way that is purposefully contrary to that of the darkness of the world around us.

I used to say that some people take life as a non-credit course. They sort of audit life, sitting in the cheap seats avoiding risk, not taking responsibility for themselves.

My friend Tom Wright has written about this that: "it is vital not to slide through life in a general foolish haze, hoping things will work out all right but not being prepared to think them through, to figure out where this or that type of behavior will really lead. That is the way of death, he says, and you need to wake up and rise from the dead."

I would suggest it has to do with a clear understanding of what leads to death and despair and what leads to life and joy. And to spend our time and our energy heading in the way that leads to life rather than death, to joy rather than despair. That is what it means to redeem the time.

This morning's gospel makes this clear distinction: Unless we eat of the bread and drink of the wine we have not life but death.

The Epistle says something very much the same: Do not be foolish, but understand the will of the Lord.

Understand the will of the Lord.

Now some people will make this more difficult than it is.

I believe the will of the Lord is pretty straightforward: we don't even have to go into it---do we? It is the law written on our hearts!

When I talk to teenagers about the whole matter of sex; I tell them simply what was told to me by Father Devlin when I was a teenager: Whatever you do on Saturday night will determine how you feel about yourself on Sunday morning.

If you are a gentleman, you will feel good about yourself when you see your parents in the morning, you will be able to look your priest in the eye when you come for communion;

But if you are lack self restraint, if you let your passions take control, you will be burdened by guilt, you will have denigrated yourself and be embarrassed to see the person you selfishly diminished the night before.

And I am standing here all these years later to tell you Mr. Devlin was absolutely right.

Last night I was visiting on the phone with Paul Zahl, the Dean of the Cathedral in Birmingham, and we talking about all that the church has meant to us and to our wives: How it had formed our thinking, and our influenced our decision making, and how absolutely filled with joy we and our wives were to have followed in this way.

When Jessie and I met in undergraduate school and had our first date: I asked her if she wanted to go to church with me in the morning. Finding we were both Episcopalians we both immediately came to the conclusion that we should be married. Why, because we shared the same understanding of what the will of the Lord was.

After following that will for over thirty years together, we can attest to the joy that it brings.

Now understand that I'm saying this on a Sunday when Jessie is out of town with our children and can't refute me.

Although I find myself perfectly charming-many of you hold the mistaken impression that I could be slightly problematic to live with, that Jessie has stuck it out only in obedience to the Lord. And perhaps that is probably true.

But we can both tell you that the reward for understanding the will of the Lord; for doing what God wills has blessed us with a happiness equal to those dog going to the park, making us offer a melody to the Lord with all our hearts.

And the will of the Lord is not difficult to know. You already know what it is-The Holy Spirit has written it on your heart

The Holy Scriptures have told you its content unambiguously

In these days of almost theological and ethical anarchy in the church we really can get away with almost anything. And so with this new freedom, if not total lawlessness and permissiveness, I am going to do something I have always wanted to do: I am going to change a phrase in the new Prayer Book.

In the middle of the consecration prayer the priest says: "Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died/Christ has risen/Christ will come again." This is no mystery at all-it is historical fact.

Indeed when St. Paul talks about mystery, what mystery means in the context of his time and language is a sacred revealed deposit.

So the priest will now say: "Therefore we proclaim the truth of faith."

(we will leave the word 'mystery' in place with its same Pauline meaning of truth in the 8 & 11 1928 Prayer Book service-knowing that there we come to be changed by the words not change the words--but in the contemporary service we will translate the word to its ancient meaning)

Faith is about truth, even though some of late have made it seem like a confusing and ambiguous mystery.

The will of God is not a mystery: Ephesians gets at it this way: Do not get drunk with wine.

Now remember this is the same St. Paul that says to Timothy: keep yourself pure. No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach.

But at the same time here we should not let it go to our heads, becoming delusional and self-important; He says; Do no get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery. The Greek here better translates wantonness-meaning don't get in a deficient; don't let desire run away with you and diminish you; maintain your self-restraint; be obedient to God's will written on your hearts;

In other words be filled with the Spirit and you will know what is right.

And so we come back to the dogs going to the dog park: happy dogs that have surrendered to their master; confident that their master has only their well being in mind; giving up their own willfulness and following where their masters call--trusting to be lead where true joy is to be found.

And at the dog park you see that happening all the time.

How much more will our heavenly Father do for us who understand what the will of the Lord is and obey it.

Amen

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