Thursday, October 16, 2014

If we are going to be honest, do we really want a devout will?


A DEVOUT WILL 

Almighty, everlasting God, make us to have always a devout will toward Thee and to serve Thy Majesty with a pure heart; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth, and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Let's give our attention to this morning's Collect, the prayer that comes before the readings.  We have come before our ascended Lord and asked Him for a devout will.  Do we really want this?  Do we all understand the kind of dynamite we're requesting?  Perhaps a few minutes ago the Collect was just words, but who is willing to take the risk that God might be listening anyway?  St. Augustine is famous for praying, God, make me chaste, gradually.  We can identify with that -- all pious pretensions aside.  In that Collect there is no hint that we are looking for a slowly-developing devoutness.  We want Jesus to draw us to Himself, and thus to draw us to the Father, conforming us always to His image.

One thing is clear; we don't think our wills are already devout.  Hardly!  Our wills are under judgment for their waywardness.  In the Tenth Commandment God forbids us to want our neighbor's wife, servants, or animals, but we need to take this Law a step further.  It is not enough to avoid wanting what belongs to another.  Is there anything that is yours now which you are not willing to give up?  Being devout means far more than being honest.  What if Jesus asked you to give up your television set, your fur coat, your Corvette?  Lest there be any confusion, I am not suggesting that Jesus would come to you looking as if He just stepped out of Leonardo da Vinci's painting, and asked you to give something up.  He is far more likely to take the form of a person whom you could really help by giving up something that is dear to you.  Could you make that choice?  If God granted your petition from today's Collect, you would gladly part with it.

Does that sound unnatural?  Think about it.  Did Jesus come into this world to make us what we already were?  The New Testament assures us that He came to redeem us from sin, to rescue us from death and the devil, and to make us holy.  Our natural will delights in sin.  Solomon the wise tell us, Folly abides in the heart of a child… It is far more than just folly.  It is wickedness.  Some people who call themselves evangelicals teach that children are not accountable to God until they reach a certain age.  The New Testament says otherwise.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world held accountable to God.  The Old Testament agrees.  In Noah's day God said that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and David laments that he was conceived a sinner.  God does indeed require more from those who have been given more, but that does not mean that nothing is required of the very young.  If you want your children to be righteous, they must be born again of water and the Spirit.

But don't we have faith?  Doesn't that make a difference?  Dear people, it makes a huge difference.  As long as that faith lives the Holy Spirit purifies the heart and sanctifies the will.  Sometimes it happens very slowly, which would please St. Augustine.  Faith has to hate sin, and there are some sins it has to learn to hate, corrupting sins, cherished sins that are our little pets.  They may be nothing but a cut-down stump, but even a cut-down stump can send up suckers.  We call it the Old Adam.  In all of us the Old Adam is a cut-down stump, but the stump is still there.  And what does it stir up?  A smidgen of vanity, a slightly dishonest windfall - like a tip we know is too big, a wasted weekend, the wrong kind of company - all these things the flesh delights in, but we know they are wickedness.  When we ask for a devout will, we are asking the Holy Spirit to uproot that stump, to cast away these evils.

You and I are saved.  Even if our wills aren't perfectly devout, we are saved.  We must not doubt our salvation because we still have the Old Adam.  He is with us until we die, but so is the Holy Spirit. It is all right to be reminded that we are sinners because God's mercy is for sinners.  Mercy is for us.  Jesus told us that when He was lifted up He would draw all men to Himself.  On the cross He said, Father, forgive them.  In Confession we hear the pastor tell us, I forgive you all your sins.  This is like reading a pardon to a condemned criminal.  You have no reason to doubt that Jesus means you.  He draws you to that cross.  It was all about you all along.  The blood flows for you.  Peter had his moment of doubt, yet the eyes of Jesus drew him to the Fountain of Life.  It is true that at that moment the rooster was a revelation of God's Law, but the look from Jesus was a revelation of the Gospel.  Peter cried bitterly.  Don't be too distracted by that.  Peter was more emotional than many of us.  Not everyone would react that way.  Faith in a penitent has a whole orchestra of reactions that it can play on.  For some it plays on the majestic pipe organ of the intellect, resulting in poetry and music.  Or it can march to the drum of the will, prompting you to take some action.  With Peter it played on the harp of the emotions, letting him cry it out.  Whatever form it takes is spiritual in the best sense.  We are all drawn to Jesus, but react to it differently.

The most important thing to remember is that Jesus has made peace with God for us.  We are all spiritual welfare cases, totally dependant on outside help for spiritual food and drink.  In Jesus we have the Fountain of Life.  Do I mean the cross?  Not the literal wooden cross, for that is long gone.  I mean the work Jesus did on the cross, the work that remains forever. Giving us devout wills is the work of the Holy Spirit, as He leads us to the cross.  He visits the heart with truth, lights the fire of love, and arms us with the shield of faith.  Make no mistake about it.  When we pray for a devout will we want a will that is happy about being devout, not one that is resigned to being devout as if that were a consolation prize.  Christ fights Satan to the death and remains the Champion.  We are asking that he draw us to Himself to be His cheering section, then return us to the world with a devout will.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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