Sunday, February 12, 2017

A prayer to save the church from ourselves!


The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in You, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.  For the needy shall not always be forgotten and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.  Arise, O LORD!  Let not man prevail.  Psalm 9:9-10; 18-19a

O LORD, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our LORD, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

IF you think the church's job is to make you feel warm and fuzzy, think again.  The sham smiles you might see in television "churches," as the camera pans the audience, are not real, neither do they reflect what is happening in the Master's Vineyard today.  In church we conduct eternal transactions.  We deal with matters of spiritual life and spiritual death, and there is nothing more solemn that that.

Does the church talk a lot about sin?  Yes, but only in the same way an oncologist talks about cancer; not because he likes it but because it is the enemy, and the church is not afraid to say the enemy's name out loud.

Who is the enemy?  The answer to that may surprise you.  In the words of the Gradual we prayed this morning, "Let not man prevail!" or to borrow the words of the famous Pogo comic strip, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

What a prayer that is!

Let not man prevail!

Anyone who prays that prayer is guilty of treason, of high crimes and misdemeanors.  He spits in the face of the proud culture.  He "disses" its church, its hymnal, its doctrine, its practice and its god.  It is sacrilege!  An intolerable offense against the human family that worships itself as the only true god.

Let not man prevail!  What does this mean?  For the answer we need look no farther than the day's propers.  The Collect is brutally honest, more than a person could tolerate except he be drenched in divine grace, except that in the church we know that the Good News always follows the bad and is magnitudes more good than the bad news is bad.  In this collect we learn that the things we suffer in life are the "just consequence of our own sin."

That is harsh, but in the church we must not "live in denial" as the timid culture does.  We are under no illusions, supposing that one day it will all be better, just as soon as we elect the right politicians and distribute the world's goods to all men equally.  The Christian version of utopia is just as sinister.  Just as soon as Christians really learn what their faith is all about and begin to live it, then the world will be a good and decent place.

Now it is true that the Bible exhorts the baptized to every virtuous work, but it also recognizes human limitation.  It knows that all people, believer as well as unbeliever, are compromised by sin, so that not only are our wrongs are exceedingly wrong, but even the good we do:  our prayers, our worship, our loftiest thoughts and greatest sacrifices are tainted by the sin that dwells in us (Rom 7:17)

Does that depress you?  It need not because Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  You are those sinners.  You, your father and mother, your kids and spouse, brothers and sisters, neighbors and rulers, your barista and your barber all alike.  This is why the church prays, "Let not man prevail," because however bad things are, how much worse would they be if men, who are turned in on themselves, driven by unquenchable desires as they are, were to have their way, instead of Christ?

Let not man prevail, but let God who is rich in mercy and who takes us in at the 11th hour, prevail; and let Jesus who is our Rock and who bore the burden of our sins and heat of their judgment, reign as King of Glory and Lord of all.

Let not man prevail!  We learn this in today's Old Testament lesson.  At Rephidim the people were dying of thirst.  They were tired, hungry, oppressed and at the end of their rope.  The "social contract " (which is tenuous in the best of times) was about to be dropped into the shredder.  They would have stoned Moses in a heartbeat and murdered one another in cold blood for a cup of cold water.  Let not man prevail!

The Lord answered their prayer by a stick and a rock.  Moses used the stick to strike the rock at God's command.  Water came out and the people were saved, once again at peace, but let us also connect the dots to Christ.  The stick Moses carried symbolized the cross.  It looked ahead 1,400 years to a hill far away, to Calvary, where He who is the righteous branch, by a branch prevailed over our sins and the infernal tyranny of the devil; and the water from the "rock that is Christ" prophesied baptism with dead accuracy, the sacrament by which we enter the kingdom of God and become heirs to every blessing.

Let not man prevail!

We find the same in today's Epistle lesson.  The founding members of the church in Corinth are remembered for the shame they brought on the Gospel.  They professed themselves Christians but lived like pagans, even as we too often do.  Repent!  Confess your sins and come to Calvary's holy mountain to be cleansed by the body and blood of Christ.

Let not man prevail!

We learn the same in today's Gospel.  All the workers contracted with the master to do so much work for so much pay.  End of story, until payday that is when they noted the master's strange way of doing business and they grew jealous and resentful.  Given the opportunity there's no telling to what lengths they might have gone, what property they might have looted, or what innocent blood they would have spilled in order to re-write the bargain in their favor.  Let not man prevail!

Yet if any man should prevail, let it be the Perfect Man, the "Man Christ Jesus" who is the only mediator between God and man.  Let Christ prevail, who like a lamb going to slaughter permitted evil men to prevail over Him, and bore every pain, every thorn due to us, so that neither death, devil nor sin should ever prevail over us.

Let God in Christ triumph!  He who gives you life with immortality, splendor with righteousness, truth with confidence, faith with assurance and self-control with holiness.  Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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