“Faith of My Father–Part II”

The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am and 11:00am Rite II and 6:00pm Rite I services at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on November 12, 2017, being the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27A).

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that He might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as He is pure; that, when He comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like Him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Joshua 24.1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; Matthew 25.1-13

“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Matthew 25.13

“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”—Joshua 24.15b

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen

Like yours truly, my late father was a Christian minister, his ordained ministry spent in the Fellowship of International Churches. Before every sermon he preached, Dad always requested the New Horizon Church International Choir to sing his most favorite hymn, one of Fannie Crosby’s best known, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,

Hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling,

Do not pass me by.[1]

It was for my Dad the representative hymn of his Christian life. The reason I think he identified with it so much was because of the regrets he carried deep within him. Despite also having had a successful 40+ year career in blind and higher education administration, for much of that time, by his own admission, Dad wasn’t the kind of man he could have and should have been. He was nearly 60 when he completely surrendered his life to Jesus and of all of Dad’s regrets from his life before Christ, his biggest one was not having surrendered to Jesus much earlier. He would always say

“I wonder how much better things would have been had I just accepted Jesus earlier. I knew that God was trying to give me His grace. Had I just not been so stubborn, how much better would my life have been? What if…? What if…?”[2]

I feel for Dad that he constantly regretted not giving in to Jesus much earlier in his life. Whenever he brought up his regrets and the remorse he felt because of them, I always did my best to encourage him, saying, “Yes, Dad, you may have found Jesus late. The most important thing, though, is that you found Him.” If there was any good that came from his regrets, it was that they kept Dad awake and on the watch for Jesus. And if there’s anything that today’s lessons tell us, it’s that Jesus does not intentionally pass anybody by. Rather, Jesus seeks all of us out!

In Joshua 24, Moses’s successor recounts to Israel “the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD and His strength, the wonders that He performed.” (Psalm 78.4) Joshua proclaims the glory of God who

Brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River and led him through the entire land of Canaan…[Who] led your ancestors out of Egypt…put darkness between you and the Egyptians, upon whom He brought the sea so that it covered them…[Who] gave you a land you did not till and cities you did not build, to dwell in; you ate of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant. (Joshua 24.3, 6-7, 13)\

The God that Joshua proclaims is, in His very essence, love itself seeking love’s fulfillment in all His people.[3] This is the God who says to us, “Look for Me, you will find Me. Seek Me with all your heart and you will find Me and I will change your lot.”[4] This is the God who, in the Person of Jesus Christ, came among us “that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10.10) To find, follow, and obey this God “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1.8) is meet and right so to do, for doing so opens our eyes to the truth of God’s goodness and Him as the foundation of our true being.

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is Jesus’ story about The End, about those who love Him and others who do not. Jesus is the Bridegroom; we are to “come out to meet Him!” We are the bridesmaids, urged to “stay awake, for [we] know neither the day nor the hour” of His coming again. When The End does come, what like will we be? Will we be like the wise bridesmaids, bringing flasks of oil for our lamps, awake and prepared to meet the God of our joy and gladness?[5] Or will we be like the foolish ones, bringing no oil with us, to whom the banquet door will be locked?

That makes Joshua’s words to Israel from the Old Testament Jesus’ words to us today through the New Testament Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids: “Choose today whom you will serve.” As another well-known Fannie Crosby hymn (one that our own Dennis Morrison has sometimes offered as an organ postlude) exclaims

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;

So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,

Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,

And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.[6]

Wisdom begins with the answer, “We will serve the LORD, our God, and will listen to His voice.” We become wise and keep awake through our persistent pursuit of Jesus, who is not far from any of us.[7] The love of God is a vast expanse that, once entered, keeps our desire for Him burning strong. To run with endurance the race with Christ to the end is to be saved, to “always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4.17)

How do we keep awake? Saint Paul says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Refrain from every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-17, 22) Next Sunday’s Collect tells of God causing all Holy Scripture “to be written for our learning” and asks God to

“Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy Holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which Thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”[8]

We also keep awake by doing justice and loving goodness, in accordance with God’s will.[9] And we do so by coming together in Christian fellowship, devoting ourselves fully to Christ and His teaching, “to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2.42) All these things help keep our lamps, our very selves, full of oil, burning long and bright so that when Christ the Bridegroom comes we will be ready, going in with Him to the great wedding feast.

Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God. He is resplendent and unfading, readily perceived and found by those who love Him. He hastens to make Himself known to those who desire Him. To set our hearts on Jesus is the perfection of prudence; to keep vigil for Him is to keep anxiousness from getting the best of us. Jesus seeks all, making His presence known to us throughout our pilgrimage and is coming again to meet us with full attention.[10] Jesus is not coming to pass us by. Rather, He is coming that all of us may meet Him, that by being “buried with Him through baptism into death [and] just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6.4)

Let us, then, “serve the LORD with gladness [and] come before Him with joyful song” (Psalm 100.2) and, together, “stay awake, for [we] know neither the day nor the hour.

Our King and Savior draweth nigh: O come, let us adore Him!

[1] “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (1868), words by Frances J. Crosby (1820-1915), music by W. Howard Doane (1832-1915).

[2] From “Regret,” a sermon preached for the Celebration of Life of the Reverend Dr. John Leonard Parrish by the Right Reverend Ronnie C. Crudup, Sr., Bishop of the Mid-South of the Fellowship of International Churches, on Saturday, October 22, 2016 at New Horizon Church International in Jackson, Mississippi.

[3] “Such Love,” The Living Church (November 5, 2017), p. 27.

[4] Jeremiah 29.13-14

[5] Psalm 43.4

[6] “To God Be the Glory” (1872), words by Crosby, music by Doane.

[7] Acts 17.27

[8] Traditional Collect for Proper 28, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 184.

[9] Micah 6.8

[10] Wisdom 6.12-16

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