St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, December 13, 2020
“Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
IF THE language of faith is praise, then we do a lot of the talking. Our worship is mostly praise directed toward God. That’s pretty important speech, for it only says what is amply and obviously true. God is worthy of our praises. All of the Psalms offer God praise and for a variety of reasons—even when the psalmist is in pain and struggles with his faith, he resolves it by lifting up his hands in worship of the God of Israel. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.” Ps 18
We live, we die, and as the pink candle on our Advent wreath tells us, we have our hope of going to heaven when it’s over. There, the praising of God never ends, and it will be true and totally deserved. “‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’… ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” Rev 5:12-14
But is the praise all one-way? Is He always the receiver of praise? That would be equitable, and He is always worthy. And by contrast, we are not. But the ultimate goal of the Christian is to hear God recognize us as His sons and daughters. It’s the fondest hope for a child of any parent to hear just one word of praise.
In Jesus’ parable of the stewards of a king and the treasures they were to administer, “he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, look, I have gained five more talents.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful... Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matt 25:20-21 Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord. Isn’t that what your soul yearns to hear from God? ‘Well done!’
Instead, we tend to hide in the bushes with Adam, tangled in fig leaves, lurking and hoping He can’t see us. If I can only stay out of His way, maybe I can sneak into heaven and escape the flames, one may imagine. God in many people’s thoughts is a punisher, a terror from the sky, a spy finding everything to indict you with your sins, or a cagey Santa who knows you’ve been naughty. If we can only escape the judgment of the God of wrath, we might survive. So say these legends.
Beautifully bound and sealed documents went into the caskets of many rich Catholics of the Middle Ages, releasing their souls from thousands of years of Purgatory by papal decree festooned with ribbons and seals and signatures with flourishes.
But this is simply wrong. Let’s correct this right now. We are praising God forever because He is worthy of praise. But we are praising Him also because in so doing, we are learning His language. It is the language of God to praise. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Yes, He said that about Jesus, and there is no other begotten Son of God. Yet, we are to be found in Jesus, and as part of His Body, we inherit with Him the kingdom. And that kingdom includes praise. The Epistle today says this unambiguously.
We are ministers of Christ, stewards of God’s mysteries. We must be found faithful, so when He returns and brings all things to the light, making every heart known, “then shall every man have praise of God.” What is the praise of God? What does it mean?
People should think of every Christian as servants of Christ. Minister means servant, and we serve Christ and, in His Name, serve others. Servants do for others. Jesus came as the suffering servant of God who bore the sins of all and redeemed the world by His wounds and stripes. For His pains, God raised Him up over all creation and has crowned Him with many crowns. The suffering servant won the Father’s praise. Our own suffering for Him, and in the service of others, will win us praise from heaven. None of your loving deeds will go unrewarded. Everything you may think you’ve lost is seen and shall be recompensed. Don’t think God is unjust. The tiniest thing is noticed and appreciated. You don’t have to keep score—God Himself has the score—in your favor.
People should observe us being stewards of the mysteries of God. A steward must be faithful, holding the treasures of someone greater. The person who issues checks for a corporation is the steward for the larger entity—and must not write bonuses for himself. These mysteries are all the things we have been shown about God, truths of Christ, the meaning of the story. Mystery is not only out there, but it’s in here—for your heart has beheld the mystery. You know the meaning of your life.
With the treasury that is comprised of all we know about God, we are stewards and must share portions of truth with anyone God directs us to. Somebody needs to know that God is good. Tell her. Someone needs to know the God that brings order. Introduce Him. Someone needs to see God in action. Be God’s hands today. Be faithful with the talents you have received, for you increase that grace by spending it on others. The last thing to do is keep it to yourself. Unused treasure is taken back.
St. Paul then notes that other people aren’t our judges, we are not even to judge ourselves. “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes.” They wrote “thief” over the head of a condemned man, and nailed him up for an example that crime doesn’t pay. That was man’s justice. Jesus looked at that same man’s face, not at the sign, and He told him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!” Judgment is His business. Let Him do it. Even with regard to yourself.
Sure, you’re a sinner. That’s not news. Our Christ died to save you from those sins, and He is faithful. Hold on to that fact, and then show yourself grateful. Tell the story. Let it be known. And leave off judgments. That’s someone else’s job.
Paul finally states that when the Lord comes, He will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts,” and he adds, completely catching us off guard, this last phrase: “Then each one's praise will come from God.”1 Cor 4:5
God will praise each person He brings into His kingdom. Mere survival has never been the game of eternity. We have been promised far more. We may only wish, in some misplaced humility, a dimly lit corner of heaven where we may eat crumbs falling from the high table. But there are no dim corners of heaven. There are only places at the table, and one place is set with your name on a gold embossed place card. Are you coming or not?
After the disciples of John the Baptist had been assured that Jesus was indeed Messiah, Jesus spoke of John. “Why did you go to John in the wilderness? What did you go there to see?” They didn’t know the answer, so Jesus said: “This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist... he is Elijah who is to come.” Matt 11:10-14
Jesus praised John. He was the fulfillment of Isaiah and Malachi, that Elijah would precede Messiah’s coming. Isaiah said a voice would cry in the wilderness, preparing the way. Malachi said that Elijah would return and get people ready for God. “None of those born of women have risen greater than John,” said Jesus. He declared John the greatest of all prophets, standing in the spirit and prophetic office of Elijah. Jesus, the Son of God, praised John.
God wants to praise you too. No, it isn’t that you are inherently worthy. You know that. It’s not just that you’ve given to charity. St. Paul said works done without love are worthless. Our finest deeds are not quite right. In our own strength, by our own wits, in our own names we gain none of the respect of heaven, nor even our own salvation.
But here’s the wonder. You and I set our old man over there somewhere. Not forgotten, but just not useful as our identity. Then you and I wear Jesus. We put Him on. He’s our armor. It’s our new identity. It will get us shot at, in a manner of speaking, but will also provide us eternal protection. Even if we were to be killed for it, we’d die in the place of Jesus, and our reward is huge.
Just for being Jesus stand-ins. Being Jesus stand-ins is our highest and best achievement. Like the movie stunt men or women, dressed as Jesus, heroically doing the action scenes, suffering a little, loving to do anything for His sake, even at our peril. For that, we shall receive heaven’s praise. All the saints are stunt men and stunt women for Jesus. There’s only this difference with the movies: what we are wearing isn’t a costume. It’s really Him. It’s our garment of light, it’s our armor, it’s a new identity, and that has power. Just knowing about Him isn’t enough. Living it, saying it, telling it, suffering for it, being Christ’s stunt double – that’s worthy of His praise. Praise is the language of heaven, and it was God’s language before it ever was ours. We will hear Him speak His own language when He gives us, God willing, His praises.
In Revelation’s heavenly court scene, the action figure St. John hears: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Rev 20:5-6 Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.
We long to hear that from God above. We’d like to hear God’s praise of us. It’s all because of Him, and by Him, and for Him. But He wants to praise us. Can we do less than what pleases Him, and call that humility?
Be a witness. Stand in for Jesus. Let His power do through you what you can’t do. And hear, on that great last day, “Well done, faithful servant. Enter in to my joy.”