Purging Our Hearts of Despair

This is my sermon for Grace Anglican Church upon 5 July 2015, Trinity 5

What is Despair? Despair is a form of sadness and discouragement that has descended to such a point that it is sinful. It denotes a lack of trust in God and a disregard for His goodness.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE:  Despair (as a sin) has nothing to do with emotional disorders such as depression, bipolar, etc.  That’s a whole different ballgame which can not (and must not) be oversimplified.  What I’m treating here is a disposition of the heart that we fallen humans wrongly allow ourselves to fall in to from time to time.  Chemical imbalances, past traumas, and the like, are not sins, but wounds, and thus are to be considered differently.

Why do we despair? We despair because of sin, internal and external – the world isn’t all as it should be.

How can we deal with it? We can best fight despair by meditating on the good blessings of God, and rejoicing in the moments in which the Kingdom of God shines forth.

Example #1: the Ordination of Elisha  (1 Kings 19:19-21)

This is a picture of the Church’s ministry prospering, despite the world being in a catastrophically bad state.

  • Israel has been worshiping foreign gods for years, with no sign of repentance.
  • Elijah has been on the run from King Ahab & Jezebel, who seek to kill him.
  • Despite all that, God directs Elijah to focus on building up a faithful people by ordaining Elisha to continue his ministry (casting the cloak is a like a “passing of the mantel”).
  • Elisha sacrifices the oxen (celebration meal) and the yoke (severing ties from his worldly life) and follows Elijah as his assistant.

Example #2: the Lord’s Prayer

We pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  • What’s going on in heaven? Angels & Saints respond to God in perfect willing obedience and perfect worship.
  • What is God’s will? God’s will is identified in the Decalogue, and the whole of Scripture, culminating in the Law of Christ – to love God and neighbor.
  • How is God’s will done on earth? Note the course of the Lord’s Prayer: Hallow God’s name, seek God’s Kingdom, and then God’s will is done. As God’s Name is hallowed by the Church, obedience to God in Christ follows.
  • Additionally, once we’ve centered our focus on seeking God’s kingdom, we may turn to countering evil in our hearts and in the world, and extend God’s grace to others.

Example #3: our Christian Identity

In order to live out the prayer “Thy will be done,” we need to shift our self-image from “American Christianity” to “Catholic Christianity.”  This is a shift from segregating ourselves off to recognizing that we are part of the one Church throughout the world and throughout history.

  • Social action needs to make room for prayer. The Enemy is not winning because we aren’t fighting, voting, and pressing our cause enough in the public square; the Enemy is winning because we have been lazy, contemptuous, irreverent, and worldly. Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and this begins in prayer and worship. Social action can and should flow from that grounding in prayer and worship, otherwise our action easily becomes a legalistic idol.
  • Our American citizenship needs to make room for our citizenship in heaven. Yes we are Americans, and yes the Bible commands us to be good and faithful citizens of our earthly homelands. But we also need to remember that our spiritual rebirth and heavenly destiny reminds us that we have in this life no abiding city, but we seek one that is to come (Hebrews 13:14).
  • Engaging with the culture needs to make room for putting our own house in order. If we think about evangelism and fighting the culture wars as our most important calling, then we miss things that are just as important: discipleship and the building up of the Body of Christ. Also, if our first cause is fighting culture wars, then all we’ll see is combat and loss. Too easily, we’ll miss the fact that times of unfaithfulness and persecution serve as times of purification and refining of God’s people! And then, of course, as we get ourselves sorted out amidst our own collection of problems, we will then be able to shine the light of Christ more clearly, and be able to engage with the culture around us.

Example #4: our Christian priority

You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. – Haggai 1:9

  • Haggai describes a mixed-up sense of priorities as the cause that his people are not flourishing. They’re caught up focusing on their worldly homes to the extent that they’re neglecting the spiritual home of God’s house, the Temple.
  • We are called to right worship (orthodoxy) – to build up the Body of Christ into a robust and living community. That is where we draw upon the power of God’s Spirit to engage with a hostile world around us.

Who will do this? Luke 5:1-11 & the Collect of the Day remind us that God will do the work of transforming this world; we just need to be faithful to who He has called us to be.

  • Luke 5: They had been fishing all day and caught nothing, until Jesus told them to fish.
  • Collect: May God order “the course of this world” so that we can serve Him peacefully.
  • We can and must serve Him regardless of peacefulness, but it’s always good to ask!

Do not despair! So even though the world around may seem like everything’s getting worse, whether it’s in your personal lives or the life our country or culture, remember that there is no cause for despair. As I said last week, God knows what he’s doing. If life just seems too depressing these days, then perhaps you’re paying too much attention to the world, to sin, or to yourself. Instead, turn to Christ anew this day (and every day), and re-orient your heart and mind around the work God is doing with his people in the midst of this world. You and I are not going to band together and change the world. The power and spirit of the Lord will change the world. Let us focus on getting our house in order, removing the logs from our eyes, so that we can see clearly to deal with the specks in the eyes of others. Let us be attentive not to labor in vain, but be ready to cast our nets the moment Christ bids us to do so; for he is not just the Savior whom we preach, but the Lord whom we lovingly and obediently serve.  Amen.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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