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“O God, forasmuch as without Thee we are not able to please Thee, mercifully grant that Thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1928 Book of Common Prayer Collect for 19th Sunday of Trinity.

There is a constant theme here of our utter dependency on God, the Holy Spirit, to make possible our saving relationship with God Almighty. All this is only possible because of the sacrifice and constant intercession for us of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If God grants our plea and the Holy Spirit does rule and direct our hearts, then how does anything change for us? How will we know the Holy Spirit is ruling and directing us? St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians gives us a breathtaking and convicting checklist of what should be the observable effects in our hearts. It’s a brutal list of familiar sins and prayers for graces. St. Paul says we should be like new and transformed people after that cleansing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

How does that changed heart reveal itself? What does it do to our charity toward our neighbor when times suddenly get really hard? What happens in our hearts toward God? Are we bitter because hard times fall upon us when we thought our warm faithful relationship with Our Lord would protect us from calamity and disaster? When hurricanes and fire storms beset us, do we join the world and call it “all acts of God?” As though God were rolling down upon us these boulders of despair to see how we might react.

Some are crying out in anguish that God would do this to them. There are always Job’s comforters who show up to jeer and accuse us of deserving our troubles because of past sins … or say God is playing a brutal game with us for some dark amusement in a contest with Satan. The idea is that somehow we can bargain with the Almighty by being good enough or clever enough or invisible enough to force our will upon God. As a very bitter fellow once remarked to me, “God must be a really bad manager.” And he didn’t want to work for such an unreliable boss. Of course, he refused to acknowledge the other boss standing in the wings exulting in his rebellion.

We must remember that our human nature and our environment are broken … and ridden with calamity and disaster. This where we live … and it won’t be fixed or redeemed until the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Paul gives us a description of our current culture … being past feeling, having darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God, walking in the conceit of their minds. Surely we have all been there at some point in our lives … and now we look back and wonder at how different our outlook is now. We aren’t perfect … but certainly something profound has changed in us.

Why have we changed? What is our attitude toward all the suffering in this as yet to be redeemed world? We as Christians understand our trials from the point of view of Jesus on the cross. Our Lord didn’t shirk away from any of the trials and tribulations of this life. In fact, He drew them all into Himself so that we could bear them and be able to look forward to eternal life with Him and each other in a redeemed heavens and earth.

As new redeemed persons who have received Jesus Christ as our savior, we more and more see life and each other from the perspective of the Holy Spirit moving with Almighty God’s providential purpose through our lives and all time. We are to see as Jesus sees, even if through a glass darkly.

Now we realize that we too can have the excruciating joy of being saints and bringing hope and truth to one another and all those around us in the midst of disaster. Our little church has so much to be grateful for. This sweet little very wooden building has been protected from raging fire … standing frail and strong. Strong in her weakness.

We will be here to bear witness to God’s sacrificial love. That’s the depth of love we are called to in our communion with Christ. That’s the depth we are all called to … and surely capable of. And we don’t have to walk it alone. We are joined with a great cloud of witnesses around the globe and in all the Christian churches … and from all time in the heavenlies.

Our God is with us. He is Emmanuel.

Canon Charles Dillon is pastor of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Oakville.

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