Tigger or Eeyore? Hope Makes the Difference

Tigger and Eeyore

I came across a TED talk by a man who has been given 2 months to live. He said that it was not okay with him that he was going to die, especially because he had some young kids, but he refused to be morose or become an object of pity. He said that you have to decide once and for all if you are going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore. You know Tigger. The happy bouncy character in Winnie the Pooh? And “the wonderful thing about Tigger is Tigger’s a wonderful thing.” Then there is Eyore. “Well I was going to have a picnic but then I saw some clouds which probably means it’s going to rain so I called the whole thing off.”

This talk got my attention precisely because he was not some motivational speaker charging an arm and a leg to inspire you to walk on hot coals. This guy is DYING. So his words carry weight with me. But they did even more so when I detected the same basic message in today’s Epistle.  St. Paul decided to be a Tigger. He writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” 

What I see St. Paul doing here is minimizing the negative by maximizing the positive. Or to put it another way, he is bathing his suffering with hope, and Scripture says that hope is the anchor of our souls. His focus is not on his challenges but on his glorious future that he says is beyond all comparison.

I love how St. Paul calls his circumstances a “momentary light affliction.” Later in this Epistle he gives us a rundown of those momentary light afflictions. We read in chapter 11; Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.”

Any one of those things would have been enough to make me want to quit but not St. Paul. Why? Because, again, his focus was not on the present problems but on his glorious future. What you focus on makes that much of a difference. Think of it this way. The sun is almost 865,000 miles across but you can make it disappear if you hold a quarter close enough to your eye. In the same way we can make our glorious future disappear if we only focus on things that are passing away or on current afflictions.

Lest this sound like another version of positive thinking allow me to offer some theological background. Today we hear the story of the fall but don’t forget the amazing garden that they were placed in and their astonishing role of tending that garden for the Lord. This is what we were made for but the fall changed all that. And yet the fall did not have the last word.

You will recall that the prophets saw a spectacular day in the future when swords would be beaten into plowshares and the lion would lie down with the lamb. In this second letter to Corinth St. Paul makes the case that the kingdom of which he preaches is exactly what the prophets were speaking about.

In Acts Peter is preaching in Solomon’s Portico when he says, For he (Jesus) must remain in heaven UNTIL the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Hear it again. “Until the final restoration of all things.”

When we go to the Revelation of St. John we get a clearer picture of what the final restoration will look like. This is from chapter 21.Then I sawa new heaven and a new earth, forthe first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I sawthe holy city,new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God,preparedas a bride adorned for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,the dwelling placeof God is with man. He willdwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, anddeath shall be no more,neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Andhe who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, Iam making all things new.”

A new heaven and a new earth, the healing of the nations, the elimination of pain and sorrow and death, and all that is wrong being made right. The study notes in the English Standard Bible say “and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall.”  We are not going back to the garden…that one had a snake in it. We will be in a new world that will be more spectacular than we can even imagine.

I read a book called All Things Newthat challenged me to take this perspective a step further. He challenged his readers to make a list of the first three things they want to do at the final restoration of all things. To be honest when I first read that I thought he had gone a bit too far. That seemed a little kooky to me.

But then as I pondered it I realized how helpful that would be. After all we make a list of things we want to do in the future, when that future is a reality to us. For example next week, Lord willing, I am going to Israel as a delegate to GAFCON.  So I have already booked a room in Tel Aviv and then I will travel to Jerusalem early Sunday morning to attend church. Then I will find my hotel and attend the conference Sunday evening. Making plans not only makes this upcoming trip more real to me but it also helps me prioritize the things that I need to do before I go.

In a similar manner planning for the final restoration not only makes it more real to us but it helps us prioritize my life here and now. It helps us, as St. Paul said, to focus on things eternal rather than things transient.

So what are my plans for the final restoration? I’ll tell you. I’m going to take God literally when He says that He will restore all things, that “all”means “all.”

First I want to see and speak with those I have loved that have gone before me. My Father passed a few years ago. There is a miscarried child I want to meet. I also have a good number of family and friends that I hope will be there. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Second I want to be reunited with my pets. Some object that there will not be animals in heaven because animals don’t have souls. I’m not even convinced that that they are souless. Why would God restore a new heaven and new earth and leave out the creatures that He made for the first heaven and earth? Besides the four horsemen of the apocalypse have to get their horses from somewhere!

Third I want to go and see the Milky Way. I mean in person! We know that Jesus after His resurrection had a body and ate and drank but He could also come and go as He pleased, even appearing in a room that had locked windows and doors, and then disappearing again. If we get similar bodies and can also come and go as we please I’m going to do a lot of traveling. I want to go to places that I never got to see in this life. And remember, we will live forever, so we won’t need a bucket list. There will plenty of time to do what we want to do.

Now I admit that what I have just spoken about is speculation on my part but I find it fun to dream. Even if I don’t get to see the Milky Way there is no doubt that we are promised a new world and Bishop NT Wrights goes on to say, “In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.” So the author ends a chapter asking and answering this question. “What will you do in the life to come? Everything you were born to do. Everything you’ve always wanted to do. Everything the kingdom NEEDS you do to.”

I recognize that I have treated this topic somewhat lightly by using the imagery of Tigger and Eyore. I recognize at the same time it has a very sobering side. Hope is not a luxury. Hope is not optional.

This last week we saw the suicide of two very successful and famous people. I was shocked to learn that the suicide rate in the US has increased 40% since 1999 with a peak during the economic crash in 2008. Also in the news almost every day is the mention of our nation’s opioid epidemic. CBS reported that more Americans died just last year from drug overdoses than in the entire Vietnam War. And I would argue that the same hole in the soul that leads to suicide and overdose is what fuels teens turning guns on their fellow students or crazy men shooting up a concert or a church.

Hope is not a luxury. Hope is not an option. I heard the testimony of a soldier who survived the Battan Death March. He witnessed men give up hope and literally roll over in their beds and die. Without this anchor of hope our souls get tossed around by life like a piece of driftwood in a storm. But with this anchor we can weather whatever comes our way and maybe even refer to them as “momentary light afflictions.”

It is the hope of this glorious future, the hope of the restoration of all things, that anchors our soul in this present life. When you grasp the reality of that future there is no way to remain an Eeyore. You simply have to become a Tigger. And then “The wonderful thing about you, is that you’ll be a wonderful thing.”Amen.

 

 

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The Ascension Puts Us On Mission

On Mission

I have placed a picture on the front of the bulletin of the Apostles looking up, with two Angels evidently explaining what just happened. This scene is from the Book of Acts and happens immediately preceding the choosing of Matthias. This is what it says in Acts, with the resurrected Jesus addressing the Apostles. “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said,’ Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up into heave? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”

I may get into trouble for this but this scene strikes me as somewhat comical. Jesus had just given them instructions and then ascended into heaven. Rather than doing what Jesus told them to do they are standing around looking up in the sky with their mouths open. So the Lord sends two of His messengers to tell them to get back to work. They are not to stand around and simply wait for His return. They have a mission to fulfill, so get to it!

This picture could also be a picture of some of the Church today? I have witnessed and worked with Churches whose only mission was to survive, which is the corporate equivalent of standing around with your mouth open while looking up? We are to grow the kingdom but the kingdom does not grow if the Church is in survival mode. Think of the many ways that Jesus told us that when He comes back He best find us doing what He told us to do and not find us with our talents buried, or our lamp out of oil or our branches without fruit.

How about us as individual disciples? Are we on mission? If not then this is a day for revaluation and a day to make a commitment to get back on mission. Except instead of sending you two white-robed Angels God has sent you Groucho, Chico and Harpo. I let you decide which priest is which.

It is my contention that an important step for getting us on mission is to better understand and more fully embrace what the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has done for us. Such knowledge will inspire us and empower us to His service.

First we are inspired and empowered for His service by embracing Christ’s victory. A few years ago I accompanied John Drivas to an Easter Eve celebration at a Greek Orthodox Church. There was a lot in the liturgy that was foreign to me and I my not have my memory of it exactly as it happened, but that did not keep it from being absolutely beautiful. At first the church was dark, lit only with candlelight. Suddenly the doors of the iconostasis opened up and a tall bearded priest stepped out with a lighted Paschal Candle and announced that Christ has risen. The darkness turned into joy. Then we did an interesting thing. We all processed out of the church with the priest and the doors were closed behind us. The priest shouted to the doors and a man inside responded. They were quoting Psalm 24. The priest said, “Lift up your head, O Gates. And be lifted up , O ancient doors, that the King of glory shall come in.”The man behind the doors responded, “Who is this king of glory?”The priest said,“The Lord strong and nighty, the Lord mighty in battle.”And they did this versicle and response for a few more verses until the doors were opened and we entered back into the church behind the priest.

I had never seen the ascension of Christ represented this way and I found that part of the liturgy to be deeply moving. It portrayed to me that in the Ascension we see Christ returning as a mighty warrior who has won the battle. Christus Victor. And He did it for us!

Some might ask, “What battle has he won?” He was victorious over sin by leading a sinless life and by atoning for the sins of the world. He was victorious over death and the grave through His resurrection. He was victorious over our ancient enemy by freeing us from his prisons. And then He has ascended into heaven to receive the honor and glory and power of His victory.

But wait, if Jesus defeated them why do they still exist? And we know that sin exists because we battle with it every day, if we are honest with ourselves. Obviously we know that people still die so how has death been defeated? And the powers of darkness certainly seem to be very real for those who are paying attention. John Eldredge writes in his book All Things New, “Human sin is not sufficient to explain the rampaging, unspeakable evil of this age. There are powerful, ancient dark spirits…who are now deeply involved ensnaring, entrapping, fueling evil people making war on holiness and the human heart” And he points to human trafficking and the abortion industry as exhibits A and B. I believe that he make a good case.

So how have our enemies been defeated? This is where we must see and walk with the eyes of faith. And when we do so, we see that the happenings of sin and death and the powers of darkness are but the death pangs of the dragon. It is still roaring and spitting fire but it is dying.

And so while there is still sin in the world, Christ has given us the power to not live under its control. When we do sin we simply confess it, receive forgiveness and move on in life without condemnation.

What about death? I was speaking with Fr. Guill last week who told me that his mother was very close to death. In the midst of his explanation about all they are doing for her he said, “And so we look forward to her ultimate healing.” That is why we as Anglicans will we pray for those who suffer to experience a quick and holy death. Because of Jesus’ victory death is just a gate through which we pass to the larger life.

And when it comes to the powers of darkness not only have countless millions renounced them as they were baptized into Christ but the Revelation of John tells us that God’s holy vengeance will fall upon those powers as they are cast into a lake of fire along with death and hades. Thus in the new heaven and new earth there will an absence of sin, an absence of death and an absence of evil.

Imagine it! We won’t have to be victorious over temptation because there will be no temptation. We won’t have to create bucket lists to get the last dregs out of life because we will never die a second death. We won’t have to put on the armor of God because there will be no more enemy with which to battle. Jesus has won for us an eternity of life and peace and holiness. And so Eldrege concludes, “No wonder joy is the constant mood of the kingdom! Not to mention massive relief and vindication too.” It is in the light of this reality that we are called to be on mission, to work for His kingdom in the here and now.

Second His death, resurrection and ascension inspire and empower us to live for others. I say that because through His actions there is nothing left that we need to do to be right with God. In Hebrews we are told that when Jesus ascended on high, He entered a heavenly temple not made by human hands. And as our High Priest He presented there not the blood of bulls and goats but His own blood as an atonement for the sins of the world.  Here is how it reads in Hebrews 9. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own….But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”Did you catch the significance of those last words? “….he has appeared once for all….to do way with sinby the sacrifice of himself.”

So again there is nothing more to be done to complete His sacrifice. There is nothing else that I need to do to become more enlightened or to become one with the universe or to empty myself of self-awareness or anything else to earn my salvation. All that I can do is to accept this free gift of forgiveness and once it is accepted then I am free to focus on others. His Ascension liberates us from a prison of self-serving to the liberty of serving of others

Third his death, resurrection and ascension give us a higher calling. Because of His Ascension He has become our High Priest in the heavenlies and as our High Priest He ever lives to make intercession for us. The Gospel lesson today is a portion of what is called The High Priestly prayer and in it we can get a glimpse of the kinds of things that Jesus is praying for us.

But we can take this a step further. Because He is our High Priest and we are His Body on earth St. Peter says that it is His will for us to be a kingdom of priests. This is from 1 Peter in the New Living Translation. “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Did you hear that call to mission? “As a result you can show others the goodness of God.”

Practically how do you do that? How do you show others the goodness of God? First as I just mentioned by having a servant’s hearts towards others. That stands out in a dog eat dog world. When most folks are asking “what is in it for me?”and you come along and ask, “how may I help?”they will see the love and goodness of God in action.

A second practical way you can show others the goodness of God is to invite folks into your life. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? “Drop your nets and come with Me.”Invite folks for a meal. Invite folks to join you at a sporting event. Invite folks to join you in your hobbies. Oh here’s an idea…..INVITE THEM TO WORSHIP!

When we put on events like Octoberfest or offer special classes it is always our intention that we do so not only for the parish but for our parishioners to use it as an outreach opportunity. So come and support these efforts but alsobring a friend. You are a royal priesthood and your mission is to show others the goodness of God. In this high tech hyperactive culture it is all too easy to become insular and only focus on yourself and those immediately around you and keep every one else at a safe Facebook distance. Don’t do that. For God so loved the world He didn’t send tweet. Be like Jesus. Be incarnational.

One last example of how His death, resurrection and ascension inspires and empowers us to be on mission. We will see this in its fullness next week as we celebrate Pentecost. Jesus did go away but He did not leave them abandoned. 10 days after His Ascension the Holy Spirit fell upon the Apostles, empowering them for service. He, that is the Holy Spirit, so emboldened those fearful disciples that they took the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth and most of whom faced a martyr’s death.

We receive that same Spirit at our baptism and at our confirmation. Not a different Spirit but the same One that fell on all those in the upper room. He is an incredible blessing to us because Jesus has called each of us to do so many things that we cannot do in our own power and so He empowers us. The Holy Spirit will provide us with all that we need to be faithful and fruitful.

When it comes to the Christian journey you have been given a V8 with a turbo charger so don’t drive like a grandpa. You have the Holy Spirit! Take a risk. Step out in faith. And if you mess up, and you will, learn from it and then step out again. And step out again and step out again and keep stepping out in faith until your arches fall. When you read the Book of Acts you see that the Apostle’s didn’t do things perfectly. They even had some petty squabbles and divisions but they stayed on mission and they changed the world. They did not do that under their own power and neither will we, but because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus we don’t have to.

I beg of you, let’s make a commitment as a church that we are not going to stand around looking up in the sky with our mouths open, hoping that Jesus will return. We already know that He will because both He and the angels have so. The question is really when He does return will He find us on mission? Let’s be sure that He does. Amen.

 

Know and Show: Back to the Basics

Basics

Last weekend I was in Dallas Texas for the 25thanniversary of Bishop Iker’s consecration. As I was taking a taxi to church I had a flashback. I was in Dallas 46 years ago this summer with 80,000 other students for an event called Explo ’72. We gathered for evening worship in the Cotton Bowl to be led in worship by folks like Johnny Cash and to hear sermons by Billy Graham as well as other luminaries of that time. During the day we had evangelism training and then we went door to door sharing our faith. I drove from Florida to Texas and back, cramped in a VW Beetle with two other really big guys, and by what must have been a miracle we still remained friends and didn’t murder each other.

If you had asked me then where I would be on my Christian journey in 46 years I would have guessed that I would be much farther along than I actually am. I can easily say with St. Paul that I have not obtained my goal. I say that because each week when we confess to God that we have not loved Him with our whole heart nor our neighbor as ourselves, I really mean that confession because I haven’t. I want to but I haven’t. My one consolation is that since this confession is written in our Prayer Book for the WHOLE Church to pray EVERY Sunday, my guess is that I am not alone.

 That said I do not consider myself a failure as a Christian and I hope that you do not either. We only fail if we quit and the word “quit” should not be in our vocabulary. So if quitting is not an option then the next question is “What is the way forward?” How do we grow more deeply in our love of God and our love for our neighbor? Two things jumped out to me in today’s propers that I believe point us in the right direction. The first is from the collect where we pray that we will KNOW Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. The second is from our lessons which clearly call on us to not only know it but to SHOW it.

Notice that the prayer does not ask for us to be shown the way but rather to know Jesus as “the Way.”  This is the correct way to pray because Christianity is not merely an ethical religion where someone tells us what is right and wrong and then we are left on our own to do it. Jesus comes along side us to take us with Him. He does this through the Holy Spirit whom He promised to His disciples. So we must never forget that we are not in this alone. The Way is not a direction, the Way is a Person.

Before the 1979 Prayer Book it was typical for a parish to march all 6thgraders through a Confirmation class, often rather they wanted it of not. Kids were given assignments to memorize the Lord’ Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the 23rdPsalm etc. Many were taught the catechism and some were even warned that the Bishop may ask them really difficult questions and so they better have it down cold by the time that the Bishop visited.

None of this was wrong in itself, and the Church might do well to reintroduce some of those disciplines, but one problem arose from this process. It led some to believe that all they had to do to be a Christian was to have the right information, to be able to pass the Bishop’s test.

But as you know memorizing the Creed and believing the Creed are not necessarily that same thing; just as liking Jesus and living like Jesus are not necessarily the same thing. Our reading from 1stJohn drives this home.

How do we know that we have passed from life to death? Is it by how many verses we have memorized or how much theology we know? No! We know that we have passed from death to life when we love as He loved. We know that we have passed from death to life when we lay our lives down for one another. We know we have passed from life to death when we share with a brother or sister in need. We know that we have passed from death to life when our love is not in words but in deeds.

Bob Goff in his book Everybody Always tells of meeting a witch doctor in Uganda who was arrested and tried for mutilating a boy as a child sacrifice, but the boy lived to testify against him. Although this custom of child sacrifice by witch doctors was prevalent in Uganda this man named Kabi was the first one ever to be put on trial. Bob is an honorary consul of Uganda so he attended the trial and said to look at Kabi was to look in the face of evil. To Bob’s delight Kabi was convicted and sent to the kind of prison in Uganda that makes medieval dungeons seem like Disney World.

But something bothered Bob. Bob was on a journey of moving from liking Jesus to becoming like Jesus and so Jesus words about loving our enemies weighed on him. He pulled some strings to meet with Kabi in prison and in time Kabi repented of his wicked life and sought forgiveness through Christ. Bob not only knew Jesus to be the way but he showed Kabi the way.

Next Bob got permission from the warden to have Kabi share his story with the other prisoners. Kabi stood before hundreds of men and told what Bob called the worst gospel story he had ever heard. Most of what Kabi said about Jesus was so wrong that Bob began wonder about his own beliefs. But in spite of this horrible speech a sea of men came forward and Kabi and Bob grabbed bottles of water and baptized them by the scores. When we act with this kind of love we not only know Jesus as the Way but we show Him to be the way. The challenge is as Bob put it, “Don’t put a toe in the water of love; grab your knees and do a cannonball.”

We also pray to understand Jesus as the Truth. You certainly have  heard of Scientology. It is a self-proclaimed religion invented by a science fiction writer. In truth it is a cult that had been publically accused of imprisoning and even murdering some of its detractors. So I have great admiration for actress Leah Remini who left it after 30 years and has been vocal about their abuses. One of their core doctrines is that 75 million years ago a being named Xenu brought billions of people to earth in space crafts, placed them in volcanoes and then blew them up with a hydrogen bombs. They clustered together as thetans and became negative forces that attach themselves to people today. It is the job of Scientology to help you get rid of the thetans…for a price. Why do I bring up this totally believable religion? Because it is estimated that there are about 30,000 followers in the US! That is the size of a large diocese.

So we pray to know Jesus as the Truth because we are so easily deceived and there are so many competing voices out there. We need to have one clear voice. We need to be convinced that Jesus is the Truth. He is the final authority and He is the canon by which every thing and every one else is measured. It is absolutely true that He speaks through the Scriptures and through the Church but we do not call either the Bible or the Church “Lord.” It is as we trust Him to be the Truth, and to lead us into all truth, that we are set free.

But again we must not only know Jesus as the Truth we must show Him to be the Truth? How do we do that? We do it through the fruit of our lives. The Bible calls it walking in the truth. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

If there is no difference between how we live and how non-believers live then people would be justified in doubting the validity of our beliefs. But if we evidence our love by keeping His commandments then our lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit. When folks witness love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. they will want to know what it is that we know and we will be able to tell them not what we know but WHO we know.

We also pray to know Jesus as Life. There is an old black and white movie of the sinking of the Titanic that ends with the crew and passengers singing an old Welsh hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” There is some debate if this is the last hymn that was sung before the ship went down but there is no debate that a number of hymns were sung by the passengers as they awaited their deaths. The survivors in the lifeboats testified to that.

One wonders what they would be singing if a cruise ship went down today. Would there be enough people with faith and practice on board to come up with the verses of even one hymn? I would hope so.

It is knowing Jesus to be our life that prepares us for our inevitable death. The family members of Barbara Bush testified how her faith allowed her to die with great peace and on her own terms.

But more than that, it is in knowing Jesus to be Life that gives meaning to our lives here and now. Have you noticed that people without faith often feel like victims of life’s circumstances. But people of faith can say with St. Paul, “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  It doesn’t mean that we understand or even like all that life brings us but in the end we know that there is nothing that the Good Shepherd cannot work to our good and so we are free to face life without fear.

How do we show Jesus to be the Life? We do so by living lives of contentment and peace. We end the Mass by blessing you with the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension and the intent is for you to walk in that peace during the week. How can you do this? Because your sins have been put away, you have worshipped in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, you have united with Jesus through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, you have been declared a citizen of a kingdom that cannot be shaken, you have been given His Spirit to empower you, He is now preparing a place for you and He will return to  receive you to Himself. If that doesn’t give you contentment and peace then all the pills in Walgreens are not going to help you. And please don’t lose that precious peace be taken away over a drop in the price of Bitcoin or the latest scandal in Hollywood or whatever those knuckleheads in Washington DC are doing or not doing. All that stuff is going to pass away with the new heaven and the new earth.  You are accepted in the Beloved and the kingdom is not in trouble. Walk in peace.

46 years ago I was a pretty idealistic kid. I just knew that I would become the Navy Seal version of Christianity and here I am 46 years later still trying to learn the basics of loving God and loving my neighbor. But I’m not discouraged! There is one thing I am convinced of and that is 46 years from now I will finally have my act together and so will most of you. Christ is risen and is coming again. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why?

why

Alleluia, Christ is risen! I listened to a podcast recently that made a terrific point. The speaker said that if you are going to make a significant change, especially one that is difficult, then you need a big enough “Why?” For example you are far more likely to lose weight if the doctor tells you that you will die in 30 days if you don’t, as opposed to just wanting your jeans to fit better.

As I was thinking about that point, and we entered the season of Lent, it made me wonder, what was Jesus’ “Why?” If you have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ” or if you have read historical accounts of a Roman crucifixion then you can get a glimpse of how big His “Why?” had to be to willingly face such torment. As He said, He could have called on a host of angels and prevented the entire event but you will recall when He was in the garden, on the night before His crucifixion, the tension that He was under was so great that the capillaries in His head burst and He literally sweated blood. So what could possibly compel Him to accept what He knew that He was called to do? What was Jesus’ “Why?”

As I was researching the possible answer to that question I came across an on line book by a famous Baptist preacher named John Piper. He has written a book entitled 50 Reasons Why Jesus Had to Die. I found it very informative so let’s do a countdown and start with reason number 50……kidding!

Actually I think that you can summarize Jesus “Why?” in just 2 major reasons. I want to look at them because my hope is that as we look more closely at Jesus’ “Why?” our own  “Why?” will come into clearer focus. This in turn will help us develop deeper convictions as followers of Christ.

The first reason is that Jesus did what He did and suffered what He suffered was FOR HIS FATHER. Jesus’ love for the Father was so great, and His unity with the Father was so complete, that He accepted whatever the Father’s will for Him would be. Even if it meant, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, that it was the will of the LORD to crush Him and to put Him to grief (Is 53:10). That is how strong His love was for His Father.

Thus Jesus proved His love for His Father through His obedience to Him. But I fear that this connection between love and obedience has all but been lost in much of  modern Christianity. We either have a false narrative that we obey God so that He will bless us, i.e. sew a seed and God will give you health and prosperity.  Or we have an even worse narrative that since God has accepted us that our obedience is irrelevant. We think we can live however we want to live. But Jesus irrevocably links love and obedience when He says, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”The “Why?” for Jesus was His love of the Father as evidenced in His obedience and that “Why?” can be our motivation as well.

Jesus did what He did for the Father to honor Him. He did this by upholding and revealing Him as a merciful, holy and righteous God. This is from Romans 3 in the New Living Translation. “For all have sinned; all fall short of the God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.”

Here was the dilemma. If God did not have patience and mercy then He would have righteously wiped out His people when they built the first golden calf and that would have been the end of the story. We as their spiritual ancestors would not be here to praise Him. And yet if God declares, as He does, that the wages of sin is death but winks at sin and does not keep His word then He is neither holy nor righteous. We would then be free us to create a god in our own image.  Perhaps a heavenly Mr. Rogers, who likes us just the way we are,  and we would be walking in darkness.

So how does God both display mercy andrighteousness? He shows His mercy for us by having His Son take upon Him our chastisement.  In this way God is glorified for being both merciful AND just, a God in whom we can trust. Jesus’ “Why?” was to honor His Father. That too can be our “Why?” for taking up our cross and following Him.

Jesus did what He did for the Father to glorify Him by winning back for His Father all that had been lost to sin and death. Most folks know and have meditated on John 3:16 but how many have done so on John 3:17? “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”The Greek word used here for world is “kosmos” which scholars tell us not only includes humanity but all that has been created. It was not just the souls of men that were decimated by the fall but all of creation was made subject to sins’ futility. So Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God and defeats sin and the grave through His death and resurrection and this begins the making of all things new.  The culmination of which, according to the Revelation to St. John, is a new heaven and a new earth.

Frankly it is this vision of the restoration of all things that gets my engines going. I can look at the state of our nation and get discouraged. I can even look at the state of the Church on earth and get discouraged. And when I used to believe that heaven was just going to be an unending choir practice, I would think to myself, “Well isn’t that special?” But the idea of a new heaven and a new earth and of all things being restored as God intended them to be, that becomes a “Why?” that is big enough to get my full intention. God is glorified in a “Why?” this big.

So the first big “Why?” that led Jesus to do what He did was FOR HIS FATHER. To love, to honor and to glorify Him.

The second big “Why?” is FOR US. He did it for us. It says in Romans. “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Jesus faced the cross for more than the individualized salvation of a few but so that He could present to God His Church. As we are told in 1 Peter, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession….” He went to the cross thinking of His Bride the Church, and what a comfort it is to know that we are His, and as we are told in Roman, that nothing can separate us from His love. As John Piper put it, “He paid the highest price possible to give us the greatest gift possible.”

Jesus did what He did for us in order to defeat our enemies. It says in Colossians “God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publically by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.”  The King James correctly refers to the “evil rulers and authorities”as  “principalities and powers” because in this context St. Paul is referring to spiritual powers. The paraphrase The Message puts it this way about Jesus publically shaming them. It says, “He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority on the cross and marched them naked through the streets.” Naked demons! There’s a visual for you! The truth is that He not only defeated them He shamed them.

When it comes to this topic of evil powers we need some caution, as there are two extremes to be avoided. I have known some who see demons in their cornflakes and so EVERTHING is a spiritual battle to them. That hardly leads to a Christian life that is characterized by the righteousness, peace, and joy of the kingdom of God. On the other hand far too many give no heed at all to the reality that while they are ultimately defeated, we continue to wrestle against principalities and powers in heavenly places as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 6. Ignoring that reality can make you a casualty of this ongoing spiritual battle.

Understanding the larger picture of the spiritual battle gives the Church the wisdom to know that evils in our world are not going to be ultimately addressed by passing another law or taking away rights that come from God. Understanding that spiritual problems need spiritual solutions keeps us from putting our trust in princes. What will heal our nation is not a donkey or an elephant. What will heal our nation is a Lamb. Fr. Chris and I were talking the other day about the wisdom of the British who during WWII had CS Lewis give lectures over the BBC raido to the entire nation on Mere Christianity. They did not fail to fight evil with the Gospel.

Jesus also did what He did for us to make us heirs of God. This is from Galatians 4. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent for his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons. And because we are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son, then an heir through God.”

One of the joys that I have had as a parish priest is attending a few adoptions. Typically the judge makes it abundantly clear to the parents and to the child about to be adopted that there will be no legal difference whatsoever between the natural children and the adopted children once the adoption has gone through.

And that was the understanding of the biblical writers who speak of our spiritual adoption. The Bible says that we can’t even imagine all that God has in store for us and so it boggles the mind to believe that Jesus did what He did to  make us equal heirs with Himself. And whatever that inheritance looks like I’m pretty sure it will make winning the Power Ball seem like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

So the first “Why?” that was big enough for Jesus to face crucifixion is FOR HIS FATHER and the second “Why?” is FOR US.  I’ve left out 48 other reasons but I hope that you are getting the point. You could actually sum it up by saying that His “Why?” is because He loved His Father with all of His heart and soul and mind, and He loved us as Himself. Sound familiar?

Understanding more clearly why our Master did what He did, in turn leaves each of us a question. What is our “Why?” Are you going through life on automatic pilot or is your life ordered by godly convictions? Does your “Why?” only consist of the things of this world which Jesus says are only temporary,“where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Or does your “Why?” include seeking first the kingdom of God so that your treasures are being stored in heaven?

If your “Why?” consists only of the things of this life then you need to know that you are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This Resurrected Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth and the former things will pass away. So I plead with you today. If you have never done so or if you need to do it again, as you come forward to receive Jesus veiled in this bread and wine, cast yourself on His mercy. Ask for His forgiveness and submit yourself to His Lordship. This will bring true purpose to your life as you become a part of His plans for the world to come. 

Jesus told His disciples “He who perseveres to the end shall be saved”and then He modeled for them the “Whys” that are big enough to ensure that they will finish the course. We would be wise to be like the disciples and follow in our risen Lord’s footsteps and in this way walk in the power of His resurrection. And persevering to the end we shall all be saved. Alleluia, Christ is risen. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian and the Law

Law

It seems that in St. Pauls’ day there were two extremes when it came to recognizing the law of God. Some were legalists who thought that circumcision and the dietary laws were still in effect and demanded that Christians follow them. These were the ones St. Paul was writing about in Galatians. Others believed that all of the law had been abolished and so they were free to do whatever they wanted. Such people are called antinomians (from the Greek nomos = law). These were the ones that St. Paul was trying to rope back into the herd through his admonitions in Corinthians.

We continue to have legalists and antinomians in our day but I would guess that even for those who fall into neither category there continues to be some confusion about the Christian’s relationship with the law. So lets delve into it a little since we have the 10 Commandments before us in the OT lesson.

First, we need to note that not all laws are equal. Whether or not you are allowed to eat shrimp cannot be compared to “thou shalt do no murder”. Our Anglican Reformers recognized such distinctions and so they wisely divided the OT law into three categories. First there is the ceremonial law. This includes the dietary laws, the sacrificial system, the religious cultus. Since Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we are no longer under those laws. He is the fulfillment of them. Not only do we cease from making animal sacrifices, more importantly, we get to eat BACON!

A second category is the civil law. Israel was a theocracy and therefore had its own set of laws of crimes and punishments. But since the Gospel is to go to all nations, and in order not to impede the spread of the Gospel, Christians are to live under their particular nation’s laws as long as conscience allows. We are not called to institute Israel’s civil laws nor turn American into a theocracy. So we no longer stone or burn folks (but if you watch an episode of Reality TV you may want to reconsider).

The third category is the moral law. While Jesus fulfilled them through His sinless life, it does not follow that He made them null and void for us. He modeled them, He did not remove them. So when the rich young ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” The young man replied that he had kept all these laws.

Jesus then demonstrates that keeping the law does not save you and He did this by exposing that the rich young ruler ultimately trusted in his riches. But again showing that the moral law does not save you is not the same as saying that it is unimportant. Following Jesus, Christians are to keep the moral law because by doing so we demonstrate our love for God. They are not threatening rules, they are given to us as a light upon our path. They tell us how to live life as God intended it to be lived. As we just read from the Psalmist “the law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul.”…the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.” Let’s take a closer look each of them. .

The first commandment is to have no other gods but the Lord. That is about as straightforward as it gets and it is fairly easy to keep if you believe, as Holy Scripture teaches, that there are no other gods BUT the Lord. This fundamental truth is why universalism is a lie. There are no other gods and so there is no plan B.

The second commandment is that we are to have no graven or carved images. Romans, Orthodox and Anglicans get some push back about this from other parts of Christ’s Body because of our icons and statues and crucifixes, which some believe to be a violation of this commandment. But if this commandment was intended to be a wholesale ban against all images then God would have contradicted Himself when He gave Moses the design for the ark of the covenant that included two golden seraphim on the top.

The last ecumenical council, before the Church split east and west, teaches us that key here is that what is forbidden is not statues or images but rather the worship and the service of them. And while carved idols may not be a temptation for us today we do need to be cautious about other less obvious idols that we might be serving. If I check the stock market before I say my prayers every day then I might have a problem.

The third commandment is to not take the Name of the Lord in vain. That is important for at least two reasons. First because God’s name is Holy and so we don’t profane it by using it as a curse word or casually tossing it around. But second, from a biblical perspective, the name IS the person and so when we take His Name in vain we dishonor His Person. So for the sake of your soul don’t let this be a habit.

The fourth commandment is to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. In Leviticus 23 it says “Six days shall your work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.” The Sabbath is to be a day of rest and gathering for worship. It is a way that we confess that God is our ultimate provider and that we do not live by bread alone. Chick Filet is proof that it works.

It was during the time of St. Paul that the Church moved the Sabbath from Saturday to the first day of the week in honor of our Lord’s resurrection. I learned the hard way that if you ignore this commandment that you will pay for it. If you fail to worship your soul grows lean, and if you fail to rest you will end up burning out and getting the kind of down time that is anything but enjoyable. Rest and worship weekly. You were made for these things.

This ends the first tablet concerning our relationship with God. Now we move to the second tablet and our relationship with our neighbor. The fifth commandment is to honor our father and our mother. This commandment comes with a promise that if we do so then we live long in the land He has given us. The opposite seems to be true also. Children who are allowed to dishonor their parents are anything but blessed. They grow to disrespect all authority, they listen to no one, and they make up their own rules. In short they become fools. These are the ones who fill our prisons and rehabs and tear apart our social fabric. So parents I exhort you to teach, model and demand respect.

The sixth commandment is “You shall not murder.” This is a better translation than “Thou shalt not kill.” There is a difference. Look at David’s life. When he killed Goliath he was doing the Lord’s bidding. But when he murdered Bathsheba’s husband the Lord sent a prophet to call him to repentance. So when a police officer or someone in the military takes a life in the line of duty it is not murder, nor is it when a civilian does so in self-defense. Murder is the taking of an innocent life.

Number seven is “You shall not commit adultery.” And remember that Jesus even kicked this one up a notch when He equated it with lust. If He referred to His time as “a wicked and adulterous generation” what would He call our day given what is on the Internet or what comes out of Hollywood? In one generation we have gone from Mayberry to Sex and the City. While I have caution about some aspects of the #Me Too movement, it does shine a spotlight on how perverse that we have grown and hopefully will push at least some to seek a better way, to seek Gods’ way.

The eighth commandment is “You shall not steal.” And while this includes things, it goes beyond things. We can steal time when we do not give our loved ones the time that they deserve. We steal talent with we do not use our God given gifts. We can even steal from God. How is that possible? God says in Malachi, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithe and contributions.” They were failing to bring their tithes and offerings into the storehouse and so God sent the prophet to confront them. “Thou shall not steal” includes not stealing time, talent or the tithe from God.

The ninth commandment is about not bearing false witness. If we kept that commandment as a people there would be very little social media and even less of a Congress.

The last commandment is about coveting. This is a seditious sin because it goes from being envious to seeking ways to take what is not yours. Rather than rejoicing in the blessings of his neighbor, the covetous demands what others have even if they do not deserve it or have earned it. And when we consider the literally millions of lives lost when coveting is morphed into political and economic systems it is beyond sobering. It is then we can see this sin for the evil that it is and why a good God would want it out of our lives.

There is another insight about these commandments, as the Jews understood them, that is important for us to grasp. These laws are about living in community so they are more than just personal ethics. Thus the law to not murder not only means that I must not harm my neighbor but I have a responsibility to see that no one else does so either. From this perspective the deputy who failed to go into the school in Florida to stop the killer would be seen as culpable unless he had a very good reason that he did not act.

In case you find it difficult to remember all Ten Commandments, Jesus has made it simple for us. He said that loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves fulfills them all. And while that is extremely helpful, to think about it in the reverse can be equally helpful. How do I know that I am loving God? Because I have no other Gods but Him. Because I don’t worship idols. Because I don’t take His Name in vain. Because I make it a priority to stop what I am doing at least one day a week to worship Him. The same approach can be taken for loving my neighbor. The advantage in thinking of them this way is that we move love beyond being simply a feeling or an emotion and make it an action.

I have spoken with people that view the Ten Commandments as some onerous threat that hangs over their lives like the sword of Damocles. While it is true that they are not optional (you will note that they are not called the Ten Suggestions) they are not restrictive any more than two rails are restrictive to a locomotive. Imagine what our society would be like if we all kept these laws and had them written on our hearts. Would our society be repressed and puritanical or would it be a step closer to paradise? Surely the latter. And so that is why we can say with the Psalmist “The stautes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart.” In the Penitential Rite in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest recites each commandment and the refrain of the people is “Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law.” To which we should all say “Amen.”

 

Liberty and Love

life-liberty-and-love-sermon-1000x380

“Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

 

One of my previous Bishops tells of an incident that occurred to him when he was out of town. He and a number of other Bishops went into their hotel lounge for an after dinner drink and he noticed a young couple sitting at the bar. Eventually the couple got up to leave and as they did the woman came over to him and handed him a note written on a napkin. The note said, “It’s hypocrites like you that give us Christians a bad name.”

 

Isn’t it interesting that she did not consider herself a hypocrite for being in the lounge but she did for the Bishop? Perhaps her reasoning was since he had on a collar that he was therefore more noticeable as a Christian and so had a greater obligation not to be in the lounge. But that argument would only be true if there was something fundamentally wrong with him being in the lounge in the first place. The Bishops obviously didn’t think it was wrong or they would not have been there. I think what was really going on was her own conscience was getting to her because she was not certain that it was appropriate for her to be there. So the Bishop’s presence fueled her guilt.

 

Whatever the motivations of the various players, this scenario does present some interesting questions. What kind of behavior is unacceptable for a Christian? Do we bear any responsibility for what others might think or do because of our behavior? Are we supposed to have situational ethics or are there guiding principals that help govern what we do or do not do in terms of how it might impact others?

 

It is these kinds of questions that St. Paul was addressing with the Church in Corinth. The presenting matter was very different from anything that we may face in our day but the answers that the Apostle offers are still very applicable to us.

 

Here is the situation. In large Gentile cities like Corinth, pagan temples were of great importance. Part of the activity in these temples was to offer sacrifices. But the sacrifices only consisted of a part of the animal and so the rest of the animal was sold to merchants who in turn sold the meat in the market. Therefore it was common for folks to buy meat that had been sacrificed to idols and serve it at table.

 

This presented a problem for some. Could a Christian in clear conscience eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods and goddesses? And even if they raised their own food, what do they do when a pagan friend invites them over for dinner and they are served filet of Zeus?

In Paul’s day this matter was particularly troubling to new converts who had just come out of paganism and were trying to follow Christ in a world that was hostile to the Gospel. For some, eating the sacrificed meat was too much like their previous pagan life. It would be something like a new convert, who is recovering from alcoholism, going to a new church plant that is set up in a bar.

 

So St. Paul offered them some advice. But before we look at his advice let’s consider how churches both then and now typically responded to challenges like the ones that faced the at Corinth. One response is to follow a strict set of laws. These were the legalists that Paul addressed.

 

Our Puritan ancestors were famous for this approach to life. This is a law that the Puritans passed in Connecticut. “No one shall run on the Sabbath Day, or walk in his garden, or elsewhere except reverently to and from meeting. No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair or shave on the Sabbath. If any man shall kiss his wife, or wife her husband on the Lord’s Day, the party in fault shall be punished at the discretion of the court of magistrates.” This sounds bizarre to us but we see their religious decedents in many of the fundamentalist traditions today who have equally strange rules.

 

The guiding principal of legalism is that church should be opposed to the world. So anything that the world does, the church should not do so that the church doesn’t become like the world. On one level that sounds good, and some may even be called to follow that path, but as a general rule it is very difficult to follow. More importantly it does not bear true and lasting fruit. The greatest drawback to this approach is that you end up following the rules instead of walking in the Spirit. Plus when you are trying so hard not to be like the world, you end up letting the world set your agenda. And inevitably you end up needing more rules to clarify how to follow the first set of rules.

 

Both in Corinth and in the Church today we see some swing the pendulum entirely in the other direction. This logic is that since I have been forgiven and I am no longer under the law then I can do whatever I want. If you try to tell me what the Scripture says, then I will tell you that is just your interpretation. If you try to tell me what the Church teaches, then I will point out how the Church has been wrong before. If you try to hold me accountable, then I will tell you that you are being judgmental.

 

The person with this approach forgets that he does not live in a bubble and that his actions affect other people. More than not, when a person is vehemently defending their right to do whatever they want to do, they are at the same time trampling the rights of others. This is seen tragically in the pro abortion movement. When this mentality exits in the Church then the Church becomes a weather vane instead of a lighthouse and wherever the prevailing winds of the culture blow, the Church turns in that direction.

 

So what is the answer? St. Paul repudiates both legalism and licentiousness. His argument actually goes for about 3 chapters and so you have to read chapters 8, 9 and 10 to get it all but I will try to give you a summary of his argument.

 

First he clears up that the legalists are wrong to get all disturbed about meat sacrificed to idols. His reasoning is because there are no gods but God. So it really doesn’t matter if the meat comes from a temple or from Jim and Nick’s. Parts is parts. He says,“We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do.” In this way he points from legalism to liberty.

 

Next he confronts the licentious. In essence he tells them that just because there are no other gods doesn’t mean that they are now free to play with idolatry. Here is how he puts it in chapter 10. This is from the paraphrase The Message. Speaking of people who engaged in idolatry in the Old Testament he says, “…of them…God was not pleased. The same thing could happen to us. We must be on our guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did…We must not be sexually promiscuous – they paid for that…We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; (The Message p.2079).

 

So Paul says that the answer is neither legalism nor licentiousness. The answer is liberty and love and they become our guiding principles. Even though the Christian has perfect liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols, love may direct him not to do so, particularly if it is going to turn into a temptation for a younger Christian. That is what he meant when he said, “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Liberty understands that you have a right to eat but love doesn’t ask what rights you have. Love asks how your actions may affect others. And if you decide that your actions may harm someone else then love would say don’t do it. The law of liberty says what you CAN do. The love asks what you SHOULD do.

 

But let’s be clear about what it means to cause someone harm or to cause them to stumble. Someone getting angry with you because they disagree with you does not constitute causing them harm. Back to the story of the Bishop getting the angry note from the woman. He didn’t cause her to stumble because she was already in the lounge. She just didn’t think that he should be. So she was not stumbling, she was judging.

 

Causing someone harm happens if our actions influence them into acting contrary to their conscience, which would be a sin. That is what the Scripture means when it says, “that which does not proceed from faith is sin.” It does not mean doing something that may cause someone to be angry with you or disagree with you. If they simply disagree or become angry those are their issues and not your problem.

 

Therefore in the Corinthian setting, if eating meat would influence a new convert to go against his conscience, and eat when he really didn’t think that he should, then love would tell you that it is better to just have a salad. But if eating meat makes a person mad because he is a member of PETA then the problem is his. Your response to his rebuke is to lovingly ask him to them to pass the bbq sauce.

 

But since there is not a lot of temple sacrifices going on in Murfreesboro, Tennessee how would we apply the principles of liberty and love today? Let me take an example from the news. As of January 1 this year California has legalized recreational marijuana. But at the same time the news has been full of what is being labeled an opioid epidemic. CNN reported that deaths due to heroin have increased 533% between 2002 and 2016. These two drug related stories have the potential to be a head on collision, especially for folks who are addicted or are recovering from addiction. And according to government statistics that is 23.5 million or nearly 1 in 10 Americans. So what is the Church’s responsibility here?

 

It could be argued that once marijuana is legalized that a Christian is at liberty to use it. Some say they can because alcohol is also a drug used by many Christians. But that argument does not hold up. There is a difference between alcohol and drugs because they serve a very different purpose. The Scripture says that wine gladdens the heart but the only real purpose of drugs it to get wasted. To me there is a vast difference between having a fine wine with a nice meal and smoking a joint to get stoned.

 

Others would argue that we should avoid it all including alcohol but the list does not stop there. For some caffeine is considered a drug and so they avoid all caffeine beverages. But then we are in the midst of the battle between legalism and licentiousness and it is easy to become confused in how to respond.

 

Let’s go back to St. Paul who speaks of both liberty and love. Again the law of liberty tells you what you CAN do. The law of love asks you what you SHOULD do. It seems to me that not out of legalism, but out of love, we are called to have compassion on the 23.5 million addicted Americans and support them in their sobriety rather than putting yet another temptation before them in the form of Marijuana.

 

You can probably think of a dozen more examples of how liberty and love can guide our deliberations. The point is to see that the real question is not “what am I allowed to do?” but rather “what is best for my brother?”

 

I want to pull the camera back a give us a broader picture of what St. Paul is calling us to do and to be. We need to move beyond the question of personal ethics to see that the broader picture is the family of God, the Body of Christ, and how we are to function within that family. This whole discussion shows us that we are responsible and accountable to one another. The larger vision is to create a community that is filled with liberty and lover, a community that frees people from undue burdens. We are to be a holy nation that is not divided by everyone demanding their own way but rather united by serving and preferring one another in love.

 

When you think about it that is exactly how Jesus lived. This is Philippians 2 stuff on how Jesus did not grasp at equality with God but became a servant. So St. Paul is doing no more or less than telling us to act like Jesus. And since we are called by His Name that is how we should act. And by the way I firmly believe that if Jesus were walking the earth today that He would have been in that lounge with the Bishops, while modern day Pharisees were having a melt down, demonstrating liberty and love. Amen.

 

 

The Last Judgment

last judgement

Lessons – Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 126; I Thess 5:12-28; St. John 3:23-30

Let me begin by pointing out a liturgical matter. Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent and it is known as Gaudete Sunday. That name means “rejoice” which in the older liturgies was the first word of introit for the day. Its color can be rose to indicate that the end of this penitential season is close and rejoicing draweth nigh. (By the way when I wear it, it is a rose vestment. When Fr. Chris wears it, it’s okay to call it pink).

Sixty five years ago, December 1952, the angel of death swept through London. London has always been famous for their pea soup fog but this was a fog of a whole other magnitude. Stale calm air wrapped London like a blanket. It was called an “anticyclone” because it was the exact opposite of whirling winds. It was a deadly calm like the one mentioned in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

It was also extreemly cold so Londoners were stoking their coal fires. But because the premium coal was being shipped to the US to pay back war debts Londoners were burning dregs and coal dust. This made the smoke from the thousands of fireplaces more acidic than usual, and combined with the blanket of still air, it became deadly. Visibility dropped to less than one foot. Buses and cars came to a stop. Many abandoned their vehicles and tried to make it through the darkness on foot. By the time they arrived at their homes their lungs were filled with blackness, like that of a West Virginia coal miner, except in the case of the Londoners it took only hours instead of years. In the first 7 days 4,000 died and some estimates put it as high as 12,000 deaths over the next few weeks. It gave occasion to some to wonder if London was experiencing divine judgment.

In this season of Advent we are to be preparing ourselves not only for Christ’s first advent but also for Christ’s second when He will come to judge the quick and the dead. We say that we believe this when we recite the Creed but what do we actually believe about Judgment Day?

More progressive views suggest that the idea of God’s judgment is a primitive idea from the Old Testament that should be replaced by the kinder and gentler God of the New Testament. But it is not that easy to dismiss this concept. When you compare the plagues of Egypt with the judgment that Jesus Himself speaks of, when He describes a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:42), the NT judgment makes the OT judgment seem tame by compariston.

So as uncomfortable as it may be for us to think about the final judgment, it is a reality that we need to face. Perhaps the place to begin is to determine on what basis we will be judged.

It will not surprise you to know that this is a matter of debate within the Church. And this is so because some passages seem to indicate that we will be judged according to our works while other passages seem to indicate that we will avoid judgment if we have true faith. For example at the end of our Gospel reading today John the Baptist say this; “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36). Well which is it John? Is it belief that saves us or is it obedience? Is it faith of is it works?

And lest you think that John is mistaken here because St. Paul makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith, listen to St. Paul in Romans chapter 2. “For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good…but he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds.” (NLT)

Okay so which is it? Are we saved from judgment by trusting in Jesus or are we judged based upon our works. The Anglican via media answer to that question is “Yes.” It is “Yes” because the apparent contradiction is just that, not a true contradiction. In essence we are talking about two sides of the same coin. One side of the coin may produce the other but without two sides there is no coin.

Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine that you were in abject poverty and a very wealthy person had compassion on you and opened a bank account for you with $10,000,000. But even though you know that this had been done for you, you never touch a dime of it. You could go around and tell everyone that you are a millionaire ten times over, but because you are still in rags, there would be no evidence of it. In spite of the numbers in your account you would not be in a place to help anyone else and you would die as a pauper.

Now imagine the opposite. Imagine that you took the 37 offers for new credit cards that you get each day in the mail and open numerous accounts and max each card to their limits. You purchase new clothes, new furnishings, even a new car. From outward appearances you would look like you are rolling in the dough, but in terms of real assets, you would be totally bankrupt.

The pauper that was made rich but did nothing with it, is like the person who has faith but never puts it into action. That is the empty religion about which James warns us when he says that faith without works is dead. That is the person to whom Jesus says, “But I was hungry and you did not feed me, naked and you did not clothe me….I never knew you.”

Meanwhile the person who acts rich, but in reality is bankrupt, is like the person who thinks that they will be saved by their good works. They ignore the reality that their debt of sin is so monumental that no amount of good works could ever cancel the debt. That is why we need a Savior to pay the price for us that we cannot pay.

The true picture of how faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin is seen in the person who realizes that they have been made “rich” by the mercy of God and then use their “riches” to love and serve God and neighbor. Faith without works is poverty. Obedience without faith is bankrupt self-righteousness. Faith accompanied with obedience is storing up treasures in heaven.

So if we have faith accompanied by obedience are we exempt from the day of Judgment? The short answer is “No.” We are exempt from the wrath of God, we are exempt from the punishment of the second death, but we are not exempt from having our works judged. This is from Corinthians. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

What we have built with our lives is going to be inspected on the Last Day. If we used wood, hay and straw, our works will not pass inspection. If we used gold and silver and costly stones, we will not only pass inspection but we will be rewarded.

If you didn’t know better you would think that St. Paul stole this analogy from the story of the 3 little pigs. But message of both is the same. We can build our lives around things that are temporary and common or we can build our lives around things that are permanent and precious. We can focus our lives on the things of this world that are passing away or we can seek the permanency of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

So in preparation during this Advent it would do us well to ask ourselves what Christ will find in our lives on the day of His coming? Will He find the wood of consumerism or the gold of generosity? Will He find the hay of selfishness or the silver a servant’s heart? Will he find the straw of amusement or the costly stones of worship.

And here is the good news. In fact it is really good news. If we will build our lives with gold and silver and costly stones then we can actually look forward to the Day of Judgment rather than dreading it. Why would we look forward to it? Because, as Calvin once said, on that day we will be receiving not a “slaves wages” but a “son’s inheritance.”

Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for behold I create Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.’”

Every day we wake up to very bad news. We learn of some bonehead decision of our government, or corruption in the highest places, or shootings in our cities, or terrorist attacks at home and abroad, or a little maniac in North Korea threatening to start World War III. You have to work hard at being an optimist and live a life that is marked by joy. But it is still possible if we will fix our hopes where they should be fixed. Jesus told us that in this life we will have much tribulation but then He went on to say, “But fear not, I have overcome the world.” In this life there is no end of sorrows but in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more weeping. Sin and death will not even be remembered or come to mind. God will be glad in us and we will be glad forever. Our calling is not only to prepare ourselves for that wonderful day but also to tell others about it so that they will share in that joy with us.

The result of the tragedy that happened 65 years ago was a revamping of the way Londoners lived. They moved quickly from having coal fires as almost a birthright to other forms of energy. The tragedy literally made them clean up their acts. We do not have to wait until a tragedy to do the same. The knowledge that the Bible gives us about the Day of Judgment tells us what we need to do. Because we know that He is coming like a thief in the night, and we because we know why He is coming, we can act now so that rather than fearing the day of His coming we will welcome it with joy. That is why this day begins with “Rejoice.” Amen.