2nd Sunday after Christmas Day A St. Patrick’s/Smyrna Fr. Raymond Kasch
January 5, 2014
Jer 31:7-14 Ps 84:1-8 Eph 1:3-5, 15-19 St. Matt 2:13-23
Here we are at the beginning of a new year and it is still new enough to be filled with all kinds of promise. Post after post on Facebook these last few day have expressed hopes that this would be the best year ever. But that will only be possible if we fix our attention in the right direction. My response in my own post was “Our hope is not in the new year….but in the One who makes all things new.” This lesson from Ephesians points us in that direction.
When we consider what St. Paul is praying for them, and when assume as an inspired apostle that these are what God wants for them and for us, then we can conclude that what God wants for us is nothing short of astonishing. He prays that they would 1) know what is the hope of their calling, 2) know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and 3) know what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe. Hope, riches and power. That’s what the Apostle is praying for. Hope, riches and power. Just saying that out loud makes me feel like a TV preacher, but not wanting to sound like one of them does not negate the fact that this is God’s desire for us.
But let me quickly add that our next task is to better understand what these things truly are and what they mean for our lives. You probably don’t need a spoiler alert for me to tell you that the hope, riches and power of the Apostle’s prayer are not what people typically imagine them to be.
First we need to understand that St. Paul uses the word “hope” very differently than how we use it today. When we speak of hope today we really mean something that we wish for and that may or may not happen. “I hope one day to get married.” “I hope one day to be rich and famous.” “I hope one day to win the lottery.” Some of those hopes may be realistic and some of them don’t have a prayer but none of them are assured. That is why we hope for them. But when St. Paul speaks of hope it is not a wish, it is a reality but it is a reality that has yet to been realized. For example when he speaks in Philippians of the hope of the resurrection he is not wishing for something that may or may not happen for him. He is assured of the resurrection but because it has not yet happened it is his hope. It is in the future but still he can take it to the bank today.
Thus while the New International Version says “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” the New Living Translation avoids confusion over the word hope and simply says “so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called.”
It is important to note here that St. Paul is NOT praying that we will have a wonderful future; rather he prays that we will be enlightened so that we will understand that we have a wonderful future. It is already a part of God’s plan for us who are in Christ but we often lose sight of that in our day-to-day lives. We also lose sight of that when it looks like the good guys are not necessarily winning and when it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel may just be an oncoming train. That is why we need the eyes of our heart to be enlightened.
I read a statistic the other day that pleasantly surprised me. Researches at the University of Cincinnati have discovered that 85% of what we worry about never comes to pass. 85%! That statistic is enough to make you worry about how much you worry. I’ll give you an even more accurate statistic. In 50 years 100% of what I am worried about will not happen. And yet how much of peace and joy I lose through this fruitless activity. How about you?
When Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about what we will drink or eat or wear but to seek first the kingdom of God, He is telling us to get our eyes off of the temporal things and to focus on the wonderful future that God has for us. It’s not that we are not to care about our life here and go off and join a convent. But rather we are to put our cares and concerns for this life in the context of the guaranteed wonderful life that God has in store for us. Why is that important to do?
To put it simply, if you think this life is all there is then it makes sense to do all that you can do to be happy now, even if that includes being unfaithful to the truth. But if you believe that you have an eternity of happiness before you, then you will endure what you need to endure in this life in order to be faithful, even if it means not being happy…….at least not yet.
The icing on the cake of this prayer is that we are told that Christ has been raised to God’s right hand in heavenly places and we as His Body are there with Him. We are even now seated with Him in heavenly places! This means that for the Christian, even tragedy is a temporary state. God has ordained us for a joy and glory that is everlasting.
There is a second thing that St. Paul prays. He prays that we will see what a rich and glorious inheritance God has given to us in the saints. Actually the Greek here is not really clear and I wonder if the Apostle did not intentionally make it ambiguous in order to leave us with a layer of interpretations. You can either translate the passage to read that we have a rich heritage WITH the saints or we have a rich heritage IN the saints. Or perhaps we are to understand it as both.
Let me try to explain what St. Paul means by looking at our parish. A little over 7 years ago God called us out as a congregation, put together a staff, led us to property and later moved us into our permanent home. This was done by His and your faithfulness and it was done without old endowments or diocesan finances or diocesan oversight. (And that latter was actually a very good thing. The last time I had to defend a building program before a diocesan building committee, that didn’t know the difference between a sacristy and a sack of potatoes, I nearly lost my religion). Anyway, my point is that while we received no outside help, it all came together and we were still able to reach out in significant ways to help refugees and others in need, we were able to send support to our newly formed Diocese and we even helped a small parish in Texas to survive that was led by Bishop Ackerman.
When you consider that not all of the parishes that did a similar thing survived, we can be sure that God has blessed us with riches. But one of the most important things that we learned in this whole process was something to which most only give lip service. That is the truth that the Church is the people and not the building. While I am ever grateful for this space and I love dearly it, we learned that our riches are not in brick and mortar, nor are they found in the financial statements that the Vestry reviews each month. Our treasures are in the saints sitting next to each other in the pews. Our treasure is in the saints who have gone before us. Our treasure and inheritance will be in the saints who will come after us. Our treasure is WITH the saints, in that we all share this treasure together, and our treasure is IN the saints, in that it is each of Jesus’ sheep that is of infinite worth.
I love the story of St. Lawrence who was a deacon and church treasurer in Rome. He was arrested in 258 AD and the Prefect of Rome ordered him to produce the treasures of the church. Lawrence said he would need two or three days to gather it and after three days he returned and as the doors were opened he presented the lame and the poor and the blind and said to the Prefect, “Behold the treasures of the Church.” He was taken away, and after being tortured, he was roasted alive on a gridiron. Lawrence was one who had the eyes of his heart enlightened.
The third thing for which the Apostle prays is that we would understand the incredible greatness of God’s power toward us. This last quality makes the first two a reality. It is all well and good for God to desire for us hope and riches but if He did not have the power to deliver them, then St. Paul’s prayer would just be an apostolic version of “Have a nice day”. If we can see that God’s power is perfect, then we can know that He will accomplish whatever He says he will accomplish, including and especially giving us our ultimate salvation. We certainly see God’s power to accomplish His will in the life of Jesus as revealed in our Gospel lesson today.
This is an interesting story. It is the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt and it is layered with some interesting questions. Was their flight into Egypt an afterthought or was it a part of God’s original plan? Did Joseph improvise, adapt and overcome, or was there something greater going on here? We know that Herod filled with rage that another king had been born, crafted a plan to take Jesus’ life. But Herod’s plan failed. God warned Joseph through a dream to take his family and to flee to Egypt and in doing so they fulfilled an ancient prophecy that God’s Son would come out of Egypt.
But what are we to make of all of this? Since Herod was the instigator that forced them to Egypt was Herod then a servant of God? No, clearly he was warring against God. And yet God used that. And what about Joseph? Did Joseph take Jesus to Egypt as some kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy? No, there is no indication that Joseph even knew about the prophecy, otherwise he wouldn’t have needed an angel to come to him in a dream and give him directions. What we see here is the power of God at work to accomplish God’s will. Somehow, in a way that only God can do it, both Joseph and Herod acted as free moral agents yet God had them accomplish what He had planned all along and had prophesied through the prophets. It is a mystery how God can be sovereign and man can be responsible at the same time but we don’t have to understand how it all works in order to celebrate it. We just need to know that God is all-powerful and what He wills for us will be done.
Years ago I heard a preacher say that God is depending on us to get the job done and that if we don’t do it then God will fail. Even at the time that I heard it I didn’t think that was right but I also knew that even if it was true I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. I didn’t want to think of God in His heavens wringing His hands and wondering if Kasch was going to get it done so that He didn’t fail. But of course you know that the preacher was wrong. God is more powerful than depending on us to keep from failing. While He has called us and we have the privilege of being coworkers with Him, we also need to remember that if we fail to get the job done He is perfectly capable, as Jesus said, of raising up the rocks to do it. Our joy and privilege is that through His power we are called and equipped to be His servants and yet it is also a great relief to know that even in our weakness, His power is perfected. This is a win-win situation for us.
So there you have it. Hope, riches and power. That is God’s will for us and that just might be a good thing to focus on in this New Year. Jesus said that He gives peace but not like the peace that the world gives and so we can also believe that He gives hope, riches and power also not as the world gives. That is a very good thing given that the hope, riches and power of the world are transient at best and corrupting at worse. So we can joyfully say, “I’d rather have whatever it is that Jesus is passing out.” May this be for each of you the best year ever, but the best year ever in Christ. Amen.