Was Joan of Arc married to Noah?

Story of Stories

Lesson: Nehemiah 8:2-10

One of my favorite comedians is named Kathleen Madigan. She has this great line. “I’m catholic, we don’t read the Bible, we pay priests to read it for us. The guy has all week off and no wife so he can show up with a 45 minute book report.” 

Evidently it’s not just the Romans who are not reading their Bibles. Barna did a poll and here is what they found. 12 percent of adults in America believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. 50 percent of graduating high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was first preached by Billy Graham and according to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a verse in the Bible. Gratefully that percentage dropped when they surveyed people who self identified as born again believers. It dropped to 81 percent!

This is kind of comical but it gets sober real fast when we realize what this kind of biblical illiteracy does to an individual, to a family and to our society. It may sound simplistic but how many of our nation’s ills would disappear overnight if people kept the 10 Commandments and followed Jesus’ Golden Rule? But a Pew survey discovered that while 80 percent of American could tell you all the ingredients in a Big Mac but less than 60 percent knew that “thou shalt not kill” was one of the commandments.

The writer who cited the Barna findings said this. “We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches. This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of biblical illiteracy, or a frighteningly large number of Americans–Christians included–will go on thinking that Sodom and Gomorrah lived happily ever after.”

 Our Old Testament reading paints a wonderful picture of the power of God’s Word with His people and it can be very instructive for us on how to become “deadly serious” about biblical illiteracy and its consequences. But before we look at the details let me give you some background to this story.

The year is about 445 BC. The Jewish people have been in exile for about 70 years, which is nearly two generations. They have returned to Jerusalem and found the land to be in literal and spiritual ruin. Nehemiah goes about rebuilding the walls while Ezra the priest seeks to rebuild the people spiritually.

What they found in their return was that those who had been left behind compromised and strayed from God’s commandments. They intermarried and took on the idols of the pagans that they married. One of my seminary professors told of doing a dig in the Holy Land of a Jewish town after the conquests of Joshua. He said in every home he found an idol buried beneath the floor. Outwardly they were the people of God but inwardly they held on to their idols as a plan B. It is this kind of compromise and syncretism that Ezra seeks to eradicate and so he declares God’s Word to them.

Do we have compromise and syncretism today? You had better believe it and it comes in many forms.

In the early 80’s the church that I was serving wanted to have a Christian school so I had to go to Texas to be trained in the curriculum. This particular group was extremely fundamentalist and so steeped in patriotism that they could not say “God” without saying “country.” And everything, and I mean everything, was red, white and blue. You would have thought that John Wayne was the third person of the Trinity.

While it is a good thing for Christians to be patriotic we must avoid the kind of syncretism that insinuates that God is on our side and so our nation can do no wrong. When Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on the side of the North he said, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

The Church needs to be free enough of nationalism that it can speak prophetically to the nation and call it into account. We must see the Body of Christ as being comprised of people from all the nations of the earth and our loyalty to Jesus and to His Body must be first and foremost. We are citizens of heaven before we are citizens of our respective countries.

After about a week of “God and country” by the bucket loads I got rebuffed when I asked them if they thought the Jesus also loved Canadians. We must rid ourselves of syncretism.

We also suffer the syncretism when we mix the culture with the Church. We are horrified with the idea that people in Old Testament times would sacrifice their children to Molech but I saw very little response when the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Boston called abortion “a blessing.” Consider how many denominations are accepting a redefinition of marriage that is not only contrary to Scripture and Holy Tradition but to millions of years of human experience….that is until our enlightened generation came along.

Syncretism exits in the Church in the form of the so-called “Health and Wealth Gospel.” It’s not an accident that this false gospel exploded in the 1980’s during what was called “the decade of greed.

I saw a video of two of these health and wealth guys talking and one of them was telling a story of how God started speaking to him when he was flying home from a meeting in his private jet and so he walked up and down the aisle talking back and forth with God. The other guy stopped him and looked into the camera and told the audience that is why these TV preachers need their private jets because you can’t walk and talk to God when you fly commercial. We must rid ourselves of syncretism.

Do we still have idols today? Yes we do and they also come in many forms. Work, money, sex, sports, these can all draw us away from loving God with all of our heart and souls and mind. We must rid ourselves of our buried idols.

How do we do it? How do we rid ourselves of syncretism? Ezra knew how. It is by being steeped in the Word of God so that what he did. He gathered the people and read to them the Scriptures. He read it to them by the volumes and then he sent out priests to explain the Scriptures that they just heard. The people’s initial response was conviction that they had strayed from God’s Word so they repented. But this quickly led to celebration and renewed strength in their relationship with God.

Isn’t that a fascinating pattern? God’s Word is read aloud (point to lectern), it is explained (point to pulpit), the people repent (point to kneeler), and then they celebrate and are renewed (point to altar). There is something vaguely familiar with that pattern. I need to give it more thought.

But let’s move on. There are several things to be learned from this story. First note that Ezra read to them from early in the morning until midday. And the Scripture says that the people were attentive to the book of the law. Early morning until midday is a lot of reading of Scripture and to be attentive that long meant that they disciplined themselves to hear God’s Word. They gave themselves to God’s Word.

What do we do today? We take one verse a day like a multivitamin or we use it like some kind of magic book. We ask God to show us what kind of car to buy and then we randomly open the Bible and our finger lands on the verse, “and the disciples were all in one accord” and we’re off the Honda dealership.

But the Word of God is more than a multivitamin and it certainly is not a magic book. It is God’s self- revelation and to know it we must give ourselves to it. Just as Ezra read to them for hours so we must dedicate hours to study it because we need to replace the narrative of the culture with God’s narrative and rid ourselves of syncretism. The Jews believe that reading, studying and even debating the Scripture is itself an act of worship and if Christians could but capture that perspective for ourselves we would go a long way in defeating biblical illiteracy at least in the Church.

Second we notice that the reading of Scripture led to worship. “Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”

Again the Word of God is God’s self-revelation and so we go to Scripture first and foremost to find God. Sadly even the Church gives us false narratives about God. How many of us growing up were given the impression that we better be good or God won’t love us so we go through the day thinking “Now He loves me, now He doesn’t?”

So we go to Scripture to learn the true narratives about God and this is where we discover the God who loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son not to condemn us but to save us. And when we truly see who God is, the natural response is to praise and worship Him.

If you study the Bible to prove your theology correct, or to straighten out other people, or to comfort yourself with escapist theories like the “rapture,” it does not lead to worship, it leads to self righteousness. But if you study the Bible to see the face of God then it will not only lead you to worship but it will transform your life. One of the most tenderhearted people in our parish is a man who has read through the entire Bible 17 times. It is not a coincidence that his heart is so sensitive to God and he is so biblically literate. The latter causes the former.

We have a wonderful advantage as Christians that Ezra did not have. When my son was young I loved reading with him the “Where’s Waldo?” books. We spent hours trying to find that little guy in the pictures. I think of that when I read the Old Testament because it invites us to play a holy version of “Where’s Waldo” in that we are to look for Jesus as we read the text. The early Church Fathers were masters at finding Jesus in the Old Testament and some times they even found Him when He was not there. But sadly too many in the Church today think that the Old Testament is irrelevant and so they don’t read it. But remember that after Jesus was resurrected He spoke with some disciples and revealed Himself to them in the Scriptures and at that point the only Scriptures that they had were the Old Testament. So the Old Testament is also His story. A truism they gave us in seminary was “The New is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed.” We must seek Jesus as we read the Old and we will find Him. And as we find the one true God He will purge us of our syncretism.

The third thing we see happen as a result of God’s Word being read, is that the people repent and then moved to celebration. “For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Just as worship is a natural outcome of discovering who God is, so is repentance. The closer we get to Him the more we see His holiness and the more we are aware that we are not. But what also leads us to repentance is His goodness, the graciousness of His call to us. When we realize the extent of His mercy and love, when He tells us that nothing can separate us from Him, it breaks our hearts that we have wasted so much time on dumb idols that give us none of this. Hearing God’s Word helps us come to ourselves, like the prodigal son who found himself slopping hogs and wondered if he had lost his mind. Repentance is deciding to leave the pigs behind and come home and instead of a scolding the Father throws his arms around us and welcomes us home.

After the prodigal repents and comes home, what was next? The Father throws a celebration. That is God’s way and so Ezra tells them to break out the food and wine, to share with those in need, and be renewed with joy.

So let’s do what our spiritual ancestors did and give ourselves to the reading of God’s Word. Let’s seek God in His Word and as we discover Him live lives that are filled with worship, repentance and celebration. Let’s find in Him the joy that is our strength.

Forgive me but I do need to give one spoiler alert. If it has been awhile since you have been in the Book, I need to warn you that Sodom and Gomorrah did not live happily ever after. Amen.

For God so love the world He didn’t have a Twitter account

No Twitter.jpgThere is a Latin phrase that says “lex orandi, lex credenda” which literally translates as the “law of prayer” and the “law of belief.” It is used to express the idea that we pray what we believe and that is why when people have asked me what we as Anglicans believe I say to them, “Come worship with us and you will hear what we believe.” We pray what we believe and we believe what we pray and that is why the Book of Common Prayer is so important to us. It is our theology book as well as our prayer book.

Of course the danger of having a Book of Common Prayer is that we can mouth the words without giving thought to what we are saying. But then again that can also be true of the extemporaneous “Father God we just really….” prayers. So whether or not we have our prayers written down is not the issue, rather if we are truly engaged when we pray. We need to give careful attention to what we are praying since it informs our beliefs.

In particular I am thinking today of what we pray and therefore believe in our baptismal liturgy, this being the occasion that we celebrate our Lord’s baptism. There are some very strong statements in our Prayer Book about what we believe happens here.

When we call for prayers for the baptismal candidate we say, “Let us now pray for this person who is to receive the Sacrament of new birth” p305. By saying that they are to receive the Sacrament of new birth shows that we do not believe that baptism is a symbolic response to already being saved. There is more going on here than that.

As we consecrate the water we say, “Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again…” p. 307. Again you can hear that we do not believe that baptism is a response to what God has already done in the person’s life but rather it is the means that God uses to do something in their life.

And when we offer the concluding prayer we give thanks that God has “bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin and have raised him to the new life of grace.” p.308.

So we believe that through baptism the person is having a divine encounter with God that causes them to be born again, cleansed from sin and be raised to a new life of grace. Let’s be clear, it is not the mechanical act of the baptism that causes this to happen. It is God the Holy Spirit who causes this to happen based upon His promises. We are saved by grace through faith and not as a result of works; it is a gift of God. The question is how we appropriate that gift. When the people asked Peter that question on the Day of Pentecost he replied, “Repent and be baptized and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is what we believe and so that is what we pray.

But this presents us with a challenge. If the Sacrament of baptism is to have us be born again, cleansed from sin and raised to a new life of grace, then why was Jesus baptized? We need to be born again because we are spiritually dead in our transgressions. Jesus was not spiritually dead. We need to be cleansed from sin because all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus was the sinless Lamb of Go. We need to be raised to a new life of grace but Jesus IS the Way and the Truth and the Life. So why was He baptized as we celebrate today?

One answer in the early church that was labeled a heresy was called Adoptionism. This heresy still exists today and you can hear echoes of it in the new age religions. Adoptionism says that it was at His baptism that Jesus became the Christ, until then he was just Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter. But when He was baptized and the Holy Spirit came upon Him and a voice from heaven declared Him to be God’s Son, that was when Jesus became the Son of God.

This of course has things backwards. Jesus did not become the Son of God rather the Son of God became Jesus. That is what John tells us in his Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” What attracts folks to this heresy is the promise of being more than they are. If Jesus was a regular guy and became the Christ then if you give money to the cult or attend their meetings or learn the secret then you too can become godlike. But in reality we will always be like the moon, content to reflect God’s glory but never becoming God.

This puts us back to our original question. Why was Jesus baptized? Jesus answered that question Himself when John objected to baptizing Him. Jesus said that it must be done “to fulfill all righteousness.” An ancient hymn of the Church explained it this way. “Through his baptism our Lord was manifested to the whole world and the waters were sanctified in preparation for our baptism.” (The Hymns of St. Ephrem). Everything that Jesus did was in obedience to the Father and so He was baptized out of obedience. But in His obedience He showed the way for all who would follow Him and through the Great Commission commands that all who will follow would be baptized as He was. He initiated the sacrament of initiation.

But the importance of Jesus’ baptism does not stop there. There are a couple more results of His baptism that informs us what we should expect to be the results of our baptism as well. The two results are manifestation and ministry.

Manifestation. After the story of Jesus as a boy talking with the elders in the temple, the story of His life stops for us. We know nothing about Him until He comes on the scene at the Jordan to be baptized by John. It is here that John would point at him and declare, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” It was here that the Holy Spirit would be manifest and come to Him like a dove. It was here that the Father would speak from heaven “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” With John’s declaration and these two supernatural events there could be no doubt that this was no mere man. “Through his baptism our Lord was manifested to the world…” 

Our baptism, in a similar way, manifests us to the world. When we three times renounce Satan and three times confess Christ, we are declaring to the world and to principalities and powers that we are making a stand. When we go into the waters of baptism it is like the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. We are leaving slavery and heading towards the Promised Land and there is no turning back. When we are raised to a new life of grace we have entered His kingdom and become citizens of heaven. Consequently we no longer live like those who are of this world.

I am studying a book with a brother and in this book the author says that we Christians should be maladjusted. I love this expression. What he means by that is that the world has become so desensitized to sin that it has become adjusted to it. But this author said, “Not all Christians are, but all Christians ought to be maladjusted to things like injustice, greed, materialism and racism.” He goes on to say that it takes courage to be maladjusted and to live differently than the culture. He say, “The only way we will ever find this courage is when we discover that we are a community of people who are rooted in another world.” Through baptism we are initiated into that community that is rooted in another world. Through our baptism we are freed to live maladjusted lives and be a testimony to the world.

The other result of Jesus’ baptism is that it launched Him into public ministry. First of course it put Him in contact with Satan, as He was forty days in the wilderness being tempted of the devil.

Over the years I have had to remind quit a few folks that this happened to Jesus because they felt after their baptism or confirmation or some very important commitment to Christ that someone had placed a target on their backs. When you manifest your commitment to Christ and especially when you dedicate yourself to spreading His kingdom then you can expect spiritual opposition. It goes with the territory but we can take comfort with the knowledge that the Scriptures declare “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” 

But after the 40 days in the wilderness Jesus engaged in public ministry. As God come to earth He went to the people. He didn’t sit in the temple and wait for them to come to Him. He went to their towns and villages and market places. He attended their weddings and even prevented a couple of funerals.

In a similar way our baptism should launch us into ministry. We are to look and pray for opportunities to love and to serve others. We, as the Scripture says, are to be zealous for love and good deeds.

I think that the Church is going to face some very challenging years ahead. One company that is an expert of church growth highlighted 5 disruptive trends that we will face in 2016. One disruptive trend is that people will use the live streams of worship services as their only contact with the church. I was talking with some Pentecostal preachers who are very concerned about this and I told them one advantage of being an Anglican is that until they figure out how to distribute bread and wine over the Internet we are pretty safe.

But what really got my attention was the comments of one person who said that he has grown more in discipleship and gained more friends via Facebook than he ever did going to church so he has quit going. I would imagine that he is not alone in that view because we read of all the young people who have dropped out of religion.

But what a delusion it is to think that you can be discipled through Facebook or that the people on your friend’s list are actually your friends and not just contacts. Discipleship and friendship requires that we meet with one another; it requires that we serve one another; it requires that we learn from one another, it requires that we love one another; it requires that we forgive one another. Discipleship and friendship requires washing some feet and that can’t be done sitting by yourself and gazing into a smartphone. For God so loved the world He didn’t have a twitter account. He sacrificed all and left glory behind to tabernacle with us. We must leave our comfort zones and tabernacle with others.

I truly believe that a time will come when people will wake up from their fake Internet communitiesand free themselves from slavery to their devices and long for true community. That is when the Church needs to be ready to receive them and to give them the community that they long for. And how do we build that community for them? In part by being engaged in ministry together. It is not just by attending Church; rather it is by being the Church. When we share a common vision and work together in common mission it builds up the Body of Christ. We become like the Band of Brothers who have fought and shared a foxhole together. That builds us into a community.

Billy Crain has spent years reading and studying the Bible and felt called of God to start a Bible Study for folks who are in recovery. He told me they wanted to call it Bible for Dummies because so many of them are just beginning in the faith. Already it is meeting the needs of guys who not only want to learn but want to help and support one another as they grow in the faith. Billy is an example of someone whose baptismal responsibilities have directed him toward ministry.

But doing ministry requires time and energy and effort. You don’t fall into by accident. You prepare and train and pray and practice. It requires, as Jesus showed us, that you have to live into the lives of others. That is what we are called to do.
The Roman Church has added another line to lex orandi, lex credenda. It is “lex vivendi.” They are saying by that, “As we worship, so we believe, so we live.” They are so right on that. If our worship and our beliefs are not impacting our lives then we either are doing it wrong or we have not connected the dots. Let’s take this opportunity, as we reflect on Jesus’ baptism and the implications of our own baptisms, to connect the dots between being given new life and living lives that matter. Let’s live lives that matter because they are in service to God and others. Amen.

 

 

Episcopal Church Suspended

Dunce cap

If you are an impatient person it can be a challenge being an Anglican. Our Church moves at a glacial speed. The good news is that the Primates upheld the biblical teaching on marriage and suspended the Episcopal Church from participation in the Anglican Communion for its unilateral revision of church doctrine. What is unclear is if there is anything else that the Episcopal Church will be called to do other than wait out the three year suspension. It is also not clear why the Anglican Church of Canada did not receive an equal suspension for the same reasons.

The other good news, particularly for us in the Anglican Church in North America, is that our Primate, Archbishop Foley Beach participated in the Primate’s Meetings and the GAFCON Primates spoke of him in their statement. This places ACNA squarely in the traditional wing of the Anglican Communion, which by the way, comprises the vast majority of our world wide members.

While I might want to see things move along to a faster conclusion I must remember that these are godly men, for whom literally millions are praying, and who are Spirit led. Things may become more clear by the end of their gathering. Or maybe not. I once opined to Bishop Ackerman about things being so messy in the Church and he said to me, “Ray why do you think that we are so important that things must be cleared up in our lifetime.” Ouch, but he was so right. In the end Jesus is still on the throne and the kingdom is not in trouble. Peace, out.

Hope, Riches, Power?

Hope. Riches Power

As Christmas was approaching, I was feeling the pressure. As I was pulling together the bulletins and writing a couple of sermons I grew anxious that the Christmas services would be a special blessing to all. In the midst of writing one of the sermons I received a text from the Archbishop telling me that he was praying for me and wishing me a blessed Christmas. I was so encouraged, knowing that he was praying for me, that a good deal of my burden was lifted and I was able to press forward with renewed energy.

I believe that the Church at Ephesus must have experienced a similar sense of encouragement knowing that the Apostle Paul, not only held them in high regard, but that he also was praying for them. He said that he did not cease to give thanks for them and then he tells them the things for which he prays. This is no “now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. This prayer is powerful and it is safe to assume that God inspired the Apostle to pray this prayer because it was God’s will for His Church. This was God’s will them and it is God’s will for each of us.

But before we take a closer look at what the Apostle prays for them and for us, notice the context of the prayer. He is praying these things because God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ and has chosen us before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless in love.

There is a lot of theology packed into those couple of lines and while on one hand it would be edifying to unpack that theology, let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Paul is not inviting a theological debate on predestination versus free will here. He is informing us that God is going to do these incredible things for us because even before the creation of the world He set His love upon us. Don’t get sidetracked at this point worrying about the guy in Papua New Guinee who has not heard the Gospel. Simply accept this truth that you are accepted in the Beloved, that you were chosen before the foundations of the world. Once you are grounded in that truth then you can worry about the guy in New Guinee and maybe even be moved to do something about it. Now lets look at the prayer.

First he prays that God would give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know Him. That sounds kind of mystical but it is very important to understand. The journey that we are on is to know God, but we must understand from the outset that the knowledge of God does not come in the same way that we gain knowledge about science or medicine or art. We cannot study our way into the knowledge of God. We can only know Him as He reveals Himself to us.

Think of it this way. You can read a thousand books on marriage and even earn a PhD in marriage and family therapy but until you are actually married, you don’t have a clue. You have to be in a relationship in order to learn how relationships work. And so God invites us into a relationship with Him and it is in the context of that relationship that we come to know Him more fully and are conformed more and more into His image.

This spirit of wisdom and revelation that St. Paul speaks of is the Holy Spirit in our lives. Without Him we cannot know God. It is why we must be careful not to quench or to grieve the Holy Spirit and why we are to have our lives open to His teaching and direction. He is the one who leads us into all truth.

Have you ever been frustrated trying to share the Gospel with a really smart person and yet no matter how simple you put it they don’t seem to get it? St. Paul explains why in 1 Corinthians. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him, these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” So we need the Holy Spirit to reveal God to us because He is not known simply through human wisdom.

But his prayer does not stop there. Next St. Paul prays that we would know the hope to which we have been called. It is very important that we understand that he is not using the word “hope” as we use it today. We apply hope today to something that we would like to have happen but to which there is no guarantee. We even apply hope to something that may not even have a snowball’s chance. For example you hear all the time of people hoping to win the lottery in spite of the fact the chances are in the hundreds of millions to one. But still they hope.

Hope is used in a very different way in the New Testament. In the New Testament, hope is a reality in God that we have not yet realized. But it is so certain of a reality in our future that it should affect how we live our lives today.

If you knew that your name was in an irrevocable trust and that at some point in the future that you would inherit a vast fortune, do you think it would have an impact on how you live your life today? Of course it would. If nothing else you wouldn’t any longer worry about your financial future. Well our future in Christ is certain and St. Paul is praying that we are enlightened to understand the hope that we have in Christ.

And what is that hope, what is the reality yet to be realized? Our hope is the return of Christ. Our hope is the resurrection of the dead. Our hope is that these bodies of corruption will be exchanged for incorruptible ones. Our hope is that we will be joint heirs with Christ in a new heaven and a new earth. Our hope is to be with the Lord forever.

And should this hope affect how we live our lives today? How could it not? Our hope is what gives us different priorities from the world as well as different values and different goals. The world is about grabbing all the gusto and “he who dies with the most toys wins.” But we are to be about loving God with all of our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves. The world is about storing up riches on earth. We are to be about storing up riches in heaven. We understand that while you can’t take it with you, you can send it on ahead. The certainty of our future, our hope, influences how we live from day to day.

The third thing that St. Paul prays for us is that we would know of his glorious inheritance among the saints. Actually the way this sentence is structured it can also read that we would know his glorious inheritance IN the saints. This brings to mind the time of persecutions of the early church when the deacon w
as ordered to turn over the treasures of the church to the governing officials and a couple of days later the deacon brought them the poor and the sick. He understood the true riches of the Church.

To have that same perspective we have to be careful how we appraise one another. You know the expression that we are not to judge a book by its cover. Well the Apostle took it a step deeper and said that we are to know no man after the flesh. In other words we are not to value one another with standards of the world like how much money or education they have or their position in life. Rather we are to appraise one another according to the Spirit and when we do that we see others of infinite worth because they have been created in the image and likeness of God. Rather than dividing people into class or race or status we, as we promised in our baptismal covenant, are to seek and serve Christ in all people.

In one sense it was a true gift when the Episcopal Church took our building away from us in 2006 because those years in the wilderness had us experience what we knew intellectually and that is that the Church is the people and not the building. I believe during that time we grew in our appreciation for one another. We experienced his glorious inheritance IN the saints.
The last thing for which he prays is that we would know the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe. If God willed all of these wonderful things for us, but did not have the power to bring them about, then our hope would be nothing more than a wish. But because of His power then all things are possible and so we do not hope in vain. His sovereignty over all secures us in our daily lives and allows us to rest in His will.

This story of the holy family fleeing to Egypt and then returning to Nazareth is an example of His power to care and to keep His own. Notice that both the flight to Egypt and the return to Nazareth were fulfillment of prophecies so these were done in accordance to God’s will. And yet there is no indication in the text that the principals involved were aware that they were fulfilling prophecy. Add to that the wrinkle that in both cases they were responding to the actions of evil men. The holy family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod and they moved to Nazareth to avoid Archelaus. We can hardly say that these two evil men acted as agents of God in threating the Child and yet their actions and Joseph’s response led to the fulfillment of prophecy. Only God’s sovereign power could coordinate people and event in such a way to accomplish what had been predicted by the prophets and at the same time have people operate as free moral agents.

Because of the greatness of His power we can see events in our lives as reflections of His loving and powerful care. While not everything that happens to us every day is a direct result of the hand of God, you don’t have to have too many divine appointments happen before you start to doubt coincidences and start believing that the Shepherd is watching over His sheep.

Some people doubt that the Lord is that intimately involved in each of our lives but that is because, to quote JB Phillips, their god is too small. If He can spin universes off of His fingertips then He can get you where you need to be when you need to be there. When I think back over my life I realize that if x or y or z did not happen then I would not be who or where I am today. What brought about the x or y or z in my life if not the power of the Lord? It wasn’t an alignment of the planets and it certainly wasn’t my doing. I’m not smart enough to weave what has become the tapestry of my life.

And where we particularly see His power at work towards us is when He brings good out of evil. In His power He was able to take the execution of the only sinless Man who ever lived and make it the very cause of our salvation. I would i
magine that if we had the time that nearly every one here could give a testimony of something happening to them that they would not wish on their worst enemy and yet God was able to work it to the good. People who are able to see His power work in this manner are people of faith and often are used as wounded healers. People who cannot see God’s power at work become crippled by bitterness and unforgiveness. So we need to understand His power.

The greatness of His power towards us is therefore the reason that we do not live in fear. If because of His power there is nothing that can separate us from His love then what is there ultimatley to fear? I read a letter written in the Middle Ages from an Abbot to some Knights Templar who were defending a holy site. He said it in very lofty terms but in essence he presented to them a win/win situation that resulted from faith in God. He remarked that if they defeated the enemy then they had won a victory for the Lord and if they were killed in battle then they would go and be with the Lord. So either way it comes out a win and so he encouraged them to be brave. Belief in God’s power creates a win/win situation in our lives and frees us from fear.

I saw a great quote that I posted last week. It said, “Our hope is not in the new year but in the One who makes all things new.” Perhaps the most important thing that God can make new for us in this new year is our relationship with Him. This prayer of St. Paul is the means for that very thing to happen. Let us pray. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Amen.