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F. Earle Fox
Sermon at St. Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA -- Nov. 29, 2009
Advent I - Mal. 3:1-6 & 4:4-6; Ps. 50; Rom. 13:8-14; Mt. 21:1-13
In the last book of the Old Testament we read this morning: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple... But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?"
That prophecy takes place in our Gospel from Matthew. A conquering military leader typically had a triumphal procession when he returned home, celebrating his military victories over his enemies. He would ride on a war horse, signifying his military power, with his army marching behind, and his prisoners.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a beast of burden, not a war horse. But His intent was to declare to all who had eyes to see that He was coming as their King of kings and Lord of lords. It was the climax of their "time of visitation". The Lord Himself was visiting them, God Himself was visiting them -- in a manner unparalleled in all history, before or since. Jesus was now pushing the whole event to its climax. Jesus was the aggressor, not the Pharisees. The Pharisees were on the defensive at every point. Jesus was pushing them to decide: "Either you are with Me or you must get rid of Me. There will be no middle ground."
As Jesus entered on the donkey, the crowd cried out,
"Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the
highest!" But the city did not rise up and proclaim Him king, and the leaders were dead set against Him.
In the Lukan version of the entry into Jerusalem, we read of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He knows what is coming.
"Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation."
Those were terribly troubling words. Jesus goes immediately to the Temple and, for the only recorded time, uses coercive force, knotted cords as whips -- to drive out the money changers. "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves."
I recently purchased a DVD, The Money Masters (www.themoneymasters.com), which documents how the ancient coin dealers became the first bankers. Coins in early days were made by private coin dealers, just like any other product. The Jews had to pay the Temple tax with a specific coin, a Jewish coin, because they did not want Roman or other coins with a pagan god or goddess, or a foreign ruler, stamped on it. The coin dealers, however, learned to buy up the coins, getting a corner on the market, and then sell those coins for whatever the market would bear -- to their benefit, and to the loss of especially the poor. Everyone had to pay the tax.
For the first time I understood why Jesus was so fiercely determined to drive the money changers out of the Temple. They were part of a terribly evil and corrupt money system which would eventually learn how to control whole economies by controlling the money supply. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. The story leads right to the door of our own so-called Federal Reserve (http://www.realityzone.com/banking.html).
In the Bible, Jesus has more to say about how we handle our worldly goods than any other subject. He understood the terrible power which physical wealth has over our fallen lives.
"...and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation."
I lived for six years, from 1999 until 2005, in Alexandria, VA, right across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, working with a ministry helping people out of the homosexual life style.
At one point, I made a visit to a senator to see if he would be interested in some information on how to win the battle against the homosexual agenda which was advancing like a hot knife through butter. Like all other so-called "conservative" leaders whom I met, in and out of the Church, he was not interested. And so they continued to lose the battle.
As I was walking around the capitol buildings, the phrase kept running through my mind, "not one stone left upon another..."
I lived near the top of Beacon Hill in Alexandria, a small hill compared to hills around here in California, but Washington, DC, was mostly a flatland, formerly sea level marshland, and one could see from Beacon hill across the Potomac River, over the government buildings, past the Washington Monument, several miles to the hill on the far side, where, there on the horizon stood the massive National Cathedral. It was the largest object on the horizon, but almost no body recognizes it because it is irrelevant to American life. Nobody turns to our spiritual leadership for serious discussion of public policy. The cathedral is just there, magnificent, but ignored.
The cathedral had become a pagan temple, celebrating the worst of what has happened to the Episcopal Church. I would occasionally go there to pray in one of those massive towers, about half way up where there was a ring of windows all around, overlooking the District of Columbia. I would walk around the windows and pray over the whole city. My primary prayer was always that God would raise up truth-seekers and truth-speakers -- without which no society can survive with sanity intact, and because honest truth-seeking and truth-speaking is the Royal Road, the Camino Real, the King's highway -- to the King.
And, occasionally, again I would hear those awful words, "...not one stone left upon another." I do not know whether I was hearing a prophecy (it will happen), or a warning (it will happen if you do not repent). With Jerusalem it was too late, it was a prophecy. And it did happen.
Do we know the time of our visitation? Clearly, no, we do not.
The Lord God Almighty has blessed this nation beyond that of any other in countless ways. Yet we have over and over violated that stern warning, recorded in Deuteronomy 8, given to the Hebrews prior to their entry into the Promised Land:
"Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His commandments..., lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them.... Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as at this day."
The wealth God gives is part of His confirmation that He is our God and we are His people. He wants to bless us with all the goods of creation. Does either America or the Church know the time of its visitation? Will we continue to believe and act as though our strong right arm got us our this enormous wealth?
And will we continue to let today’s money masters, in the very midst of this wealth, reduce our people to debt slavery? (You may wonder why we are in the midst of an economic recession. That is what it is about.) Or will we take a knotted cord and drive the money changers out of our system?
The Christian Church, the sadly Church unmilitant, has been reduced to control by the civil government. And therefore the people do not have the government on a Constitutional tether. Rather, Caesar has the Church on an anti-constitutional and anti-God tether. Christian leaders are allowing the civil government to tell the Church what we can and cannot say from our pulpits.
That is betrayal by the Church of the sovereignty of God.
We are sternly warned in our lessons today of the coming, impending Judgment of God. Judgment is always taking place, of course, partly in the events which we bring upon ourselves by our unrepented sinful and self-destructive behavior. If you jump off a cliff, you fall. If you sin, you alienate yourself from your very Source of Being. That cannot fail to be self-destructive. You bring our own judgement upon yourself automatically.
Our founding fathers recognized that nations are not judged on the final Day of Judgement, so God has to judge them here and now. They rejoiced openly at the special provision which God had so often given them in their war with King George III. The providence of God intervened to give them unexpected victories. And they sternly warned, as had the prophets, that the judgement of God could and would fall upon us if we strayed from His purpose for the founding of America.
St. Augustine, in his book, The City of God, had centuries earlier warned that those nations which refuse to submit themselves to the purposes of God will die. He was referring to the recent barbarian sacking of Rome, and the continuing collapse of the Roman Empire, which had said "no" to the invitation -- to become a Godly empire.
Today, America is openly and brazenly giving the same answer that Rome gave. But the Church is mostly disengaged and oblivious. We have few Augustines defending God’s rightful sovereignty over all things. Many Christians are acting as though our own strong right arm made us rich. And the Church is for the most part unware of the problem, let alone the solution. The Church is fighting mostly within itself, and is making little public witness against the travesty of our government, against the constant subversion of the sovereignty of God over our government. God owns the whole universe, including the political part of it. And Christians do not know how to stand up and say that -- logically, factually, and gracefully.
So, let us ask ourselves that fearful question: What is God saying to us?
What part can we play in this extraordinary drama being played out in America, in both Church and politics? What has happened to us Christians that we are so incapable of making a public witness to God in the face of a growingly hostile civil government?
Let us ask ourselves, "What impresses us the most?"
What tugs at our inner heart the more strongly: the presence of God or the presence of worldly forces? What sparks our motivation the more strongly? The fear of economic collapse or the violation of the will of God by probably the great majority of both Church and political leadership?
Within our consciences, does the Voice of God seem strong and bold? Or is that overridden by "What will my friends/boss/family think? I do not want to be seen as a ‘fundamentalist’!" When push comes to shove, whose judgement do I fear? That of public opinion, or that of God?
Who has the stronger personal presence in our consciousness? Of whom are we more aware as we go about our business daily? God -- or some aspect of the world, the flesh, or the devil?
The flesh is our own desire for personal pleasure and/or power -- my own strong right arm. The world is that system of values and forces all around us which are not submitted to the law and grace of God. So, we need to ask ourselves, which looms the largest in our awareness, the forces of the world, or the presence of God?
If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to say that much of the time, in some cases, perhaps the overwhelming part of the time, the world and the flesh are making the biggest impression on us, on our behavior and attitudes. We will have to admit that much, if not most, of the time, we will choose for our own personal comfort and safety rather than for obedience to God in all things.
It need not be that way. God has provided us with the resources for changing our lives to conform to His plan. Trust and obedience are not hopelessly unrealistic challenges. We are made for God. We are intelligently designed for accomplishing the will of God for our lives. In fact, the will of God for our lives is the only purpose for which we are designed, and the only purpose which we can accomplish wholly and completely. All purposes not in line with God’s will sooner or later fail.
The judgement of God begins at the household of God. So, let us rejoice! We Christians must examine why we have been so ineffective in our public and private witness to God, and search out how we can become effective so that it is the world, the flesh, and the devil who are on the run, not the Church of God.
The judgement of God is a sign of hope, not of despair. It is a sign that the Lord still plans to equip us and use us in the spiritual warfare which rages about us until His second coming. It is a sign that the enemy will be conquered, and that we can be a part of that victory -- as Moses was with Pharaoh. As we are preparing to celebrate once again the first coming of Jesus, we must do some serious house cleaning to make ourselves ready for His appearing, as it were, yet once again in our midst.
Let us set for ourselves a purpose for the four weeks of Advent that we ask God to show us for our own personal lives the day of our visitation, and, in the words of our collect for the First Sunday of Advent, to learn more deeply and specifically how to identify within ourselves, and how to cast away -- the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now for the next four weeks of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ is coming to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we, having been warriors for You, blessed Father, may rise to the life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and forever. Amen.
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