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Sermon by F. Earle Fox
at St. Luke's Reformed Episcopal Church, Santa Anna, CA Sunday, June 29, 2008
Scripture readings: Psalm 22:23-35; Ezekiel 2:1-7; Acts 12:1-11
Today is St. Peter's Day, we celebrate one of the apostles, chosen, discipled, & sent out by Jesus to begin a new chapter in the process of retaking the world for God.
The Great Commission reads in Matthew 28,
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Retake the world for God!!?? Well, how have we done? How close are we?
I do not believe that the world will be fully taken for
God until Jesus returns, His 2nd Coming. But I do believe
(1) that evil cannot survive in the light, it must create darkness, smoke and mirrors, and deception to function in public. And,
(2) that God has given His Church all the equipment we need to proclaim the truth, to shed that very light which will compel the forces of evil to hide under the rocks, in the caves, out of sight of the public arena.
God has given us the Sword of the Spirit, the word of truth spoken in love, as our offensive weapon, and all the armor of the Spirit. We do have the ability under the law and grace of God to create a Godly society, not perfectly, but functioning and effective, in which the law and grace of God are understood and applied both in our personal lives and in the public arena -- politics, commerce, the media, education, etc.
How might one measure the success of that venture? A Roman Catholic friend once asked me what I thought the True Church was? How would I identify it? I replied that the True Church is wherever people are making their bodies, as Paul enjoins, a living sacrifice to God and to one another.
All the rest is supporting equipment and strategies to make that happen -- the Bible, sacraments, ministry, all of our physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual equipment is to help us live the way of the cross, to make our bodies a living sacrifice to God and to one another.
Our bodies, of course, represent our souls. Our bodies are sacraments of our souls, outward and visible signs of our souls. So making our bodies a living sacrifice means dedicating the whole of our being to God and to one another. That fulfills the two Great Commandments -- to love God and one another.
Well, what would that look like? You can find powerful examples of that all through Christian history, beginning right with those first 12 disciples-become-apostles. But using the early saints as examples of what we are to do has lost much of its effectiveness because we see them as ready-make saints. "Well, of course they can do that sort of stuff. They lived in Biblical times."
We do not see them as ordinary citizens like us who have indeed been transformed by the law and grace of God into persons who have the power of God to be themselves fully and wholly in front of any person or situation, the power of God to speak their heart's knowledge of God, their Savior, anywhere, any time, with anyone.
And we do not typically believe that the power of God has not diminished, that the arm of the Lord has not been shortened to do mighty works. And we certainly do not believe Jesus' word that we would do more mighty works than He did. We are not doing them....
We Christians, for the most part, do not believe that God works signs and wonders in the world around us. We do not expect Him to. Secularized science (not real science) has replaced God as the savior of the world. And most Christians have no capacity to challenge that idea.
Most of us Christians in the West, in America, do not have the power, not, at least, so's you notice, to tell the Good news, to say out loud in public, that Jesus is Lord. And we have effectively neutralized those saints who first planted our faith in the pagan world, relegating them to the dusty past. So, I offer instead an example from a very current book I am reading, The Coming Influence of China.
It tells the history of Christians in China through the Communist years. It is full of stories and vignettes of Chinese Christians who are currently transforming China into a Christian nation in the face of a government which has been a world-class totalitarian, brute-force mind-controller of populations. In China, the Christians are winning.
China is predicted by some China-watchers to become, in effect, a Christian nation as early at 2030, their numbers are growing so rapidly. Christians may have by that time a sizable enough minority to be a deciding factor in China's purposes and direction. Communism is failing and disappearing from China. The people are more and more aware that Communism has failed them. They began to discover that early on, in the 1960's when Chairman Mao began to lose control of his population. To regain control, he instituted the so-called "Cultural Revolution", one of the most brutal attacks on one's own people in history. So Communism has remained in power several more decades.
One vignette emerged from those atrocities. A woman was arrested and questioned by the police, possibly the terrible "Red Guard". She was a Christian, and was told to renounce her faith -- it was, after all, "counter-revolutionary". But, she told them the story of Jesus, giving them the Good News. Some time later, she told them the same story -- through bloodied lips and broken teeth.
Every time I tell that story, a shock goes through my system because I know that I would not likely have done what she did. But I want to become the kind of person who would.
That is an example of making one's body a living sacrifice.
Most of us will never face that kind of brutality. But that is just the point. There are no guns to our heads, no shackles on our feet. We might be called names. But Christians in America, with just a few exceptions, are unable to say out loud, with truth and grace, that "Jesus is Lord!" We have little courage of our convictions. What is the matter with us?
The early Christians, those "ready-made saints", were consistently willing to put their lives at risk when asked by a local magistrate to renounce Jesus and acknowledge Caesar as lord. They were ordinary people, like the Chinese woman, who knew the power of God to make all things new, including themselves, and including China and Rome. What is the matter with us in America?
Because of our ignorance and cowardice we have yielded more and more ground in the public arena to the forces of evil and of darkness, who now increasingly control the levers of coercion in civil government, so that the time is coming, brothers and sisters in Christ, when we will be under threats similar to those still being meted out to Christians in China, just because they are Christians. Christians, that is to say, who will not compromise their relation to Jesus as Lord and Savior, who will love their enemies enough to tell them the Good News -- at any cost to themselves.
This government-control disaster is happening in Massachusetts, and it is happening right now in California. (We can talk about that later in Sunday School.) It is happening all across America.
So I raise a question: What would St. Peter say if he should show up on the American scene?
Well, we might begin with Ezekiel:
And [God] said to me, "Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you." ..... "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The people also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them; and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, be not afraid of their words, through briars and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.
Do not these words apply almost exactly to our current situation? Could not Ezekiel not simply quote himself to us? What would you say if God spoke those words to you? What if God called you to be a prophet in America, in Orange County? In Santa Anna?
Or, Psalm 22 -- We today read the last third of the psalm, but you understand, of course, that this is the psalm from which Jesus on the cross quoted the first verse. "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me???" The first verse was often the Hebrew way of pointing to the psalm, like its name. "Read this!" Jesus was saying. He was not complaining against the Father The first two thirds of Psalm 22 are about desolation and abuse. The last third is about praise and the glory of God. It is a psalm of victory over desolation and abuse. Where are we experiencing that victory in Western Civilization?
And then in Acts, Peter is probably being set up for murder, thrown in prison, Herod just having killed James, the brother of John. But Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit, and was doing what Jesus had told the apostles to do, go out and convert the world, take the world back for God. He has now a sense of stability, the ability to be a real person, no compromise, no fudging the truth, to be a witness in front of kings and magistrates. And so he is dangerous to Herod, who lives in the shadow of darkness, not in the light of day. The dark will always seek to quench the light. Light is a threat to the dark forces.
What would such a man as the spiritually renewed Peter say to us today?
Would he reflect on the debauchery common among us? On the strong drift away from honest freedom toward totalitarianism? Perhaps.
But I suspect he would comment much more severely on the state of the Church for the last several centuries. I suspect he would say that we Christians had surrendered Western Civilization to secularism and now neo-paganism. They did not win it, we surrendered it by our refusal to hear and obey what God was doing in our midst for the last six centuries or so. (We can talk about that in Sunday School also.)
Just as with the Episcopal Church, the pseudo-liberal forces (which do not liberate with truth) did not win the Episcopal Church, the pseudo-conservative forces (who are unable to conserve anything) surrendered it. They never had an offensive strategy, they were always on the defensive. But Jesus was always on the offensive with His people, never on the defensive. He was the aggressor. He means to take back His world. And He means to use us to do it.
That is how Christians are supposed to behave in the spiritual warfare all about us. God has given us all the equipment we need to go on the offensive, to found and sustain a Godly society.
We Christians in the West, for the most part, with just a handful of exceptions, have lost our intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility. And that is certainly how the secular and pagan world see us -- intellectually, morally, and spiritual deficient. Why would they take us seriously in public debate? Why would they be impressed with our witness and testimony to Jesus? What are we willing to risk to make that testimony and witness? The secular and pagan people are mocking us openly today, and the average Christian is dead in the water.
Yes, there are good and wonderful exceptions to that. Judge Roy Moore, for example, who put the Decalogue in his Court House, and rightly refused to remove it, even at court order. Did you know that the people who most severely undermined his witness and helped get him fired from his job as a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court were other Christians? So-called conservative Christians?
In Revelation 12:7 ff., we read that Michael and his angels have made war on Lucifer and his angels, and thrown them down out of heaven to earth. The angels conquered the forces of evil by three things: 1. by the blood of the Lamb, 2. by the word of their testimony, and 3. by their willingness to risk their lives in the struggle. They loved not their lives, even unto death.
The blood of the Lamb is our relationship of salvation, our security in Christ, which makes us invulnerable even if we die. We have the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
The word of their testimony is their willingness to speak the truth of the Gospel, to talk about Jesus anywhere, anytime it is relevant, and with anyone.
And loving not their lives, even unto death is their willingness to risk anything they must to remain faithful to their testimony to Jesus.
That is a description of making one's body a living sacrifice. There is no evil power in heaven or on earth which can stand against a mature, faithful Christian Church. The defensive gates of hell cannot stand against the offensive Church of God. We are commanded to set the captives free.
It begins in worship. Worship is the smithy in which our holiness if formed, coming into the presence of God. If we are open to it, it culminates at the altar.
As we partake of Holy Communion today, as you receive the body and blood of Jesus, make your body a living sacrifice. As did Jesus for us, as did Peter and so many others for Jesus -- offer your body and blood in exchange for His. We can receive Him only to the degree that we offer ourselves. Whatever of myself I hold back, cannot receive Him. Is not that true of all personal relationships? We can receive the beloved into our lives only to the degree that we offer ourselves to the beloved.
Lord, make us that kind of person....
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