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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Trinity IV - 06/27/10
Lam. 3:22-33; Psalm 91; Rom. 8:18-23; Luke 6:36-42
The collect for the 4th Sunday after Trinity prays: "O God, the protector of all who trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy...." Nothing strong, nothing holy without God.
Those are the two stabilities to which I have been referring, our stability of personhood, which is our strength (or lack of it) and our holiness which is the commitment of ourselves to the purposes of God - that is, our moral righteousness (or lack of it).
The collect asks for our strength and holiness to be protected and increased.... "that we so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal." Losing things eternal to gain things temporal is a bad bargain and a stupid policy. But we do it anyhow.
The lessons today put that truth right into our laps.
Lamentations was written by Jeremiah to lament the terrible state into which the Hebrews had fallen because they valued temporal power and riches over Godliness and its rewards. They worshipped pagan deities, and sought power through foreign alliances rather than worshipping God and trusting His commanding word.
The first 20 verses of chapter 3 leading up to our lesson are unrelenting wrath, affliction, and woe from the hand of God for the sins of Israel. We Americans have for so long been spared the horrors of war and civil insurrection that it is hard for us to identify with the realities, even when we have seen videos of World War II, Vietnam, or other recent strife. The Hebrews were perhaps locked into much that same type of self-absorption and comfort.
Then in verse 21, Jeremiah says, "But this I call to mind, and therefore have hope...."
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."
For Jeremiah to say that just after the preceding verses means either that he has lost his senses, or that he has some sure word from the Lord that things will be well. It is certainly true that even in much lesser calamities, we sometimes lose all hope of things ever turning around and making our lives bearable, maybe even joyful. What could possibly, in any realistic way, account for Jeremiah's hope in the face of the terrible things to which he was daily witness -- the defeat of the Israelite armies, the breaching of the walls, the destruction of the Temple and most of the city, the tearing down of the city wall, the systematic pillaging and murder of the people, and death by starvation?
How can he say, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases? His mercies never come to an end."
There is a collect in the Morning Prayer service which raises this very question, with which I wrestled many times. It reads:
O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day.....
I would ask myself, "But what about all those persons who are suffering devastation today? What about them? What about babies being killed in the womb today? Could they pray this prayer with any integrity? Would not they be insulted by such language?"
It took a long time, but as I began to discover the meaning of the power of being, the ability to be ourselves in the face of horrendous, life-threatening circumstances, I began to understand the meaning of such language. We are "brought in safety to the beginning of this day...," not in safety because there are no threats to our worldly existence, but because the Hand of God holds us in existence no matter what the world, the flesh, or the devil may think or do about the matter.
As one missionary said, who later gave his life at the hands of the aboriginal people to whom he was ministering -- "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep -- to obtain that which he cannot lose."
A part of that "What you cannot lose..." is that power of being -- in the sense that no power on earth can take it from me -- if I am receiving it from the Hand of God. The power of God holding me in existence comes from a depth which no human or demonic force can touch. Once I have received it, only my own sin can compromise that. That is our safety. That is what we mean by salvation -- safety, wholeness, health. Untouchable. Unassailable.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is for ever.
That last half verse from "A Mighty Fortress is our God..." makes no sense apart from the reality of God undergirding all things. God alone grants us the ability to be ourselves, and no other power in heaven or on earth can remove that power from us. Only we ourselves can compromise our relation to that power -- by our rejection of our dependency upon Him, or rejection of our obedience to Him. We then alienate ourselves from Him and His power, and drift off into the lethal embrace of the Fallen world. "Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly....
Have you ever watched that happen? A fly gets caught in a spider web, and then the spider comes and spins more web around him, wrapping him up... for a meal.
"Come into my parlor...." said the serpent to Eve, and to Adam....
You then lose your ability to be yourself, your personal stability evaporates, and you find yourself dependent upon the shifting circumstances of your life for your stability -- rather than on the permanent substance of life from God. In that Fallen world, the circumstances of life play by the rules of pleasure and power.
St. Paul describes that process with almost clinical precision in Romans 1:18 ff.
The first step of the Fall is subversion of truth. We begin to value something circumstantial in our lives more than substantial truth. Perhaps our reputation, our money, our home, our TV set more than the power or law of God.
Then, step two, because we have blind-sided ourselves about truth, one of the first casualties is our knowledge of and relationship to God. Jesus replied at to one group, "You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God..." We get lost from God. But we are dependent persons, therefore we will worship something. So now we begin to worship the creature rather than the Creator. That is all that is left.
Then step three, having now an inadequate god, and a god who does not love us, we find that this god cannot meet our real needs. And, probably, he, she, or it probably does not even want to. This god will almost for sure, being itself a vulnerable part of a chaotic world, wants to use you for his own protection and purposes.
And finally, step four, with this inadequate (and probably unfriendly) deity, you fall into compulsive and lethal behavior -- one example of which is homosexuality, as Paul describes. You cannot stop it and you will die -- as God had warned Adam.
Life becomes a research for pleasure to sugar coat the pain and emptiness of life, and a power-struggle to control the resources for pleasure and self-satisfaction. We have to construct our own stability -- in competition with everyone else for the resources. There is no grace given, life is eat or be eaten.
The only way back to security is the way back to the Hand and Voice of God.
But now, in this chaotic world, the only way back to the stability of the Hand of God is to obey the Voice of God, giving directions and bringing that order -- within which we can again begin to perceive and experience the supporting Hand, the power of being ourselves, freely and lovingly given. Pentecost. Grace.
You do not just decide, "I think I will walk out of the Fall today, back onto the Hand of God". You cannot even find where it is. You don't really know if it is there. We are lost in the maze, the labyrinth of the Fall. We are stuck on the spider's web, and it has begun wrapping us up for a meal. There is no way out unless He Who Is -- dwelling in eternity outside the world, enters the world to lead us back.
He Who Is enters the world -- to lead us back to His Father and our Father. Learning the necessary lesson of obedience is a hard one for us who have chosen, and gotten used to, doing it on our own. We, who have the advantage of the revelation of the Messiah, seem to be just as bad at trust and obedience as were the Hebrews, to whom Jeremiah spoke his harsh words.
I grew up during WW 2, thinking that we Americans were the good people, and that we were defeating those bad folks "over there". I had no idea of the spiritual war which we were losing - right here in America, and could not have suspected the coming crash of Western Civilization only 15 or so years later during the 1960's. Western Christian civilization had already been so worm-eaten that the crash was inevitable. The Church was oblivious, almost entirely ineffective in the public arena, giving the forces of darkness an open running field. We had been effectively neutralized by our own ignorance and cowardice, and by the conscious designs of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The secular/pagan folks knew what they were doing, and we Christians did not.
It was decades before I began to sense the reality of the spiritual war. I had been pretty much convinced that if we learned how to speak the Gospel in clear and consistent terms, we would begin to win the culture war. People would listen to reason.
I slowly began to realize that the more clear, consistent, and reasonable we became, the more furious the counterattack. The problem was not that the enemy was just ignorant and needed good teaching, the enemy really was (and is) an enemy. He does not want the Gospel on any terms that are defined by God, that is by truth and grace. He does not want God on any terms at all. He wants to be god -- at least in his own life. But some over the whole world. And, to pursue that goal, he will do whatever he thinks he can get away with. Anything. There are people on earth like that in high places, in probably every country in the world.
We are at war, a spiritual war -- with economic, political, educational, religious, military, and all other cultural consequences. God owns all of that, but the Spider wants to control it. "Come into my parlor...." The war is over -- who will be God?
I was partly right. We Christians must regain our intellectual credibility. We cannot neglect it. We must become truth-seekers at any cost to ourselves. At any cost. We must stop being "position defenders" and learn how to let the truth and the Lord of truth defend themselves, how to present the truth, and then get out of the way. They will do a much better job at it than we have. God has given us all the tools to carry that out, a two-edged Sword of the Spirit, with the sharpened edges of reason and revelation welded back to back. That is an invincible weapon.
The worldly intellectuals, who think they live on the intellectual high ground, do not. But because of the confusion among Christians, by comparison at least, they seem to stand there. They are better at pretending.
But intellectual credibility is not enough. We must also have moral credibility, we must have lives that radiate truth and righteousness. But to accomplish those, we must have also spiritual credibility. We must have a living relationship with the living God.
God Himself holds the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground, all three. No human being can do that without God. But He is inviting all of us to stand there with Him. That high ground is the Kingdom. The three all support one another. If we fail in any one, we will soon lose the other two as well.
So, truth-seeking is not enough by itself, but if we are not truth-seekers, we will never gain either the moral or spiritual high ground. And God will not say to us, "Well done! good and faithful servants!" He may say to us, "I never knew you..." We do not want to hear those awful words.
Our Epistle from Romans 8 speaks of the revealing of the sons (and daughters) of God -- leading to the redemption of the natural world. The physical world is looking for the children of God because it is we humans who were to be the caretakers of the world, to turn it into a garden for God. And, I think, to take it back from Satan.
Our rebellion and neglect has been instrumental in the corruption of the world, the corruption, it may be, of natural law itself, and its seeming bent to lead downward into chaos -- the law of entropy. All processes, left to themselves, drift from order into chaos. The universe itself is drifting that way.
We read this morning in the King James version, "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." The J. B. Phillips' translation reads, "and all creation standing on tiptoe just to see the sons of God come into their own...." But... "the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
That is another whole sermon.
The Gospel lesson describes the moral calling of a follower of Jesus.
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not , and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give and it shall be given unto you....
Jesus did not mean that the world will treat you well if you treat it well. It might, but it might not.
But God will treat you well. And He will treat you well, not because you have earned it, but because you are showing yourself to be the kind of person He wants in His Kingdom. You are illustrating in your life that you want to follow His highest law of love. He is saying that He recognizes Himself in you. You are like His Father.
The Collect again...
"O God, the protector of all who trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy.... increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal....."
Into whose parlor shall we go? It will be one or the other. We will rest our being, and cast our lot with either God or with the Fallen world of the Spider, and all of its consequences. Sadly, we begin with, we are born into, the Fallen world, with webs woven about us even as we enter the world. So, even with the best of parenting, we can get a rough start on our journey toward the Kingdom.
But the world was set up so that truth-seeking is the royal road to God and His kingdom. And we must have that spirit within us. The serpent/spider fears greatly a truth-seeking spirit because evil-minded souls cannot stand in the light of truth.
But truth-seeking without a God who is seeking us, will not, by itself, lead to God. Salvation is not merely knowledge about God, it is a living relationship with Him. That requires a God who loves and pursues us. It is having Him residing in our hearts, and in the midst of our community. You cannot have a saving relationship with a Good Idea. You must be introduced to God Himself, in person. Jesus, the Son, comes to point us to the Father, and to put the ground of the Holy Spirit under our feet.
Lord Jesus, You alone can lead us out of the labyrinthine parlor of the Spider, You alone can lighten our paths back to life in the One, Holy, & Undivided Trinity. Break through our stubbornness and fears, draw us into the light of Your presence where we can know who we truly are, sons and daughters of the Father; in the power of the Holy Spirit and in your Name, we pray.
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