The one you Feed

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Let’s start today’s sermon with a question . . . Do you think that the people of the cities of New York and Atlantic City were worse sinners than all other Americans because their homes were destroyed by a blizzard a few weeks back?  Or do you think that that the Haitian people were more deserving of an earthquake some years ago because their forefathers allegedly made a deal with the devil in the 1700s? And from the gospel today . . . “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? . . . Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            It would seem that in the days of Jesus, as now, there were those who would point to a terrible event and endeavor to dismiss it as punishment from on high by blaming it on the very people on whom it had befallen.  Such was the case a few years ago in Haiti when the rumor was released that the devil had redeemed a contract made some 300 years ago.  People, it seems, are all too willing to look at another’s tragedy and try to piece together a reason for it all.  And being who we are, we are more apt to blame others for what has happened than to look at the situation rationally.  Such, it seems, is the case with nearly everything that makes up the news these days . . . or else I guess it just wouldn’t be news.  When Pat Robertson’s statement was published saying that Haiti is cursed because of a 300 year old pact with the devil it sent a shiver down my spine.  I thought to myself here was yet another example of why the church is losing membership all over the world.  We don’t need a devil to defeat us.  It seems we’re doing it so very well on our own.

            Today I would like to speak to the design of the universe, about Divine Providence and the pivotal part God plays in its control and its eventual outcome.  Many of us share the notion that God is directly responsible for everything that happens good in our lives and that we are responsible for everything that happens bad in our lives.  And we aren’t far off in this notion because we can create the world we will live in – one way or another – by the good we do and by the evil we commit.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we rob a bank, we’ll probably end up in jail.  And if we donate a kidney we will probably save a life.  But we wonder . . . how is it then that bad things often happen to good people?  . . .  and why is it that good things all too often happen to bad people.  Assuming God is in control of it all, the whole thing just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

            To answer this we must first understand the nature of God.  In the beginning, we read in first Genesis ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’  It was the Spirit of God that was in the beginning as the world was created.  It is said that God the Father thought it, God the Son said it and God the Holy Spirit made it so.  This three in oneness or ‘Trinity’ of the personhood of God remains to us a mystery, but most of us pretty much understand the term Father in relation to God.  We also understand the term Son as a part of the family of God.  To a believer, God the Father’s relationship with humanity is as a father to his children and that we all pretty much ‘get it’. However, there is a deeper sense in which Christians believe that they are somehow made participants in the eternal relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ. That is why we call ourselves adopted children of God.  Paul explains this further to the Galatians . . .  “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  It is the Holy Spirit or divine nature of God that makes this so.

            Throughout the Word of God, water is a symbol of the spirit of God, and is often used analogously to represent the Holy Spirit, that is, the divine nature and power of God. In Jeremiah God refers to Himself as a “spring of living water”.   It is important to think about water and what it means to us.  Water is essential to life—we die without it. The average person can go about 60 days without food before he starves to death, but you can only live three days without water, because it is so vital to our cells.  We see in the scriptures that just as actual water gives life physically and is integral to one’s physical life, so spiritual water gives life spiritually.  Water is life and essential to all living things on earth and so it is with the Spirit.

            In the New Testament the Spirit is also compared to the wind in the Gospel according to John  . . . Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  And from the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel . . . Come from the four winds, O breath; and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. And so the Spirit is like the wind and air as our source of the breath of life.  Without air we would live only a few short minutes.  The air we breathe is equally essential to all living things on earth.

            And finally, the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures is described as fire  . . . The Holy Spirit was likened unto fire at Pentecost. In Acts “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” The cleansing power of the Holy Spirit was symbolized by fire in Isaiah . . . “Then flew one of the Seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” The Word of God was as fire in the bones of the prophet Jeremiah . . . “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more of His name. But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay.”  Fire is chosen to symbolize the Holy Spirit, no doubt, because of what it does. Fire burns out the dross. Fire gives light. Fire gives warmth.   Without the spark of life, we are told that life could never have started.

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            Socrates called water, wind, and fire ‘elementals’ and along with earth made them the basis of the creation.  We now know, of course, that there are many smaller elements that make up creation, but for Socrates, these were the things that comprised all of the unknowable mysteries of creation at the time.

            Physicists tell us that we live in a determinist universe; that is a universe that (they believe) has been set in motion with no pre-definable conclusion because of the infinite number of causal changes that can occur due to uncontrolled factors like planetary and galactic collisions down to what can be described a the ‘Butterfly Effect’ (i.e. the beating of a butterfly wings causing a wind current that causes something else etc. etc.).  Christians, however, are taught that the universe has a purpose and a conclusion that has been revealed in scripture as God’s divine providence.

            So, you might wonder, can both be correct?  Can the universe be fluid with infinite possibilities and yet remain predetermined with a defined ending?  These of course have been questions pondered by philosophers and theologians for millennia. 

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            I believe that if you read the scriptures correctly, you will come to realize that creation was set into motion by God for a specific purpose with a predetermined outcome but designed with the inherent possibility of changes influenced by divine providence along the way.  It is only when those changes get in the way of the design that God himself intervenes to set things right again. 

            We see this in the story of Noah, in the story of Babel, in the stories of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and in the story of deliverance that begins today with Moses and the burning bush.  In every case God’s Spirit searches out from among all mankind one person who can best perceive his call and carry out his will.  Though many hear it, most do not listen carefully . . . Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us that “Many are called but few are chosen.”  But from those who are called and chosen to receive the Spirit, we see through their lives powerful changes that affect the lives of millions of people.  We call them prophets and we call them saints but the mystery of it is that they can be any one of us at any given time.

            The Holy Spirit is the unspeaking mystery in the triune personhood of God.  When Moses asks God his name in today’s lesson he is told by God the Hebrew word ‘yawah’ which literally means ‘I exist’ translated into the English I AM.  Later the text writers use the Hebew Tetragrammaton name – Jehovah – which means literally “One that is of himself”.  God chooses a burning bush that is not consumed to get Moses’ attention . . . which I think it would get all of our attentions if it happened to be seen somewhere.  So why did God choose Moses do you suppose?  If you remember Moses was found as a baby by the princess of Egypt and then grew up in the Pharoah’s court to become a great builder of Egypt but eventually became an outcast for defending a slave.  In Moses, God saw a nexus that would connect the enslaved descendents of Abraham with the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Moses of course took on this role rather reluctantly but God made a promise that He would go with him to help make it happen.

            It is no accident that this story of an enslaved people set free from their bonds at great cost parallels so closely the Good News of Christ who is our deliverer from the slavery of sin and that we also are inheritors of a kingdom that is ‘flowing with milk and honey’.  It is no accident that the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the desert while we ‘wander’ a lifetime waiting for the promise of a heavenly reward.   And it also is no accident that the leader who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land was named Joshua because, as you may or may not know ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew name for the Latin word ‘Jesus’.

            With the Holy Spirit of God there are no accidents.  The Will of God is certain but his ways continually mystify us . . . However the Spirit of God is deterministic like a spreading fire or a howling wind or raging river, we have no control over its comings or its goings.  Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, forest fires and the like are caused by natural forces . . . Lightning, hurricanes and techtonic plate movements that are a natural part of a determinist universe set in motion at the Creation.  Forgiveness and Salvation are God’s hands on the throttle and brakes on his creation as it winds its way to its final end.  And as it turns out just a week ago it was discovered that the Higgs Bosom or ‘God particle’ has a measurable predetermined end – though long off into the future by some billions of years – but a definite end that shows that scripture is correct, that an end will come.

            Your life in grace is a microcosm of what God is doing in the whole of creation.  With the Spirit of God abiding within our individual lives of free will God knows that we can either help -or in some cases- hinder the final destiny of millions.  That is why he chose us, as he chose Moses, to help in the battle of setting the captives free.  But even as we try to do this we are assaulted constantly on every side.  The enemy does not rest, so neither can we.

            “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

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            Finally there is a famous story from an old Indian Cherokee talking to his grandson.  The chief said:

            A fight is going on inside of me.  It is a terrible battle-between two wolves.  One wolf represents fear, anger, pride, envy, lust, greed, arrogance, self pity, resentment, lies, and cruelty.

            The other wolf stands for honesty, kindness, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, friendship, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

            This same fight is going on in you, and inside every other person too, he added.

            The grandson reflected on these words for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

            The old chief replied, “The wolf who wins is the one you feed.”  Amen.

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