Blood Moon

blood-orange-moon

One of my favorite biblical stories is the story presented today of Joseph (of the “technicolor dream coat” fame) and his brothers. Hopefully, we all know the now infamous story . . . how Joseph’s eleven brothers, out of jealousy for the love of their father sold him into slavery in Egypt, but in so doing, initiated a chain of events that not only saved a whole family from starvation, but indeed saved an entire nation from the hand of slavery through Moses several hundred years in the future.

But this week I heard about another story, very similar, and much closer to home; because it involves our nation and our faith and how we are inexplicably linked to the nation state of Israel and to the Jews who settled here.

Some 500 years ago, around the time of the Spanish conquest there was a great political and religious upheaval in Spain caused in part by the advancing spread and eventual defeat of Islam at Granada. At the instigation of the Roman Catholic Church, An edict was put forth by the monarchy that the entire Jewish population of 200,000 people was to be evicted from Spain.

Christopher Columbus, at the time, wrote in his diary upon setting sail “In the same month in which their Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom of Spain and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies.” The expulsion that Columbus refers to was so cataclysmic an event that ever since, the date 1492 has been almost as important in Jewish history as in American history. On July 30 of that year, the entire Jewish community were expelled from Spain.

Stories of this event remain that Spanish ship captains charged Jewish passengers exorbitant sums, then dumped them overboard in the middle of the ocean. In the last days before the expulsion, more rumors spread throughout Spain that the fleeing refugees had swallowed gold and diamonds, and many Jews were knifed to death by brigands hoping to find treasure in their stomachs.

The Jews’ expulsion had been the project of the Spanish Inquisition, headed by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Tomas de Torquemada. Torquemada believed that as long as the Jews remained in Spain, they would influence the tens of thousands of recent Jewish converts to Christianity to continue practicing Judaism. On March 30, the monarchy issued the expulsion decree, the order to take effect in precisely four months. The short time span was a great boon to the rest of Spain, as the Jews were forced to liquidate their homes and businesses at absurdly low prices. Throughout those frantic months, Dominican priests actively encouraged the Jewish population to convert to Christianity and thereby gain salvation both in this world and the next.

The most fortunate among the Jews who were expelled settled in modern day Turkey where they were then welcomed with open arms. Among the most unfortunate refugees, were those who fled to neighboring Portugal. In 1496, King Manuel of Portugal concluded an agreement to marry Isabella, the daughter of Spain’s monarchs. As a condition of the marriage, the Spanish royal family insisted that Portugal expel her Jews as well. King Manuel agreed, although he was reluctant to lose his affluent and accomplished Jewish community.

In the end, only eight Portuguese Jews were actually expelled; tens of thousands of others were forcibly converted to Christianity on pain of death. The chief rabbi, a man named Simon Miami, was one of those who refused to convert. He was kept buried in earth up to his neck for seven days until he died.

Normally it is not my intention to provide a history lesson in a sermon, but this one is important because it mirrors our news in today’s world. As Christians and Jews are evicted from cities and towns in Iraq and are forcibly converted to Islam under pain of torture and death, we see history repeat itself over and over again. In witnessing these kinds of events in real time on our computer screens and television sets, it does not take much to imagine for ourselves what horrible trauma these our fellow believers are experiencing. And we ask ourselves, Why? Why is it that believers in God are so hated by the world? And why now, (this being the 21st century after all) a century of the enlightened and the tolerant, a century of scientific achievement and sociologic advancement?

To answer this you must know that we are living in God’s time and not our own. It seems that each time the Jews have undergone great stress there have been signs in the heaven that have declared or forewarned it. In his book, Four Blood Moons, John Hagee explores the astronomical facts that the lunar events in the heavens have a direct impact on the Jewish people and their calendar. In the year 1492 to 1493, there were four blood moons (a blood moon being an eclipse of the moon where the penumbra of the earth causes a new moon to be colored red). This happened on other occasions as well, when the temple was destroyed in 47 AD and when the nation of Israel was established in 1949. But it is also happening again . . . this year . . . 2014 thru 2015 and perhaps we are beginning to see the effects even now as a war begins in Israel and Christians all over the world are being harassed, intimidated, tortured and killed because of their belief.

Back at the time of Jesus’s departure, the disciples asked him about the time when he would return. When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs . . . ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

We, today have seen for ourselves the budding of the fig tree that Jesus describes as it is in the nation of Israel and even now we see in our life time it has now grown to fruition. It is Pastor John Hagee’s belief and a belief shared by many in the world today that we are the terminal generation, the last who will be first to see Christ’s return in glory. What do the four blood moons mean for us this year and for Israel? Only time will tell.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans today tells it this way . . . “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Dr. John Stott, probably the greatest evangelical preachers of our time wrote in his final book telling us that it is no accident that God’s mission, requires great sacrifice . . . in time, in talent and in resources . . . and all too often in the ultimate sacrifice of death, in order to accomplish God’s plan of redemption for the whole world. He tells us that our mission in Christ is much like the mission of Christ who died so that we all might live. In such a way Joseph was given up for dead and planted in the foreign land of Egypt . . . but out of this ‘planting’ a nation of believers, ‘God’s Chosen People’ was to be born and raised up. And likewise, the Jews who were expelled from Spain settled in diverse places all over the world and here also in this new world and became the seeds of planting for the new nation of Israel, a nation born in one day. But today, like the Christians stranded on the mountains in Iraq, there is nowhere left to hide or to settle or to run . . . for in these last days it will be God who will need to rescue all of his elect and take us all onto himself.

Jesus continued . . . ‘Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

And as the disciples into today’s gospel were terrified for fear of the storm as they bounced around in their fishing boat, Jesus comes walking on the water with these few short words of assurance: “Take heart; . . . it is I; . . . do not be afraid.” May we be given the grace to always heed his call to us, even in the raging waters of our lives. Amen.

This sermon is part of the ministry of the Word at Saint Nicholas Anglican Church in West Seneca, NY in the United States and a Continuing Church in the Anglican Tradition. If you have been helped by any of the sermons or thoughts expressed on this sermon blog, we would love to hear from you at anglicanchurchofsaintnicholas.org .

Please also consider sending a gift in any amount using the form below . . . .