This week our Old Testament lesson from Exodus is a continuation of the story of the children of Israel in Egypt. As you may recall, last week Joseph invited his father and brothers and their families to settle in the land of Goshen in Egypt where they would have food to eat and work to perform during the years of drought. All of this went very well until the day there came a change in the leadership of Egypt. The new pharaoh looked with both, awe and fear, that these Jews might one day be able rise up and take his throne from him because they were very many in number. So, according to the story, the pharaoh made life very hard on the children of Israel by increasing their work load until they became virtually slaves to the king. But the more he oppressed them, the greater their number became until pharaoh decided that the best way to cut off Israel’s future was to kill all their new born boys. This would of course keep the Israelites from raising the future army that might rise up against the king. It would also limit the expanse of the Jewish culture . . . a culture that to this day is handed down from father to son.
This may have been one of the first culture wars ever recorded, because it is by the limiting of births or the killing of large numbers off-spring that a people or a culture can be damped down . . . sometimes to the point of extinction.
And that appears to be what is happening in the Middle East in our own day. Can we not see that is the apparent aim of ISIS in Iraq . . . to subjugate all the believers there so that only the most radical Islamic culture will survive in their future caliphate. What further explanation could there be in the cold blooded murder of innocent men who will not submit and women and children who are powerless to stop the advance of this monstrous lot?
In our world today there a number of culture wars being fought on many fronts and in many countries . . . both friends and foes alike, these wars are fought not only with guns and knives, as in Iraq, but in a much more insidious way through immigration, through sex selection, through limiting births, through sterilization, through the prevalence of divorce and through abortion on demand.
In order for any culture to be assured survival into the future, married couples (that is heterosexual mates) need to produce slightly more than two offspring between them . . . that is two to replace the parents when they die and another to advance the culture into the next generation. The Israelites in Goshen were shown to be prolific child bearers seeing as how they had food, work and security and so their culture thrived in Egypt much to the chagrin of pharaoh. In modern day Israel, the Jews depend a great deal on immigration to bring their culture back to Israel and to increase their numbers. Today, because of spreading anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere hundreds of thousands of Jews are returning to Israel to begin new lives, even in the face of impending war and the threat of extermination. This is one of the many prophecies of the end times where God says he will bring back his chosen people from the four corners of the earth. The enemies of Israel, Hamas and Iran and many others, for some unknown reason, seek the total extermination of the Jewish culture, their religion and their people. However, the reason really isn’t unknown, but it is unseen, because the reason is a spiritual one caused by evil’s intense hatred against anything and anyone that has God’s favor . . . and that includes faithful Christians.
Europe, which at one time was a bastion of Christian witness and faith has in the past sixty years lost its faith. In many countries now churches are hard to find because the culture has been distorted by socialism. ClearIy, Europe is no longer a Christian culture but is beginning to morph into something quite different, something that is becoming quite anti-Christian, I fear. Today the people of Europe are not producing the number offspring that is needed to sustain their culture. This is due in part to abortion on demand, to ease of divorce, to the gay lifestyle, to poverty and to old age. The people in Europe who are having children are of one specific group, they are all Muslim families. It is projected that within sixty years, the entire continent of Europe will be predominately of the Muslim religion, a totally different culture and . . . a scary thought indeed seeing what have seen this week on television, and this without ever having fired a shot.
We in the United States are not doing much better. We too, for first time in our history have stopped growing. Affluent people have stopped producing replacements and those who are producing, are again, of the religion of Islam, a religion that is counter culture to our own.
We, of course don’t have look far to see the effects of this in our lives. As we look around at a church that is less than ¼ full, we are all well aware that we are missing people . . a lot of people . . . and I’m sorry to say that it may only get worse as time goes on.
So with all this doom and gloom about culture wars, what are we supposed to do? Paul tells us in the epistle today . . . “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christianity . . . that is pure Christianity, a true faith that is untainted by the world, carries within it its own culture and a holy gospel that is worth preserving for future generations. When most of us saw the writing on the wall in our former churches, when we saw the culture of the world taking over our church we all knew what Paul knew and went looking for an ideal in a traditional way of worshipping God. But that can’t be where it ends, because we weren’t called here to be a museum where people can stop by and look at all the artifacts of a time gone by . . . no, we are called to be a stage . . . a light shining in the darkness . . . and a temple of God, where people can find God and he can find them. For as Paul continues . . . For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
What Paul is saying here is that if you have gifts, now is the time to use them because there is not much time left. Christians and Jews alike are being persecuted all over the world because we belong to the Father . . . and that seems to be quite reason enough to harass us and to torture some of us and to murder many. So what’s the bottom line in all this?
The bottom line is the line that Jesus asks his disciples in today’s gospel reading when he asks “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
In other words Jesus asks . . . What does the world say of me? . . . Who do they say I am? And we all know what the world thinks . . . some say Jesus was a kind and holy man who had a wonderful message of love and forgiveness . . . others say he was dangerous and a deluded misfit.
But . . . as a disciple of his . . . Who do you say Jesus is? Now that is the question! . . . and the bottom line for every believer! Because if Jesus is not the messiah of your life, the Lord and Savior of all mankind, the King of kings and the Lord of Lords, then just what is he to you?
The disciples of course knew Jesus to be the Son of god who was crucified and buried and was raised to life again on the third day. They knew this because they saw him in his resurrected body . . and they knew that their lives would never be the same again. And because they believed with all their heart, they knew also that they had to spread the word in order to save as many people as they could from the destruction that was sure to befall those who were lost in their sins. And for this faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all but Saint John were killed in the most horrific ways. Today of course we celebrate the martyrdom of Blessed Bartholomew who was a missionary to India and Armenia and who died there by being skinned alive. Every day of every week, in at least 60 countries, people are persecuted because of their belief in Jesus Christ.
When persecuted Christians are strengthened in the Lord, they begin to demonstrate God’s forgiveness and reach out in love, even to their oppressors. The witness of the persecuted church has a unique power to reach lives and communities that would otherwise never be open to the gospel. Today we need to pray for the persecuted church throughout the world, but especially those who are living in Egypt, Syria and Iraq for great is their faith in the face of a growing evil in that part of the world.
O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he
was suffering shame and death: Strengthen all those who suffer
for the sake the gospel; when they are accused, save them
from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them
from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from
despair; O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men:
Look with pity upon the sorrows of these thy servants for whom
our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy,
nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of
thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon them, and give
them peace in all their doings; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 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 .
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