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Connections

Connections

Over this weekend I happened to be asked by a dear friend to officiate at a funeral with an internment at forest Lawn Cemetery. Upon waiting for the procession to arrive at the site, I had an opportunity to walk around the chapel grounds there. This little walk awoke many memories of other funerals long past. I recalled how my personal journey in faith started way back when I was just a little kid of about five years old with a question to God . . . which was “Why?” My uncle had passed away very unexpectedly and my parents had taken me to this same cemetery at Forest Lawn. I can, to this day remember his casket being lowered into the ground, the people all around me all upset and myself asking the question ‘Why?’. I don’t remember actually ever getting an answer to the question, but I do remember a definite feeling of connection with God that very day that has never left me.

After becoming a deacon, I was given the opportunity to serve at many churches in the Episcopal Diocese. I worked in the very poorest areas of Buffalo . . . at St. Thomas’ in the First Ward and St. Matthew’s in the Seneca Babcock area. I also served in suburban Hamburg at Trinity Church with Fr. John Smiley for many years. I also served in a temporary capacity in Dunkirk, Batavia, Alden and Franklinville. In all these places, it has always struck me how very much alike Christians are as we gather week after week to share a common story and a common cup. Christians, that is all true believers, are connected in ways that transcend the physical world. The societal issues that, within the past several years have given rise to divide us, pale in comparison to what it is that unites us which is a common bond, a common hope and a common future. We as believers are connected, whether we like it or not, and that is what this sermon is about this morning . . .

Several weeks ago at work I had an experience that many computer users fear most. Upon trying to open a file, my screen spit out the ominous message “attempting to open a corrupt file” and just stopped in its tracks with a resound less crash and then of course the worse possible scenario happened . . . the dreaded . . . ‘Blue Screen of Death!’. Being a computer user with thirty something years of experience, I tried every trick I could think of to repair the error, until finally I gave up, called the IT guy about the problem, and went home wondering ‘Why me, Lord?’. Why does it always happen to me?’ But, as I drove home, I got to thinking that in reality, problems with computers in fact, never happen to me, but when they do they are so very annoyingly noticeable, and, at least in my own mind, always seem to border on the catastrophic.

When I returned to work the next morning, the problem had been repaired with a little note to remind me that problems like these are the price we occasionally have to pay for being connected. My software program, an adobe reader/writer, had somehow been corrupted by a faulty plug-in file somewhere out there in hyperspace causing a system wide failure that was in ‘computer speak’ a fatal error.

But, the lesson in all this wasn’t totally lost on me as God was able to use this incident to clarify something that was bothering me for past few weeks about today’s readings.

It has been speculated that the internet is probably the most significant invention by man since the invention of the wheel. We are creators of the computer, and not surprisingly, most of its components have been made pretty much in our own image. Printers represent hands, hard drives represent memory, programs represent skills, monitors, keyboards and cameras represent speech and communication centers. Just like us, a computer or an iPad can be born, live out its life and die . . . sometimes in a most horrible death. As a single device, a computer is nothing more than a hard working information machine, but when connected through the world wide web, our computers become something much more than the sum of their parts that is still evolving through infinite numbers of wires and ubiquitous connections known only to the designers. We can only dream of what is next in the evolution of this technology.

People, like computers in this new internet age, are connected to one another in ways that are sometimes quite obvious but at other times quite incomprehensible. We draw on each other’s altruism and knowledge to solve problems and we suffer at each other’s cruelty and apathy as we strike out against each other’s ideologies. Because today we are not only connected by our relationships but also connected by our technology, the hurt we inflict on each other is not only magnified by sight and sound but is felt everywhere, almost immediately, throughout the world, on our computers, on our Tablet screens and on our television screens. As witness to the power of these sights and sounds, how many of us witnessed the horrible acts of ISIS last week as they beheaded the photo journalist, James Foley, in real time?

The problem that can happen by being so connected is that we as a people are left wide open and vulnerable to whatever those connections bring. As our home computer is subject to assaults from viruses and worms sent by people who wish to cause us harm, so we ourselves are also subject to the assaults of our enemies through word and deed and the spreading of ideologies contrary to our core beliefs. When enough of us are convinced or turned to one way or another, a critical mass is formed and revolution is not far off on the horizon. This is how the messages of hate and evil are spread and the way evil feeds on our fear and the fear of others.

So what can we do? Well, we have three choices . . . (one that has been taken by way too many believers judging by our many empty pews) . . . to simply shut down, stay away and let others take up the cause, i.e. to live in benign neglect of our own salvation and our own beliefs. The attitude of ‘I don’t need you and you don’t need me’ may work until one day there comes a problem that cannot be solved on our own and we are forced to face it and fail, or reconcile with each other and overcome it as a community of faith.

The second choice is not much better than the first choice. The second choice is to become immersed in the psycho-media-religion of the day. To take on all kinds of belief systems, attitudes and ideologies that basically uphold the humanistic value systems so prevalent in the media and in our self centered and hedonist society. Humanism teaches that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. When Jesus rebukes Peter in today’s gospel reading . . . (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” he is rebuking the Humanistic ideology that Peter wanted to use to take the work of God into his own hands, thereby saving Jesus from death on the cross. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us.

The third choice is that we can stand as a group strongly united, connected and resisting the assaults that are thrown our way. As in last week’s lesson Paul exhorts the Church of Rome “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. In the wider church today there are many issues that divide us as believers. Not surprisingly, it’s not the first time this has ever happened. There have been many such controversies starting at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where a bloody fist fight broke out (it was our own Saint Nicholas who broke the nose of the priest named Arius) and two priests who were officially cursed over the words we say each week in the Nicene Creed. Then of course, there was the reformation, where believers in one camp (the Catholic Church) went to war with believers in another (the Reformers) in Germany mainly over one teaching of Paul called the doctrine of Justification of Faith and the Church’s subsequent split. In our most recent times there was a great controversy over the release of a new prayer book in 1979 which the folks from this church, the Anglican Church in America, were vehemently opposed to (and still are). And then, of course, there is the ongoing controversy over the gender and sexual orientation of clergy that continues to be an issue in many denominations. The third choice is of course the way to get though it . . . to humbly sit, to wait, to listen and to decide what truly is the will of God.

But while we are watching and waiting, we need to be open to the power of God to amend our lives, to heal the brokenness of our spirits and to strengthen us in all things. We can do this in having faith that God will bring into connection with us, others of the body who are willing to be called into his service. But to do this, to be open and accepting of others to join our cause we must as Paul writes today. . . “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” What Paul is saying is that we, as the Body of Christ, are dependent on each other for our mutual spiritual support. It is not only ‘a nice thing to do when we have time’, but our bounden duty to use the gifts that God has given us to work and pray for the strengthening of his kingdom.

Many think that the focus of such ministry is on the priest or the vestry, but it is not. The focus of ministry is on all believers according to their gifts as bestowed upon them at their baptism. The priest and the vestry are connections or strands in the fabric of one’s spiritual life but they are not the only ones, there are others including your family, your friends and those with whom you work. We, as a church, form a wonderful tapestry of soul’s as it were, each connected to each other by the spirit that lives within all of us; each different in custom or habit, but each very much the same in being loved as a child of God. When one is added we all rejoice, and when one is lost, we all mourn. This is as it has been since the creation and will be until we are all called home.

I believe Saint Nicholas Church is poised and ready to begin a new work of renewal in the spirit. The liturgical roots that we have endeavored to keep these last several years provide for us a foundation and substance to what we have to offer as a community of faith. I can tell you that from my travels throughout WNY, there are hundreds of people outside these walls that would give anything to have what we have here; a place of quiet dignity in an environment of faith and love. If they knew what was here, I know that they would come. It is up to each of us figure out ways to let them know they are welcome here. 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 . . . .




 

Culture Wars

culture wars

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 .

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




 

Providence

Divine Providence

Roger Williams (born in 1603) was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Although ordained as an Anglican priest in the Church of England, Williams held the view that the Church of England, then under Archbishop William Laud, was corrupt because it was linked, arm in arm, with the state and so he sought to distance himself from it. Williams became what we now know as a puritan and went to the New World to settle in The Massachusetts Bay Colony. The church there asked him to lead a congregation but Williams refused because he believed that the church, in order to be of a pure religion, ought to be separate from the state. He was consequently labeled a separatist and was forced by the King’s men to leave the colony and settle elsewhere.

In 1636, he began a new colony which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams started the first Baptist church in America. In the spring of 1636. Williams and a number of his followers from Salem began a new settlement on land that Williams had bought from Chief Massasoit, but the authorities asserted that he was still within their land grant and warned that they might be forced to extradite him to Massachusetts. They told Williams to cross the Seekonk River, as that territory lay beyond any charter. The outcasts rowed over to Narragansett territory, and bought land from the chiefs of the Narragansett Indians. Williams and twelve “loving friends” then established what Williams called “Providence”, because they felt that God’s Providence had brought him there. Today we know this City as Providence, Rhode Island.

I bring this up today because God’s providence plays a most important part in the life of all believers . . . and not just in the large things like the establishment of cities and colonies but even in the very smallest details of our lives.

Have you ever found a pencil or a parking lot just when you needed it most? Have you ever found an envelope in your mail box or on the street with just the right amount of money you needed to pay a bill on time? Have you ever had a feeling that you should get off the Thruway and drive by a different route? Or have you ever had the feeling that you needed to quit a job and then found out afterward that it was the best thing you ever did? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you have experienced God’s providence in your life. Actually, I can answer yes to all of these questions and to many, many, more as I have been blessed without measure by God’s Providence throughout my lifetime.

God’s providence is the power that sustains the destiny of every believer whom he calls to be his children. It is unseen, unknown and a mystery, but ever present in the lives of the faithful and in all who endeavor to keep God’s commandments.

One of the greatest examples of Providence is recorded in the Old Testament lesson this morning, when the brothers of Joseph are sent by their father (Israel) to Egypt for food during a famine, only to discover that the person who they are to see is none other than Joseph, the brother they had sold, years earlier, into slavery. What a shock it must have been for them to see their brother as the prime minister of Egypt and how awful they must felt to return to their father and admit the truth of what they had done to their brother so many years before.

This story today shows us that God’s Providence, like the Gospel, can be a two edge sword . . . both are quite convincing and convicting in their ability to shine a blinding light on falsehood and finally route the truth.

In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus lays it on the line for us . . . as he called the crowd together and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” . . . But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person . . .

Most all of us know of people who are completely devoid of kindness, truthfulness, and honor. We know who they are . . . and being who we are, we tend to avoid them as much as possible. Why? Do we avoid them because of their terrible attitude and temper or because we somehow don’t want to be seen in their company as complicit to their behavior . . . or is it a combination of both?
It is of course no secret that people who have the same moral outlook, the same sense of generosity, the same faith and the same social attitudes will tend to associate more freely with each other than those who have an opposite point of view or an opposite way of life. And it also is no secret that bad people tend to attract bad people and repel good people. But good people tend to attract both good people and bad people . . . and you might wonder why that is? Why do good people attract bad people into their sphere of influence?

Could it be because bad people see something in the lives of good people that they want? Or maybe it’s something that they hope that they can somehow latch on too or steal from them?
This tension caused between black and white, between good and evil has been going on since the beginning. In just about every book ever written and every movie ever made there has been depicted the light and the darkness of the human soul and its interaction between all the characters ever thought of. Think of all stories you’ve ever read or seen and there you will find a Luke Skywalker and an evil Empire and a character who is still on the fence like Darth Vader, one who is evil but hasn’t completely lost his humanity – who hasn’t gone fully to the dark side. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, all these epic stories and more reflect the spiritual battle of good versus evil and good’s constant struggle to survive the onslaught of evil in the face of desperate uncertainty. And yet in the end, in all cases, good always triumphs through faith and courage and through the gentle mercy of God’s Providence.

This week, we have seen just how bad it can get for God’s people in the mountains of Iraq, in state of Missouri and in the mind of an individual tormented in his soul. We wonder . . . did God somehow abandon those who died or could there be some higher purpose to all this that we cannot for the moment see? All week long we have heard news stories made of half-truths and innuendos meant to enflame our sensibilities and to incite hatred in our hearts towards others only to be reversed when the truth finally came out. This, we know – or at least we should know by now – is what evil does. It is what Jesus describes for us in the reading today . . . and it is what we should all be on the constant look out for as we try to judge just what is happening in the tragic events in the world today.

We wonder . . . if evil triumphs in the death of a believer, can that mean that good loses . . . does good ever lose?

You must know and remember what Paul taught in his epistles to the early church as they were suffering persecution . . . For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

These words of St. Paul have a universal message in that every aspect of a believer’s existence is truly owned by Christ. And that which is owned by Christ is under his control and Providence. This ownership goes beyond the fact that all human beings are created under the agency of the Son of God (John 1:3) and extends to the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which those who believe have been redeemed. We who are believers literally “owe our lives” to Jesus in that we were doomed by our sin to suffer the consequence of that sin, which is death – both spiritual and eternal. But Jesus took our punishment upon himself so that we might live with him forever. What this means is that Jesus bought us back by his sacrifice, and therefore, we belong to him – in this life, in our death, and in our resurrected life beyond the grave.

I think it should be for us a wonderful comfort to know that we are the Lord’s possession because he is the perfect owner and master. Scripture reveals to us that God does not abuse or misuse that which is his. We also see that God is a purposeful God who has a plan and created us to be a part of that plan, a destiny if you will. We are not sculptures made of sand only to be washed away forever by the tide. Rather we are material beings that are created for an eternity – permanent and destined to outlive the tides of time. In God’s eyes we are of such worth that he was willing to buy us back at incredible cost to himself. He who is immortal and eternal, became mortal and finite, so that he could die our death and we might know immortality.

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life. 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 . . . .




 

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 . . . .




 

The Miracle Nation Israel

Flag-of-Israel

As I have grown up, I have always held in my heart a keen interest in the nation of Israel . . . and to this day I am not sure why. It may be because of a number of prophetic sermons I heard in my youth from the book of Isaiah. As you may recall, in that book, the prophet Isaiah speaks about an astounding miracle that would happen in the last days. It is found in the 66th chapter of Isaiah where we read “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” Isaiah 66:8

We’ve all heard the expression, Rome wasn’t built in a day yet this verse, while confessing the absurdity of a nation being formed in one day, promises that Israel would again become a nation. The passage in Isaiah leaves no room for doubt as to what this prophecy indicates. It specifically compares Israel (Zion) to a woman in labor and clearly states the nation’s rebirth will occur within a day. And as promised, Israel did indeed become a united, sovereign nation by a vote at the United Nations for the first time since the days of King Solomon in just one day on May 15, 1948.

Throughout history, it has never been known for a people to have been dispersed for millennia and then to later become united with their culture, religion, and language –intact- and yet in Israel, we have seen this happen within our lifetime. And even today we at Saint Nicholas Church continue to support the Jewish people in their quest and desire to return to Israel, or make what they call ‘Aliyah’ – or the return to Israel . . . which was part of another prophesy of the end times in the 32nd chapter of the Book of Jeremiah – “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them . . . and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.”

Today, as we continue to watch the news reports and the current war in Israel with its neighbors in the Gaza Strip we are continually surprised and amazed at the type of reporting that is being done, mainly to the detriment of Israel who is the victim of attack, and amazingly to the support of the aggressor which is Hamas. In little over a generation we have seen what was once full support and respect for Israel and its people by the United States and other freedom loving countries devolve into something that is truly grotesque. Anti-Semitism in the world today is on the rise and as it rises, it fuels hate for the Jewish people and their decedents. And yet, at the same time, it also fuels anew the desire for the Jewish people to leave these countries where they are harassed and hated, and to finally return to Israel – even in the face of fear, war and death.

But you must know that it is through the nation Israel all nations of the earth will be blessed and have been blessed because as Jesus, a Jew, came to us the first time to live and die as one of us and then to take on the sins of the whole world, this same Jesus will return again himself, in person, to Israel on the last day to vanquish evil forever from the world . . . and that is the reason why we see the things we see today. For the Spirit knows the truth in all things and it is the Spirit who is directing all that is happening in today’s world and it is the evil one who knows his days are now numbered because the end is now fast approaching.

This of course is the story of Israel at the end . . . but in today’s lesson we hear about Israel’s very beginning; with a man named Jacob . . . the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham. It is in this story that Israel’s true nature is revealed, that of being a fighter who will not give up, who will not yield, and it is this, his nature, that God blesses in the story . . . when the angel of the lord says, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but you shall be called Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

And so it is in Israel that God finds just the right individual to advance his will and just the right nation in which he will one day bless all mankind . . . a nation that has prevailed with God and with all the world over the many obstacles of time and space even to the last day.

At the time of Paul’s writing, Israel was under the thumb of Roman rule and the temple priests had become corrupted with money and power. The Jewish leadership did not recognize the Messiah when he came the first time – including Paul, but the disciples and other people in the region did recognize him and proclaimed Jesus as the messiah; especially after seeing him perform many miracles as in today’s gospel. But in today’s epistle reading, Paul laments to himself in prayer “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.” Paul today is lamenting the fact that his own people, Israel rejected the very blessing they had been waiting so many years for. But in the book of Micah we read that it won’t be until the very end of time that Israel will turn from unbelievers in Christ to true worshippers of the risen lord, Jesus Christ; and until that time it has been given to us gentiles, the Church of Jesus Christ, the mission to continue to spread the blessing and the Good News that Jesus has come into the world to save not only Israel, but the entire world and all of his creation.

Biblical Prophecy tells us that when the great commission is finally fulfilled, when everyone who will ever believe and accept Jesus as their Lord has been born, only then will the time of the church cease and the end will come, but not before many in the church will fall far from the faith once delivered by the apostles . . . and not before many in Israel will accept Jesus as their Messiah.

In 2006, Israel’s chief Rabbi . . . a man named Yitzchak Kaduri died at age 106. Before his death, Rabbi Kaduri had said that he expected the Mashiach, the Jewish Messiah, to arrive soon, and that he had met him a year earlier. Rabbi Kaduri left a hand-written note to his followers and they were reportedly instructed to only open the note after the Rabbi had been dead for one year. After this time period had passed, the note was opened by his followers and was found to read in Hebrew the statement, “ירים העם ויוכיח שדברו ותורתו עומדים” (translated as “he will raise the people and confirm that his word and law are standing”), which by acronym, suggested the name “Yehoshua” which is Hebrew for the name “Jesus”.

The story of the nation of Israel is the story of God’s blessings and miracles that permeate the history of mankind from the very beginning on into the future until the very end. It is about a people and a culture that has continued to exist under tremendous hardship and cruelty at the hands of faithless people, and yet has survived the test of time. Though Israel is and always will be God’s chosen people, we who are not of this line, but are believers in the messiah of God have been adopted into the line of Jacob and are the sons and daughters of the most high . . . perhaps not by bloodline . . . but by the Holy Spirit and in faith in Jesus Christ. It is therefore important for us who are alive in these end times to hold the nation Israel in constant prayer, for in blessing Israel we in fact bless our own work in the world.

In the gospel story today we read “When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Though we know this story to be about physical food and how the Lord supplies all our needs, it is also about another kind of food, a spiritual food that sustains all who partake of it. It is the spiritual food of the blessing of God in the Good News that each of us holds in our hearts without measure and it is this food that Jesus gives us so that we might share it with a world that is hungry for the truth. And so may God continue to bless us, as we bless his chosen people as he demonstrates again and again his love and commitment to us and to them for all time and in all seasons. 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 . . . .




 

Time to Choose

Choose

I think many of us were quite relieved this week to see the Sudanese woman and her baby pictured with Pope Francis in the Vatican. As you may recall Ibrahim was the mother sentenced to be executed for converting from Islam to Christianity and for marrying a man of a different religion. Under Sudanese law, she was considered a Muslim because that was her father’s religion, and it made no difference that she claimed to be raised as a Christian by her mother. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men in Sudan, and Ibrahim married a Christian man.

Although her sentence was dissolved, officials prevented her from leaving Sudan. When she attempted to travel to the U.S. in June with her husband and two infant children, officials asserted that she was using fake documents. The family then went to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where they met Italy’s vice minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli who was finally able to bring her out of Sudan to Italy.

And we have to wonder, just how well would we fare in the same situation . . . condemned to hang unless we recanted our belief in our lord and savior Jesus Christ? It is a test I am sure none of us would want to endure . . . . but it is Ibrahim who shows us that great faith is possible and that God saw her and her infant baby through this terrible ordeal . . . shaken but unharmed. What a blessing it must have been for her family to see her alive and well . . . and what blessing for all Christians everywhere to witness the prime example of what it is to be a Christian believer . . . able to endure prison and hardship chained to a wall (and giving birth there no less) and at the same time ready to meet the Lord as a martyr for the faith at any minute.

Which brings us to the message from Paul this morning in today’s lectionary . . . “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

 

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

This week we witnessed in the news the destruction of Orthodox Christian churches pretty much all over Iraq and the indiscriminate killing of Christians pretty much everywhere in that country as well. As this degenerate form of Islam takes hold over the Middle East we will no doubt see more and more killings of fellow believers for no reason other than being a Christian, or Nazarene, as they call us.

In our part of the world we witnessed our own government trying to circumvent the 1st amendment forcing Christians to choose between our loyalty to our nation and our loyalty to God and the faith once for all delivered by the saints.

And we wonder . . . why now? Why all of a sudden are believers in Christ being singled out as deserving harassment, dismemberment, torture and death? Why does the world all of sudden hate us so?

Jesus of course would tell us that it is nothing new at all . . . in fact the world has always hated true believers in Christ and in the kingdom because the world hated Christ first. It should be of no surprise to any to us that the Jews, God’s chosen people, are hated more than Christians because the world first hated God before Christ came and so the Jews today are condemned for defending its people while the terrorist organization, Hamas, is pitied as an innocent bystander.

It is of course like the world has suddenly been turned on its head as we all wait to see what will happen next. But if the prophetic witness of the scriptures is correct, there is much more to come and it will become far worse for Christians in the future. But as bad as it gets . . . as Paul continues today . . . “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Very often we get the physical world, which is temporary, confused with the spiritual world, which is eternal. Being finite beings, we are not able to comprehend fully the spiritual world so we focus on the world of here and now, the one that we know. But every once in a while, the spiritual world will give us a hint of what is really going on and how we might be prepared for the future.

Such an event happened this week in Mosul, in Iraq, a city once named Nineveh where the prophet Jonah, it is written, was sent by God so the people might repent and turn from their wicked ways. In the story, the people listen to Jonah, and they do repent, much to Jonah’s dissatisfaction, because God had given him the power to destroy that city and its people if they did not repent. But repent they did.

Well this week the prophet Jonah was in the news worldwide because it seems that the Sunnis terrorists decided among themselves that the tomb of Jonah was a threat to them and they decided to destroy it, which they did. But was Jonah’s grave really a threat or was it something else that made them lash out at a prophet of God now dead for over two and a half thousand years? What was the consequence of destroying a tomb from 800 B.C.? In the eyes of the world it was one sad day to see something so worth saving lost forever from our collective historical conscience. But in the eyes of the spirit it should truly be a wakeup call for many; well worth the destruction of a temporal building if it leads even one person to believe. For by doing this deed, the long lost story of Jonah has been resurrected into the mainstream of our reality and what was once a Bible Story told to children in Sunday School has become a subject of intense study.

Jonah, you may recall was the man who was swallowed whole by a giant fish (or leviathan) as described in the book of Jonah. Perhaps, you too remember parts of this story . . .

Jonah was a prophet who was sent by God to the City of Nineveh to preach doom to all in the city because of their evil ways. Jonah didn’t want to go there because he knew that as soon as he started preaching that the people were evil and that God’s wrath was about to come upon them, he would be killed. Prophetic preachers weren’t treated very well back then either, especially if their message was doom and gloom.

So, Jonah decided to shirk the responsibility that God had laid upon him. So what did he do? He did what many preachers do when faced with an unpleasant task . . . He ran . . . as fast he could in the opposite direction. Well, as you may know, one cannot hide long from God, and while he was on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea sailing away, God sent a horrible storm. The men on the boat didn’t know what to do, and they thought they were all going to die.

But Jonah knew the truth, and told the men to throw him overboard so that their lives would be saved. And so they did. As soon as he hit the water the storm ceased. Jonah, who was now in the water, was swallowed by a tremendous fish at God’s instruction. For three days Jonah sat in the belly of the whale contemplating his own death as the digestive fluids from the whale started to eat away at his flesh. But, guess what? He didn’t die. God, in his mercy, and in his grand design, saved Jonah and instructed the whale to beach itself, where upon it threw up everything in its stomach including Jonah. And the place where it threw Jonah up was none other than the shore of the City of Nineveh now called Mosul in modern day Iraq.

By this time of course Jonah was set straight in the eyes of God. He had been punished for his cowardice and was reawakened in his faith. Jonah mends from his ordeal and vows to God to become the best missionary ever and willingly sets off for Nineveh to preach the bad news that God had in store for them.

But that’s not the whole story. You see the people of Nineveh were startled out of their wits on seeing Jonah . . . probably by two things. (1) the message of this prophet from God claiming judgment soon to befall them, and (2) the look of this man, Jonah, who had been half digested by a giant fish. Most likely he looked white as snow from the acid and like a dead man, walking. Consequently, the people heard the message and saw the error of their ways and turned back to God, all because of Jonah, his rebirth from the belly of the whale, and his missionary message of life and death.

In Dr. John Stott’s final book before he died, he tells 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 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 born and raised up. Also, in much the way the circuitous mission of Jonah in the belly of the whale awakened the people of Nineveh to the error of their ways and they lived, both they and their children and their children’s, children who would eventually become the ancient nation of Assyria . . . fundamental to the continuation of the house of Israel in the future time of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Today I think the story of Jonah should awaken all Christians everywhere in the world that now is the time to choose. Will you conform to the world in all its evil and die in your sins or will you conform to God’s will and keep his commandments (even in the face of torture and death) and live? Some may find they are too afraid to make this decision but as Paul reminds us today “it is the Spirit who helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 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 . . . .




 

One High Calling

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When my grandfather was a young man, a fellow came up with a great new snack that he got rave reviews on from his friends. He became so excited about this product that he decided to go into business marketing this snack food to the public. Unfortunately for him, it was around this time, at the turn of the 20th century that lots of other products were being invented and introduced. Competition for any product was fierce. So the inventor decided to try something new.   He decided to market the product to an, as yet, untapped market . . . kids . . . And the way he decided to entice the kids into buying the product was to put a prize in every box along with a catchy slogan . . . “The More You Eat the More You Want”. Well, once the kids heard about the product and found out there was a toy for them in every box, they started bugging their parents to buy the snack . . . probably for the toys. Soon the parents were hooked on it too, and everybody started buying it. Excitement for this product became so great that the factory couldn’t keep up with the orders, and even to this day, Cracker Jack is a favorite of millions, including me. It was in fact the first junk food ever invented.

            When I was little, saving box tops was the way manufacturers sold cereal. Because with 25 cents and two box tops, a six year old kid could fulfill all his dreams. I still remember the day I saw a picture of this giant submarine on the back of a new kind of cereal box. The label read that if I had a quarter and two box tops, I too, could be captain of this baking soda powered submarine. Well, I asked my mom to buy me two boxes of that new cereal, but she told me she would only buy me one this week, after all, it cost thirty-nine cents and she wasn’t sure I would eat it all. So, for one of the longest weeks of my life I sat every morning eating my cereal dreaming of the day that I could get another box of it while gazing with longing eyes on that submarine that hopefully soon would be mine. Well the day finally arrived when I took my envelope with the two box tops and a whole weeks allowance and walked down to the mailbox assuring myself that the next day, I too, would be the captain of a great toy submarine. But my day of waiting turned out to be a week, then two weeks, then three weeks, and as time went on, I thought every day that ‘this might be the day’ until one day, it came. And even though the submarine wasn’t quite as big as it was in the picture, it was one of the greatest days of my life to be able to fill this little ship with baking soda and watch it sail and dive in my own bath tub. A truly remarkable experience. And you know, to this day, when I eat KIX I still remember that wonderful little toy.

            So, you are probably wondering . . . what do Cracker Jacks and KIX Cereal have to do with the lessons this morning? Well, it seems to me that some of our greatest preachers work on Madison Avenue as salesman, getting us all enthused on everything from hairspray to bug killer. They do it by planting seeds, and they make millions of dollars doing it because we buy the products that they are convincing us that we need. They do it by piquing our interest, by giving a little hope here and creating a little faith there, letting the enthusiasm for their products grow, until everyone in America wants to jump like Michael Jordan, or look like Katie Holms. The people at Madison Avenue are in the business of spreading their good news to create a favorable marketing impression.

            The Church too, is in the business of spreading the Good News, but sometimes it falls woefully short on delivery.    

            As you know, Jesus used parables . . . little stories . . . that were meaningful to the people of his time to pique the interest of his listeners. Today he told them about a planter who walked around planting seeds everywhere. Now, the farmers he was talking to knew how to plant seeds; and it wasn’t by throwing them around anywhere, because if you didn’t clear the soil of stones, pull out the weeds and till the ground and make it fertile, it would be like one big waste of time. Sure, you might get some good plants in the long run, but the seeds falling around the weeds and rocks and pathways would not do well and they knew it. It is only natural.  

Obviously, this sower wasn’t much of a farmer to plant in this way. But Jesus wasn’t actually talking about farmers, he was talking about his disciples. He was telling them that spreading the Good News in the world will seem at times like a complete waste of time.   You may never, ever see the seeds you plant grow. You will tell your story to as many as will listen, but it will be up to God to make it take hold and give it root and water. You will plant seeds where you know you have not tilled, leaving it up to the Spirit to bring forth the fruit. In this way, it will be God Himself who will be glorified in your work.

            The farmer in today’s story is not Jesus, but his disciples . . . it is YOU and it is me. All of us are here to be dumb farmers planting seeds every day as part of our Christian walk . . . . we are to be about planting seeds of the blessed hope of a New Jerusalem, of the coming of Christ into our lives, and the message of our salvation to a dying and sinful world through acts of kindness, love and compassion. That is THE PLAN . . and it is the only plan. Many think that the plan of Christianity is to open and support a bunch of church buildings where we can come and worship for an hour each week. But Jesus did not come into the world to build buildings with the hope that you would come and fill an envelope every week. Christianity is really not about candles or altars or pews or vestments. The church building and all of its adornments is here simply to bring you a holy focus to your faith. The Church exists only to resound with the call to holiness—the call the Lord makes so clear—and then help those who respond to the call to live their lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord (rather than pleasing to the world and the flesh). Anything else is just another social club, something that more and more of our churches have now become. The preacher is here to . . . hopefully . . . give you some direction; to help give you some enthusiasm to spread your message. The Church’s purpose is to recharge your batteries every time you come here; to give you something to say and to think about as you go about your daily tasks of working and playing and loving and praying. The leaders of the liberal mainline churches think that by slouching toward the world, the Church will thrive and the world will become holier, purer, and more godly. But it’s precisely the other way around. This week, Magyn Kelly, on Fox news made the comment that the Catholic faith is not for ‘wusses’ . . . and I would most heartily agree with her. To be a catholic takes courage and it takes guts.

The Christian faith really is about YOU. YOU are the reason Jesus came into the world, so that a seed might fall and take root and flourish in a land untilled, and become a great tree with many branches and bear much fruit. And, that on the last day “all the trees of the field might clap their hands” for . . . YOU are the trees of the field from Isaiah, and YOU will be those who will rejoice with song. For on that great day when you see the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, you will see the culmination of the work of the Spirit in the hearts of all the faithful, and you will know that you had a part in the grand design, the Good News that God and Man are once again united in love . . . and that my friends is the blessed hope that we celebrate each and every week . . . at least in this church.

            Finally, I have been driving to Niagara Falls every day for the past twenty years. And on each trip I have become accustomed to seeing a dandelion growing on the very top of a tall chimney at one of the abandoned plants up there. Well, every spring a dandelion appears in green leaves, then blooms into two or three flowers, and then turns to seed like dandelions do. The winds, which I assume are fierce at the top of a 40 foot chimney carry those seeds probably farther than any other dandelion seed ever travels . . . to parts unknown . . . to places unseen. But as that dandelion grows by itself in the crevice of the bricks at the top of that chimney, depending only on God for water and sunlight, it does more for the ‘dandelion cause’ perched up there in that desolate and precarious place than the thousands of dandelions that grow in the grass at the bottom of the chimney. I have learned from that dandelion that when I feel alone in the world at my job or in my neighborhood, I try to think of myself as God’s own dandelion spreading new life as best I can through acts of kindness, of love, and compassion to parts unknown and places unseen. In the week ahead, think on this, for spreading the gospel message really is your one high calling in a life in grace through Jesus Christ. 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 . . . .




 

Lead us not into Temptation

addiction

Last week Saint Paul tried to teach us in his letters that we are no longer condemned by the law but are in fact justified by faith though the blood of the cross. This week he complains that though he is not condemned by the law, he is still beset with evil and with evil habits that continually well up in his soul, and like all of us, he tends to do the evil he would rather not do and forgoes the good his spirit longs to do. And so, it is left to us to contemplate this and wonder to ourselves just why this is the case.

To explain this, we need to understand that all of us, from the highest, holiest prophet, down to the most wretched miserable soul among us seeks personal comfort over all things. We all seek comfort in food, shelter, love, warmth and security. We need to know that these comforts that we all seek are not evil and in fact are among the greatest blessings God can give us. Sometimes though, this comfort that we seek becomes an intense desire and then occasionally may become an overwhelming driving force in our lives that can become hurtful to ourselves and to others around us. We call these overwhelming desires for comfort at all cost, addictions and it happens to many of us as in addictions to drugs, sex, food, material things and alcohol, to name a few.

To understand how something like a God given gift, very good and pleasing can turn to become something evil and self-destructive in our lives is the challenge for us today, as all of us have faced this problem in one way or another in the past and some may face it again in the future, because none of us are immune to the effect of evil in our lives.

Years ago, before Barbara and I were married, we started to set up a house we were going to rent when we got married. One the main items we needed was a mattress and so we went out looking at mattresses and box springs. Going from a comfortable single bed at our parent’s house to a new double mattress took some doing for both of us. There were many a sleepless night, but finally we both got used to it and slept well on that mattress for many years. And as the years unfolded, that mattress became even better and better as it got broken in almost to the point where we didn’t want to get up in the morning. As more years rolled by that mattress became increasingly conformed to our bodies until one day it had so enveloped us that it was difficult to get up out of bed, and when we did, we found that our backs and necks ached and we began to wonder why we were tired all the time and hurt so. It wasn’t too long after that we figured out that it was time for a new mattress, and so we went out shopping again.

That night the new mattress was switched out for the old one. We got into bed – lay there for a few minutes and then Barbara said to me – “Umm, I think I want the old mattress back – it fits me and I’ll never be able to get used to this” . . . but of course we did get used to it but the change to a new mattress was painful at first until we got used to a comfortable bed again.

What I am trying to relay to you this morning is that all of God’s gifts are good and right for us and give us comfort and joy. Things like wine and spirits, dancing and sex, banquets and merriment, things that have been historically looked down on by religious society for the evil that they sometimes spawn are indeed good things. But as time goes on, and we become more and more accustomed and attracted to these things, they tend to take hold of us and we find it more and more difficult to do without them, until unfortunately, we wake up one morning to find that we need them, not because we want them, but because they own us, very much like an old mattress that has completely encompassed round about us.

And so like many in groups like alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous, we are forced to admit the truth, that we have no power to control our own behavior – and so we do what we don’t want to do even as we know we should not.

But what about all those who refuse to admit a problem? How do they justify it? Do they like Paul say to themselves . . . “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” . . . Or do we say . . . “I want it,” “I am going to get it,” and “I don’t care what you or anyone else says.”

There is a story I once read of a man’s daughter who was three-years-old and enjoying a snowy, wintry day when she discovered that snow was great for both sledding and eating. When the man’s wife saw her eating the snow, she told her that snow was not for eating and that she needed to stop.

That night the daughter added this to her prayer before she went to bed: she prayed “And Jesus, is it okay if I eat snow?” Immediately her eyes opened wide, and she said “Mommy, Jesus said YES!”

The human heart is writ large in a three-year-old. And they wondered how did the little girl even know that toddlers could receive words from the Lord? The parents of course laughed. But they laughed because eating snow is probably not that big of a deal, and they could be with her and help her when tempted with doing something far worse. But, at least they thought, she had the concept of praying about everything. They decided then that they would take it one step at a time and reserve a discussion about the darkness of the human heart for later.

Things are not so harmless in the adult version. “I prayed about it,” adult-style, is nearly always invoked when Scripture clearly teaches one thing and the person wants to do another. For example, a Christian woman is (somehow!) granted that coveted spiritual exception to marry an unbeliever. When challenged by her friends, she says: “I prayed about it.” Or another follower of Christ is startled to hear the Spirit say a resounding “YES, you can move in with your girlfriend,” or “YES, you can leave your wife and children, because, after all, I want you to be happy.” Or an entire church denomination decides among themselves that abortion and homosexuality are blessings, because . . . well “We prayed about it”.

I have to wonder what “God” are these people praying to? How often this perverse, self-deceived foolishness is apparent to everyone except the people involved. So how do we respond? We have very few possibilities.

The obvious place to start is to wonder as we are looking in the mirror. Indeed, where and how do we justify our own desires? And so we say to ourselves “Yikes”, we certainly didn’t have to look very hard.

So what do we do? How do we accept the gifts of God and at the same time reject the evil that is instilled within us? This of course is THE question that priests and philosophers have been writing about for centuries. In the gospels Jesus tells us that if something offends you pluck it out, or cut it off . . . and he is right in that people addicted to one thing or another need to make conscience choice to cut it out of their lives completely if they are ever going to be free . . . and so should we. But once we do so there is a void that needs to be filled, and not just by anything but by another gift, another comfort . . . one that will be as uncomfortable as a new mattress but something new to get used to. It might be exercise, or a study group, or even church . . . anything that may fill the void of where evil once thrived. In the gospel lesson today Jesus tells us . . . “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” And isn’t that what we are looking for each week at church . . . rest for our souls? Jesus tells us to repent . . . to turn from evil and reject it utterly . . . and in that way we will live to God and not ourselves.

Very often in life we tend to pray to God and then answer our own prayer in the way we want it answered. How often do we like Laban in today’s Old Testament lesson ask to be shown what it is that God desires. How many of us ask for a sign from heaven that this is okay or that is okay. Today, Laban gives God a condition to meet and God complies . . . “I came today to the spring, and said, `O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

Laban shows us here just the kind of prayer we need to ask . . . one where God can provide an answer . . . not one that we may want to hear . . . but one that he wants to give . . . for in setting up this scene Laban knows for sure that the answer is not of himself but of God.

Finally, we have all received gifts from God in the form of family, friends and neighbors, love, food and clothing all given to us for our comfort and our benefit. It is up to each of us to cherish these things because they are from God and to be ever thankful to Him above all things. It is when we let the gifts of God become the god in our life that we encourage evil to grow in our hearts to the point that God, the real God of our fathers, has no longer a place for Himself in our soul; that we are doomed in our sins.

God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be always devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 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 . . . .




 

Color within the Lines

coloring

Paul teaches us in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans that because of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, death and resurrection that sin has no dominion over us, since we are not under law but under grace. This concept, that the law no longer applies to believers in Christ is a very important one, one that everyone should know in their hearts, but a very confusing one, because we are told by virtually everyone in our culture that if we break the law, there are consequences; and a price to pay for our actions i.e. steal a car and go to jail . . . murder someone and you forfeit your own life. Each Sunday we kneel in all humility and confess the sin in our souls that we have little control over and yet Paul tells us sin has no dominion, no control over us.

            So we ask . . . which is it? Does sin control us or do we control sin’s effects over us?

            To answer this question we must go back to our very earliest training about the rules. All of us at one time I am sure were given a coloring book and crayons in which to color in all the spaces to make a picture of one kind or another. In our very earliest attempts at this we were sometimes chastised for not staying within the lines. To scribble outside the lines was a definite no-no in the early fifties and sixties. Today of course, it is an accepted practice because we wouldn’t want to squash little Johnnie’s self-esteem; but back then it was a given that after some practice, one was expected to stay within the lines. As time went on, the lines became our friends, and many of us outlined the lines in color so that they would be more pronounced in our artwork.

            Once we’d mastered the art of coloring, the book was changed; and all of a sudden there were no longer lines, but instead dots with numbers. It was up to us to now draw in the lines ourselves in a corresponding sequence of numbers; and to our surprise, a picture developed from these dots that we could again, color in as before. This new coloring book taught us to count as well as to stay within the lines. We found that if we got the series of numbers wrong, the whole picture would not appear as it was supposed to.

            And then finally, when we had mastered number-pictures we were given another book, one that had no lines and no numbers. It was a very blank book of white pages. We were told that we could draw anything we pleased and it would be kept in that book for all time. The importance of this book could not be overstated, because the young artist’s work would be there for all time and for everyone to see. And so we set out on an imaginary journey of shadows and colors, all of them defined by a matrix of lines of how we saw the world.

            And even today, if given a blank sheet of paper, all of us when asked to draw something, will start with an outline of the object we wish to portray and then, and only then, color it in. Why do you suppose we do that? It is because our drawings were once controlled and orchestrated by the lines of a coloring book, but now we control with our own minds where the lines lay in our work. The lines are still there in our imaginations, but they do not control us, we control them; for good or for ill . . . depending of course on how well we can draw.

            The law of Moses, meaning the Ten Commandments, were given to the ancient people of Israel to be much like the lines in a coloring book that we just discussed. Step outside the lines, and break the law, and the consequences were severe. Stay within the lines and the community would live in harmony. And it worked, for the law of Moses was what separated the nation of Israel from all of its lawless neighbors. Where Israel had a law against murder and mayhem, its neighbors had no such written laws and ruled by ‘might makes right’ and the heavy hand of subjugation of the weakest.

            The law worked, but the people saw their neighbors literally getting away with murder, so it wasn’t long before the Israelites rebelled and started to ignore the law, but to their great peril. Soon they forgot the law and were abandoned by God to the whim of their hearts and were sent off into slavery on various occasions only to be brought back as a nation after severe punishment at the hands of their oppressors.

            When Jesus finally arrived on the scene, the scribes and Pharisees were keeping the letter of the law but disregarding the spiritual intention of the law, which was to promote peace and justice among all people. They even went so far as to write new laws that were never intended by God in order to hold the people as captives to the law. When a law was broken, there was no mercy; and hundreds of thousands were executed and tortured for little or no reason. The people were in affect slaves of their sin and lived in fear of breaking the law because of its consequences, both in this world and in the life hereafter.

            The reason we were under the discipline of the law goes way back to the Garden of Eden and the original rebellion of man from God. We call this rebellion, the original sin which we each inherited from our forebears. It is this sin that, like a virus, infects all of humanity. We cannot escape its influence because it has a profound effect on our minds and bodies. The sorry truth is that we all hate, we all lust, we all covet, we all lie . . . we do things which we ought not and do not do the things we ought to do . . . and there truly is no health in us. And so before Jesus came into our lives, we were truly lost in our sins . . . and under the law, which sees only black and white, we were, all of us, damned souls because we had no way of paying the price for our transgressions.

            But because Jesus came, a man who had no sin, no infection of sin, and offered himself, his life, as payment for our sin, we have been acquitted and set free of the law. But notice that we have only been acquitted – we have not been proclaimed innocent – much like a convicted inmate who is freed because another has taken his punishment, he is still guilty, but forgiven. And so, so are we free under the law because someone else has paid the penalty for our transgressions.

            And that is why Jesus came to earth . . . that is to set us free from the dominion of sin and death. Jesus wiped the slate clean for all of us and for all time and gave us a new way of living . . . like a coloring book with no lines, we have been freed to be able to draw our own lines, that is to follow the law in our hearts, not because we have to out of fear of retribution, but because we want to out of love for God and a grateful heart and ‘as those who have been brought from death to life’. And so we must trust in God . . . and, you know . . . the more you know and trust the heart of God, the less you stress when you don’t know or understand all His ways.

            Which leads us from drawing in the coloring books of the past to this life in the real world of here and now, and how to deal with our sins and the sins of our neighbors, while at the same time embracing the law of which we are now and forever been set free. And so we need to see the difference between what men see and what God sees . . . between reputation and reality.

John Stott writes that the distinction between reputation and reality, between what human beings see and what God sees, is of great importance to every age and place. Although we have responsibilities to others, we are primarily accountable only to God. It is before him that we stand, and to him that one day we must give an account [of our life]. We should not therefore rate human opinion too highly, becoming depressed when we are criticized [or] elated when we are flattered. We need to remember that ‘The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks only at the heart’. He reads our thoughts and knows our motives. He can see how much reality there is behind our profession of faith and how much life there is behind our facade.

We must consider always that though we are in the world, we are not part of it. Just as this building stands in this community enshrining the holy elements of the Holy Eucharist, it is a special building, a temple and a dwelling, set apart from the world for people to worship God in it . . . and so are you a temple of the most high separate from the world, yet in the world because Jesus dwells in you and you in him and that is why we proclaim Jesus as our Lord.

The two-word affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord’ sounds pretty harmless at first hearing. But it has far-reaching ramifications for all Christian believers. Not only does it express our conviction that he is our God and Savior, but it also indicates our radical commitment to him. The dimensions of this commitment are intellectual (bringing our minds under Christ’s yoke), moral (accepting his standards and obeying his commands), vocational (spending our lives in his liberating service), social (seeking to penetrate society with his values), political (refusing to idolize any human institution) and global (being jealous for the honor and glory of his name).

Jesus, for all intensive purposes is our king and we do well to honor those who honor him. That is why in today’s gospel Jesus is very specific in how to treat those who welcome you as a believer . . . “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Pathway to Christ

GenesisOne the things children share in common with each other is an intense curiosity about life that seems to have no bounds. Most of us I am sure can recall a time when we were curious about where we came from. And all of us at one time asked that age old question of our mother or father . . . that question being . . . “Where do babies come from?” and then . . . as we compared notes with each other about this most important topic . . . some of us were surprised to hear that many of us were picked up by our moms in a cabbage patch . . . or that a stork brought some of us and dropped us down the chimney. We knew of course that these had to be made up stories and judging from the nervous tick in our parents faces while telling us these types of stories, that this was a subject that was not easily broached among the elder set.

But as time went on and we became more and more aware of the differences between boys and girls . . . and . . . as bothers and sisters arrived on the scene with no storks or cabbages in sight, it became apparent for most of us that babies were of course ‘purchased’ like canned goods at the local hospital . . . there could be no doubt.

I, of course, being as curious as any other kid asked this question of my mother, who, because she was busy with something at the time, quickly told me that I should go ask my father, who was sitting in the living room. What my father told me when I asked the question, sort of threw me for minute, because unlike my friends’ stories . . . there were no storks, or magic beans, or cabbages or pumpkin patches.

My father told me when I was five that babies were a gift, given to mommies and daddies by God when they shared a special kind of love. For a five year old, this seemed to answer the question perfectly and it wasn’t until a decade later that my father finally filled me in on all the unmentionable details.

In the genesis story we read today, we don’t read about where babies come from. The author assumes the reader is already quite aware of where babies come from because no mention is made about this subject except a mandate to go out have as many as possible. What the story of genesis attempts to answer is another age old question . . . one asked by mature, thinking adults . . . the question being “Where did everything come from?”   The answer, written in the first book of the bible called Genesis, written down when language was finally more than just a spoken word around 1700 BC is quite simple and direct, and its’ answer has sufficed us for over three millennia . . . that being that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Today of course, scientists and academia are quite bewildered with this answer because it leaves them in the awkward spot of not having an answer that disproves the claim of an ancient religious tradition. Some do not wish to believe in a God, or a prime mover of the universe, who is our Father so many have gone out of their way to look at the genesis story through the prismatic lens of the scientist and the skeptic and have tried their best to debunk the story of the biblical creation as a myth. But is it?

Theologians have long held the view that the story of Genesis, along with the other books of the pentateuch, that is the first five books of the bible were at one time part of a narrative, a spoken story, that was passed down from one generation to another for thousands of years. They believe this to be true and even gave the authors names and divided the intertwined story into segments that matched the themes and ideas of each story.

This hypothesis, sometimes called the Wellhausen hypothesis, proposes that the Pentateuch was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by an unknown author, some now think to be Moses. The number of these narratives is usually set at four, but this is not an essential part of the hypothesis.

The hypothesis was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries from the attempt to reconcile questions that theologians had about the biblical text. By the end of the 19th century it was generally agreed that there were four main sources, combined into their final form by a series of edits. These four sources came to be known as the Jahwist, J; the Elohist, E; the Deuteronomist, D, (the name comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, D’s contribution to the Torah); and the Priestly Writer, P.

It is not for us to get into the technical aspects of these four writings today, but the fact is that what we read today is a combination of at least four accounts of the creation and for scientists and others to compare what they believe with what they assume the biblical account says, is in fact meaningless without the input of the rest of the bible to interpret the beginning.

For me, the entire argument can be settled mid-way through the very first line . . . In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ‘comma’ . . . where we stop and say to ourselves ‘Is this not a complete thought? . . . How many heavens did God create and is earth a single planet or are we talking about something else? And then reading on we suddenly find that this earth that was just created is now formless and void. Why? What happened?

To answer this question we need to travel into the future to find in the last book, the book of Revelation that there was a war in heaven between the followers of Lucifer and the archangel, Michael and the angelic host of heaven where Lucifer was defeated and cast down from heaven to earth . . . and then to Jesus who gives us a first person account of what happened back in the beginning where he tells the disciples in the gospel a few weeks ago “…And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”

So in the beginning there was a war in heaven and it apparently occurred before the comma of the first sentence of Genesis. And so was the war the cause of the earth being now formless and void? Look at our own wars – look at photos of Dresden in Germany after the allied bombing and you will understand what war means to a place, a city or a planet.

And so the statement, at least to me, asserts that when God started to create or to re-create the earth it was then formless and void.

And what about the word ‘heavens’? We always think of heaven as where God resides (as in the kingdom of heaven), but heavens is plural and certain theologians have surmised that there is in fact three heavens described in scriptures. Beside the spiritual heaven where we believe God is, there is the sky over our heads that is also called heaven that is controlled by time and there is the heaven of the universe that is controlled by space and which we call appropriately enough ‘space’.

What I am trying to say to you this morning is that there is, by design, some answers to questions that have been masked from us by God over time for our own good. One of the answers is is that Man was created in the midst of a spiritual war . . . that is still going on. The earth is the spiritual stronghold of evil but it is the physical re-creation of a God who desires most to be in communion with mankind but who lost us (and the earth itself) to the enemy almost at its very beginning. It was Jesus Christ, God’s son who came to earth and gave himself as a ransom to buy us back from Satan and it is Jesus Christ who will come again at the last battle to take back the earth and finally defeat and imprison all the forces of evil in the world.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God and running through every page of it, both Old and New Testaments, is a pathway to Jesus Christ. It seems like a million years ago the AAA used to issue something called a trip-tick. It was a book of maps and drawn on every page was a highlighted route showing the best way to your destination. Today of course we have GPS and TomTom that does pretty much the same thing, although human error is such that, like me, you might be led into traveling the wrong way on a one way street. But scripture is much different in that there is no human error. The Father is the author, the Holy Spirit is the guide and the destination has been from the beginning and always will be Jesus our Messiah.

We may not always understand the path but the path remains absolutely clear for every believer to follow.

The people who were born after the flood needed some understanding of where they had come from. Genesis was written and given to them so that they might have answers to the questions they were asking. The entire history of mankind and the people of Israel is written in our Bible that includes the vision of a future king or messiah, a savior that would bring to fruition the end of a great war and the beginning of a new millennium ruled by the author of peace who will be the King of Kings. In these last days it is vitally important to keep the essence of this message from God in our hearts and minds as we worship the Trinity of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen