Saturday, February 23, 2008

LENT III

Ephesians 5:1-14

Luke 11:14-28

Modern religion is big business, and its many sounds go out and attack the senses like the advertising of most other businesses, empty of content but full of noise. Like the advertising of all other products the message is, buy our brand to be happy. People who sell products never sell the product itself, but rather its benefits. Everything advertised, from cars to deodorant, is pitched to sell you happiness. And, the root of “happiness” is based on what’s “happening.” Happiness depends on the fleeting moment, the temporary things that must pass away. The old satire about “the church of what’s happenin’ now” is far more profound than the gag writers supposed.

If you want a religion that centers on the fleeting moment of what’s happening now, boy do some of these churches have a product for you. You can have the pleasures of sin for a season, and still have eternal life. You can have all the sex you want, even if it is outside of God’s institution of marriage, and with anybody you want of either sex and any number of some endless list of “genders.” That is assuming the other person or persons of any number are consenting and over the age of 18; after all, even the new religion has to have at least a few rules, otherwise how can its adherents say “I thank thee God I am not like other men” in such a way as to give that feeling of being better than somebody? Despite what the children at Stand Firm are telling you, the issue is bigger than simply the issue of “gay or straight.” That issue only exists to make everybody feel good about living in a Hedonistic, Hugh Heffner style paradise. Somehow, some of the self-proclaimed true believers miss this point: If you hold the “gay” people to the Biblical standard, you have to hold everybody to the Biblical standard. That’s no good in a new religion that teaches that “a bishop must be the husband of one wife” at a time; and that we must never judge anybody, not even ourselves. This kind of happiness is fleeting at best; but joy is eternal, and joy does not depend on anything that is happening or not happening.

Against this delusion of happiness, today’s scriptures lay down for us the clearly stated conditions for joy, and with it eternal life: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” “For this ye know, that no whore-monger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” We may not be in touch with the times, and we may be out of step with the current fads. But, we are not “the church of what’s happenin’ now.” We are the Church of Jesus Christ. And our message, far from enticing the world with empty promises of happiness, is the message that alone brings any true joy, and with it freedom from guilt and pain. That freedom from guilt does not come from trying to kill the voice of conscience, or from treating the feeling of guilt as some sort of psychosis to be overcome. That joy comes only from surrendering to the words spoken to the conscience by the Holy Ghost. In the words of a marvelous hymn most appropriate to this season of Lent: “Repent, Confess: thou shalt be loosed from all.”

St. Paul’s words tell us of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and what it means to be “followers of God as dear children.” This is why the Epistle today works so well with the words of Jesus in the Gospel. “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” The world, indeed even with its big business religion, offers an alternative. You don’t like the real Jesus? Is he too demanding? Does he want too much commitment? St. Paul told the Corinthians: “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him… For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” 1

Maybe we could fill this church with bodies if only we told everybody just those things they want to hear. But, we might as well fill it up by exhuming all of the corpses in the graveyard across the street behind the parish hall, and seating them in the pews. The effect would be no different. The church would become an unclean place, and the people filling the pews would all be dead. Only, unlike many of those people buried out there who departed this life with faith in Christ, the dead people who would walk in here on their own two feet would be truly dead and without hope of eternal life. The false gospel of “the church of what’s happenin’ now” cannot produce life, but only death. “The pleasures of sin for a season” 2 are just that: Mere pleasures, not joy; for a season, not for eternity.

The message of any church is far more serious than a matter of life and death. Mere matters of life and death are very small compared to matters of eternity. A false gospel can kill the spirit, and the true Gospel brings eternal life. “For this ye know, that no whore-monger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Those words ought to terrify some people, and produce the fear of God in everybody. Was Christ making a small statement about the seriousness of sin by the agonizing death he died on the cross for you? Was it a statement about sin as something trivial? The love of God was expressed this way: By the Son allowing himself to be betrayed, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified. The condemnation of sin as darkness and death was forever demonstrated, along with the love of God that opens the door to mercy and forgiveness, only on the cross where our Saviour died, and nowhere else in all history in all the world.

This cross of Jesus Christ has no place in the new big business religion, and is never preached in “the church of what’s happenin’ now” because it offends the people who go there, and is bad for business. Better to have a Jesus who carries no cross, and tells you not to carry one. But, that Jesus cannot save you from sin and death, and from Hell. The Jesus we proclaim has died for you, and in calling you to die to the pleasures of sin and live instead by carrying his cross and following him, calls you to something better than happiness; he calls you to joy. The Lord Jesus, our God and Savior, calls you to something more alive than life; he calls you to fellowship with himself and his Father by the Holy Spirit, that blessed fellowship that lasts forever, and that we enter into in fullness when he returns and we are given new life patterned after his own resurrection from the dead, when he rose the third day never to die again, but to give to all his people immortality and eternal life.

What we proclaim may fail to be as attractive as the big business religion of today. But, we do not advertise fleeting happiness, a temporary buzz, or the many things that satisfy the flesh. What we have is so much better. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

1. II Cor. 11:4, 13-15

2. Heb. 11:25

6 comments:

Alice C. Linsley said...

There is a good deal of selective Bible reading being done by "orthodox" Anglicans in the USA, that's for sure. They can find the scriptures that speak of homosexuality as an abomination, but they can't find scriptures that speak of catholic orders.

Drew said...

Perhaps the part of the Scripture that has suffered most is the Psalms. Both modern Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgical calendars have mysteriously removed the so-called "imprecatory Psalms" from their cycle of readings. I wonder what they would do if they happened across "The Discourses" of St. Symeon the New Theologian.

poetreader said...

Wow. Wish I could sit under preaching like yours!

You quote part of one of my favorite passages, St. Paul's lotany of things that do not enter the kingdom of heaven (from 1 cor 6). I found the verse after that ti be life-transforming, where he says, "but such were some of you, but ye are washed ..."

Some churches are the private club of those who do not think of themselves as having anything in common with sinners. Some churches are places where sin is accepted, even celebrated. How many of our churches are really the refuge if sinners being transformed by the piwer of the Spirit?

ed

poetreader said...

I, pf course, misspoke. Being reminded of one of my favorite passages, O neglected to notice that the reference was not to I Cor, but to Ephesians. However, today's Epistle, being so similar to the other passage, equally well suppirts my comment.

ed

Alice C. Linsley said...

Drew, or even St. John Chrysostom's remarks against the Jews. Those saints weren't concerned about political correctness, only about speaking the truth. And they knew the Scriptures better than most of us.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

There was a real tragedy connected with Chrysostom's remarks about "the Jews," since those quotations were used by evil people in later generations. However, a passage from Six Little Books on the Priesthood, in which the saint warns that preaching against one heresy must not come across as endorsement for the opposite heresy, lists a group he calls "the Jews" as opposite "the Libertines."
Did he mean the Jewish people? It seems unlikely, since a heresy must arise from among people who claim to be Christians. It made me wonder if the teaching of the Judaizers had not died out, or if it was seen as returning in a new form. The Pelagians taught that man can be saved by keeping the Law. In short, who was he actually referring to?