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” created in the modern imagination. That is, of course, 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?1 But, the kind of happiness that sin appears to produce is fleeting at best. Joy, on the other hand, is eternal, and joy does not depend on anything that is happening or not happening. It depends on knowing Christ.
Against the delusion of happiness, today’s scriptures lay down for us the clearly stated conditions for joy, and with it eternal life: As we heard in today's portion from the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” And, we heard the words of St. Paul: “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 when the Scriptures are read. 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.” 2
Maybe we could fill this church with bodies if only we told everybody just those things they want to hear, if we scratched itching ears with enticing words. But, we might as well fill it up by exhuming all of the corpses in the graveyard, 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.
More than life and death
The message of the Church of Jesus Christ 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, but 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 Jesus 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 Jesus allowing himself to be betrayed, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified. The condemnation of sin as darkness and death was forever demonstrated together with the love of God, His mercy and forgiveness; this double demonstration, of justice and mercy, was demonstrated only on the cross where our Savior 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 shall enter into in perfect fullness on that Day when he returns and we are given new life patterned after his own resurrection from the dead. He rose the third day never to die again, but to give to all of his people the same immortality and eternal life.
What we proclaim may or may not fail to attract as many people as the big business religion of today. But, we do not advertise fleeting happiness, a temporary buzz, or the many things that promise vainly to 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.”
2. II Cor. 11:4, 13-15
3. Heb. 11:25