Sunday, November 22, 2009

An alternative sermon

For those who are celebrating the feast of Christ the King

Colossians 1.12-20

St. John 18:33 – 37

In my own experience the very real clash of two kingdoms has been visibly portrayed in a scene very much like something right out of the Gospels, and even more directly from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Several years ago I was teaching a lesson from the scriptures as part of a regular Friday evening service of prayer in a chapel, part of church just outside of Baltimore. When I had said my bit, and we were closing in prayer, a woman in her thirties who had been coming to church regularly with her parents, began to be tossed around by an invisible power that controlled her. She was levitated a bit off the floor, and looked very much like a marionette on strings being jerked about by a mad puppeteer, twisting and bending in movements that no trained dancer could imitate. She landed on the floor, telling everyone that the Messiah was present, speaking in the Hebrew language that no one there but I could understand. She landed on the floor crying out, finally, "Meshiach! Meshiach!” over and over.

The demon, or unclean spirit, was right about that, because the Messiah was present with us as we were praying before His throne, just as He promised in scripture. I was reminded that the demons, who, as Saint James informs us “believe and tremble,” would often cry out accurate things, such as that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, or, as in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, that the Apostles had come to show the way of salvation. While she was lying on the floor in a state of bondage to an evil bullying spirit, I knew that this thing inside her was panicking, and that the presence of Christ with us that night was the cause of it. I learned later that this woman had for a while departed from the faith and involved herself in occult practices, and that she was now, in this service, praying for the first time in years. This explained why she always looked gloomy and depressed since we had first met her.

I did not know any of this at the time, but I knew what I was dealing with. So did everyone else, because all of those people who had been praying and holding their standard service that was held every Friday night at that church, were huddled next to each other at a safe distance across the chapel. Diane was standing right behind me, as I recall, pregnant with David (now a grown man). I spoke directly, just as Saint Paul did in the sixteenth chapter of Acts: “I command you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her.” I said this a second time, and added the word “now.” The woman looked up at me, suddenly as if awaking, and began to weep. All she knew was that one moment she was praying for the first time in years, and the next moment was lying on the floor looking up at me, with no idea what had happened in between. After several months her parents moved to Florida, and she went with them. From the time of this impromptu exorcism until she moved away, never again was she a depressed or gloomy sight, but rather always vibrant and appearing to be quite joyful, like someone back from the dead.

In today’s Epistle Saint Paul tells us that God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” The real fight is between the kingdom of God and the usurpation of the Devil; and in this fight there can be no contest in the ultimate sense, because God’s power is unlimited, and even the powers of darkness are merely creatures who cannot withstand Him. But, for us, the battle goes on because we have to deal with those three enemies, the world, the flesh and the Devil. Furthermore, only those who have been translated into the kingdom of Jesus Christ and who appreciate something of what that means, are in the fight at all. “The world,” says Saint John, “lies in the lap of the evil one.” When the term “the world” is used in this very unpleasant way, it is a specific use of that word that is different from what that word normally means, different from such statements as “for God so loved the world…” In that sense it speaks of God’s creation, and especially of the human race made in His image. But, in the sense that our Lord uses it in today’s Gospel: “My Kingdom is not of this world,” it means something else. For that definition we go to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, and see that it says, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” The world, in that sense, speaks of the fallen condition of man under the dominion of the evil one, also called “the prince of this world.”

So, Saint John tells us, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (I John 2: 15-17) In that one category, “the world,” we come face to face with the flesh and the Devil. The flesh because we are fallen from grace, as sinners, and the Devil because he dominates the world of sinful humanity. I know this as a theologian, and I believe that no historian could dare to contradict the fact that the world is subject to evil.

The world is not what it should be, because man is not what he should be, but is, rather, fallen and in need of redemption. It has been stated by many religious folk that life is a test. What a horrible lie that is. If it were a test we would all fail. Life, due to the Fall, is not a test but a shipwreck. And, the One Man who saves us from the shipwreck of sin and death is none other than God in the flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of the Everlasting Father. He does not receive His authority from the realm we call the world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He told Pilate. Earlier, the Lord had said to the people: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”

(John 8: 23, 24) Little phrases in scripture mean so much, and very easily we overlook their significance. Jesus spoke of Himself as the One who has come into the world.. He alone can say that. We did not come into the world. We were conceived here, and this is our native home. But, the Son of the Everlasting Father is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made.” This world was not the origin of the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. Into His eternity He took time, into His divinity He took humanity, into His uncreated Person he took a created nature, a nature alien to His true identity as Wholly Other from every created thing. And the King allowed His rightful subjects to beat Him, humiliate Him, and crucify Him so that the Lion of the tribe of Judah Himself could be for us the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; so that we could be translated out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in whom we redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of our sins.

What does the king give to us so that we can go forth in His name and conquer the power of evil, and deliver captives from the power of sin and death? Not the sword. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” If not military might, then what? As said the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6) On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the Church for its ministry in hostile territory, to take ground in the world, to bring the Gospel to every nation under heaven. And, the power of the Holy Spirit is present when we care about the truth. The power of evil is in the lie; it is in deception. The powers of darkness do not care what you believe just so long as you do not believe in the truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The authority of Jesus Christ as the King is found, here and now until he comes again in glory, by proclamation of the truth. “Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

No matter what your political persuasion, no matter what turns history may take, the whole structure of the fallen world is the power of deception, of the lie. “Yea, hath God said?” “Ye shall not die.” The lesson early on in Genesis is that deception, the lie, was used to bring man into bondage to sin and death. In Genesis chapter three we read: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” “Good for food…pleasant to the eyes…desired to make one wise.” From this, no doubt, Saint John taught us that which we have heard already, “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” These three elements of the world that knows not Christ, were the method of the lie, the essentials of deception. And, so it remains to this day. The lie is always drawn from these three things, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. These have brought about every destructive habit of sin by which people ruin their lives, these have brought about all the wars and bloodshed throughout time, and these will taper off into a quiet complacence to lure you into apathy about your own soul and those of the people around you.

Against these essential elements of the lie is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. Against the lie is the truth that the Son of God has been manifested to destroy the works of the Devil. Against the deception is the truth that Jesus Christ has taken our sins on Himself and nailed them to His cross, that by death he would destroy him who has the power of death, and by His resurrection deliver to us His gift of immortality, making us able by grace to live and reign with Him forever. His kingdom is not of this world, and in Him we are not of this world either, though for the time being we are in the world to occupy until He comes.

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