Sunday, January 26, 2020

Best Way to Change the World

Isaiah 9:1-4           Ps 27:1, 5-13           1 Corinthians 1:10-18           Matthew 4:12-23

Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning there is the emptiness of a formless void and darkness. This is chaos. Then God speaks: Let there be light. Light will be an important image throughout the Bible. At Morning Prayer on Tuesday, we read in John 3, “the light has come into the world, but people prefer darkness because they are evil.” Herein lies the problem.  

Humans want to be free to do as they please, which is choosing chaos. Our desires and passions are not well-ordered. We seek to hide from the truth about ourselves, but there is hell to pay for embracing darkness. Isaiah 9 addresses Israel as she suffers the consequences of choosing chaos—telling her that God’s salvation would come among them as a shining light. Matthew applies these same words to Jesus. Now I apply them to us.

Galilee can serve as a symbol of the fallen world and its unbelief. Its citizens don’t seem to be notoriously evil, but neither are they children of light. They live in the shadows, following the desires of their hearts. The forget that the Bible says that the human heart is an inept guide.

Jesus says: Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Jews understand life as a journey and love, trust and obedience are the path. Torah, translated as Law but better understood as instruction, serves as a traveler's guide. When we follow it we remain on the path. When we follow our own mind and heart, we wander off the path—that is sin. When we turn back around and seek God we are repenting. Jesus says turn around for God is near. Turn to the light and turn away from chaos and darkness.

Every Sunday we ask God to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” because the darkness and chaos are within us all. Our hearts are impure, they keep us from God. We are misled by wrong thoughts and wrong desires. All of us. This is why Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, and not their hearts. We must follow Jesus, because He is the path, the way.  

Humans are a mix of light and dark, order and chaos, good and evil. Too often we want to fix the world, and we ignore that the only place to start is with our own hearts. Think of how much damage has been done by people trying to make the world a better place. (The efforts of pious women to break the demonic effects of alcohol led to prohibition. The Mafia was one result.) Jesus doesn’t tells us to fix the world, Instead He says repent—turn from the dark desires within us—and follow Him. That is the best way to change the world. Paradoxically, it is a task beyond our ability. We will fail each day to be holy, so each day we must repent. The Good News is that the effort opens us to be saved.

This message is illustrated by JRR Tolkein in “The Lord of the Rings.” The magical, evil Ring of Power must be destroyed, but none of the typical heroes can carry it. Unexpectedly, a simple hobbit, Frodo, is given the task. Frodo’s long journey is filled with great suffering, and eventually he reaches the volcano. Then, at the journey’s end, he is unable to complete his task. He claims the ring as his own—but we all know that the ring owns him. The Ring is a symbol of the passions—those desires which own us and lead us into darkness. Repentance is our effort to cast off the ring and be set free of the passions. Like Frodo we will ultimately fail, but if we remain faithful to the struggle, repenting each day, like Frodo we will be delivered by an act of God’s invisible hand. In the end the ring is destroyed, Frodo got close enough for providence to work its grace.

Jesus says “repent.” So let us turn from the darkness of chaos and walk into the light of God…

The day after I wrote this sermon, my youtube feed unexpectedly made this an offering. It goes in depth on the issue of mercy and grace.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of the Lord

First Sunday After Epiphany Isaiah 42:1-9   Psalm 22    Acts 10:34-43   Matthew 3:13-17

In the Modern Age, “Rationalism, Materialism and Literalism’’ have diminished our capacity to understand the world symbolically or sacramentally. We miss the depth of reality as we look for facts and accuracy of details.

Matthew’s short account of the baptism has myriad connections with the whole of salvation history—including us. Irenaeus and Athanasius call this recapitulation. Jesus takes the past and future into Himself and redeems it. He fulfills the Scriptures. He reveals the depth of reality and make our world holy. One example is Isaiah 42 which is “filled up” throughout Matthew’s entire Gospel. Isaiah ended today with these words, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” God declares to us this new thing: His Servant Jesus.

Biblical language is often sacramental—the physical world is a symbol of the divine reality. So, when Matthew says that the heavens were opened, we must recall Isaiah 55:9 which uses the heavens as a metaphor for the great distance between God and us. Only God can open the veil and only He can bridge that gap! Matthew’s voice from heaven echoes Isaiah 42:1 where God says, “Here is my servant in whom My soul delights, I have put my spirit upon him.” Matthew uses the same words and he also tells us that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. Isaiah’s servant “would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a flickering flame,” and Matthew’s Jesus (Mt 11:29) says, “[Come to me, you who are weary] …I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Isaiah says God’s servant will be “a light to the nations (or Gentiles).” Matthew 4 describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry by quoting Isaiah 9 “Galilee of the Gentiles…a people in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus is the light to the nations. When Isaiah says that the servant will, “open the eyes of the blind;” we turn to Matthew 9&20 where Jesus gave sight to the blind. Isaiah says the servant will bring prisoners from the dungeons and Matthew 27:52 reveals the symbolic depth of this promise—when Jesus died, the tombs were opened and saints were raised. He brings freedom from the dungeon of death.

The symbolic meaning of the Jordan River cannot be overstated. When Joshua (Joshua 3:1-17) led Israel into the Promised Land, the Jordan stopped flowing and they cross on dry land. The Jordan is a sacramental sign of the Exodus, which is connected to the language of Genesis 1 and symbolizes the new creation of Israel. Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit was above the waters like a dove, pointing us to both creation and Noah’s ark—another new creation. And, there is more!  Elijah (2 Kings 2) also parted the Jordan river. In Mt 17:12, Jesus said that John is Elijah.

Dear friends. we are baptized into Christ—we share His mission as the Servant of God. Jesus wants to make us a new creation, He wants to free us from slavery in Egypt (as Fr. Christian preached last week). Baptism and the Holy Spirit makes us Sacraments. In us and through us Jesus gives sight to the blind and freedom to those in captivity. We, who eat and drink with the Risen Lord, (like Peter in Acts) are the witnesses.