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The Calling of Jesus
to Unite Heaven & Earth
F. Earle Fox
Epiphany 4 - Jer.. 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Lk. 4:16-30
In both the Jeremiah Old Testament lesson and the Gospel of Luke, we hear about a calling into the service of God.
Jeremiah is called to a very unpleasant task of naming the sins of the people, especially of the political and religious leaders. He will be announcing the enemy, Babylon, coming down from the north, and the terrible destruction which will come with the Babylonians. But mostly he will be directly challenging and denouncing the leaders of the Hebrews. The Hebrews made no clear distinction between what we call “church and state” so as to separate them out from the concerns of God. The prophets challenged and railed against both the Temple priests and the kings and nobles of the Hebrews. Such challenges brought down the wrath of both spiritual and political leaders upon Jeremiah.
The event in Luke is not the calling of Jesus, but it is His announcement of His calling in His home town, Nazareth. And it brings down the jealous wrath of the citizens of Nazareth upon Jesus.
I asked that a few verses be added to the reading of the Gospel lesson this morning because it gives the context in which the people of Nazareth thought ill of Jesus. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Then Jesus tells His townsfolk that what they have just heard – is being right then fulfilled in Himself. So, they challenge Jesus to do there what He is reported to have done at Capernaum. Their response is, “Hey, he’s just one of us! What makes him think he is so special???” Jesus sees their jealousy, and tells them they are no better than the Hebrews whom God had ignored in two events 900 years earlier in the days of Elijah and Elisha. They only prove Jesus’ point about their jealousy by becoming so enraged that they want to kill Him on the spot, throwing Him over a cliff. But He passes through the midst of them and goes away.
Jesus’ calling was to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to the captive. Quite different from the mission of Jeremiah. But His townsfolk did not catch that point, and saw only rage that Jesus would dare to expose their own inner sin, jealousy, self-centeredness, and worship of power. Jesus did not hesitate to force these sins into the light of day. Living in the light was a major theme of Jesus’ ministry.
Next Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, we will look in more detail at that Transfiguration event. That revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, as King of kings, and Lord of lords is the other side the coin of Jesus’ ministry in the trenches of life. In the Bible, that which is of the heavenlies, the seemingly distant realm of angels and archangels, mixes freely with the dirt and muck of time and space. No other religion does that. God tells Isaiah in very bold words: “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”
But the people of Nazareth were of no mind to allow that the God they worshiped would demean Himself to be among them as one of themselves. “You’re just the son of Joseph!” They could not imagine that He who was raised among themselves as one of them, could be the Messiah, could heal and make whole, could forgive sins, could lead them to the Father in heaven. That response told Jesus, and tells us, that they saw themselves in that demeaning unspiritual position, and that if they could not be in touch with God on high, then they would not grant that anyone else could either. They needed to keep God at a distance because God up close was too threatening.
But what are we to make of all this today? How do we typically react to the possibility that God might be among us, might be touching our lives in the trenches in a deep way that puts our trenches in touch with heaven?
It would be fair to say that most of the world’s population today, especially leaders, sides with the Nazarenes. The higher they get to the pinnacles of power, the more likely they too will show fear and jealousy of those who are “of a contrite and humble spirit”. They are caught up with getting, using, managing, and keeping their power. “You have to be realistic, you know.”
What can “realism” mean which is in contradiction to the King of kings and Lord of lords? What can be “realistic” which denies the law and the grace of God who created the whole cosmos? We can believe such nonsense only to the degree that we, ourselves, have been influenced, if not captured, by the world, the flesh, or the devil.
The calling of Jesus was to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, to be the ladder which Jacob saw leading to heaven, with persons going both ways. God made the physical world of time and space to be a sacrament of the spiritual world, an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual.
What have we done with this today? The modern Church of God has retreated almost wholesale from the public arena – as though God had no interest there, nothing to do there. We have, in varying degrees, become “pietists”, who believe that the spiritual life is not meant for the public arena, rather only for our personal lives, and for those who share the same feelings and thoughts about God and the spiritual life. That kind of pietism is a heresy. It stands in denial of the fundamental ownership by God of all aspects of the creation. There is not the teeniest speck of creation over which God does not reign.
That pietism is reinforced by the standard cannard that there are two things, religion and politics, which ought not be discussed in public conversation. That was commonly said back in the 1940’s when I was growing up. It is still practiced today. That is because we have not learned how to discuss serious differences in public with mutual respect in the search for truth. So the discussion often gets nasty.
But religion and politics are two of the most important aspects of our lives, and ought to be freely topics of discussion abroad. It will take our growing up into an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual maturity which is far from common today. But that maturity ought to be the goal of Christian parents for themselves and for their children. It ought to be the goal of the Church for its members, and of education for its students. Persons who cannot productively engage in such discussions are not mature enough to take leadership in public affairs. That must be nearly all of the politicians in office.
Christians should be the best available in the public arena, working in a freemarket of ideas with grace and truth to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus over all things, including politics, commerce, investments, the military, and on it goes. Until we can do that, we do not deserve to be elected to public office. Or, as Jesus said, if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father in heaven. Our public witness is that important. We each had better take stock of ourselves and find ways to help each other become more willing and competent in our public witness. The stakes are much too high to ignore.
At the last Judgement, heaven and earth will be united. Those who resist will not be included. It is that important.
There are three arenas we must consider. First our personal spiritual lives. We become Christians because we individually at some point decide to unite our lives with the life of Jesus Christ. But then that creates a second arena, the Church, the community of God, the family of God. Then third, there is the public arena which we think of a secular. It is secular, but only because for over two hundred years the witness and testimony of Christians has failed.
Just as the Gospel points to love as the foundation of Jesus’ ministry, so also in St. Paul’s chapter on love, one can hear echos of the two great commandments, that we are to love God and one another, the two highest laws in the cosmos. The message of Jesus transforms the potential for human experience. For the first time in human history, there is a clear and fully authoritative command to love as the second highest law in the cosmos. We struggle individually with this commandment, the Church struggles with it, and the public arena pretty much scoffs at it, as did the pagan world on the few occasions when such an idea might be proposed.
But God is no fool, He means absolutely serious business promoting love as the basis of all life, including politics.
What is love, that it seems so unrealistic in politics? Love means committing ourselves to doing good, to doing the right thing for others. George Washington thought that party spirit would be the most dangerous factor in political life. By party spirit, he meant persons and groups who had an agenda which was not in the interest of the people as a whole, but in the interests of a party of persons who wanted to use the resources of the people for their own ends. When politicians fall into party spirit, they horse-trade among themselves, jockeying for this or that advantage. Pork barrel politics. The good of the people gets ignored and left in the dust. Laws, especially funding local projects which please the powerful constituents back home, are passed.
That is politics for selfish reasons, not politics for love of God or country. The “God” part is essential, we must love, and thus obey, God or we will not have the spiritual and moral backbone to love our neighbor. We will use our neighbors to get advantages for ourselves. When the public loses its moral consensus under God, then the people fracture into competing constituencies which then elect politicians of the same caliber. Nothing much will change unless churches, pastors, and priests preach righteous sermons from their pulpits requiring their people to vote for honest candidates and Godly policies. In their own time and manner, that is what the prophets did, and that is what the colonial preachers did leading up to our War for Independence.
Our current way of churches, clergy, and people in the pews not holding the feet of the politicians to the fire of moral and spiritual righteousness is the primary reason for the deep corruption in governments all over the world. The word of God does not get spoken to the politicians. And many of them, of course, are the once who have helped to create this Godless manner of doing politics.
The separation of Church and State does not mean the separation of God from State. God owns both the government and the Church. But that ownership will have no effect unless we, the people, enforce that principle at the polls and local debates. It will not happen unless we raise up children to be Godly politicians. And that will not happen until Christians insist on having discussions about religion and politics in public.
That will raise a firestorm of protest, but what is new about that? The issue is whether we want to be in conflict with the world or with God. The politicians, uninstructed by the law of God, and free from the Godly discipline of their constituents, will go their own worldly ways. They will drift into party spirit and self-centered politics. Sin operates in politics just like everywhere else. But it is far more dangerous there because law-making is about the use of coercive force.
God has given the people the right to choose their own rulers, so it is the responsibility of us, the people, to discipline our rulers to Godliness. And that means we must begin with ourselves, disciplining ourselves to Godly lives, disciplining our children to Godly beliefs and behavior, making sure that our children are educated by teachers and schools who are disciplined to Godliness. Almost none of that is in place today because it has been systematically destroyed by secular and pagan anti-Christ interests. And we Christians let them do it.
Jeremiah was appointed by God to warn the people about the approaching Babylonians. We do not have literal Babylonians today, but we do have world-power interests who wish to destroy any last remaining vestiges of Biblical society and especially Biblical government, of, by, and for the people under God.
There are people today issuing powerful warnings against the Babylonians and Assyrians of today, but the Church of God for the most part is no more awake to the situation than were the Hebrew politicians or Temple priests of old. So, for example, we continue to kill, murder, 3000 infants in the womb every day in America.
John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty... of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” It was our duty, he said, to elect Christians. That came from the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, a decade or so after the writing and signing of the Constitution. There was no outcry of “Church and State! Church and State!” Jay’s words were believed by probably every single founding father. That was the received opinion of the whole founding generation. America was a Christian nation obligated by God to elect Christians for rulers.
So what to do? How do we handle this massive problem?
A suggestion: Once a week, I go on a prayer walk for about two hours. Sometimes hiking in the hills, sometimes through a mall. I pray for the world, walking mentally through each continent, ocean, the earth, air, and sky, projecting out through the whole cosmos. I ask the angels and archangels, and all the saints of all time to join together and that God would make us a single, focused, mighty voice for Him to speak to the world.
My primary prayer is for God to raise up
truth-seekers, persons who want the truth at any cost to themselves, who want to
know if they are wrong, and will go by the available evidence. We tend to be
position-defenders rather than truth-seekers. So we freeze ourselves into our
positions, stop talking and shout or lecture at each other. The result has been
terrible fragmentation, over 2000 so-called Christian denominations, mostly
because we are not communicating with each other. When we become truth-seekers,
then the truth and the Lord of truth can speak for themselves, and will give us
the true position. There is no other way. You do not have to be a scholar to be
a truth-seeker, you just have to be honest.
The title of this sermon is “the calling of Jesus – to unify heaven and earth...” There is no possibility of unity apart from truth-seeking. We live in a sacramental world, not a world divided physical against spiritual. That fact has powerful consequences. The hostile division between physical and spiritual was a part of the Greek, Roman, and other pagan cultures which surrounded little Israel. Israel and then Christianity alone in all of human history, spread the good news of a God who had intelligently created the physical world, and then, through the laws of love, given the world the purpose of revealing and embodying His own nature. No other religion in all of history has said that.
Biblical religion is unique in all the world.
So let us be true to our own heritage and history, to that which God has
revealed and taught through the centuries. Pray that God raises up
truth-seekers and truth speakers, to that our conservative position can be a
truthful conservation of those three things which endure, faith, love, and hope.
And in the doing of that, heaven and earth will find themselves unified.
Father in heaven, we pray that we Christians will recover the fullness of that wonderfully Good News which You have given to the whole human race, uniting into one, not only Jew and Gentile, but physical and spiritual, and all our other wrongful divisions, so that the goodness of heaven can flood the world as the waters cover the sea. We pray this in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Date Posted - 02/03/2013 - Date Last Edited - 02/04/2013