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F. Earle Fox
Sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Blessed Sacrament
Placentia, California -- October 14, 2007
...the best of all possible what? ...we will fill in the blank as we go.
Last week I spent five days down at the Mexican border with the Minutemen helping the United States Border Patrol spot illegal aliens. This is not a promo for the Minutemen, but I need to set the scene for my sermon.
As several of us were scouting for new positions from which to observe the border, we were joined by a young fellow in a pickup truck who said that he was a writer from Penthouse magazine doing a story on the Minutemen movement, and wanted to interview us.
We were not able to call a halt to our activities, but I volunteered to ride with him as he tagged along with us while we moved from place to place -- and talk with him. Something said, "This is from the Lord!" Well, how often to you get someone from Penthouse actually wanting to talk with you?
I explained that I am an Episcopal priest, that in my opinion, America was fast losing its Biblical heritage, including the Biblically based form of government which our founding fathers, under the law and grace of God, had given us, and that what we have left is mostly (and merely) on paper which is routinely ignored. As a consequence, I said, we are rapidly losing our God-given freedoms to an increasingly centralized and anti-Christ government.
Many if not most contemporary Minutemen and women appear to be Christians of one sort or another, and my message to them, I said, was that we will not win this war at the borders without God and the recovery of our government under God. So, we have a choice: Either Jesus is Lord, or civil government will be lord. Choose this day whom you will serve. Exactly the same choice faced by early Christians before Caesar and his magistrates.
Such thoughts in today's world are pretty radical, some would say extremist. But they were fairly standard opinions at the time of our national founding. And, extremist or not, they are the truth.
The fellow from Penthouse had been raised as some kind of Christian, but dumped it when, as he said (trying hard not to be offensive to me) that he read the Bible and too often found God being a mean, nasty person who arbitrarily sent people to hell. He did not want to believe in such a God.
I replied that I agreed with him and would not want to either. I said that I had struggled with some of the same issues he had, and that I had to unlearn and then relearn in a quite different way almost everything I was taught as a young Christian.
But I said that for Christians, Jesus is the Son of God and thus the final revelation of God, and that therefore we must use the image of God we find in Jesus to interpret and judge the rest of Scripture. If the picture of God in Christ be the truth about God, then we have a God who is 100% dedicated to our genuine welfare, that He is not in the least interested in sending us to hell, He is doing His level best to save us from Hell -- at any cost to Himself.
"At any cost to Himself..." That is an astonishing thought about Him who created the whole world, who has the capacity to destroy it and us at will, and to whom none of us could say "Nay!".
And what might God's "level best" look like? Look at Jesus. God is setting Himself the task of leading us into that path which will guarantee our capacity to be real, honest, stable persons with a purpose and meaning in life. God wants to undergird our stability of being and moral direction, not undermine it. He wants us to be like Jesus, able to be our real selves with anyone, anywhere, any time -- including, especially, with God Himself. If, like Job, you can be real with God, you can be real with anyone.
The fellow was not in any sense mocking or antagonistic. He was asking honest questions as if he really wanted to know the truth of the matter. He seemed to be willing to consider that he might have been wrong.
With several interruptions as we stopped at various places to look around for new observation posts, we must have talked for nearly an hour. At the end, when he dropped me off back at our camp, he asked me how people referred to me. I said, It depends on the context and the kind of church. For some, it is just Earle, for some it is Father, for some it is Reverend. Then, as we parted, he said, "Thank you, father..."
I was deeply moved. Here is a fellow looking for a heavenly Father who does not enjoy sending people to hell. I pray that he found Him. Please pray for John who writes for Penthouse.
The God which Jews and Christians worship stands alone among all the imagined deities of human history.
We read concerning mankind in Genesis 6:5, just before the Flood, that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". The primary purpose of the imagination is to be able to imagine the truth, and the primary truth we need is God as He really is. Our imaginations are evil when we dedicate them to perversions of truth.
But fallen man cannot imagine God as He really is. The first step toward the fall is the subversion of truth (Romans 1:18 ff.), and the immediate and fatal consequence of that is the loss of truth about God. Because we blindside ourselves by subverting truth, we begin to worship the creature rather than the Creator.
Probably the hardest aspect of God for the fallen imagination is His unfailing goodness and goodwill toward His creation, towards us, even in our fallen state.
Freud tossed God off as a wunchwesen, a wish-being, something we invent to make ourselves feel good. It is just too good to be true. Religion was for Freud our universal obsessional neurosis. Only an immature, self-deceiving, neurotic, or dishonest person could believe in a loving God.
Fallen man cannot imagine that life could really be that good, and so when we imagine God at all, we invariably imagine Him as less good than He really is, less disposed to our welfare than He really is. And usually by a wide margin. Even we Christians rarely understand the love of God. There has been a ton of wrong teaching within the Church on that matter. The trouble tries to nest itself right in the law of God.
When Jesus defined the highest two laws of the cosmos as the laws to love God and one another, He redefined all of moral discussion. Morality is about love. If you do not understand the agape love of God, you do not understand morality.
And if you do not understand morality, you cannot understand politics or government.
Jesus repeated over and over again the theme: If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot be a part of Me. He was not talking about cannibalism (as the early Christians were accused), He was talking about self-giving, sharing of Himself, His life, with us. He was talking about giving us that stability of being and of moral security which He alone has and can give. That is the meaning of salvation.
There are some things God will not do. He will not fudge the truth, and He will not be less than really, honestly loving. He will forbid some things and mandate others -- He will give us laws. Why???
He gives us laws in order to guide us to being the lovers of souls which He is. All of the laws of God, rightly understood, are subservient to and support the law of love.
We do not begin life being loving. We begin life being self-centered and needy of the love of others. We learn to love by hard trial and error and by usually hard discipline. You will not become a loving person without discipline and discipleship.
It would be a hard task to come up with, to imagine, a God who would be more human-friendly than the God of the Bible. We have a God who understands our need for nurturing and acceptance (the mothering side of life), and our equal need for purpose, discipline, and self-denial (the fathering side of life). Only God can combine those in a healthy way to produce strong, capable, free persons -- His children.
How can one improve on a God who can combine nurturing with discipline to produce whole, healthy persons, able to be their true selves anywhere, with anyone, anytime? We have, we must say, the best of all possible Gods. It does not get any better than that. No better God is imaginable.
That phrase, "the best of all possible..." usually ends with "worlds" -- and is almost always rejected out of hand as hopelessly unreal and illusory. It cannot be that good!
But the Kingdom of God is indeed the best of all possible worlds. It already exists. We do not create it, we join it.
There is no way to improve on a community with the best of all possible Gods whose creatures are fully made and completed in the image of that God. But that is precisely what God is aiming for. When we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...," we are praying that life here and now on earth will become a part of that "best of all possible..." as it is in heaven already. The Kingdom of God is among you, said Jesus.
How many Christians do I talk with who live in despair about changing anything. They wait for Jesus to come back, as if He had not already come and equipped us with His Holy Spirit and the Great Commission -- to challenge and change the world.
There are many souls wandering in places of darkness and evil intent -- who would like to meet a human-friendly God -- one who loves us -- at any cost to Himself. God has given us all that we need to make a significant difference, to reach out into Penthouse, the Episcopal Church, into our secular/pagan culture.
We Christians have been living under a Christian-friendly (because Christian founded) government up until the 20th century. We no longer do because we are either ignorant, cowardly, or ourselves in rebellion against God. We are headed for persecution because our government is now run largely by people who are enemies of Christ.
We dare not wait for Jesus to come back before we take the offensive. Jesus expects to come back finding His Church already, now offering itself as a living sacrifice, risking life, fortune, and sacred honor for His name and glory. Will He instead find a consumerist Church, interested only in defending its own personal comfort zone?
When I say such things, almost never do I find people asking, as Peter was urgently asked after his first sermon, "What can we do to be saved?!" Almost always they respond in obvious dismay, "What can we do?" -- as if it was hopeless. And when I offer suggestions, they walk away and do not return. We should not be cowardly betrayers of our Lord.
Every lesson this morning raises this theme.
Ruth chooses Naomi's God over her own. We are not told why, but there must have been something human-friendly which Ruth saw in Naomi drawing her to the true God.
Psalm 113 tells us very boldly: "Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?" He is not only unique, but here is why... "He takes up the weak out of the dust, and lifts up the poor from the ashes..." What other deity has done that in all of human history?
In 2 Timothy, Paul exhorts his people to be brave because they serve a powerful, faithful, and loving God, one who makes a difference.
And the Gospel in Luke tells of a foreigner, a Samaritan, who returns to give thanks to God for a miracle of healing, not of a God who cannot or will not keep His promises, not of a God unable or unwilling right now to make a difference in our fallen world.
Because we have the best of all possible Gods, our hope for the best of all possible worlds is not a delusion, it is the heart and core of our realistic faith, and the very purpose of God for us.
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