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F. Earle Fox
St. Luke's Reformed Episcopal Church, Santa Ana, CA Sept. 27, 2009
Trinity 16 09i27 Jer. 32:26-42(44); Ps. 16 Eph. 3:130-21; Lk. 7:11-17
The world likes power. Power is the source of worldly salvation. Power, in their sense of the word means the ability to get things done, the ability to get one’s way, the ability to control circumstances. The worldly are entranced by power, they lust after it.
But to be fair, there is little else they can do because they, as Jesus said to the Sadducees who were testing him about resurrection power, "You are wrong because.... you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."
If you do not know the power of God, worldly power is all you have left. That is the only solution they know.
That power of God is quite different from the power sought by the worldly, that is, the power of coercion, the power to get one’s way. God has that, too, God can accomplish His will, no matter what any creature says. But that is not the primary power of God, nor the way He prefers to work. God does not work primarily with coercive power, but with spiritual power.
What on earth is spiritual power? Is this just another of those vague and fuzzy spiritual notions which have no foundation in practical reality? Far from it. Spiritual power is the most important and most practical power there is. It is the foundation of all other power.
Most of Scripture is about this power of God. It is the power which God has -- simply by virtue of being the Creator of all that is. All things owe their existence to God. That means that God has what might be called the "power of being", that is, the ability to give being to things other than Himself. God "calls" us into existence out of nothing. God does not create us out of something already lying around. There is no "stuff" lying around which was there before God, which God finds and uses to construct the world. Everything that exists, exists only because of the power of God to bring things into being out of nothing.
We are first formed in the imagination of God, and then we can be called into being in the womb. For example, God tells us that He knew us before we were in our mother's wombs. The ancient people did not know about conception, the union of the sperm and the egg, but they did know that in some way, God could cause another human being to live in the mother's womb. God created life where there was none before. That is the power of being.
So my power of being, my ability to be myself, does not come from myself, but from God.
The worldly have no way to account for this power of being because they think that we arrive here by random chance. Chance, by definition, means "no conscious cause" and therefore, "no accounting for..." All things, for them, track back to the Big Bang, the first beginnings of all things, so far as the natural sciences can tell. But they have no explanation for the source of that Big Bang.
Some of them are now saying that it came out of nothing. That is intellectual bankruptcy, but they apparently think of it as wisdom. They are stuck there because they have no explanation for the ability of things simply to be.
That has powerful effect on how we live. If we think that we are just accidents, then we are on our own to establish our personal safety and stability. We have no "substance" within ourselves, so we have to generate it by our cleverness, strategy, power struggle, and competitive edge. We have to establish control over a significant domain just to stay afloat in the world.
Sound familiar? Ever felt stuck in just that rat race?
For the worldly, our being is a total mystery, because it has no rational explanation. Our being has no inherent purpose or meaning because (they insist) it is totally accidental. They think that is wisdom.
Imagine these two different universes: First the Biblical sort in which the whole of the cosmos rests on the Hand of God for its existence, and listens to the Voice of God for its purpose, direction, and meaning. The cosmos is an open circle because God is outside the circle of creation and communicates with us inside.
And secondly, the same universe, same people, same churches having services on Sunday morning. But in this other universe, there is no Hand or Voice of God. We are all on our own. In this second universe, we here in church worshipping God are deluded. There is no such God. We are all in fact on our own. The secular and pagan folks are right, there is no creator God. This cosmos is a closed circle because there is nothing outside the circle - no creator God.
There are gods and goddesses, but they are within the circle of existence, not outside of it, holding in existence. And they are in the same power-struggle dilemma as the rest of us, only they have a leg up on the rest of us because they have more of that worldly power. So they can control things better than we.
But in the end, even the gods and goddesses die, they too are drawn back into the cosmic soup from which all things accidentally emerge.
But imagine at some point in the history of this hapless world, some of those unhappy folks discovering that, lo and behold, there really is a Creator God, that there really is a Voice and Hand of God, that God is indeed trying to communicate with us to save us from our terrible condition. Maybe even one of those fortunate persons thinks that he actually hears from this Creator God.
And just suppose that the name of the first to discover this wonderful truth was named... Abraham.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the story of our world. We fell in to that closed circle of Godless existence. The secular/pagan world is the world of the Fall -- with no power of being, no security of being, and with no meaning or purpose.
God told Adam in the Garden that the day he ate of the forbidden tree, he was a dead duck. He did not die immediately, but he became a walking dead man. He was dead spiritually, and so the rest of him would have to die. It was just a matter of time before he fell over.... and looked dead. His connection with the source of life and of meaning, the Hand and Voice of God, was so badly broken that his life could no longer be sustained. He was on his own. And he could not make it, he had no power of being -- on his own.
Jesus told us to fear Him who has power to cast both body and soul into hell, the ability to take away our power of being, our ability to be ourselves. Satan likes to scare us that he has that power. He does not -- unless we give it to him. God does. What God gives, He can remove. But His aim is to give that power to everyone who will accept His terms, to love Him and to love one another.
Those are the best possible terms. We are all invited (no exceptions) into this best of all possible Kingdoms -- the Kingdom of mutual love. That is the fundamental and overarching purpose of all existence. Would you not like to be a part of a kingdom where everyone was (as Paul indicates in I Cor. 13), always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful?
Faith, love, and hope, these three endure -- by the power of God -- who is Himself always and eternally faithful, loving, and hopeful.
We can choose not to be lovers of God and of each other, but that is self-destructive behavior. It always cuts you off from your Source of Being, your ability to be fully and openly yourself. Sin is not only wrong, it is monumentally stupid. In God, righteousness and wisdom are absolutely wedded. Righteous, obedient living is the only wise living. As Scripture over and over indicates, the law of God shows us the road of Wisdom. The laws, properly understood, are not impositions we have to put up with, they are blessings -- a path and a light unto our feet in an otherwise dark and troublesome world.
Jeremiah occasionally breaks his almost unrelenting condemnation of the behavior of his own Hebrew people to predict the restoration of the people to their land. He gives us a picture of spiritual blessing:
"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.... I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant the in this land in faithfulness with all My heart and all My soul." God wants, with all His heart and soul to bless us with the power to be ourselves.
And just after our Jeramiah lesson this morning, "Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, It is a desolation, without man or beast..." People will want to buy the fields again and pay good prices for them. The very ground itself will reflect in its abundance the change of heart in the people. The ground will give forth in its abundance the restored ability of the people to be healthy and strong, openly and without fear by supplying them with nurturing food and other resources.
Restoration in the Bible is always sacramental -- the outward and visible reflects the inward and spiritual. But the inward and spiritual cleansing and healing must come first, the foundation of the outward riches and goodness. When we try to make the outward purify the inward, mostly with palliative good feelings, we fail, and catapult ourselves into the Fallen world. Trying to make ourselves feel good will not restore the spirit. Restoring the spirit will make us feel good.
In Psalm 16, we read this morning, "Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in You.... O Lord, You are my portion and my cup..." We are to trust in God for protection, not on our fields, our houses, our earthly riches. They come from Him, not from our strong right arm. But, we will be able to keep them only so long as we give them back to Him, for His purpose of loving Him and one another. If we do not, our very riches will lead us down the path to spiritual death. World history testifies mightily to this kind of self-destructive behavior.
Psalm 16 again: "My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your Holy One see the Pit."
The very foundation of life is in the Hand of God, and death is no threat if we faithfully stand there. The theme of life over death runs like an underground river all through the Old Testament -- and then emerges into the broad light of day when Jesus comes.
Acts 1:8 ff. is not in our lessons this morning, but it gives one of the best examples of the meaning of this Power of God, the power of being undergirding all life. Jesus, about to ascend back to heaven, tells His disciples: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."
Just what might this power be. He explains -- it will be the power to stand and give testimony in front of anyone, anywhere, at any time. You cannot do that if you are not secure in your being. Your knees will be knocking, stomach churning, and you will be distracted from listening to the Lord for direction. Only as we are standing on the Hand of God can we possibly be close enough to hear His Voice assuring and guiding us. The power of the Holy Spirit is first of all the ability to stand and be oneself in all possible circumstances. From that personal stability flows all the other gifts of the Spirit.
In Ephesians, Paul likewise explains this Power of God. Paul prays that God might grant the Corinthians (and ourselves) "to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man... that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth... that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ..... Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly.... to Him be glory...."
That is an image full of power and stability. The only kind of power which fits this description is spiritual power, the power of being.
That power at work within us is the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the solid, stabile, and secure being of oneself. That is a power which the world cannot give. The explanation of it must be God Himself.
It is that power which enabled the early Christians to love not only one another, but to love the pagans, even those who were their lethal enemies. Many of the pagans, including some of the emperors, could not help but notice that, some of them concluding, "If having Jesus in your heart does that for you, then I want Jesus in my heart."
And then in Luke 7, Jesus, Himself, entering the city of Nain meets a funeral procession. A widow was on her way to bury her only son. She had lost her husband and her only son, leaving her without immediate-family means of support. A large crowd was following. The Lord saw her and "had compassion on her". His heart was moved. He touched the bier, and "the bearers stood still. And He said, 'Young man, I say unto you, Arise!" And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother." Resurrection power, the power to give and restore life.
The power of being, the ability to be myself, the gift of personhood, of personal life. Jesus had that ability to be Himself. No one could force Him to back down, though they tried every trick they knew. He would never be any thing less than the fullness of the Son of God before them. Their attempts to make Him buckle failed, and infuriated them. Jesus persistence gave them only two choices: Join me or get rid of me.
Jesus was the aggressor, not the victim. He pushed them until they were forced to choose -- Join Him or kill Him. He forced them to judge themselves.
We sometimes say to someone, "Well, just be yourself!" as though that were as easy as falling off a log. After all, what else can I be other than myself? It would seem to be the most natural and easy thing in the world.
But in being ourselves, we are caught in a dilemma: being dependent beings, we need others to be ourselves. We needed our mothers and fathers when small, we need the approval and cooperation of many adults as we grow up. We cannot be ourselves all alone. All by ourselves, we fail and we die.
But the world is very undependable about giving us the right kind of approval and cooperation. It often does not. And we ourselves can demand inappropriate approval and cooperation. We would often rather be pampered and spoiled than grow into honest maturity.
There is no answer to the dilemma than the grace and the law of God. In order to be fully human, in order to be our real selves, in order to be adults in the world, we must be children in God. We must receive from God alone our ability and right to be ourselves. The world is not our creator, and the world cannot give us either the ability or right to be ourselves. That comes from God alone - first by creation, and then, because we fell from grace, by redemption.
Our ability and right to be ourselves comes from a depth which the world cannot touch. As with Jesus, no one can pull the rug out from under us.
The world cannot know and understand that power, so of course they think we are crazy and mock our faith. What else can they do? The world cannot produce persons who are able to be fully themselves, openly and honestly and lovingly.
That means that we Christians must be so solidly secure in our own being, so freely able to be real human beings, right out in front of God and everybody, so undergirded with the power of the Holy Spirit, that the worldly will begin to ask questions, and begin to say, "If that is what having Jesus in your heart does for you, then I want Jesus in my heart."
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