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F. Earle Fox
St. Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA, 10/04/09-- on how, by turning on the Light, God forces us to judge ourselves.
We either build heaven with God and one another, or we build hell all by ourselves. Audio version.
Trinity 17, October 4, 2009 --
Jer. 13:15-21; Ps. 10; Eph. 4:1-6; Lk. 14:1-11
The theme of Light and Dark runs through the whole of the Bible, through all of Biblical history. Sometimes it is an underground river. Other times it surfaces openly into the clarity of day light.
We read this morning in Jeremiah, "Hear and give ear, be not proud, for the Lord has spoken." Do not be proud, humble yourself, get off your arrogance and admit that you might be wrong he says to his own leaders.
He warns, "Give glory to the Lord your God before He brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains; and while you look for light, He turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness." Your pride, your arrogance, your insolence will get you into darkness.
God says to Jeremiah, "Say to the king and the queen mother: 'Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head.' The cities of the Negeb are shut up [under siege], with none to open them; all Judah is taken into exile, wholly taken into exile."
It is too late. You have refused the Light, and nothing is left to you but exile and darkness.
The darkness is not attributed to Satan because the Hebrews at that time had little notion of a personal evil force like Satan behind the evils of the world. And so they did not know how to fight the spiritual warfare which was assailing them. It was not until their (now beginning) 70 years of exile in Babylon that they gained this awareness of Satan, an insight strongly affirmed by Jesus 5 centuries later.
But even if they did not understand the Satanic force behind the Fall of mankind, they did understand the difference between spiritual darkness and spiritual light. They understood that disobedience to God will lead to darkness, stumbling, alienation from God, and finally, death. They knew, in their best moments, that sin, disobedience to God, was not only wrong, it was stupid and self-destructive.
What is this "darkness"? And why does disobedience to God lead there?
The darkness results because by disobedience we thereby cut ourselves off from the two fundamental stabilities of life (who we are), our stability of being, and our moral stability (where we are going).
The first is given by the Hand of God: Our stability of being, our personhood, our ability to be ourselves in front of each other. We destabilize ourselves at the deepest level possible because sin cuts us off from our Source of being, God. Not worshipping God anymore, we begin to worship creatures around us, and they are incapable of giving us personal stability because they are not our Creator.
Secondly, because we no longer hear the Voice of God clearly, if at all, we begin to think of ourselves as independent, autonomous decision-makers. We think we do not need God to make realistic choices about life, we foolishly and arrogantly think that we know better than God how to run our lives -- and the lives of everyone else around us. And we crash. Over and over.
It does not seem to matter how often we prove ourselves terribly wrong, we keep believing it anyhow. We think that if we appoint another committee to study the matter, if we pass another law to control things, if we have another revolution to set things all straight, we will make it. But it cannot and will not happen until we return to God, our Creator. Nothing in the world can replace God who stands as Creator outside the world. For us to be successful adults in the world, we must be successful children in God who is outside the world. That is a logical fact, and cannot be circumvented -- so there is no use fighting it.
In Psalm 10, we hear the same theme:
"The wicked arrogantly persecute the poor, but they are trapped in the schemes they have devised. The wicked boast of their heart's desire, the covetous curse and revile the Lord..."
I grew up thinking that all ancient people believed in God, even if it was a superstitious belief. That is not so. There were many persons who, if they thought that God existed, did not respect or follow Him. "The wicked are so proud that they care not for God; their only thought is, 'God does not matter,'" says our Psalm. There were practicing atheists among the ancients.
The wicked "are trapped in the schemes they have devised..." says the Psalmist. Their very schemes ensure that they are entrapped. Every false god betrays its worshipper into the very evils from which it pretends to protect. You can count on it. That is, again, because every sinful scheme, by its very nature, separates us from those two stabilities. We lose the foundation of our being, and the foundation of our moral consensus.
That is why we have in America, and the West, an increasing problem of persons run amuck, persons retreating from life, and persons for whom there seems to be no help. It is why we have all through Western Civilization (Europe, Australia, Canada, and in the United States), whole cultures which have no heart even to reproduce themselves, and thus may be dooming themselves to extinction.
In America, both crime and emotional, spiritual brokenness has escalated promiscuously since our arrogant Supreme Court in `1962 told God that He could no longer talk to our children when they were in government-run schools. Nor they to Him.
The problem was not God in schools, it was the coercive force of government in schools, thinking that it could replace God and dictate to we, the people. It has led only to growing darkness, confusion, and brokenness, not to light and clarity.
Our rejection of God and consequent darkness is no less evil and destructive than that of the Hebrews 26 centuries ago. Our political leadership, by its arrogant rejection of God -- aided and abetted by an ignorant, apathetic, & cowardly Church (just as with the Hebrews) -- is directing us right into that same darkness and gloom, the same stumbling, the same, not freedom, but betrayal into the hands of our enemies, the forces of power-struggle and tyranny.
The Babylonians of today are not foreign forces at our gates, but a fifth column within our own ranks, subverting the law and grace of God to establish control over the Church, the people of America, and the world.
So, what to do about this?
Paul gives us some clues in Ephesians. I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord..." How many letters do you get from a prisoner for the Lord? A man at some point to be condemned to death for being a Christian, is writing to the Christians at Ephesus, but also to every Christian alive. If you count yourself a Christian and alive, this letter is written to you.
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called...." That does not include living like the Hebrews of the 6th century BC who had so compromised their relation with God that God had to abandoned them to their fate with the Babylonians -- the almost total destruction of their nation, and then 70 years of exile to think about and pray about what they had done to deserve that. Enough of them began to get the point, and finally God told them to get back to Judea and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. All of that was preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
And, in the process, they got some lessons about the nature of Satan and spiritual warfare.
What is this "life worthy of the calling to which..." all Christians are called? Paul was a light in the dark, not hid under a bushel, but set on a hill, a beacon, a lighthouse to guide those lost in a sea of darkness back to safety on the Hand of God, and under His Voice into the Light. Is not every Christian called to that kind of life? a life given over to God for His service in redeeming the world, reaching out to a world lost in darkness, yet believing it has the light?
And is not that life, so far as in us lies, lived under the law and grace of God the true answer to the evils around us? Does not God reach out to the unsaved through His people, those who have some sufficient relationship to Him so that they can be channels of His law and grace?
In the Gospel in Luke, we read of two events in the life of Jesus. You can count on the events in the life of Jesus to be illuminating illustrations of life-giving behavior.
In the first, Jesus challenges the Pharisees at one of their most sensitive points -- keeping the Sabbath. In another place, Jesus had said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Jesus risks the anger of the Pharisees, challenging them directly and to their face. He heals the man on the Sabbath. Their teachings were creating darkness in the souls of their people, which Jesus confronted right in public. Jesus would not allow darkness to prevail anywhere He went. He would not stop being the Light of the World. It did not matter how the world reacted to Him.
He was forcing their reaction to bring them out into the light of day. He wanted their reaction because in their reactions they were visibly and openly proclaiming themselves to be, or not be, His disciples.... to be or not be on the side of God.
We find the principle, "judgement by light", all through the Gospel of John. John shows how just the coming of the Light of Christ into the world sets us up for our own self-created judgement. In John 3:19, we read, "And this is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." The Light exposes for all to see.
In other words, we judge ourselves worthy or unworthy of the Kingdom of Light by our reaction to the Light. If we run from the Light because we want to protect our evil behavior, we condemn ourselves to darkness, we isolate ourselves from truth, and set ourselves up for our own destruction.
Systematic subversion of truth is a first sign of spiritual warfare, whether by demons or just the ordinary human variety. Evil-minded persons know that they cannot succeed if their schemes are exposed. But..., they have a compulsion to win, to succeed because their egos depend on it. Because they are not receiving their power of being from God, thus they are trying to get their stability by winning the adulation, the worship, of human beings. They worship the creature rather than the Creator. But they must protect their nasty secret from exposure, or their sham will be exposed and rejected. To survive, whether human or demonic, they must live in the dark. But then they are destroyed by their own darkness.
In our second Gospel event, Jesus tells the people who want to get the best seats in the house that they are being prideful and manipulative. "Take the lowest seat," He says, and let the master of the house invite you higher. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. The self-exalters will be humbled because the adulation they seek cannot give them their stability of being.
So, Jesus is saying, put your reputation in the Hand of God, and rather than seeking your own glory, promote the glory of God. Let God take care of your glory, He can do a much better job at it than you can anyhow. You brag about God, and let Him brag about you. Would you not like to hear God say: "This is My son/daughter, in whom I am well pleased. I am wonderfully glad that he/she is my child"? He wants to say it...
Spiritual warfare consists in forcing light into the darkness, exposing the evil, and so forcing the evil-minded either to repent or to dig his hole deeper.
In that way, God is forcing us to either build heaven with Him and each other, to choose to live in the light with Him and each other, or, to build hell all by ourselves, to die in the increasing isolation of deepening darkness.
Every choice we make moves us in one direction or the other. Every choice we make is either for or against truth -- and thus, for or against the Lord of truth and His Kingdom of truth. We do not have to "produce" God, just be seekers of truth, and He will show up and prove His own case. He is the Light of truth.
Lord, make us all seekers of truth and life, where alone we find You.
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