Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lent 5 John 8

(wma audio download link)

Do you claim to worship God? Do you claim to believe in him? Honestly. Think about it, and then, while you’re at it, answer this question too: what is Church about? Is it about “god”? Which “god”? How do you know? Who is he? Is he a he, or a she? Why? Is this god you claim to worship the same god jews and muslims talk about? Is this god what buddhists talk about when they speak of the faceless Tao? Can this god, whoever it is, save you? Most importantly, does believing that there is a god, whoever it is, automatically make you his/her/its friend?

Or have you never heard that, according to Scripture, the demons believe in God too? And they believe in the real God, the true God, the one and only God, but, so far as they’re concerned, this isn’t a good thing. It’s terrifying, because their relationship with him, well, it’s not good.

But believing in “God” and yet not having it be a good thing isn’t limited to demons. In all truth, according to Scripture, the real God could actually care less if you believe in some amorphous higher power that just kind of exists out there, even if you are trying to “get to him.” He could care less if you try to worship him/her/it or anyone else, even if you call “him” “God” – it’s all the same to the Father in heaven. It’s all false worship.

The God of the Bible doesn’t need you to believe in his existence. That means nothing to him. His existence is so obvious that only the most hardened and foolish people even dare to claim otherwise. Believing in God is as worthless and useless to you as believing in doctors while you sit at home sick and dying. What good does that do you? If you don’t have the right relationship, it doesn’t matter one wit whether you believe in God, or read his prophetic writings, or are descended from people who were once part of his Church.

Jesus spoke clear words to the Pharisees, “I am glorified by my father, of whom you say, “He is our God,” but, whoever is of God hears the Words of God, hears my Words, and that man will not taste death. If you do not hear my words, then you are not of God.” That means that if you do not hear the Words of Jesus, if you do not learn of God through Jesus, then no matter what you might claim, you are not of God and you don’t know him. No matter how safe you may feel, you are no better off than the demons, who, believe as they might that God is real, the more they believe, the more they find only fear and loathing for the one who will soon destroy them all. Most humans aren’t even that faithful. In your own lesser moments, you erect false gods in your head, images of “God” created after your own tastes, in order to deceive yourself into thinking “God” loves you, sitting at home, or on a mountain top, or anywhere other than the doctor’s office of this altar, where the Words of Jesus say is the one place you can be sure to find him.

Now, the Pharisees whom Jesus spoke to had been doing this “make believing in God” for a long time, worshiping according to God’s law, and teaching from the Scripture, but missing the point that God doesn’t care if you believe he exists. What God cares about is that you trust his promises. And his promises, every one of them, are centered in the person of his Messiah – the one promised from before the ages to defeat death.

But the Pharisees missed all that. The pharisee in each of us still misses it. So when along comes a thirty year old man claiming that “make believe” relationships with God are worthless, it seems pretty bold. When he says that there is only one Word from God, and that he has it, it seems pretty audacious. When he insists that there are only limited places where safe relationship with God can happen, it looks like self-glorifying blaspheme. He was almost killed for those claims that day. He was killed for it not too long thereafter.

But, just like “make-believing in God” in order to find real safety, killing the one who truly has the Word of God never works out so well either. The Messiah himself didn’t stay dead. And ever since, throughout the history of the Church, there has been no more powerful and realistic Church growth than that which occurs in the ages of martyrdom. The more death and destruction overcome the visible Church, the more the Word’s power for resurrection shines, asserting itself boldly in the faith that proclaims that Jesus Christ tasted death only in order to swallow it, and to consume it in himself, making it no more.

There has come a man greater than all the prophets of the world, true and false alike. You claim to follow Abraham and Moses to God? One greater than them both is here. You claim that there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet? Mohammed is dead and buried. Will the Buddha take you to enlightenment? No. He died saying “save yourself.” Where is Vishnu? Where is Gaia? Where are all the idols and dreams of man’s heart-felt religion? They are wood and stone that promise and do nothing but leave a man rotting in the grave. But here stands a man who not only claimed prophecy, but claimed Godhood itself, and proved it by doing what no mere mortal has ever done, nor can do by human powers. He made his body live forever.

And that victory, the resurrection, he has claimed that he gives freely, as a gift to you or to any and all, without restriction, without restraint, without cost. He is humanity restored to its fullness, and his victory, so soon to be remembered with special festivities and song, is relationship with God, not unknown, but known, not empty, but filled, not questionable, but clear, real, tangible, eternal, and good.

The Father of the universe glorified his Son by killing him for our sakes, for your sakes, so that the Word of his resurrection carried along by the Spirit of heaven would be living and active, pointing us to the him who died and rose, and through him, to the very face of the Father, so that we catholic Christians do not claim the mere liar’s title of “god-worshippers” as the many pagans and deists do, as the jews and muslims, magicians and wickens, Oprahites, pragmatists, and endless enthusiasts.

I do not say this so that you should hate them, but so that you should love them all the more, for you have been forgiven, yet they are enslaved. Hearing the Word, keep it, but do not keep it to yourself. Speak it, freely. Speak it that you might hear it again. Speak it that your families might cherish deeply. Speak it so that the pagans and deists, jews and muslims, magicians and wickens, and all the rest might also be elected of God, fleeing their futile ways, and coming to rejoice with us over the humanity that did not stay dead and can never die again, and gives of himself for one and all to live forever.

In one week we begin the highest time of the entire year of the Church: Holy week, the week in which we walk step by step the road to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I highly encourage you to make your plans now to attend all that you can of the marvelous services offered. Next Sunday, we will sing Hosanna with the masses who both received and yet rejected the Lord of glory on Palm Sunday. Maundy Thursday at 7pm, we will sit in intimacy with our Lord’s chosen band as he gives his last will and testimony, the new testament in his blood, the everlasting Supper of eaten words. Good Friday, at 7, we face Golgatha – and I can say no more than that if you’ve never been in the darkness of Tenebrae then you’ve never really known praise. Holy Saturday we will not meet for public worship, but I will be here, seated in this chair, from 10-1130 and again from 4-530, under the sworn seal of the confessional, to hear the confession of your sins, in order that you might free your conscience from all that burdens you have, especially from those things which our general confession cannot alleviate. I highly encourage you to experience this great gift of the Keys of forgiveness, freely wielded on your behalf. There is nothing like the peace which comes from speaking aloud your deepest regrets, and having a Father speak pure acceptance over you nonetheless. Then Easter morning, at our regular time, weather permitting, we will gather outside the Church in the Vigil of the Resurrection, following the light of Christ into the Holy place in candlelight procession, to celebrate the High Feast of the Risen Lamb in his Kingdom.

It will be a busy week, and indeed, life out there –where the devil is prince - will try to no end to keep you from these services, which are given to build you up in Christ. Do not let your enemy have so much power over you. Come to the rock that is higher than yourself. Whoever is of God hears the words of God. You are of God. Therefore, come and hear, be given to believe forever once again.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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