The Image of God

If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.

Colossians 1:15 | The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

This week, my daughter was on vacation from school. We watched some movies together. Two were children’s movies about Jesus – Lion of Judah, and God With Us. I kept a close eye on her as the films came toward the end, when Jesus is crucified. It was her first time seeing it. I have been very aware that this can be a very traumatic thing for a young child to see, even if it is softened by a G rating and not all that graphic. I’d explained to her a little bit about who Jesus is, and why we pray “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” when we say grace or bedtime prayers. But she’s older, getting better at following movies, and I knew this movie was probably going to be the first time she really saw the full story of Jesus play out. 

Well, my girl is pretty brave. She was upset at how Jesus was treated, but not scared. She watched Pilate bring Jesus and Barabbas out in front of the crowd, and when the crowd chose Barabbas, she turned to me and with a teacherly tone, explained, “Jesus is innocent, but they want to kill him.”  

That’s right, I said. And then she asked…”Why?” 

“Sometimes,” I said, “bad things happen to good people.” That’s just the beginning. How on earth would I explain to her that Jesus had to die for the sin of the world? And that’s what she was watching play out? 

As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, she understood what was happening to him wasn’t fair. When he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head, she said, “He died.” 

That’s right, I said. And then she asked…”Why?” 

The only answer I could think of was, “Because God loves us.” She kept looking at me for more, and I explained, “God loves us like a hero, and sometimes heroes die to save people.” 

Well, the film wasted no time for the sake of the kids – within a few minutes, the stone rolls away, and Jesus is back. My daughter was thrilled. “He’s risen!”  

That’s right, I said. And she turns to me, and with that teacherly tone, explains, “He died because God loves us, and He rised because God loves us, too.” 

*** 

I can’t explain how grateful I am for these little cartoons. I honestly had no idea how I’d explain it all to her. You all know perfectly well, I can barely explain it up here every Sunday without going off on tangents!  

Well, for the grownups there’s a great new series called “the Chosen,” and it follows Jesus and especially his disciples. It’s great, in my opinion. Go check it out, preacher’s recommendation! 

But there’s a little controversy about “the Chosen.” Don’t watch it, some say – because, they say, Jesus shouldn’t be portrayed onscreen by an actor — because that actor might distort our perception of Jesus, therefore our perception of God. In other words, Christ shouldn’t be portrayed by an actor, because the actor’s humanity could get in the way of God.  

Well. This is what’s called iconoclasm. It has a long history in Christianity. The earliest churches were filled with paintings of Jesus, the saints, etc. The great cathedrals like the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople were filled with colorful portraits of this nature. Then, in the 7th century, during the first clashes of Christian and Islamic culture in Byzantium, there was a revolt against icons, that is, paintings of God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the angels and the saints etc.  

The power of the Caliphate was growing, and with it the influence of Islam. But it wasn’t just Muslims who were against icons (because it was against their religious laws) – but also, some Christians were influenced by these ideas and made them their own, and joined their Muslim countrymen in a campaign of defacing church iconography.  

Why? For the same reason some people say you shouldn’t watch “The Chosen” — they believed God shouldn’t be portrayed in imagery. 

Iconoclasm was condemned by the Christians of that era and for centuries, churches were filled with paintings and statutes until the Protestant Reformation brought back iconoclasm with a vengeance. This is why so many Protestant churches often aren’t decorated with much aside from verses from scripture, much like mosques of Islam, from which the roots of iconoclasm came.  

Well, I hate to take sides – but might I suggest, that this very controversy touches on the heart of why Jesus came to us. He came to be a living icon – a living portrait of God — to show humanity what His Father looks like, in his own humanity. Don’t take my word for it, take scripture’s — “the Son is the image of the invisible God.” Christ came precisely so that God could be seen. 

At the last supper, Philip is distraught that Jesus is saying he must go away. Jesus has taught them so much, and Philip seems desperate for more precious divine wisdom from his teacher. You can feel his desperation when he asks, Jesus, before you go, at least please show us the Father! 

What does Jesus say? “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” 

*** 

This is so important! Jesus is how we see God! He is the image of God. This is why I said, the iconoclasm controversy touches on the very heart of why Jesus came. Before he came, there was the commandment: have no images of God before you; Paul said this is because there is a veil around these commandments, a veil that makes it impossible to see God; but only in Christ can this veil be removed (2 Cor 3:14). And he makes this promise himself, that God can be seen, when he says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8) 

Before I became a Jesus Freak, I looked at Christians and thought, “Why are they so obsessed with Jesus? It’s kind of like idol-worship.” I know lots of people who think that’s the case. And what I say to that is: we all worship idols. Everyone does. Whether it’s celebrities; politicians; work; addictions; our friends, lovers, or ourselves. But if Jesus is your idol, the difference is – your idol is actually God.  

Not that Jesus is an idol, but that God came in the flesh to replace all idols that we would otherwise worship. Because, ever since our ancestors in the Garden chose the tree of knowledge over the tree of life, we as a species crave knowledge. We crave the fruit of knowledge. We want to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear it. And this is why, as the ancients said, Jesus, who in his divinity was the fruit of the tree of life, came down from heaven for our sake to be a fruit of knowledge hanging from the tree of the cross – reconciling the elevated heavens and the fallen earth in himself. 

We are meant to be obsessed with Jesus. Being wise in philosophy, politics, or all the commandments do nothing to bring us closer to God. If they had, the philosophers who learned at the feet of fallen angels would not have been destroyed by the Flood in Noah’s age; the politicians of Sodom and Gomorrah would not have been destroyed by fire and brimstone for their sins; the scribes and Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat, the priesthood and the Temple of Jerusalem, would not have been destroyed for rejecting Christ.  

These are unable to bring us closer to God. That’s the bad news. But the good news is this: while nothing can bring us closer to God, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  

Jesus is God’s love letter to the world. He’s God’s love language. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God – and the Word became flesh. Set your mind on him – more than philosophy, more than politics, more than even the commandments, even the Bible itself.  

Yes, even the Bible. Don’t get me wrong — how can I say this? 

Well, consider this. How long have there been Christian saints? Since Christ was raised, the ages have been filled with saintly Christian disciples. Let me tell you something: the vast majority of them could not read. The Bible wasn’t printed in anything but Hebrew and Greek for the first five centuries of Christendom. Then, Latin. Throughout Christendom, every Sunday the Bible was read in Latin to people who did not speak or understand Latin. The common man could not own Bibles until the advent of the Reformation and the printing press. The world has never been more literate than it is now, and this is a very recent development in the big picture. 

Do you think there were no saints until now? Of course not. How did people get close to Jesus all this time? Through the sacraments: through the Eucharist. The broken bread and the wine tell the story of the broken body and shed blood. Through the icons: many people learned the story of the Gospels from paintings, stained glass windows, that’s where the stations of the cross come from. Illiterate Christians for over a thousand years have prayed the rosary – not just to pray a litany of Hail Mary’s, but to contemplate the life of Christ in what are called the Glorious mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, the joyful mysteries, and the luminous mysteries – where they visualize different scenes from the Lord’s life while they say the prayers of the rosary. 

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, as the proverb says, how much more so the mind’s eye. Jesus came in the flesh so that we may finally, for once and for all, have an image of God, by which we can come to see and to know God’s love, and develop a real relationship with Him based on the truth of who He is and what He did for us in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. 

“What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God—and He is interceding for us. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… 

“…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:31-39) 

Amen. 

Easter 2022

Christ is risen! But He did not rise alone…

+Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10 | After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 

“And on the 7th day, the Lord rested.” These words were never more true than on the Sabbath, Saturday, the 7th Day, after Good Friday, all those years ago, when the Lord was laid to rest in His tomb.  

This would be the last day of the old creation. On that final Sabbath, when Christ was in Hades, all the dead were there also. They had never been anywhere else after their days ended on earth. Even the righteous patriarchs, Adam, his sons Abel and Seth; Enoch; Noah; Abraham; Moses; David – they all slept in the deep. For just as Jesus said, “No one has ascended to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Jn. 3:13) 

No one had ever ascended to heaven, not even those righteous saints of the Old Testament who looked forward to the Resurrection. But on that final Sabbath day, they saw a great light in Hades: “The people who dwell in the land of the shadow of darkness, upon them has shone light.” (Is. 9:2) Christ came to all the righteous who were in Hades, and he led them out into the land of the living.  

Christ plundered the devil of the dead; He harrowed hell. And He was not alone when He ascended from the grave – He led a procession of holy ones, the first-fruits of the Resurrection: “The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised after Jesus’ resurrection. When they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Mt. 27:52) 

He is risen!  “He is risen indeed.” And not He alone, but all those who hoped in Him – and so we too are risen with Him indeed, since we put our hope in Him. Because Jesus wasn’t risen for His own sake alone – but for our sakes.  

*** 

Everything we do in this life, is a race against death. We need to put food on the table – if we don’t, we starve. We die! We must build houses to shelter us from the storms – if we don’t, we could be killed! We die! 

And in this race against death, we are always face to face with reality: there’s not enough food! There’s not enough housing! Death is at the door! No matter how sheltered we think we are, we are no strangers to death. We are all marked for expiration, one way or another. 

The mystery of Christ’s passion is that God himself tasted death for us – he participated in our deaths. He descended into the very depths of hell to fill it with his light, and to plunder the devil who held the power of death.  

Hell couldn’t contain Jesus, it couldn’t fight against him – He busted out like a bat out of hell, pun intended – and he took not just those ancient saints with him, but us too. Because we all have our place numbered among the dead – we all have a grave with our name on it. 

But Christ has filled that place of death, reserved for us, with His light, and raised us all up with him so that we are seated in the heavenly places with Him. This is the grace of God, an amazing gift which no human has ever earned for himself, no matter how hard they searched for the secret of eternal life and the fountain of youth. But in Christ, we have eternal life, and a spiritual fountain of living waters. 

We were baptized into Jesus Christ. We descended into hell with him as we were submerged in the waters of the baptismal sea; and we were also raised up out of that sea into a new heavenly birth, a resurrection: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6) 

He is risen! (He is risen indeed). And therefore, so are we. And you know what that means?  

It’s time to party! 

On the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus gave them the bread and wine of the new covenant, Jesus said to them: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Mt. 26:29). Now when he says “when I drink it with you”, if you dig into the Greek a bit, you’ll see that the sense of the grammar is – not just that I’m going to drink once with you, but I’ll be drinking with you – drinking and drinking, drinking without end, Amen! 

And so it is that every communion Sunday, when we break the bread and drink the wine, we are drinking it with Christ in His Father’s Kingdom. Because when we partake of His body and His blood, we are becoming for the Lord a temple; we are offering ourselves as a whole church to be the dwelling place for the Lord of heaven on earth.  

Churches do this all the time – we do it once a month, most churches do it every Sunday. And it might be easy to take for granted, it might all sound very well and good, very symbolic, but on Easter Sunday, we remind ourselves – this isn’t just symbolic. This actually happened. The man who gave us this sacrament of bread and wine, this sacrament of his broken body and spilled blood – His body was actually broken, his blood was actually shed for our sins; and it would be very well and good to remember his sacrifice with bread and wine, but more than that, in eating this bread that he called his flesh, and drinking this wine that he called his blood, and about which he said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you” — well, we do get more from this bread and wine than just a bite of food – we truly get life. And how is that? 

Because we are not eating the body and drinking the blood of a dead man, but of the Lord Himself, who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” So if we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have life in us indeed, for he is not just a man who died for our sins, but He is risen! (He is risen indeed). 

As I said at the beginning, as the Lord lay at rest in the grave on the 7th day, it was the last day of the old world, the old creation – and a new day was born when He arose on that first Easter Sunday, a new creation was born. And the new creation is the Kingdom of Heaven revealed to the world in the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17) 

So this morning of Easter 2022, we will join with the world’s Christians, still around 2,000 years later, not just commemorating, but celebrating the day when death’s hold over humanity was broken, when God told death and the devil that His reign had come to an end, and raised up His Son, our brother Jesus Christ, to be Lord of heaven and earth. And we join together with them in the heavenly feast He has thrown for us so that all of us here on earth may taste the Kingdom of Heaven which is revealed in Christ Jesus. 

 I will leave you with the words of St. John Chrysostom, as he celebrated this very day, 1600 years ago: 

“Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hell by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh. 

“When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Grave, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. 

“O death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” 

Palm Sunday 2022

+Scripture Reading: John 12:12-16 

The next day the great crowd that had come to the [Passover] festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 

Today is Palm Sunday. And we are remembering the day, just shy of two thousand years ago, when Christ entered Jerusalem for the last time. He is welcomed like a King, yet by the end of the week, He is executed as a criminal. 

Like so many stories in the New Testament, the beginning of this story is to be found in The Old Testament. 

In the Book of 2 Samuel, Chapter 5 we read the story of David, freshly anointed King of all Israel and Judah, as he rides against the Jebusites and conquers Jerusalem. He captured the Fortress of Zion and called it “the City of David” and built the city up from the fortress. It says, “David became greater and greater, for the LORD God of Hosts was with him.” He became so great that the King of another land came to serve him — Hiram the King of Tyre came and built a palace for him. 

This took place a thousand years before Palm Sunday, when King David’s descendant and heir Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem, freshly anointed just as David had been, but by Mary, the sister of the man Jesus had raised from the dead, Lazarus.  

And John tells us that this news about Jesus raising the dead had made everyone excited to meet Jesus as he came to Jerusalem. No doubt expectations were high: He came into the city riding on a donkey, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9) 

And no doubt the trouble started here – because there was already a King in Israel, and it was not Jesus, but Herod, who was not a Jew. But the people met Jesus waving Palms, singing the words of Psalm 118, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel! Hosanna in the highest!”  

Is it any wonder why the charge of treason and sedition was raised against this man, who was the rightful claimant to David’s throne, marching into the capital and being greeted as a King?  

I’m sure King Herod didn’t like that. 

But this was so much bigger than just Israel. Because you look at that Zechariah’s prophecy of King Jesus, and it says “His dominion will extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” He’s saying, this man isn’t just going to be King of Israel – He’s going to be King of the World. 

And more than that, He’d be the Lord Himself come in the flesh to judge the land. Jewish tradition taught a period of one thousand years from King David to the coming of the Lord – at which time, Jude quotes Enoch as saying: “The Lord [would come] with myriads of His holy ones to execute judgment on everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of every ungodly act of wickedness and every harsh word spoken against Him by ungodly sinners.” 

And it was so, because this man riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday had said that He is not just a man, but the Lord, the Son of God, and that “the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son… And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” (Jn. 5:22,27).  

And hear what Jesus says, just as He arrives in Jerusalem, exactly one thousand years after David conquered the city, fulfilling Enoch’s words to the T: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out.” (Jn 12:31).  

Indeed, it is during this final stay in Jerusalem that Jesus gives His final verdict, weeping over the city: “If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will barricade you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will level you to the ground—you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Lk. 19:42-44) 

Would you be stunned to learn that the span of time from Christ’s entry into Jerusalem until it was barricaded, surrounded, hemmed in on every side, and leveled by war, was exactly 33 years – the same length of time from David’s conquering of Jerusalem until his death. So from David’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to Christ’s triumphal entry was one thousand years, just as it was one thousand years from the end of David’s life until the end of Jerusalem

You can see why the period of one thousand years was significant to John the Revelator, who also foretold the end of Jerusalem

*** 

As you can see, the mysteries of Palm Sunday run much deeper than meets the eye. Did you ever wonder why we wave Palms? It goes back to those who were greeting Christ that first Palm Sunday. They waved palms – but why? 

It goes back to the words of Psalm 118, which they were crying out to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 

Here’s what it says next: “From the House of the Lord we bless you” — that’s the Temple — “The LORD is our God, and he has given us light! Commence the festival!” — Jesus was coming to the Passover festival — “March with palm branches all the way to the altar.” 

Did you catch that? This was a march toward the Temple altar – for a sacrifice. The palm branches were for lighting the sacrificial fire. This wasn’t just a prophecy about the coming of a King, but a King who is a Priest. And indeed Jesus was a Priest, after the Order of Melchizedek, but the altar he was approaching was the Cross, and the sacrifice was His body and blood. 

Well, we all know that’s what would happen on Good Friday, the Passover of Christ. But why was Christ’s sacrifice His body and blood at the altar of the cross? Why not a sacrifice at the altar of the Temple? The answer, once again, is in the Old Testament. 

As King David established his throne in Jerusalem, he tells his servant the prophet Nathan that he wanted to built the Lord “a house”. A temple. God tells Nathan to go tell David, “Are you the one to build for Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt until this day, but I have moved about with a tent as My dwelling. In all My journeys with all the Israelites, have I ever asked any of the leaders I appointed to shepherd My people Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar?’” 

Pay close attention to what he says next to David: “The LORD declares to you that He Himself will establish a house for you.” This is a temple that is built by the Lord Himself – not by human hands! He goes on: “And when your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he will be My son.” 

Now, who does this sound like? If you had asked Solomon, the son of David, he would have said, “That sounds like me!” And indeed Solomon was a descendant of David, and a temple was built during his reign in Jerusalem. But he built it — not God. That didn’t fulfill this prophecy! 

But if you answered Jesus, then you are right. But this answer is what got St. Stephen killed, as he cried out to the Sanhedrin: “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands!.. You stiff-necked people…You always resist the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did!” (Acts 7) And with that, they stoned him! 

But the temple which Solomon could not build with his own human hands, God did indeed build with His, as He promised to David – one thousand years earlier. And the Temple is the Church of the Living God, made up of living stones: the saints. Peter says, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 2:5) 

“You yourselves are God’s temple, and…God’s Spirit dwells in you…God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16-17) 

*** 

So as we wave our palms, let’s remember that these were meant to be burnt – they are symbolic of the fire of sacrifice that Christ made at Calvary on Good Friday. Because it is by that sacrifice that we receive the forgiveness of sins, so that we too may enter into the Temple and make our own sacrifices, “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” as Peter said – and this path is open to all, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: 

“For God has consigned everyone to disobedience so that He may have mercy on everyone…Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 11:32-12:2). 

In all things, may God the Father of Love breathe into your hearts His Holy Spirit; as your minds are ever renewed by the spiritual knowledge of His love, may you more and more reveal in yourselves the image of Christ to the world and by the power of his love fulfill the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to the church, the living temple of the living God. Amen. 

Jesus The Revolutionary

Jesus isn’t just a revolutionary — He is the Revolution.

Matthew 5:17 | Think not that I have come to destroy the Law; I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 

Stephen Burns Powers, local poet, author, and friend of mine, had something exciting to tell me this past St. Paddy’s Day at the Ritz. He had just read a book about the politics of Jesus, and said, “Jesus was a revolutionary! His ministry was a revolution!” 

And so it was, by historic standards. In the eyes the world, Jesus of Nazareth challenged the royal claim of the incumbent Herodian Kings of Israel with his own rightful Davidic claim to the throne. That’s why He was crucified for treason and sedition after “storming the capitol” on Palm Sunday, giving up the ghost under the inscription, “The King of the Jews”. 

But what revolutionary in history ever rose from the dead? What revolution in history has ever yielded a regime, a government, whose increase is without end? In our day, there’s a catchphrase, “The revolution will not be televised” — a prophesy of sorts of a type of revolution that certain people would like to see happen – but what revolution was foretold by thousands of years’ worth of prophets, but the revolution of Jesus? 

Jesus was a revolutionary, sure. But history is full of revolutionaries. And then again, they don’t look at all like Jesus. The revolutionaries of 18th century France, of 20th century Russia, didn’t storm their capitols empty-handed riding on donkeys, but riding on the hounds of hell, armed to the teeth and thirsty for blood! They erected guillotines and firing lines; they executed kings, nobles, and their families, their children. The great “revolutions” of the modern era are also the great genocides of our times. Dare I say that the revolutionaries behind these revolutions may have never found their way to the Gates of St. Peter – so how on earth can we compare Jesus to them? 

Merriam-Webster defines a revolution this way: “the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.” This sounds more like Robespierre and Lenin’s M.O. than Jesus’.  

But then again, what if we look at it in a different light? 

Because when Jesus comes into your life, a revolution does occur. But the revolutionary is you. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The disciple who obeys this teaching is truly starting a revolution – in himself. A government is overthrown – the government of self. And it is replaced by the government of another ruler – God in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And He gives us the means to obtain victory in this revolution – the Holy Spirit. “Don’t think that I came to bring peace,” he said, “but a sword.” The sword of the Holy Spirit! And not only this, but the full armor of God: the belt of truth, with the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6). These are the weapons of the Christian revolutionary, whose life’s work is to conquer himself. 

*** 

Jesus is more than a revolutionary – he is the Revolution. He is God’s Revolution. Now, when we talk about worldly revolution, I think we often think of turning the world upside-down – that is, a 180 degree revolution. In fact, many political theologians describe Jesus as “turning the world upside down.” But I say that Jesus’ work was not a 180 degree turn, but a full 360 degree return – back to the way it was in the Garden. This is the consenus of the early church, who gave us these words: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”  

Because who was King in the beginning but God, walking with Adam and Eve in the garden during the cool of the day? He was their God and they were His people. God made it that way – and Behold, it was good! But in came that old snake, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and he tempted God’s very first people, sowing discord in not just the marriage of Adam and Eve, but also their marriage with God.  

In fact it was Satan who first turned the world upside-down, tilting it 180 degrees – in this sense, Satan was the first revolutionary in the worldly sense. 

But Jesus came to turn the wheel of the world, the wheel of the Law, once more, to bring it back to its proper place – and as the devil caused discord in the marriage of Adam and Eve and their marriage with God; so did Jesus make this right with the marriage supper of the Lamb, which we see revealed to us in the mystery of the Eucharist – the Lord’s Supper — redeeming and perfecting the world in His body, making peace by the blood of His cross. The mystery of the marriage supper of the lamb, of the Eucharist, is the mystery of the church, and our marriage to God almighty and our redemption into His Kingdom. 

The ancient pioneers of our faith held that, as God is our Father and King, so also is the Church Our Mother and Queen. Therefore, all who are born again are born into the Royal Family, a royal priesthood before God. What revolution ever grafted an entire people into the royal family of the Kingdom? And yet God accomplished this in Christ, sending us the Holy Spirit, by whom we cry “Abba, Father!” to the King of the Universe

*** 

The Revolution will certainly not be televised, because no one can see what is in the minds or heart of a man. But the revolution of God can be seen through the eyes of the Spirit, because the spirit is the domain of God’s activity: for “who knows a person’s depths except their own spirit that lives in them? In the same way, no one has known the depths of God except God’s Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:11) 

So, our revolution is a spiritual one – and the spirit is the spirit of grace. The Catechism teaches, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.  Grace is a participation in the life of God…This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature. The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is, in us, the source of the work of sanctification:  

“‘Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.’ (2 Cor 5:17-18).” 

The old has passed away; the new has come. Doesn’t that sound like the very definition of a revolution? “All this is from God.” The revolutionary spirit of grace brings us into the royal family of God, and makes us more like Him – how? Because, in this act of grace by which God reconciled us to Himself in Christ, He broke down the barriers separating us, so that we get to spend time with Him — no matter how empty-handed or unworthy we are before His glory – in prayer. And we all know that the more time we spend with others, the more like them we become, since we are creatures of imitation! So pray, pray without ceasing. 

This is why Jesus, when he first started his revolution all those years ago, told his disciples, “Come and see”; “come follow me”; “abide in me, and I in you.” Communion with him, prayer, is how we bring this revolution into our own lives, and live it out in the world. 

*** 

…and the world of today is not that different from Jesus’ — there’s nothing new under the sun, after all. Now, today Stephen Burns Powers recognizes that Jesus was a revolutionary – but not everyone else will, just like they didn’t in Jesus’ own day. In Jesus’ time, there were other types of revolutionaries running around – the Zealots, the Essenes, the Sicarii – but Jesus wasn’t revolutionary enough for them and their supporters. Remember that the crowd chose Barrabas the Zealot, over Jesus Christ. And they rejected His disciples also.  

So today, many of those who claim to be revolutionaries – and they are many, because the idea of revolution is more popular than ever nowadays – will reject you also if your revolution is Christ’s, and so they also reject Christ with you. 

And why is that? What is it about Jesus’ revolution that they don’t like? It might have something to do with these words of his: “Think not that I have come to destroy the Law; I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Because in truth, those who crucified Christ, though they did it in the name of the Law, they were lawless themselves.  

And so it is for many of the world’s revolutionaries, who are self-righteous, and want to come and destroy the Law, and re-write their own, rather than fulfill it. They start riot and fight, commit violence and start wars, and cause chaos all in the name of peace and order. Revolutionaries have been trying to establish a “new world order” in their own image since the dawn of time – but Jesus’ revolution is a return to the ancient order, the way things were originally intended to be by the Ancient of Days in Eden, where the Kingdom of God was first planted. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the word of God, the very Law of God in human form – He never changes. You can’t just say “out with the old, in with the new” when the world isn’t working right. It’s never worked.  

Instead, Jesus’ answer to all this is well-encapsulated in the Michael Jackson song “Man In The Mirror”, when he sings, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.” 

St. Dorotheos of Gaza put it bluntly. If something in the world should offend a man, he says, “the root cause of all these disturbances, if we are to investigate it accurately, is that we do not accuse ourselves; hence we have all these commotions and never find rest…How much joy, how much peace of soul would a man have wherever he went…if he was one who habitually accused himself?” He adds, “If a man examines himself in the fear of God and gropes about diligently in his own conscience, he will always find cause for accusing himself.” 

This is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit. It is only when we see ourselves through a clear conscience that we truly begin to understand the amount of work God really needs to do on us; and with this understanding comes the appreciation for His radical grace and love toward us. That’s the way we learn what Divine Love is, and in receiving it from God the expert Giver, that’s the beginning of learning to give it, too. 

So, rather than try too much to destroy the status quo and build new world orders, let’s return to Eden in Christ, to the perfect order of the Ancient of Days. Rather than destroy the Law given from the beginning, let’s fulfill it. Let us embrace in Christ Jesus both the Alpha and the Omega as a whole. Let us take Jesus’ advice, and become just like the little children were at the beginning of our own lives, and pray that we may be made worthy of the promise of the age of ages, the Kingdom of God; and give Him glory as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. 

God is Writing History 

+Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:5, 10 | When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes…When God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—He relented from the disaster He had threatened to bring upon them. 

** 

They say that history is written by the winners. Given that we are in the midst of war and rumors of war, I suppose we won’t have today’s history written until this war gets sorted out. That is, the confusion we are experiencing today will eventually be distilled into a history, one day, but written by the winner. 

But given what’s brewing in Eastern Europe, I found my thoughts returning to something I haven’t thought for many years, something which I was first told about when I was a little boy, and I hope you’ll bear with me, because it’s a little more supernatural than our normal sermon fodder here. And it has to do with how history is written, not by the winners, but by God. 

Now to start, I want to say that there’s lots of men and women who claim to be prophets, who can foretell the history that God intends to write. Some of them have made predictions for the near future or for the far future, and we won’t know if they’re right ‘til their predictions either come true or they don’t. 

But we know of a few prophets who have been proven false. There were many, Christian and non-Christians, who expected the world to end on December 21, 2012, based on the end of the Mayan calendar. That didn’t happen. A fellow named Greg Braden said the world wouldn’t end, but that people would spontaneously awaken to a higher level of consciousness both in mind and body – which he called the Resurrection, or Ascension. Neither of these happened. New Agers push this one back every few years.  

Rasputin foretold that 2013 would see the return of Christ. He was wrong. The more modern Harold Camping put up billboards saying the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011. That didn’t happen.  

And one of the most notorious, and almost the first of its kind, type of end-times mass-hysteria events, was in 1844, when followers of William Miller sold their properties, climbed the mountaintops of Groton and New Bedford and beyond to await their ascension into heaven on the Last Day. Nothing happened, and it’s known in history as the Great Disappointment. A similar disappointment is at the heart of the origins of the 7th Day Adventists, whose original end times date is long past. 

The lesson here is, end times prophets are wrong more often than they’re right. It only makes sense statistically: they can only be right once!  

But, as I said earlier, the conflict in eastern Europe brought something to mind that I haven’t thought about for years, years upon years, and it’s along these lines. 

My Grandmother in Ireland, when I was very young, would regal me with tales of Marian apparitions – times when the Virgin Mary appeared to different people, usually children. And the reason I thought about it when this conflict arose is because there is one particular “apparition” that is associated with Russia, and it is the apparition that occurred in Fatima, Portugal in the early 20th century. 

Unlike the prophecies I listed earlier, the prophecies of Fatima came true. The Mother of God allegedly appeared to three children in 1917, and foretold World War II and the rise of Communism in Russia and beyond. She said, “Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, …and various nations will be annihilated.” What is fascinating about this tale is that, according to the Three Seers of Fatima, Mary’s prophecies were partially conditional – and the events foretold could be abated by prayer. 

Now there’s a very long story here with many details that you’re welcome to look up yourself, but I don’t want this summary to be the whole of my message. I’m just going to key in on a few points. First, these Three Seers didn’t have much credibility – at first. They were only children. But as time went on, the predictions they claimed to have received from Mary proved true.  

By the time John Paul II was Pope, he was seeing so much of these prophecies come true that he decided to take them seriously. One of Mary’s requests was that the Pope consecrate Russia; if he would do so, disaster could be averted, and heaven would send signs to confirm it. On March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II performed this solemn act of consecration. The hoped for signs came in waves: two years later, the Chernobyl meltdown occurred, destabilizing the Soviet economy; three years following, the Berlin Wall came down. President Gorbachev resigned Christmas of 1991, dissolving the Soviet Union.  

And as an aside, there’s a camp of Christians who don’t believe this aforementioned consecration was properly completed, in spite of the aforementioned signs; so as of this past week, Pope Francis has decided, given current events in the region, he’s going to take a stab at the consecration of Russia also, in just a few days on March 25 – just to be on the safe side! So we’ll see. 

At any rate, it seems the Mother of Jesus was pretty busy in the early 20th century, making lots of appearances to give mankind a heads up on what was to be a crazy century. In 1914, two weeks before World War I, she appeared in a field by a church in the Ukraine and said: “There will be a war. Russia will become a godless country. The Ukraine, as a nation, will suffer terribly for 80 years – and will have to live through the world wars, but it will be free afterwards.”  

And of course, history shows that this is exactly what happened. 

*** 

Now I want to discuss two interesting aspects of these Marian apparitions that can help us with our priorities through these uncertain times. You don’t necessarily have to believe in the validity of these apparitions to get much out of them, although you might find an added layer of comfort if you do, since for one thing, none of the Marian apparitions tell us the world is about to end any time soon; and also, actually, things seem to be going pretty well in regard to them, since some of her more horrendous warnings about the 20th century seem to have been abated, the conditions being met for their prevention. 

At any rate, if you were to take upon yourself the study of Marian apparitions in the 19th and 20th centuries, there are two common threads running through them: firstly, the prophecies are conditional, and the condition is prayer; secondly, her chief purpose in appearing, and the universal effect of her appearances, is the mass conversion of souls

I think we sometimes forget, when we hear prophecies of doom and gloom, that prophecies can be “made void” as St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 3:8. Think about Jonah, the Prophet who came out of the Whale’s belly to preach against Ninevah – they repented. The warnings never came true because they were conditional; and the condition was repentance. The true purpose of prophecy is repentance – it is to bring man closer to God. And the way to do this is prayer. 

Now, go to Fatima in Portugal, and you will see a pious community of Christians, a place where pilgrims go and have a life-changing experience that brings them closer to God. Go to Medjugorje in Herzegovina, where there was another Marian apparition in the 70’s and 80’s, and you will see more pilgrims and piety. That is because in both of these places, the Marian apparitions led to mass conversion of souls to Christianity. 

If you go into most bodegas or Latin communities, you will somewhere encounter that colorful image of the Virgin Mary wearing a red dress, a blue mantle of stars, standing on the crescent moon and surrounded by rays of light and roses – that is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You see this in pious Latin American communities because in 1531, she appeared to a little tribal boy on a hill, healed a mortally wounded man, you know, the usual, and eventually, voila, history records 9 million converts to Christianity within only 10 years of this apparition. 

Billy Graham, eat your heart out! 

Just as repentance is the purpose of prophecy, so is prophecy the modus operandi of evangelism. Christ came prophesying too, in his evangelism: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News!” 

We are taught, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). This is, ultimately, why these tales of Mary are a good example here, whether you believe them or not: because she exclusively speaks of her son Jesus. Of coming to Him, of returning to Him; of loving Him, of obeying Him; most importantly, of praying to Him. And that’s what we should be doing too. 

God put the Church in the world to be His witness, and to be a field hospital that receives sin-sick souls; not just those who are sick with their own sin, but sick with the sin of the world around us; and to be honest and fair, it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The world cannot offer anything but its temptations and thorns; but there is life indeed in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, if you will just reach out to eat it and to drink it – that is, to hear His word, and live by it. And if you will receive of His Spirit, then you too will be a life-giving Spirit, a beacon of hope in a world that needs it. 

Sometimes, it’s not entirely clear what it means to “convert” or “be saved” or “come to Jesus” or “return to Jesus” — I think that’s why my thoughts turned to the Marian apparitions, which we heard about from little children. The center of all these messages is simple: just pray. Pray, pray, pray. 

And so, let’s remind ourselves that God is writing history now, and he wants our prayers – and history may even pivot on our prayers. “Pray without ceasing”. At the end of the day, that is mankind’s mission. The church plays a central role in that: calling everyone to prayer, all those who used to but don’t, all those who already do but maybe not enough, all those who never have. We are to pray for peace, but also, prayer for prayers’ sake: to spend time with God, to love God, and to know God’s love. 

This is our daily bread, and this is how the God of history writes history with us. Amen. 

Stand With Jesus

Let’s not be entangled by the sin of partiality, choosing to stand with one nation or the other, since God has made us to be a “house of prayer for all nations.” Instead, choose to Stand With Jesus. 

Scripture Reading: Matt. 12:30-32 | Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

I spent the past week in New York City with my family, for my daughter’s school vacation. It was my first time spending more than a day there since 2019, and the longest I’ve stayed there since I lived there in the early 2010’s. It made me happy and it made me sad. I played a show in Brooklyn, and it looks like the nightlife is back.  

But I spent a lot of time out and about with my family in the daytime, and was sad to see that there are stretches of closed storefronts in every neighborhood I used to frequent. Covid wasn’t kind to the city but neither was the burden of the Covid regime. I was asked to see my proof of vaccination which was a novel experience, one I’m glad we never took on here on the Vineyard and one which NYC will be discontinuing starting on Monday, along with a few other cities that have been cautious holdouts – the masks are finally coming off in the USA, it seems. It makes me wonder what the Freedom Convoy are going to do once they get to DC, because it seems like maybe they’ll have nothing to protest against by the time they get there! 

But I mention this because I know these Covid measures have been the subject of much protest and demonstration in the city. And as I walked through Times Square with my neon-mesmerized daughter on my shoulders on Tuesday evening, we heard that loud and familiar bark-like sound of a protest chant drawing closer to us. I suppose I expected a Covid protest, but I was surprised, and then not surprised, to see a fleet of cameras pointed at blue and yellow flags waving, and the words of the signs came into view: “I stand with the Ukraine.” 

So, the world turns. One “war” has given way to another war. As they say in the world of literature and journalism, the narrative has shifted. I have been following the events as closely as I can – you can imagine that I wasn’t thrilled to hear of rumors of nuclear war swirling as I was heading straight into the city of cities with my young family in tow. I prayed God for peace as we drove in and I looked at that familiar skyline, where the Freedom Tower stands like a humble silhouette against the negative space where the Twin Towers and the souls within them spent their last moments collapsing into pillars of salt. 

Our Lord told us there would be wars, and rumors of wars. We are in the midst of both. But He told us, more importantly, that His Word would last forever – more than that, that He is the Word made Flesh, and that means His Body will last forever – and that’s the Church. The “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” God built His Church to withstand all of these storms, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:7).  

You are all the living stones of His Church – so take heart that the Church Militant, the earthly church, of our generation here, has been raised by God for such a time as this. 

Let me just summarize a few political issues, a few kerfluffles, I’ve overheard in the past week alone.  I don’t like politics so I hope this summary of kerfluffles is as disagreeable for you as it is for me! Because there are kerfluffles here, and I want to talk about them because it’s a trick I learned from St. Paul: outlining the basic absurdities and contradictions of worldly ways to point the way to God.  

So here’s a provocative kerfluffle for you: Vladimir Putin is doing something in the Ukraine right now that our American government basically did there in 2014. Have you heard this one? People love to argue about this. 

Here’s another one. Folks who applaud the Zelensky regime for arming its citizens with military-grade weapons, getting called out because they normally think gun ownership should be illegal in America. That’s silly. People are getting into spats over this too. 

There’s folks happily sharing photos of molotov cocktail kits being distributed by local breweries in the Ukraine, endorsing the proliferation of improvised explosives, the same people who condemned the molotov cocktail attacks during the riots in the USA in 2020, including in my old Brooklyn neighborhood.  

Here’s another awkward one. Israel has condemned the invasion of the Ukraine, which has the Pro-Palestine crowd calling them hypocrites. I mean.  

It’s making a lot of people look really inconsistent! So many political arguments to get into! 

 I’m not trying to upset anyone with these little nuggets, but again, in the spirit of St. Paul, I’m pointing out that you might get into one of these kerfluffles if you decide to say “I stand with…” such and such, Ukraine, Russia, whoever – anything in the world and anyone other than Jesus. I’ve already heard so many opinions from people who stand on many sides of the issue. It’s actually more of a history lesson than anything…but, again, if you’re trying to find the perfect position to defend, good luck… 

 …Because so much of this doesn’t make sense. War is crazy, my friends. Its origin is crazy and its end is crazy. I’m not expecting of you that you should make sense out of these things so you can pick which side of this war you  “stand with”. The opposite. I am hoping, as a pastor, to muddy the waters a bit, to remind you how dangerous it is to take a stand – morally and mortally – and that you need to think about who you really stand with – because we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one church. We stand with Jesus, and Him alone. 

In Times Square, that protest, that demonstration, was a ultimately a photo op. I’m familiar with how this works. I was a part of Occupy Wall Street in New York, and of course as a musician I’ve been asked to help represent such and such cause over the years. It’s not always just the musicians who are paid to be there, if you catch my drift. I am very cynical and crotchety about how these operations really work behind the scenes, how they’re organized, executed and promoted for maximum media effect. Tuesday’s Times Square protest message was clear, the protesters were good-looking, it was filmed with an expensive crew, it will be packaged and distributed for public consumption. 

Follow me for a second to Western Massachusetts, where I played another gig last week. On the main intersection in the town of Easthampton, there was a much less organized demonstration – in fact, just an individual. He was holding up a double-sided sign – on one side, it said “The Bible degrades women,” and on the other, it said “The Bible supports slavery.” He got a lot of honks and support. Not from me. But that was his demonstration.  

Well, we’re in the midst of a demonstration too, right here and right now in this chapel, not too different from what I described in Times Square and Easthampton, except one far more sincere and worthy. We are currently engaged in one of the longest-standing demonstrations in all of history: Sunday morning Church worship. And what are we demonstrating? That we Stand With Jesus; and we proclaim with Him the eternal Gospel, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News!” 

The world is changing. We don’t know where this conflict is going, but do you really want to do something about it? Then here’s what you do:  Stand with Jesus Christ. We stand with Jesus. You have chosen Him above all others, to serve Him in His Kingdom. I’ve heard folks who have left their countries for the territories of the former Russian Empire to fight in this war that is basically digging up old hatchets extending back to Red October in 1917. 

What I exhort you to do, however, is rather than leaving your country to fight in this war, leave behind “all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32).  

Don’t dig up buried old hatchets in Eurasia to fight there – but you, who were buried with Christ in baptism, also arose with him in His Resurrection, so you must fight in Christ’s war – not a war of the world, but a war of the spirit: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

Your weapons are love, truth, goodness. The church’s purpose now is to minister healing to the nations; to be peacemakers.  

You might want to side with Ukraine. You might want to side with Russia. That’s the way of the world. But the way of Jesus is this: regardless of who your friend is, you still have to pray for your enemy.  

Above all, pray for peace. The world will also try to tell you this is futile, even vain. They just want you to drag you in so you’ll pick sides and fight. Ignore them. Pray for peace, because prayer moves mountains and it’s what the Lord has called you to. This ancient, long-standing demonstration we’re a part of, the Church, has a glorious history of this ministry in hours such as this. We are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.” (Heb. 1:1) Let’s not be entangled by the sin of partiality, choosing to stand with one nation or the other, since God has made us to be a “house of prayer for all nations.” Instead, choose to Stand With Jesus. 

And I’d be remiss not to repeat our Lord’s friendly warning on this subject:  
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” So we should beware lest we stand with any other. 

Stand with Jesus, and stand on His promises: every good deed will be rewarded, every evil deed will be punished – in this life or the next. God will deal with evildoers who do war. 

Nothing that is done in darkness will remain hidden — take comfort in that too, since we know that the wars of this season are waged not just with the obvious weapons of war but also hidden weapons that harm by the power of confusion. All this darkness will be exposed to the light. In the hour of darkness, have no fear: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” (Micah 7:8) 

War is a terror. But take heart, don’t be afraid. In times such as these, we can take a comfort in the words of the Psalmist: “Our Lord is a man of War: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” 

These are words which remind us, the Lord judges righteously in war and will always, ultimately, come to the aid of those who call upon Him.  

But even more than this, we must take more than comfort, but take heed, to the testimony of our Lord’s beloved disciple: “God is Love.” Because we are ministers of God; therefore we must be ministers of His Love. This above all is the most important thing: that even though His Providence embraces war and peace, He has nonetheless charged us with only one of the two: not war, but peace; not partiality, but love. 

Stand with Jesus. He stands with us; more than that, He died for us, and He lives again for our sake. “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again….” (2 Cor. 5:15) Exhort others to do the same, and comfort one another with these words. Amen. 

Carnival Season and the Great Commission

How did the Apostles and Saints measure the success of their evangelism? We should judge ours the same way!

Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:19 | Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Today we’re going to talk about Carnival season and Mardi Gras – but really, we’re going to talk about Jesus’s Great Commission. When he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” 

I want to start this carnival season message by reminding you, in case you forgot, that it’s almost Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday! Which means it’s almost Ash Wednesday. Which mean’s it’s almost Lent – which means it’s almost Easter! 

We’ve got until March 1st before Mardi Gras. Will any of you be celebrating it? I’m pretty sure there will be a second line parade running through OB this year, or at least a party over at the PA Club. Go check it out if you weren’t planning to already. As for me, my wife and I briefly entertained the notion of heading down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras – after all, what better place to Mardi Gras than the place that really put it on the map? Well, we decided not this year, not with a toddler, but…anyway… 

Now, I mention this because New Orleans is the main place you think of when you think of Mardi Gras. It’s the place where you “do” Mardi Gras. And that’s interesting in light of today’s topic of the Great Commission, which we’ll get to. But first, as we make our way to the main topic, the Great Commission, I want to remind you what Mardi Gras is, because it’s relevant to our discussion. 

Mardi Gras is called “Fat Tuesday” because it’s the climax of Carnival season. What is carnival season? It’s the season leading up to the season of Lent. It starts on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany. If you look at the city of New Orleans website, they have parades listed every week through the whole of carnival season, not just on Mardi Gras.  

The word “carnival” comes from the late Latin “carne levare” which means “remove meat”. This is because during Lent, Christians used to give up meat, so carnival season was when you eat up all your household meats so it won’t rot during Lent. And Fat Tuesday is the big final push past the finish line of Carnevale season. Eat up!  

When we think of Mardi Gras in the USA, we think of New Orleans. Now, how did that come to be? 

Well, because there was a historical anomaly down in Louisiana that it doesn’t share with the rest of the U.S.A. Where’d Louisiana get its name? King Louis XIV (14th)! — the Sun King! The King of France! Why was it named after him? Because Louisiana was colonized by the French!  King Louis was the King of Louisiana! And not only that – but the Spanish were in charge of the territory too for awhile. 

Now by comparison, who was in charge of the 13 American colonies? The King of England. Now let me ask you something about the Kingdoms of France, Spain, and England. One of these is not like the others. Which one? England. Why? 

England was a Protestant nation. A Reformation nation. France and Spain, in the era we’re discussing, were not. The Kings of France and Spain were anointed by the bishops of the church, who were in turn ordained by the Bishop of Rome, which was as high as you could go up the food chain. In other words, the Church was in charge of the King

Well in England, as you may remember, Henry VIII of England wanted a divorce so he broke away from the Church and founded his own. The King was in charge of the church in England. And it was this King and this church of his that many of the American colonists sought to break away from! And we know all about that story. 

But down in Louisiana, something else was brewing at the time. The port city of New Orleans attracted all sorts from all nations, cultures, and tongues – but in that Louisiana city, they were all under the authority of the Crown, which was in turn under the authority of the Church. And that Church was the only game in town.  

Here, it’s like this: “Which church you going to – St. Andrew’s in EDG? I like their Old Fashioned Anglican music!” “Assemblies of God in VH? I like their modern praise band!” “I hear the music at the Brazilian church is better – let’s go there.” “But I don’t speak Portuguese!”  

How about the Community Baptist Church in Gay Head? Awful preacher, but they have the best folks in the pews.  

Plenty of options! That’s what it’s been like in the Northeast, even all those hundreds of years ago. But once upon a time,  it wasn’t like that for the people coming in and out of New Orleans – there was just one denomination, with one liturgy no matter where you went. And the Church spoke a single language back then – Latin. So no matter what tongue you spoke, you worshipped in one tongue, in one Church. 

Thems was the rules when it came to the Crown — the Kings and Queens had made an oath to aid in the saving of souls, and to protect and uphold the laws of the saving Church. And that’s how they ran things in Louisiana! And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.  

It sounds foreign to us, even a little taboo, that “Church and State” with no separation might yield a positive result —there’s good and bad in everything —  but in fact, the proof is in the gumbo that it brought together nations and tongues in New Orleans. 

This is one of several reasons that New Orleans was such a cultural melting pot, or gumbo, in general. And it’s the main reason for the tradition of carnival and Mardi Gras: no matter where you were from, what your culture was, what your native language was – you were on the Church’s calendar. When it was Carnival season, it was carnival season at that was that; it was party time! The rich tradition of parades, music, and food come from this synchronized lifestyle. 

*** 

Now I’m talking about carnival season and Mardi Gras because it’s a brilliant illustration of the Great Commission in action. Because in the origins of Mardi Gras in America, we see nations who were discipled by Christ, nations brought together in celebration of Him and in obedience to Him in His Church down in New Orleans. And we see in the parades that this unity breeds diversity, far from uniformity — as evidenced in all the different krewes from all walks of life representing their unique subcultures. These parades aren’t boring and dull, but vibrant and exciting — every krewe has a different flavor, representing and celebrating different ethnic identities, traditions, and experiences.  

There’s a prophecy about the Church in scripture: “And into the city will be brought the glory and honor of the nations” — I think of it every time I think of the krewes on parade in Mardi Gras, a Christian holy day. 

Carnival season is historically rooted in Christ. And we also can see from the continuation of the carnival season today that when the Lord is at the root, an institution like Mardi Gras has true staying power. I think the same is true of Christmas — it might not seem as religious as it used to be in our nation, and yet it has that strong root, and so it has the same staying power, remaining an ongoing testimony of Christ, even as it is undergoing a more secular phase at the moment. 

*** 

And speaking of secularizing holy days, we all know that at this moment in our nation’s history, we have been undergoing something of a crisis of values. We can’t really agree what’s at the root of our nation’s institutions. But the fact is, it wasn’t Jesus. Jesus is the foundation of the Church and the Church alone.. Jesus didn’t turn to the Founding Fathers and say, “Thou art America, and upon this rock I found my Church.” That’s not what America is. 

It is said that today’s nations, like the pagan states of old, exist for themselves, to glorify the state; our nation was founded to glorify the people, and of course its march of progress increasingly glories in the state — the power of its government, the faith of its people that it will solve all their problems and provide for all their needs.  

But God’s purpose for nations is different. Here’s an awkward truth for many Americans: Jesus did not just Commission us to make disciples of all people, but all nations. America itself, not just Americans, is meant to be evangelized. This is how the early Church responded to the Great Commission: looking first  to the evangelization of regions like Corinth, Ephesus, and then ultimately, the entire empire of Rome. There is a reason the Apostles and Saints preached to Kings, and to Emperors; there is a reason that the earliest historians of the church measured its progress by the spread of Christendom, that is, not just a “King-dom” but a “Christ-dom”. 

We should frankly use the same measures as the Apostles and the Saints, who ran their race and received their crowns. Preach to the Kings, preach to the Presidents, to the Senators and the lot! Let this be your encouragement — run for office, if the Lord so bids you! Or at least the Board of Health, now that a vacancy is opening up… 

But if that’s not your charism, your gift, recognize that there is a krewe for you, a place in the great parade — it starts with where you are, and who you are right now.  

Don’t compartmentalize your faith. Let your light shine and share it with the world. That’s what making disciples of the nations is about. And this isn’t just about evangelization — it’s about living out the joy of the gospel in its fullest, it’s about healing your sinsick soul and the soul of the world around you, by being the first cell in the body that heals. “The Kingdom of God is within you” — so if we are to imitate the early church as they built the foundations of Christendom, what we see is that “making disciples of all nations” starts within us, in living  a life of service, of Christian witness, of love. 

It is tempting to want to politicize the Kingdom of God. But Jesus didn’t. He always brought it right back home – the Kingdom of God is about God, your neighbor, and you. Your job is to love the first two. That is the greatest commandment in the Kingdom of God. And that’s how you’ll be saved. 

Up here in the Northeast, we might not have such a strong foundation in Christ that we have Christians traditions like carnival season and Mardi Gras that take over our cities for months at a time. All the more reason to take heed to the Great Commission! 

Find your Krewe. If you can’t find one, make your own. God has blessed you with the gifts you need already, trust Him to guide you in your walk of faith, in your holy parade. This is how our ancestors in the faith fulfilled the Great Commission and laid the foundations of Christ in their nations; and it is how we will too. Amen. 

The Power of the Air

“And so we will always be with the Lord.”

+Scripture Reading: 1 Thess. 4:17  “After that, we who are alive and remain will be gathered up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.” 

I thought we’d do a bit of a Biblical word study for today’s lesson. The word is an odd one in the Bible, it doesn’t come up a lot, so it might seem insignificant. But one lesson we learn time and time again from the Bible is that the things that seem the smallest are often far greater in importance than we think. This little word we’ll look at is “the air.”  

In the Bible, it’s a peculiar word with peculiar uses. 

There is a very peculiar use of “the air” in Ephesians 2:2, where St. Paul talks about the “the prince of the power of the air.” Here’s the context: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” 

Now, it says that the prince of the power of the air is a spirit. And this spirit is up to no good. Who does that sound like? The Devil! “The dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan.” (Rev. 20:2). Now take note that St. Paul calls him the prince of the power of the air. 

Now, there  are only a small number of other occurrences of the word “air” in the Bible, all in the New Testament. One refers to literally throwing dust “in the air”; two are figures of speech about speaking “into the air”, and “beating the air.” These don’t seem to be consistent with the spiritual, prophetic use of the word in Ephesians. But the remaining two examples are quite consistent. 

First, in Revelation 16:17, we read of the seventh angel pouring out the final bowl of wrath upon the air, and when he does this, a loud voice comes from the temple in heaven saying, “It is finished!” Interesting.  

So this scene is depicting the very last of the “last things.” The only remaining occurrence of “air” should stick out to us, then, because it also pertains to the very last of the “last things.” It’s in 1 Thess. 4. Here’s the whole passage:  

“Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who are without hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.  

“By the word of the Lord, we declare to you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.  

“After that, we who are alive and remain will be gathered up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  

“And so we will always be with the Lord.” 

Ok, so this passage is about the Resurrection and the coming of the Son of Man. Nowadays this passage is a very controversial passage of the Bible (which naturally makes it very popular!) People argue about what it means. The “Left Behind” book and film series makes millions of dollars based off an interpretation of this single passage alone — an interpretation called “the Rapture”. This interpretation says that the people alive at the time of the coming of Christ will be lifted up bodily into the atmosphere, alongside the glorified bodies of those rising from their graves. 

Some have different ideas about when this Rapture will happen. Most say that the Rapture precedes the rising from the dead, even though it says right there in the text that “the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.” Anyway. 

A very controversial passage indeed, yielding confusion and yet more confusion and yet more controversy. 

…But interestingly, it wasn’t always controversial. I would draw your attention to St. Paul’s language, which is crystal clear: “We declare to you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep.” He said “we who are alive”, not “they who will be alive at some distant future date.”  

Discerning Bible scholars, especially those of the modern armchair atheist variety, have pointed this out and added it into a list of sayings in the Bible that they claim prove that Jesus and His Apostles expected the very last of the last things to come about within their lifetimes, at least within the lifetimes of those who survived the Christian persecutions of the 1st century. In other words, the prophecies were for imminent events. At the top of this list of “imminent prophecies” is from Jesus himself, “This generation shall not pass away until all things be fulfilled.” 

C.S. Lewis called this passage, recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” He, along with many other critics of Christianity, said that “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have proved to be false.” 

Hold your horses there, C.S. Lewis. Let’s see what the “first Christians” actually had to say about that. The Church’s first historian, Eusebius, wrote extensively about the prophetic events following Christ’s ascension, which in the Church’s estimation culminated in the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple in AD 70. He says, “It is fitting to add to these accounts the true predictions of our Savior in which he foretold these eventsThese things took place in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

Clement of Alexandria is an even earlier witness for us in the early 2nd century, who said that Jesus “spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken.” 

Is this the first time anyone has heard anything like this? There’s more where that came from. Is anyone surprised that the first generations of the church believed that Christ had fulfilled his words to the T?  

Ok. So…what does this have to do with the air? 

*** 

Well…the answer isn’t just a fun jog through the pages of history, or a dry word study. The answer is the good news that the world desperately needs. It’s the good news that inspired the earliest believers to preach the good news and be witnesses for Christ even to the point of death – because the news was just that good. 

So let’s get to the bottom of “the air”.  

*** 

The word “air” is used spiritually, prophetically, three times, as we discussed earlier. We have also just heard from the earliest witnesses of the Christian church that, contrary to C.S. Lewis etc, Bible prophecy is not false, and these things came to pass. So this must also apply to these prophetic sayings about “the air.” 

Paul said, “we who are alive and remain” — he was talking about his own generation of believers — “will be gathered together with them in the clouds and meet the Lord in the air.”  

Well first of all, who is “them”? He’s talking about the resurrected saints who had died in Christ. So they’re not rising out of their tombs in the ground – they’re coming on the clouds of heaven too, right there alongside Jesus. Just like Enoch said in Jude, “See, the Lord is coming on the clouds with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.” Don’t be surprised that the resurrection is heavenly. Jesus told us as much: “In the resurrection, they will be like the angels in heaven.” 

Paul then tells his audience, “we who are alive and remain” will also “meet the Lord in the air.” So — were Eusebius and Clement right – were the prophecies fulfilled, as the early church held? 

This is where our word study comes in. St. Paul tells us that everything he’s describing comes “with a loud command.” Well, in our other prophetic passage about the air, Rev. 16:17, the angel pours out his wrath upon the air, and the Holy Spirit says that John hears exactly that same “loud command” that Paul describes in 1 Thess — “a loud voice came from the throne in the temple, saying, “It is finished!” The voice of God thundering from the throne in heaven? Sounds like a “loud command” to me.  

The Holy Spirit is showing us that John the Revelator and St. Paul are describing the same event. And what role does the air play in all this? Why is the air important? Because Satan is the prince of the power of the air  — and yet the Holy Spirit is showing us the wrath of God poured out upon the air; He is showing us the Son of Man coming on the clouds with his Holy Ones, raising the dead, therefore trampling over death, and he who has the power of death – Satan, the prince of the power of the air. If the Prince of the power of the air is knocked out of power by the conquering King — who is now in power of the air? The conquering King. 

This is why they met the Lord in the air — to reign over the air with him in the church. 

In short, the Holy Spirit is showing us how the Lord dethroned the prince of the power of the air, and is was himself given the throne and the kingdom – just as described in Daniel 7: “I saw One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. And He was given dominion, glory, and kingship.” 

And it’s not just Jesus who is given this throne. Daniel goes on, “Then the sovereignty, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.” 

This is what St. Paul was reminding the Thessalonians. When the Prince of the power of the air is usurped, and the Kingdom of the air is given to Christ Jesus – it would also be given to them, therefore they would be gathered up with the risen saints and “meet him in the air” — because they will now have dominion over the air. 

And this promise does not just apply to the 1st Thessalonians and the 1st century church. It applies to the Church throughout the ages. Because Daniel finishes by saying, this “kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom” — “it will stand forever” (Dn. 2:44).  

And so we will always be with the Lord.”  

*** 

This is incredible news. When I was growing up, agnostic I heard about Christianity – I didn’t know this was the good news. Whenever I heard preaching, I usually heard: “believe in Jesus, get baptized and have your sins forgiven”. And Amen to that, that is great news. But once I believed, I cracked open the Bible, and I read about the good news that Jesus himself preached, and his Apostles: the Kingdom of God. “Repent from the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Believing, getting baptized, and being forgiven – that’s just the entry gate that you walk through to get into the Kingdom, the Church. That’s the first step. 

Now that you’re here, take a look around. You’re in a Kingdom that was set up without wars, without weapons, without human hands. Its law is the Law of Christ Jesus, the Law of Love, written out on the scroll of His body and put on open display for all to see at Calvary. It is a Kingdom that has no boundaries, not even time and space, not even life and death; we are in communion with heaven and its citizens in Christ Jesus, our ancestors who have gone before and now wear their crowns and watch over us in prayer. Our King is God, and in our Kingdom there is no other power above Him – not even the prince of the power of the air, who was trampled under the feet of the Son of God two millennia ago. That is the faith of the Apostles, of their successors Clement, of Eusebius, and may it be the faith which we cling to ‘til we have run our race in full.  

Let’s pray: 

“Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as [our] Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well.  

Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge. 

May we all live in the peace that comes from You.  

May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling.  

Night and day until the last day of all,  

may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You:  

You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit. 

Amen.  

(Clement of Alexandria) 

Thou Shalt Not Follow The Multitude

Never stray from the truth.

Scripture Reading: Exodus 23:2 | Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the majority, to stray from the truth. 

There’s a New Zealand comedy called “What We Do In The Shadows.” It’s a mockumentary about vampire roommates and their werewolf rivals. The werewolves roam around in packs, but they’re all pretty nice, regular guys, with some canine attributes. The werewolves have a “pack alpha”, their leader. There’s a great scene where the werewolves are standing around having beers being interviewed, and the pack alpha explains how he’ll occasionally test the loyalty of the pack by cracking a joke.  

He says, “These guys all have to laugh at my jokes, right guys?” And he gestures for them to laugh, and of course they all do. “I always look around to make sure they’re all laughing, and if I see one that’s not quite laughing, I’ll say — ‘Hey! You laughing?’ — and often I’ll test you, eh?” And he singles out one of the pack says, “What were you laughing at? Justin?” 

Justin gets nervous. “Hey?” 

“What were you laughing at now?” 

“Just then?” 

“Yea yea, but what?” 

Justin looks around at the pack for support, and stutters, “Well, I don’t know – I thought –” 

“Oh no, test failed!” They all erupt into laughter. So he tests another pack member, “What are you laughing at?” 

He tests a few, they all fail, so they all start laughing. Finally the pack leader asks Stu, “What were you laughing at?” 

“Oh, I was just laughing with the group.” 

“Yea, that’s good! See guys!” Laughing with the group. That was the correct answer. If you’re a werewolf.  

But not if you’re a Christian. 

*** 

Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. The thing is, these guys are joking around. They’re not causing any harm. Laughing along with the group – there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that is there? But what if you were doing something else along with the group – something evil

God says in Exodus 23:3: “Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the majority, to stray from the truth.” 

There are two commands here: don’t follow the crowd in doing evil, nor yield in judgment to the opinion of the majority to stray from the truth. 

Two commands, one in purpose. 

In the days of the Exodus, you might remember, God did a mighty work, liberating the Hebrew children from the oppression of Egypt. And the same God called Moses up to the mountain to cut a covenant with them – and while he was gone, they built and worshipped the golden calf. They said, “I don’t know what happened to Moses, but he’s taking too long, and so is his god. Let’s just make our own and follow them.” 

Well, God wasn’t pleased, and he basically tells Moses: “I’m done with these people. I’m going to wipe them out. I’ll just bring you to the Promised Land.” 

Moses had to do a lot of fasting and begging to God to change his mind. In the end, God relents. Moses draws a line in the sand: “If you’re with me, you’re with me; if you’re not…” It says 3,000 people chose not to go with Moses, and they were swallowed up into the abyss. They died. 

Now. That sounds rough. But God is merciful. Consider his mercy in these terms: the Bible says Moses led 2 million out of Egypt. And yet he was ready to destroy them all, because they’d all gone astray. Moses convinced God to give them one more chance: and only 3,000 were unrepentant. 

What that tells us, is that among 2 million people who all committed the sin of worshipped the golden calf, there were only 3,000 true believers. Only 3,000 willing to stand on that belief, stick to it, and die for it. This is a small minority. And yet, everyone was going along with it. 

Is anyone surprised? Isn’t that the way it always has been? We look back at the worst atrocities of human history, and at the heart, we see a few bad apples that rot the whole batch. It only takes a few. In the Exodus story, it only took 0.15% of populaof population to lead the whole nation astray. 

If that’s the power of a vocal minority – imagine what God is asking you to stand up to when he says, “Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the majority, to stray from the truth.” 

*** 

Each of you in your lifetime will be confronted with someone saying, “What you believe about God, about Jesus, about His Kingdom, about your life in Christ, is not true.” Chances are, this has already happened to you. I’d be willing to wager that this actually happens to you quite regularly.  

I want us to all take a moment to examine our consciences for every moment we have yielded in judgment to the opinion of anyone, let alone a majority, to stray from the truth. They should be easy to call to mind.  

Now I ask you, when you did this, when you “yielded” in this way –  first ask yourself, how small, how unimportant did you tell yourself was the compromise you decided to make? But next ask, how small, how unimportant, did you tell yourself the truth was in order to do this? 

*** 

I’m not here to condemn you. I’m here to encourage you. I’m here to remind you, extra ecclesiamm nulla salus – outside of the church, of the mystical body of Christ, there is no salvation. Outside of the Word of God, there is no truth. You will always be bombarded with some sort of savory lie or seductive deception in the world – it is only in Christ that the truth abides. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Therefore our salvation is in Him, in His mystical body, the Church. 

I am not saying that outside the walls of this chapel there is no salvation; because inside the walls of this chapel are sinners. I am saying that Christ alone is the Word of God; and only God’s word is truth. If we’re in communion with Christ, we are members of His body; if we are members of His body, we have truth. So let’s cling to the Body of Christ, and take shelter in it. 

Theophilus of Antioch said: “As in the sea there are islands, some of them habitable, and well-watered, and fruitful, with havens and harbours in which the storm-tossed may find refuge,–so God has given to the world which is driven and tempest-tossed by sins, assemblies –we mean holy churches –in which survive the doctrines of the truth, as in the island-harbours of good anchorage; and into these run those who desire to be saved, being lovers of the truth, and wishing to escape the wrath and judgment of God.  

“And as, again, there are other islands, rocky and without water, and barren, and infested by wild beasts, and uninhabitable, and serving only to injure navigators and the storm-tossed, on which ships are wrecked, and those driven among them perish,–so there are doctrines of error…which destroy those who approach them. For they are not guided by the word of truth; but as pirates, when they have filled their vessels, drive them on the fore-mentioned places, that they may spoil them: so also it happens in the case of those who err from the truth, that they are all totally ruined by their error.” 

If we interpret Theophilus through the word of God in Exodus, we should take note: these “other islands, rocky and without water” that “destroy those who approach them” — though they are “doctrines of error”, they can be held by the majority – God’s commandment not to yield to such a majority would not be necessary if it were not so. 

The world is full of snares. And it’s not that the world is a bad place. God’s creation is a beautiful and good place. But through Adam, through man, sin and death entered the world because of disobedience. Because of straying from the truth. The Garden that God planted in Eden was the Kingdom of God – but man disobeyed the King, and so the Kingdom was lost to man, but not God. 

So be reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ, the word of God, who revealed to the world that in His wisdom, God did not set up is Kingdom in a place – rather, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Indeed, the choice to obey God, who is Love, and His Law of Love, is within you. No majority, no minority, no multitude, no pack of wolves or pack alpha can take that away from you, though they may try to take everything else away from you to make you pay for your choice.  

But don’t consider such reprisals a loss. Rather, follow St. Paul’s example, who considered everything he owned, all of his accomplishments, all of his social status, “A loss — compared to the suprassing and excellent knowledge of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” That is, compared to the truth.  

Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the majority, to stray from the truth.” 

Just as the Kingdom of God is within you, so also let the truth, “the word of Christ richly dwell within you” so that you never stray from it. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…and…sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Amen. 

Who Is Your Daddy and What Does He Do

+Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:9 Call no one your Father on earth. For One is your Father, and he is in heaven. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger needs no introduction. He was Mr. Universe, the undefeated world champion of bodybuilding for six years. He was the governor of California. More importantly, he’s been in some of the most successful films of all time. Terminator, Terminator 2, Pumping Iron – but by far his best movie in my estimation, second only to Jingle All the Way, was Kindergarten Cop.  

He plays an undercover cop who’s teaching a kindergarten class – he’s looking for a wanted criminal, and he knows the bad guy is the deadbeat dad of one of the kids, he just doesn’t know which one yet. So he leads the class in a game to find out the answer. This is the setup for one of his most well-known movie lines in show business:  

“Who is your daddy, and what does he do?” 

Now we’re going to ask that same question for a different reason. Because we worship a God we call “Father”. Therefore, when the Kindergarten Cop comes to church, we have to be prepared to answer him – “Who is your daddy, and what does he do?” 

*** 

Now I’ve made this question seem silly, but it’s actually a very important question. But it’s a little complicated to find the answer. Because where do we have to find the answer? In the Bible. And we all love the Bible – but it sure is confusing sometimes. Has anyone noticed how, ever since the Reformation when laypeople started reading the Bible for themselves, we went from having one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church to having, now, nearly 50,000 distinct Christian sects worldwide? 

One of those sectarian teachings is called the Serpent Seed doctrine. And it’s an old heresy about “Who is your daddy, and what does he do.” It says that in the Garden of Eden, when the Serpent deceived Eve, he also seduced her – and got her pregnant with Cain. It calls Cain the “seed of the serpent”, and all of his descendants as well. You may have encountered this doctrine without realizing it, my generation is certainly has, if you’ve ever heard the meme about anyone and everyone in the elite political and wealthy class being a reptile! (That would mean a lot of reptilians on MV – I digress) 

It sounds like an absurd idea, but many of its adherents are unaware that it’s also an ancient one. Thousands of years ago, there were sectarian Christians, and before them, Israelites, who were known as Sethians – named after the third son of Adam and Eve, Seth, whose name means “seed” by the way – and Sethians believed that only they would be saved because they were descended from the pure line of Seth, while everyone else was descended from the accursed serpent seed of Cain. 

Again, it might sound absurd, but it’s an easier snare than you think. Crack open your Bible to John 8:44, and you’ll see that Jesus cries out against his accusers, “You are of your Father, the Devil!” He even calls them a brood of serpents in Mt. 23:33. Doesn’t it sound like Jesus is implying that they might have a different 23andMe result than him – that they may in fact, be serpent seed

But the problem with serpent seed doctrine is that Genesis does not at all say anywhere that anyone other than Adam was the Father of Cain. Genesis 4:1 puts the kabosh on that, it says: “And Adam knew [wink wink] Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain.” 

It doesn’t at all say that the devil raised progeny through Eve. So much for Serpent seed! But…while we’re on the subject…what about Watcher seed? The Bible does say explicitly that something eerily similar to this story did happen, in Genesis 6:  

“Now when men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took as wives whomever they chose…the Nephilim [giants] were on the earth in those days—and afterward as well—when the sons of God had relations with the daughters of men. And they bore them children who became the mighty men of old, men of renown.” 

Oh boy. Do we even have time to get into this one? Ask a Nephilim “Who is your daddy and what does he do?”  

“Oh, he’s a son of God,” he’ll say. The book of Enoch actually gets a little into who these daddies of the Nephilim were, and what they did. It says they were fallen angels, and they took many women for wives and “taught them charms, and spells, and they showed them the cutting of roots and trees.” Sounds like the origin of shamanism, of herbal medicine etc.  

It says they also “taught men to make swords, and daggers, and shields, and breastplates. And…bracelets and ornaments, and the art of making up the eyes, and of beautifying the eyelids, and the most precious and choice stones, and all kinds of coloured dyes.” 

It actually doesn’t sound too bad, except that in those days, “[the giants] devoured all the toil of men, until men were unable to sustain them…And they turned against them in order to devour men. And they began to sin against birds, and against animals, and against reptiles, and against fish, and they devoured one another’s flesh, and drank the blood from it.” 

So — perhaps these Nephilim, then, are the seed we should be worried about. Nephilim seed! But not so fast. God sent the flood and wiped them out – mostly. A few of them were found in Canaan, among them Goliath. We know what happened to him and the rest of them – they lost that rumble. So far as we know, there’s none of them left. As for the fallen angels, Peter and Jude both tell us in their Epistles that they were “chained in darkness until the day of Judgment.” 

But this all begs the question. Maybe the fallen angels and Nephilim are gone, for all intents and purposes. But don’t their contributions live on? Don’t humans still make swords, and daggers, and much worse now? Don’t humans still sin against birds, animals, and even one another, devouring one another’s flesh? Humans may not be Nephilim, but they sure act like the children of fallen angels.  

When we consider all this, I think we really do have to ask ourselves: “Who is our daddy and what exactly does he do?” 

*** 

Our Lord Jesus Christ has a revolutionary answer for you. “Call no one your Father on earth. For One is your Father, and he is in heaven.” He said this while teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, days before he was delivered up to death.  

This isn’t the first time he said something like this. Not long before this, he was preaching to a crowd along the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. In his Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” He said these words not to a select few, but to an entire crowd. And these words apply to you, too. 

The sense of these words is two-fold: it’s both a revelation of truth, and it’s also a command. And why should we be surprised by that dual nature? — because [the truth is a double-edged sword, and] the truth commands us to obedience – once we see it, we can’t unsee it, and we must be faithful to it lest we live a lie. 

If we take Jesus at his word, that God is our Father, then we can bear his subsequent instruction: “Be perfect like Him.” Otherwise, we have no hope of obedience. Because if He is not our Father, and if we are not His children — and therefore not like him to whatever extent a child ought to be like his Father — this is an absurd and impossible instruction.  

But take him at his word, then these words are also for you: “With man it is impossible – but with God all things are possible.” And so it is possible that the children of God may be like their Father, and may even be perfect as He is perfect. 

*** 

And how is God perfect? In what does his perfection consist?  

Love.  

God is love, and therein lies his perfection. Love binds everything together in harmony (Col. 3:14). Love is the perfection by which God is utterly unaffected by the 1) fallenness and 2) ugliness of our world on the one hand; and on the other, it is equally the perfection by which God 1) raises us up to redemption and into the 2) beauty of his new creation.  

If we want God’s perfection, then we need God to abide in us; John tells us that this happens when we love another —  

— because in this, God’s love is perfected in us. (1 John 4). John says, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”  

It’s all about love. 

Now, John follows this statement with something interesting that pertains to our earlier discussion about that ridiculous Serpent seed heresy. He says, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one [catch that?] and murdered his brother. And why did Cain slay him? Because his own deeds were evil, while those of his brother were righteous. So do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you.” 

Did you catch what John said about Cain –– he belonged to the evil one. Might sound like serpent seed, but it’s not – because John tells us why Cain belonged to the evil one. Was it because his daddy was literally the devil?  

No, it’s because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous, that he murdered his brother. He’s talking about envy, he’s talking about sin. That’s the nature of hatred. And likewise, John says, the world will also hate you.  

Why? Is he implying that the world also belongs to the evil one? Didn’t the Devil tell Jesus as much, when he was tempting him in the desert? 

Hm… 

We’re not done digging yet. Let’s put this all together: If Cain belonged to the evil one because his deeds were evil; therefore, can we deduce that the world itself belongs to the evil one if it meets the same conditions? Yes. 

This is important. It is not that a person belongs to Satan because of blood, because of lineage, like the serpent seeders say; it’s also not that the world belongs to Satan because it’s inherently evil, as if the world God created is not as good as He said it was in Genesis, like the Gnostics and anti-Bible types say – but insofar as a person does  meets the conditions with evil deeds, they belong to the evil one; and insofar as the world is filled with such people meeting these conditions with their deeds, therefore in such people, and only such people, the world belongs to the Enemy. 

It is for this reason that Jesus calls them the children of the devil – because their deeds were evil. They became servants of sin – and became, by adoption, the children of the evil one. 

Ready for bad news? St. Paul says very explicitly, that in fact, this is the condition of every single person ever born on earth. He says it of himself, “I am sold to sin… I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do.” 

I think we all know exactly what he’s talking about. Humans are a little light, a little dark. We’re a little good, a little bad. And inasmuch as we have our share of darkness, and our share of badness – the devil has his share of us. 

But here’s the good news: he has no right to that share. 

This is the power of the blood of Jesus Christ that everyone’s always talking about. There is power in the blood. Jesus was sent to remind us that God is our true and rightful Father – and not just this, he was sent to reconcile us with Him and in Him, and to restore our relationship with Him, by dying for our sins. 

Think of sin less like a congenital disease that we inherited from Adam, and more like a story that has been passed on from generation to generation — a story about who we are that is a lie, from the father of lies. His subtle trick was to ask “Did God really say such and such,” and in so doing tricked us into thinking that we can’t trust God to love us. In other words, believing that we can’t believe in God. That is the lie that led to the Fall. 

But God made Adam in His own image. When Adam fell from grace, he did not become any less “in the image of God”. That didn’t change. What didn’t change was his relationship to God: Luke 3 testifies that Adam was the son of God, and that makes all of Adam’s children, which is every single living person there ever was or will be, you and me, the children of God;… 

…but what did change when Adam fell was his relationship with God. Adam and Eve no longer lived as a family with their Father, they were cast out of His house in Eden, into the land of Wandering. 

It was by their deeds, inspired by a lie, that Adam and his wife Eve fell. And it was by his deeds, inspired by a lie, that Cain sold himself to the evil one. And it’s by deeds, inspired by lies, that this world is fallen and that these subtle diabolical lies continue to deceive people into yet more falling, yet more wandering further and further away from the house of Eden – even in the name of God, as the history of religion often shows. 

It’s by deeds, by works, that a person falls. But it’s by faith that a person is lifted up. 

God’s solution to our problem is Jesus Christ — His revelation of truth and His commandment to obedience. The truth is that God is our true Father; the commandment is to love one another as Jesus loved us, sacrificing himself for a world that sold itself into the service of his, and our, enemy’s household.  

The work is already done – Have faith – Jesus plundered the house of the enemy. He exposed the lie and revealed the truth. What remains is for the people of the world to have faith in Him — to hear the voice of the Son of God and rise from the power of death into the resurrection life of our Father’s heavenly house; not for those of a certain seed or sect to claim an exclusive birthright to salvation and power, which is the ancient lie of serpent seed doctrine, of racism and ethno-nationalism and mystery religion; but for all seed of Adam to re-claim our birthright in Our Father through a heavenly re-birth, being born again by the baptism of water and the Spirit. 

Because Jesus did this work, every claim on our lives other than that of our heavenly Father has been rendered null and void — they have been exposed as lies, having never had any power in the first place except for the power we gave them by believing them. 

The truth sets us free indeed. Neither the devil, nor any oppressor, abuser, enemy or tyrant – not even death itself — has a claim on you, or can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. This is the meaning of redemption.  

We are no one’s children but God’s — “Call no man your Father on earth, for One is your Father, who is in heaven.” (Mt. 23:9)  

*** 

And lastly, listen to what St. Paul said: “Because you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, which cries, Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6) 

He didn’t say, “Because God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, you are sons,” but “because you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of His Son.” Come Holy Spirit! 

Remember who you are. Remember who your daddy is, and what he does. Remember your eternal relationship to him, and don’t neglect your holy relationship with him. Walk with him in faith, and be encouraged along your walk that “all that matters is faith working through love.”  

And so we should always pray, as Jesus taught us, 

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” 

Amen.