Sunday, February 1, 2015

Having the Faith to Recognize the Grace of God



Epiphany IV  + B              1, February 2015               Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Deuteronomy 18:15-20                                                                                                    Psalm 111  
1 Corinthians 8:1-13                                                                                                    Mark 1:21-28
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer stops at a ranch up in Iron Mountain , B.C. and talks with the old ranch owner.

He tells the rancher, 'I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs..'

The old rancher says, 'Okay, but don't go in that field over there.'

The RCMP officer verbally explodes saying, 'Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me.' Reaching into his rear pant pocket and removing his badge, the officer proudly displays it to the farmer.

'See this badge? This badge means I am an authority. I am allowed to go wherever I wish, on any land. No questions asked or answers given. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?' The old rancher nods politely and goes about his chores.

Later, the old rancher hears loud screams and spies the RCMP officer running for his life and close behind is the rancher's bull.

With every step the bull is gaining ground on the officer.

The officer is clearly terrified.

The old rancher immediately throws down his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs.....'Your badge! Show him your badge!

There is not much room for humor in today's readings. It is not easy to preach on them.  Not much in the way of good news on the surface, but they contain many promises for us in this most uncertain of times in this world.  They point us toward hope, dependence upon God for our security and ultimately as the hymn says: "Standing on the Promises of Christ (our) King."

Underlying our readings as it is with most of scripture is an abundance of God's grace. What is it to speak with authority? Isn't that a question each of us ask in a many ways every day?  And how we answer that question determines our choices, our decisions and ultimately the way we live in this country and world.  We also struggle with this concept not only in our homes, our schools and our churches, but in our families and relationships.  As our Declaration of Independence states:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".  Where did our founders get these concepts?  From the Holy Bible.

Authority comes from God and God alone. His authority if not about power az the world sees power, God holds all power but he exercises constrain.  Our freedom of will is even under the permissive authority of God our Father. The collect we prayed said this: "Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth."  In our lessons today, God raised up Moses, Paul and the ultimate authority, Jesus. The strange reality we struggle with is our failure to realize just what that means in our own lives. That is the Christian struggle.  Much of the Bible is about this struggle of who will be God to us.  Who will be the Lord of our lives.  Many years ago I was told that when God made us, he put a "God-shaped void" within us that longs for God to make us whole and complete.  St. Augustine said it this way centuries ago: "You made us for yourself and we will never find rest until we rest in you." 

We live in a day when evil has become rampant.  Thankfully not so much in Georgia, other than the regular killings we hear of in Savannah on the evening news.  Since 9-11 it seems the world has gone mad.  With economic threats, international threats, dishonesty in epic proportions, what then are we to do? Evil was rampant in the days of Jesus as well.  Human life was cheap and had little value when the order of the day was power and wealth, human slavery, disease and relatively short life spans by today's standards. Into that world as into our world today, Jesus comes as one who speaks with authority and commands great power, tempered with restraint.  The One Moses spoke of to the children of Israel, the one who came to set the captives free comes again to us each day.

There is an interesting paradox today in the reading from Mark's gospel.  The one who repeatedly seems to recognize Jesus and the power of God is not the people but the demon possessing the people.  Who in our day has the most vicious hatred of Christianity and the Church so as to seek to ban us from all public life?  Is it not those most threatened by us?  Those who call good evil and evil good.  Those who do not recognize the presence of Christ among us today.  Sometimes we ourselves do not detect evil in its manifestations. How does evil succeed.  I know "when good people do nothing."  That may be true but it's not what I'm getting at.  The strategy of the Evil One and all of his minions, who serve his purposes even if they do not acknowledge him, that strategy is always deceit. 

Many of the Ten Commandments are dealing with these very things.  Because we are created in God's image, we have some sense of his moral character.  We expect to be told the truth.  We have names for the objective actions committed to hide this.  We have: lying, cheating, perjury and others.  The world that does not acknowledge God or His sovereignty recognizes this, but uses these tactics.  They however do not like it when these tactics are used on them!  In fact, we cannot even call certain acts evil without contrasting them to what we call good. However it is not our personal standard of "good" but God's. 

In this world of confusion and chaos comes a Deliverer, a One who shines light in the darkness, who speaks with authority and power.  He says:  "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest".  Mt 11:28  Whatever demons haunt our days Jesus comes to cast them out.  The Bible uses the term "spirit" for many things that destroy humanity.  Many things are from our selfish sinful nature, that we are always fighting.  Others come from outside of us.  Whether these things scripture speaks of are spiritual entities as the one Jesus cast out of the man or whether are from the flesh or the world, Jesus comes to cast them out.  Ephesians tells us:  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."   Jesus says that he came to set the captive free.  Many in this world are captive to evil in many forms, to them and to us, Jesus comes.

Again from the collect we read: "Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace'''  I want us to see what we are praying.  Our supplications are our prayers to Almighty God who governs.  It is hard for me at times observing all of these destructive works of the Evil One not to become discouraged.  I must remember every day that God is in control and again, I am praying for God's peace.  What is that "shalom" of God that we pray for?  It is the internal barometer that tells us if we are running on faith or fear. 

The opposite of faith in the Bible is not doubt, it is fear. The gift of God's grace is that of which we speak in the blessing:  "the peace of God which passes all understanding" which "keeps (our) hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God."   That constant reminder that God is with us in Christ.  That the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us, that every day we remember that God has loved us not as we should be, but as we are!   That is the grace message.  Psalm 147 tell us this: He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.  God heals, God cures, God comforts.  We live under the authority of that freedom.  Paul writes: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery".  (Galatians 5)  It is our choice which I have to make every day of my life.  Will I live under the tyranny of fear or under the freedom of God's authority in Christ?  It is that same decision we must each make every day and I pray that together as we come to Our Father who art in heaven, that it is there and in our time God will grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord,.

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