Angst or peace: it's your choice

Based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

“We live in a culture where snipers live behind laptops and smart phones. Fewer people are interested in debate and more are looking for enemies to eviscerate. Some have become unhinged and others are on the ledge.”

Anne quoted these words from a blogger (whose name she hadn’t taken note of) in a recent sermon. Do you feel you are among the ‘unhinged’? She confessed to the same feelings she sees affecting so many others these days: anxiety, despair, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, embarrassment, hostility, and panic. Perhaps angst best sums it up.

Upsetting and unsettling information bombards us from all directions, and as Christians we know we really can't, really shouldn’t, simply turn off the news. We need to be aware of what’s going on firstly, to pray, but also to be able to engage others in conversation.  

While we can never understand ‘what in the world is going on’ or how to fix it, we must refuse to be bent out of our Christian shape by it. None of the mess is of God, who is still in control and who alone has the solutions. Earthly governments can only put band-aids on people’s problems, Anne reminded the congregation. But the gospel can bring healing to souls.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.... Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:3,5)

“We want and need hope here,” she made clear after reading the above scripture. “Hope is not dreaming or a vague aspiration. It’s not simply wanting things to turn out well while remaining uncertain whether they actually will. Hope is the absolute certainty we have that God is good and that God’s promises are true.”

Further, we can use the hope we cultivate in ourselves to help the troubled around us. “The despair, anxiety and fear we see in people around us is the very opportunity we have to share the hope and good news of Jesus with them.”

The Almighty will accomplish His purposes, no matter the political leaders and disasters cramming our newscasts. We see in scripture how God has been able to use some exceptionally evil rulers such as Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar and Nero to fulfill His will. He has worked out His purposes under every condition imaginable, from Egypt through Babylon and onto Rome and beyond. We must keep the hope, and cultivate peace.

“We don’t need to pray for peace, we have it,” she concluded. “It is in us. We have that peace but must use it and share it.” 

Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter: 3b)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Seeing, not seeing, and seeing differently: Blindness, physical and spiritual

Do you see what I see? Do I see what you see? The necessity of ‘eyes to see’ looms large in Christianity. While Jesus healed the physically blind, he simultaneously heaped criticism on pharisaic types suffering spiritual blindness. The problem was not they couldn’t see, but that as spiritual teachers, they were sure they could.

How can one possibly perceive the 'Light of the world' without spiritual eyes—without an ability to see beyond the physical? John 9 succinctly reveals these truths, and in likely the most memorable way in scripture.

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world", Jesus announces to those around him, including a fellow he’d just met who had been blind from birth. What follows may be the strangest of Jesus’ recorded miracles. He “spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the [blind] man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means "Sent"). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing" (vv. 6-7).

Preaching and reflecting on this on a recent Sunday, our rector Anne wondered how on earth a man born blind—and now with his eyes full of mud—could, as Jesus commanded him, make his way to the pool of Siloam to wash away the mess. We know he did of course, and perhaps some supernaturally endowed spiritual sight helped him to. After cleansing, he gained physical sight as well, sending the hyper-critical Pharisees into religious overload.

Jesus had worked a miracle on the Sabbath, and so violated the Sabbath ‘no work’ laws. But he really tangled up their taut tidiness with his next statement, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9: 39). A better summation of Jesus’ ‘doing away with the Law’ may be hard to find.

"What? Are we blind too?" the incredulous Pharisees replied. To which Jesus answered, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9: 40-41).

Anne then illustrated the whole 'how do we see?' concept with a Sherlock Holmes story Conan Doyle may or may not have actually written. But her love of camping, and that it so lights up the topic, make it worth sharing.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of red, they lay down for the night and went to sleep.

Some hours later Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend and said, "Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see." Watson said, "I see millions and millions of stars." Sherlock said, "And what does that tell you?"

After a minute or so of pondering Watson said, "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets, and I also observe that Saturn is in the constellation of Leo.

Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for about 30 seconds and said, "Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!"

It’s ALL about Jesus

Years ago, as a bright shiny new Christian, I recall proclaiming “Jesus is the answer!” to an Anglican priest friend, who replied sardonically, “Ah, but what’s the question?”

For some, that simple saying—It’s all about Jesus—seems just that; way too simple. My friend obviously placed himself in that category.

Near the other end of the spectrum are those who find the idea far too difficult to honestly live out. It does seem the more you study—whether theology, biology, astrophysics, theatre, whatever—the more ridiculous the statement seems. But as Christians, we know somewhere deep in our knowers it is capital-T True. That truth lies in the unseen realm, the spirit, the heart—whatever you want to call it—beyond our brain cells.

Anne’s recent Sunday sermon reminded us of the centrality of Jesus, and the accompanying reading from Philippians (Phil. 3:1-11) underscored and shouted it out. There we hear Paul considering everything else in life worthless garbage compared to knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord.

As Anne pointed out, in a small community such as ours, family seems to reign supreme. While family, hard work and faithful service contribute to individual and societal health, all need to be an outworking of the supremacy of Christ. Paul really did give up everything for Jesus, and if we’re to live in the fullness of what God intends, we are to do the same, at least ‘in our hearts’.

The whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells his story. The resurrected Christ's conversation with a couple of distressed, doubting disciples on their seven-mile dusty hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus details how even what we now call the Old Testament told time and again of his own birth, death and resurrection.

As they trudge along, Jesus goes step-by-step through the prophecies, yet they still don't get it. Not till they're about to share a meal with him later do their eyes see what their hearts had already perceived:

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?' " (Luke 24:30-32)

Eugene Peterson in The Message wonderfully interprets Paul’s words on the absolute centrality and supremacy of Jesus:

"God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Eph. 1:20-23)

As if re-focusing on the Truth weren’t enough reason to return to the all-in-all-ness of Jesus, a recent article in the The Washington Post presented the following as the most-cited reason 20- and 30-somethings decide church isn’t for them: "We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there” (How to keep Millennials in the church? Let’s keep church un-cool).

Whether these younger people have grown up churched or unchurched, they’ve been advertised to their whole lives. With “highly sensitive BS meters … we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances,” one CNN Belief Blog contributor explains.

She goes on to argue that “church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.”  She and many of her generation find themselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions “precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being ‘cool,’ and we find that refreshingly authentic.”

In other words, they want something the world can never give them: a saviour from shallow meaninglessness to connect them with the deep, intellectually robust spirituality of a Holy Father and Spirit.

Amid the tsunami devastation in northern Japan, a wooden   cross stands     where there was once a church               [Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP/Getty Images]

Amid the tsunami devastation in northern Japan, a wooden cross stands     where there was once a church          [Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP/Getty Images]

Listening to the Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd Sunday, three weeks after Easter, derives its name from the gospel readings across the Anglican and Catholic Communions assigned for that day. Taken from the 10th chapter of John, we hear again the story of Jesus described as the Good Shepherd who, by dying on the cross, laid down his life for his sheep.

In Pastor Anne’s thought- and heart-provoking sermon for the day, she reminded us of how well sheep know their own shepherd’s voice; how they will follow none other’s. In some ways sheep may be famously dumb, but they excel at being good listeners and followers.

How does that connect to us as believers in our one true heavenly shepherd? We, as human beings, too often prove ourselves poor followers and listeners to that Divine Voice. Anne provided many pointers to help us learn better to listen to, and know when we are hearing from, God. The first major point being simply that: LISTEN! How often do we spend time being quiet, waiting for that ‘still, small voice’, in our prayer times? Yet how else will we hear?

In a recent devotional by Rick Warren, he makes a similar point in describing how difficult it can be for us—this idea of yielding, of surrendering. We instead have been so often taught to conquer, speak our minds, to overcome, expect our will to be done. While Warren writes more in terms of worship, that also is prayer. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches us that rather than trying to win, succeed, overcome, and conquer, we should instead yield, submit, obey, and surrender. How else can we do this but to listen first?

“When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus,” Warren concludes, “we discover that he is not a tyrant but a savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.”

It is not all about you

In her sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Anne echoed the famous words that open and set the tone for Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not all about you.”

In this me-first, I’m-number-one, it’s-my-right society, those can be hard words to swallow, let alone digest. Even supposedly other-focused Christians can get it wrong. Last week we were encouraged to go forward for healing prayer in the service. Even there, in an atmosphere of seeking prayer, we have to check our motives, Anne reminded us this week.

Do we believe in and love God because of what He can do for us, rather than for Who He is? Yes, He wants us well; yes, He wants us healthy. But if we think we need our head-ache or sore back healed and He knows we need our heart healed first—or our memories, or our attitudes—well, it may seem like the prayer ‘didn’t work’.

"God answers prayers in four ways," Anne explained. "Yes, no, wait, or yes, but. And that last one we may not understand as a 'yes' since the answer wasn't what we asked for."

Loving and giving radically

In the wonderful story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, Jim and Della Dillingham lived modestly, with only two possessions between them they really treasured. Jim owned a gold watch that had been in his family for two generations. Della‘s beautiful cascading brown hair almost touched her knees and could have been a coat by itself.

The couple wanted to exchange Christmas presents but were short of funds. Della hoped to give Jim a chain to put his watch on, and Jim wished to give Della a set of combs to put in her hair. In the end, Della sold her hair to buy a watch-chain, and Jim pawned his watch to get the set of combs. Della and Jim, wisely or unwisely, sacrificed for each other their greatest treasures.

Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.

The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the biblical magi. The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts for new-born Jesus in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.