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Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, June 28, 2015

The Chaos and the Call

TEXT: II Corinthians 8:2

You have undoubtedly heard that last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in the same-sex marriage cases. And most of you are undoubtedly upset by what they decided.

• For Biblical Christians, it is unthinkable that the courts in a land that calls itself “one nation under God” would create basic human rights that the Bible not only does not recognize, but in fact condemns.

• Some of you are upset because the way of life you grew up with has become all scrambled.

• Some of you are upset because your concept of laws and constitutions cannot fathom the way the courts decide cases these days.

• Some are upset because the White House was illuminated in rainbow colors Friday night, in an unsubtle display of celebration.

• Some are upset because you fear what will become of the ability of churches to exercise their beliefs without government interference.

Wherever you may fall in that spectrum, last Friday was a day that Biblical Christians will remember with as much emotion as the day Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22, 1973.

What does the Word of God have to say to us today? Well, clearly, the Word of God says that marriage between people of the same sex is wrong. God’s order of things is laid out right in the first chapter of the Bible. Beginning at verse 26:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

In Genesis Chapter 2, where it tells us God created the wife for Adam, these words of teaching follow to explain that this is the Biblical precedent for marriage:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh. [Genesis 2:24]

One flesh—a lifelong union. Between a man and a woman, his wife.

This is the passage Jesus quoted when He spoke of marriage when He was questioned about divorce.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. [Matthew 19:3-6]

A lifelong union between a man and a woman.

On top of all this, I ask you, how is God going to contemplate a “marriage” between two people for whom God says that sexual relations is a sin? Both the Old and the New Testaments are very clear on this point. People argue that they know two men or two women who have been together in conjugal love for 25 years, and that they have a partnership any married person would envy. A successful relationship doesn’t equal a Biblical marriage. In Europe, it is not uncommon for a married man to have a mistress for many years. Sometimes, his relationship with his mistress is better than his relationship with his wife. That doesn’t make it marriage. Adultery is still adultery.

A life-long union between a man and a woman, joined by God as one flesh. This is the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage that has prevailed for more than 3500 years. No court or legislature can declare marriage to be something else.

• It was not invented by governments. It was instituted by God.

• God cannot be overruled:

o Not by evolving social values;

o Not by opinion polls;

o Not by legislatures;

o Not by Presidents;

o Not by human courts, sitting in judgment over God’s Word. We do not judge God; God judges us.

And that is the second thing I hear scripture telling us today: God judges nations. When He put His hand on Abraham and promised him descendants and said that the whole world will be blessed through him, God was creating a special family that He would nurture, teach, provide for, and use for His glory. And when He gave them the Law, He was very clear with them that if they kept His Law and observed His commands, things would go well with them. But if they disobeyed His commands, things would go poorly.

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.... You will be blessed more than any other people.... [Deuteronomy 7:12, 14]

[But] if you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 8:19-20]

Those other nations to which Moses was referring were the nations that the Hebrew people had defeated in their journey to the Promised Land. God had given the Hebrews victory, not just because He loved them, but because of the wickedness of the people of those lands.

And when Israel had become a great nation, it did forget God and disobeyed His commands. And God gave them into the hands of invading armies from Babylon and Assyria. He brought His judgment down upon them.

But He said,

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14]

And that is what God did. After 70 years of exile, He brought them back to the Land God had promised to their ancestors.

Who are we to think that God will not judge our nation for our disobedience?

• We have seen ourselves as a great nation. Is that still the case? If not, can it be again?

• We have thought of ourselves as a nation operating under the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as the Declaration of Independence put it. Are we still that nation? If not, can it be again?

• We appealed in that Declaration to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”

What does the Judge of the world have to say about us today? I fear that He is as displeased with us as He was with His people Israel in the days of Ahab the King. What might God be planning to do with this nation?

The third thing scripture has to say to us today is in answer to the question, “How are we to live?” In light of the fearsome possibility that God will bring judgment upon our nation, how ought we to live?

• Do we Christians isolate ourselves and shut ourselves off from the rest of the world?

• Do we pull in all our possessions and hold them close around us?

• Do we throw off our generous spirit?

• Do we cower in fear?

The answer to these questions is clear in God’s Word. There is a verse in our appointed readings today that addresses us in a surprising way. It is Second Corinthians 8:2, which says,

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

I’m sure that sounds like it has nothing to do with what we are going through, but let me explore it with you. There was a famine in Jerusalem. In this letter, Paul was encouraging the people of the Corinthian Church to give to the relief fund. They were a proud, intellectual and well-off people, and much of the letter is an attempt to bring them down to earth. And Paul wanted them to think beyond themselves. In this verse, he is talking about the people of the Church in Macedonia, who were in quite a different situation. They were not well off. In fact, Paul called their circumstances “extreme poverty.” On top of that, they were being persecuted by non-Christians. And yet, when they heard of the suffering of the people in Jerusalem, they took up a generous collection to send to them. Paul says, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

Even if we are afraid or disturbed over things that are happening to us and around us, we can have the joy of the Lord, and we can live generous lives. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble. He spoke of the opposition we would face. But He didn’t tell us how to stay out of trouble. Nor did He tell the poor that He had come to alleviate their poverty. He told them He had come to preach good news to them. He told us,

I came that you may have life, and have it in abundance. [John 10:10]

I tell you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. [John 15:11]

Those qualities of joy and generosity of spirit are what endear Bishop Stephen Kaziimba to us. We first met him in 2003, when he, Jackson Balwaa and Paul Ssembiro came to the Northern Neck as missionaries. During their one-week stay, they ran a retreat for the clergy of our area, and they did some prayer ministry. On Sunday, the three went out to three different churches to preach. And without discussing what they were going to preach about, each of them brought a message on the joy of the Lord. They had all been in the United States studying for a year and worshiping with Americans. And this was what they all felt a need to speak about: the joy of the Lord. Uganda is a place where poverty is rampant, and life is difficult. And yet, when you visit there, you are overcome by how joyful Ugandans are. And when you go to their homes, they are amazingly generous and hospitable, no matter how poor they are.

Down through the ages, Christians have lived powerful and generous lives in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances. And it is all because of their relationship with Jesus. The seemingly paradoxical reality that Paul was trying to show the Corinthians is that generosity brings joy to the giver. We’ve all experienced that. And that is God’s message for us today, as we feel that anxiety over the law of the land as declared by the Supreme Court. In our faith and our affliction, we are in solidarity with those Christians in Syria and Iraq and Egypt and Iran who are suffering for the truth of the Word of God and the love of Jesus. They face much greater threats than we do. But it is the same rebellious world that is assaulting us both. And it is the same Lord with whom we have a loving relationship. And it is the same Holy Spirit who empowers us. And it is the same promises of our generous God which give us hope in all circumstances.

Finally, God’s Word to us today reminds us that we are part of His plan. We, the disciples of Jesus Christ, are His foot soldiers. God has chosen to use this ragtag army of believers to wield His truth and spread His love. Maybe it gives you a knot in your stomach to think about what is happening around us; but it ought to give you goose bumps to think that we are important in God’s great work of redeeming the world.

We are a remnant. And that’s all God needs—a remnant. Sixty years ago, Christians in America wouldn’t ever have thought of themselves that way. They were the majority. They had a triumphalist attitude. Anyone who didn’t believe what they did was just out of step. Well, today, the tide has turned.

• People scoff at the idea that the Bible is the source of highest truth.

• People consider our high ideals as quaint at best and narrow-minded at worst.

• People celebrate the evolution of human values, while we proclaim that Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

• When we honor God’s will, people paint us as bigots.

So yes, we are but a remnant. Isn’t that exciting? For we are still what God has to work with, and for Him that’s quite enough. In fact, our role is more important than it was back when we thought we were such a hot ticket. People can scoff at us, and consider us narrow-minded or naive or bigoted. But if we are living joyous and generous lives, they will not be able to deny what they see. And they will be hard pressed to deny that the joy of the Lord is something they would dearly love to have.

Borrowing some words from Abraham Lincoln, I summarize God’s call to us: With malice toward none and charity for all, standing firm in the truth as God gives us to know the truth, let us humble ourselves, and repent of our sin, and seek God’s face and pray that God will heal this land, for His honor and glory.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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