Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sermon for Epiphany II
Preached at All Saints' - January 18, 2009

"This Life's dim Windows of the Soul Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
And leads you to Believe a Lie When you see with, not thro' the Eye."

In 1757, poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake was born in London. Most people know William Blake as the author of the poem The Tyger, but the quote I just read is contained in a work known as The Everlasting Gospel. The poem is a wonderful example of Blake’s Romantic Period poetry, and displays a spectacular command of the Christian faith expressed in verse. I believe these lines are also quite appropriate as we examine the words of St. Paul to the church in Corinth that we heard this morning.

Our Epistle lesson picks up part way through the sixth chapter, and deals with a number of quite relevant topics. Paul is trying to convey a message to his audience; he is attempting to dispel a false sense of entitlement that the church has begun to portray. They have fostered the notion that just because they have Christ, they have inherited a license to do anything they want. Obviously some have begun to think that now that we are no longer under the curse of law, everything is now lawful. Paul is quick to point out that just because things appear to be lawful they are not necessarily profitable. Paul wants the church, and us as well, to recognize that all things created good can lead to evil.

Take a look at society today. We need only look at television, magazines, the Internet to see what is happening to our young people and how images dictate what is beautiful, what is attractive, what we should look like. If we go back to the line in the poem, we are tricked into believing a lie because we are seeing with the eye and not through it. We should see with our conscience, and not simply with the images burned into the back of our eyes. As Ravi Zacharias puts it, “instead of seeing through the eye and with the conscience, we are seeing with the eye completely devoid of a conscience.” In this the information age, we are constantly bombarded with images, and rather than learning to process ideas, thoughts, problems using our imagination and conscience, we immediately scroll through a list of pre-programmed data and therefore making a decision by what we see, and not by what we should know to be right.

What once would have been considered sinful and aberrant starts to look intriguing and appealing. Then those things that were once intriguing become normative, and we have become incapable of determining what is good and what is garbage. I just read a news article last week where Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler magazine, is suing his two nephews in court for the use of the Flynt name in the pornography market because he said the two were slandering his name by making “sub-standard and inferior” porn. I do not want to know exactly what his criteria for judging such smut is exactly, but I hope you see what happens when society gradually moves in this direction. We believe the lie when we see with and not through the eye.

Paul also addresses the issue of sexual immorality that has become a besetting sin for members of this faith community. Apparently the Corinthian church began adopting some of the pagan practices of their Greek neighbors, and lived with the false sense of security that since they had Christ they need not worry about how they lived their lives. One of the most significant reasons that Paul is quick to correct the Corinthian church regarding sexual sins was because of the spiritual nature of those sins, as well as, the notion that they were a direct affront to Christ himself. In much of Jesus’ ministry, He uses metaphors and imagery such as bride, bridegroom, and consummation to speak of the Church. He does not do so carelessly, but he is very particular in using this language because it so clearly conveys the sacramental nature of His relationship to His followers. Sexual immorality is an affront to everything that Jesus bore witness to in His earthly ministry.

Jesus throughout everything that he endured on our behalf remained stedfast in his calling to be the one and only faithful bridegroom to us, His followers the Church. He has given us a glorious example of what that spotless example looks like. The only way for His sacrifice to be fully efficacious for the sins of the whole world is for Him to be a lamb without blemish. That type of language in the Old Testament sacrificial priesthood system was not random or without meaning. When the Levitical priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people, they were to be choice, without stain or spot, perfect specimens for God’s altar. The only problem is that animal sacrifices were not fully effective in purging sin forever. Jesus actually had to become sin so that we would know sin no more. The image of a blameless sacrifice was etched in the hearts, minds, and souls of the people of Israel, and now Jesus has come in the flesh to be that blameless sacrifice once and for all.

Paul concludes this section when he declares, “know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” This morning’s collect expresses the theme of bringing glory to God as we prayed that we might be “illumined by thy Word and Sacraments [and] shine with the radiance of Christ’s Glory, that He may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the end of the earth.” The great theme of Epiphany is light and revelation, but its counter theme is one of witness, and brings me to my final point.

Our calling as Christians is to know Christ and make him known to others. The first part of that statement is knowing him. We must know him intimately, as he knows us. The Bible often uses the term ‘to know’ in a sexual connotation referring to husband and wife. We must know Jesus that personally, that deeply, that intimately. The only way to do so is through the light of his Word and Sacraments. We must delve deeply into Holy Scripture and allow God’s word to speak to us. We must partake of the Sacraments as we prepare to receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We must commit ourselves to fervent prayer in all things, and as St. Paul says we are to pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17). Only then can we begin to make Christ known to others.

There’s one thing about making Christ known to others that is most remarkable. We don’t necessarily set out and say in our minds, “Hey, I think I’m going to go and make Christ known to someone new today.” Rather, we must do what our Lord Jesus said in the Offertory sentence, “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 5:16). God is the one doing the work here on the other person. Our job is to do our part and let God do His. I’ve always been intrigued when I hear someone say that “they led someone to Christ today.” That person might have been the catalyst that God used to reveal Himself to someone new, but it was the Almighty who prepared the heart to receive the Message.

As we have traveled from Advent to Christmas and now into Epiphany we hear again the message of revelation, and how we are called to witness that revealed light to the world. Blake also pens these wonderful words in The Everlasting Gospel “God’s high king and God’s high priest [s]hall plant their glories in your breast” (Lines 33-34). God wishes to illuminate each one of us with his glorious radiance so that we might bear witness to the one true Light which has come into the world, to save us from ourselves, so that we might live forever with him in glory everlasting. To Him be ascribed all might, majesty, power, and dominion this day and for ever. Amen.

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