Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 27, 2011
We are a people at war! That’s obvious you might say. We’ve got troups right now in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re engaged in some way in the conflicts in Libya, Egypt, and other places of turmoil and political unrest. War is all around us, and we have almost become somewhat complacent in many regards, accepting this simply as the world in which we live.
The only thing here is that I’m not talking about the physical wars that we read about in the papers, or catch highlights on the news, or get updates from the Internet. I’m speaking about the war with eternal consequences that we are all engaged in each day of our lives – the war against the powers of darkness – the constant temptations with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We treat this very reality so seriously because it makes up such a crucial part of our Baptismal liturgy. We trust and place our faith and hope in the belief that the grace imparted through those waters might begin to work in us anew along this life-long journey of sanctification – the living out of those vows that we made or were made on our behalf as infants and that we took as our own at our Confirmation.
Our lessons these first three Sundays in Lent speak to those temptations. On the First Sunday in Lent we heard those words of our Lord’s temptation by the Devil himself in the wilderness at the beginning of his earthly ministry. This battle that we are waging is first and foremost a battle against the Evil One himself, and the chaos and destruction that he wields through his demonic forces.
Last Sunday our Epistle from I Thessalonians was a stern admonition and warning against the sins of the flesh. Paul’s warning carried with it a three-fold declaration about the destructive nature of the sins of the flesh.
First, they are destructive toward ourselves. Our journey toward sanctification is a constant dying and death to the desires of the flesh, thus, these sins stand in opposition to our goal of being holy, as our Heavenly Father is holy.
Second, sins of the flesh are an affront to our neighbour. Fornication, and the lust of concupiscence are sins against our neighbour because by definition they are sins against charity. The fuel of the fires of these lusts is not self-giving or agape love, but rather a selfish type of love. It does not look out for the other, but rather attempts to answer the question, what is in it for me? How are my needs being met?
Third, the sins of the flesh are an affront to God. Looking again at baptism, we are called by God into a state of holiness. “This call was no empty form, but was accompanied by the power to obey through the perpetual assistance of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, any rejection is not a rejection of man, but of God, and thus, an affront to Him.
This morning in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians our foe is not just the flesh, but its extension to the world in which we live. Paul continues his appeal toward chastity and the faithful use of our body. He takes this one step further when we talks of this being carried to its societal extreme. What do I mean here?
One of the points I made last Sunday in our study of Philippians was the fact that many boast when they should blush. Think about it. When the news stories broke about the Tiger Woods incident, I know I said I wouldn’t pile on and I’m not here, the media sensation was not so much centered on the tragedy of what happened to the world’s #1 golfer and his family, but how many women were there? What did they look like? What were their backgrounds? Who else were these women involved with? The world clamored for more information , and it wasn’t just the sensationalistic publications like the National Enquirer, it was mainstream media, and it was all the time. Instead of hanging our heads in shame saying Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy, we were clamoring for more, and more, and more. It appears that this battle against the world might just prove to be the most difficult of the three areas.
Just last week I read an article entitled, “Study Finds Religion May Be Heading for Extinction in Parts of World.” The gist of the article, reporting findings from the American Physical Society, shows that religion is dying out in nine countries. In some ways the countries listed might surprise you, but in other regards some are predictable. Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Switzerland were the countries losing their religion.
Two of the men conducting the survey were from the University of Arizona and Northwestern University and were using data collected over the past 100 years in the respective countries.
These are of course developed countries, many that had a strong Christian influence at one point in their histories. Here are the more sobering results.
“‘In a large number of modern secular democracies, there's been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40 percent, and the highest number was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60 percent.’”
The study also found that “‘Americans without affiliation comprise the only religious group growing in all 50 states.’”
“‘In 2008 those claiming no religion rose to 15 percent nationwide, with a maximum in Vermont at 34 percent,’” the study says.
The study concludes that religion in these societies might one day disappear.
“‘The model predicts that for societies in which the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering, religion will be driven toward extinction.’”
That last line is the money quote of the century. The last thing we should ever think is that this couldn’t happen to us.
The world in which we live tells us that the utility for adhering to religion has become outmoded, outdated, unscientific, and unenlightened.
We have our work cut out for us, because in light of these statistics we must be able to clearly articulate why we still wholeheartedly embrace the Christian faith. Why do we see that our adherence to that faith is not only greater than the perception of not doing so, but that we do so with vigor and great excitement?
That is the fundamental question for us in this age. How do we help change those perceptions and reverse those trends?
The only way that can happen is if we are able to help people see the critical link between the faith that we proclaim and the faith that we live. We have to help them see that the benefits for adherence are filled with grace and that they urge us to live out as we pray every day that our Lord’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have to help them see that we aren’t talking about some unattainable utopia that only exists in our dreams, but that we are living out our Lord’s commands out of love for Him and the gift He gave us in our redemption and restoration as His sons – heirs with all of the rights and privileges afforded those to whom full citizenship is given.
We must be able to convey what those rights and privileges are, and why those rights and privileges are something for which adherence is both necessary but an honor to strive for.
Let us take the remainder of our Lenten season to focus on those rights and privileges and how we might proclaim them with boldness, joy, and conviction to a world that quite clearly needs to hear them.