Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity, June 25, 2017
“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”
DOST THOU renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?
I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavour not to follow, nor be led by them.
That’s in your baptismal vow and it’s a powerful statement that separates you from three sources of sin and temptation. The devil and all his works is known to us, by scriptural reference, as a fallen angel, once glorious and assigned to cover, even to protect God’s favorite creature, us. By envy and pride he fell and beguiled our first parents, and likewise every human through history, to take steps away from the truth and authority of our creator God. With all but One he has been successful.
People scoff today at the idea of a personal devil, a spiritual enemy. There’s enough evil right on this planet, with names and addresses and titles and power, to do all the wrong that can be cited among us. Sure. But that’s another source, powerful and convincing and able to drive millions off a cliff. And it’s nobody’s fallen angel. It’s the world. And you just renounced its vain pomp and glory, with all its covetous desires. You won’t follow it, you won’t be led by it. But what is the world?
Before we answer that, the third thing we renounced was called the sinful desires of the flesh. It sounds like the other two, but this one exists inside of you. Most people don’t need an exorcism because the devil doesn’t need to live in them to get them to do wrong. We are descendants from sinners. We inherited a sin nature. Our sense of right and wrong in us still, yet do we feel a gravitational pull toward some other path and follow it from time to time, later to beat ourselves up for our foolishness. For those sins we can’t blame the devil or this mysterious thing, the world.
The world is one of those terms that means too many things, some good, some bad. It can mean the cosmos, the entire physical universe. It can mean the earth and its life forms. In both of these senses, God made the world and at its completion He said, “This is good.” And it was. And it still is, for the most part. It’s a beautiful world, and we didn’t just renounce the planet, the sky, the mountains, waterfalls and lakes and canyons and beaches. God made a miraculously beautiful planet and we are stewards of it. It rewards us with its majesty.
World is also a term for all humanity, every living human being. Today that comes to 7.2 billion lives, from one hour to 100+ years of age. They are seen as three or four major racial groups, but in God’s sight there is only the human race. We have great mental capacity, stand erect and walk on two, not four, feet. Mostly hairless and without natural defenses, we use tools and build shelters against a violent world. We are also possessors of eternal souls. There is something godlike about us. This is not “the world” we just renounced, either, with pomp and glory and covetous desires. Jesus was taken by the first rascal we mentioned, the devil, to a high mountain and shown all the people of the world in all their kingdoms. Satan offered to give us to Him on the condition that He bow down to him. No way. But the temptation was real, for Jesus loved the souls He was seeing.
“God so loved the world that He…” loved and still loves us. Us all. People are what God loves. So if the planet is not to be cursed, nor its people, what is that world we just pushed away with a vow? What’s the rest of that verse? “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18 Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. God’s Son comes to save people in the world, not to condemn people, but that the world of people might be saved. Believing in the only begotten Son of God is to escape condemnation.
Well then, who are we talking about when Jesus says, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you”? Jn 15:19 The world that hates you. St. John writes that “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Jn 1:10-11 Some do not receive Him. Some do. So, is the world that we reject only unbelievers? Are there actually two races of men: a good race and a bad race? That’s been suggested before. It’s the vision of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, with its eloi and morlocks. Are there essentially bad people with no hope of being saved, of being different?
I don’t believe that.
This is more like the desire of St. Paul in Romans who ask us to: “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Rom 12:1-2 We need to give our bodies and souls to Christ, as a living sacrifice, and let Him transform our minds and renew them, never again to be conformed to this world. That is the world we speak of as vain pomp, glory and covetous desire. It’s a mindset. It’s an attitude. It’s a collective thought. It’s society and culture agreeing in itself that God is dead, or God is wrong, or God is a foolish person’s fantasy. This is the world that does not receive its Savior. It’s not people, per se, but mankind organized without and against God.
Being very careful, therefore, not to cut people in the process, we need to use the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, as a cutting device and a weapon, to identify and remove the tainted meat, the rotted lies, the landmines and poisoned vials from around us, from our lives and the lives of those we care for. It’s so pervasive, this garden of deadly flowers, we might stay indoors and never go out. But that’s impossible, and it does no good. The television and the internet are filled with the same message: “get your kicks, enter the excitement, watch the reality show, how daring can a dancer’s costume be and still be broadcast?” Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were the piper’s tune for my generation. It worked. MTV claimed to own the generation that followed, and they did.
This is not a dystopic fantasy, nor the zombie apocalypse. We aren’t watching monsters traipse down the street. Every soul we see is a soul Christ died to save. They aren’t essentially evil; they are only under a delusion, a powerful teaching that tells them they are doing fine and don’t need God. They pity us. This is mindset. This is the power of faith. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Prov 23:7
Mankind organized without God and against God is the world we deplore. It’s a philosophy, an ideology, a godless religion, an empty and untrue faith. John writes again, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” 1 Jn 2:15-16
We can be tempted from three places. Inside us is a broken bone, a vestigial organ that once had a purpose but is now only sickness and grief to us. Like my appendix that, at ten years of age, seriously tried to kill me. It’s what Paul describes as pushing us to do what we don’t want to do, yet we helplessly do it anyway. That’s the flesh. That is our sin nature and we must resist it, fight it, always forgiving ourselves and loving ourselves, but not to the point of giving in to fleshy, carnal desires.
The devil might not make himself known, but occasionally we feel the temptation toward something we’d never have thought of. Or simply to doubt the goodness of God. “He’s really mean; He hates you. It won’t matter what you do—he’s going to damn you just the same, so why not? Have some fun.” That would be… Guess Who.
But the world has a power that calls to our native sense of sociality. We are social creatures. We gather, we form community, we congregate around common interests and fun events. We eat food together. We talk, we share, we chat, we debate. And we conform. It’s native to us to copy. The moment we’re born, we see adult faces, hear their voices, and are using every brain cell to work on emulating what we see. They make a smiley face, we try to smile also. They frown, we pout. They laugh, we giggle. They shout, we spew. It’s human nature, and an important feature of how we develop these huge brains. Our social nature implants billions of bits of information into autonomic portions of our brain, the limbic system, where every situation and stimulus calls up a reaction without conscious thought. “This brings pleasure-reach out for it. This is painful-run! This is new, I’m curious.” From unconscious to conscious levels, we are trained from our cradle to be like other people. And if those other people are totally crude, vicious, perverted and foul? We get children just like them.
A third of a generation is growing up without fathers. Half the possible source of good information is taken away for 33% of all American children and substituted with occasional boyfriends. The vast majority of high school dropouts, teen suicides, addicts, and homeless youth are from fatherless homes. The world is teaching them a lesson and they’re learning it. That’s the world we renounce, while we care for the people lost in it. That world is a mindset, an attitude, a false value, a lie.
When the first generation of Christians set out to bring the Gospel to its world, most people were pagans, and their own ethnic tribe, the Jews, had rejected them. They were a tiny minority and they launched out to change that. It was not against humanity, but the lies that held humanity hostage that they campaigned. As John wrote, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:4-6
The spirit of error speaks at 120 decibels and on all major networks and news sources. We can’t get the truth there. Not by CNN nor by FOX. It’s informative to read AP news, but you have to filter it and know they’ve held back essential details. Most of the news, much of it good, never sees the light. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-6
So, don’t be surprised if the world seems to hate you. The laughter of a television host, the implications of a nature program, the use of anti-religious words in public rhetoric, scorn and ridicule and contempt of our God. Don’t believe it. And don’t hate them. They believe the lie they’ve been told, and it was powerful, and it was hard to resist. You probably fell under it at one or another time. I never became an atheist, but just as bad, I rejected the Christian faith and sought a much more worldly religion that would let me follow my sins and call them virtues. There was a lot of that going around.
Today, what does the world hold out as its tempting offer to you? Oddly enough, anxiety and worry are big sellers. People subscribe to political or security fears, look out and see enemies, or looming disaster, global weather change and rising tides. Perhaps the fears are justified, in part, but do we need to live under an unnamed dread?
Eating disorders may stem from worldly voices too, on the one hand supersizing my burger and fries order; on the other, trying to be as skinny as the model and hating myself for gaining an ounce. On a recent road trip, one burger joint held out the offer of a triple-triple. That’s nine burger patties. That’s a goal for some big boys.
We’re addicted to electronic devices and are offered at every moment a new app, this fun thing, a text message while driving, newer and newer technology. Cellphone use kills more people than drunk driving, so please don’t answer it. Get there alive.
The sex message always sells, and body image, impossible standards created in Photoshop labs and plastic surgeries stop our hearts, and poison our minds, ruining loving homes and marriages.
And at the bottom of it all? Power, money, greed, control. Those things have never changed, not since Nimrod built the great pyramid at Babel. “A religion I create, and I control. And the people just follow what I say.” That’s the world, and the flesh and devil sing harmony.
What do we do?
Just rehearse the truth, speak what you believe, give voice to the Lord you have given your life to. Renew your minds. Stop the message at its source. Kill your TV if that offends you. It’s better than scooping out an eye. Take measures. Get help. Join an accountability group. Defend your family. We can’t help save this world if we’ve just joined it.
I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavour not to follow, nor be led by them.