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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

Above All Things

St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Trinity

July 28, 2019

“O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”

MANY THEORIES of existence clamor to be heard, and to be believed, and lived by each of us. The very nature of existence being summed up by one scientist or another philosopher, here a news reporter, and there a politician – no agreement on basic principles, all angry at the others: and in that confusion, what are we to believe? What are we to hold dear? What one thing should we hold out above all other things? Which hill are we to die on, making us victors and winning the day?

I watched a great video by three eminent minds who all agree that science and mathematics have completely ruled out Darwinian macro-evolution. Life cannot reasonably have been started by a fluke and has not by nature alone gotten itself a horse, a whale, a flower, or a human being. One of the three men was a brilliant proponent of the intelligent design school, attributing to a higher mind – what he and I would name as ‘God’ – the creation of life in all its forms. Admitting the functions of adaptation and plasticity within the species, akin to evolution, he sees as more credible a wise and purposeful mind behind all we see.

The other two scientists have published scholarly books and articles, going out on that suicidal limb so few professionals have dared, to denounce Darwinism as being scientifically impossible. What they’re left with is a blank. David Berlinski and David Gelernter, one a philosophy PhD, the other a computer genius, both vastly trained in all the sciences, have both resorted to a kind of tragic agnosticism, giving a respectful nod to religion but not committing to it. The computer genius quotes an ancient rabbinical debate that resolved in an agreement, saying that, were God given the choice of creating the universe again, He shouldn’t do it. There is just too much evil and not enough good.

This tragic view is completely realistic if you fashion your world as totally Jewish and refusing to extend that path of revelation until you come to the Person of Jesus.

I agree with the two Davids in the video, in that, if you rule out the Savior, this world is doomed and there is really no answer for the problem of evil. An early heresy of the Christian faith, called Gnosticism, presented the theory that the physical world was the creation of a false god called Jehovah, who trapped pure spiritual beings in wicked flesh and who keeps us from escaping to the good world of total spirit, and its holier God. One theory of the origin of Gnosticism is that despondent Jews, whose religion did not play out as promised, in exile and disrepute, turned against Jehovah and inverted the story, making Him into Satan. When faced with only a tragic view of the world, and seeing the evil that men in fact do, this cynical opinion seems realistic.

Victor Frankl, the brilliant Austrian psychologist and Jewish holocaust survivor, wrote passionately of how he endured the mental assault of daily life in the concentration camps. He had to find meaning in life, and finding that meaning, in the most insane of environments, saved him. Meaning demands valuing one thing above another, and asking for a higher source of wisdom than ourselves to set the path before us, asking of Him what the truth is, and what good or evil truly mean. Meaning demands of us something akin to faith.

The happiest and most successful people—most valiant, most inspiring—have found a guiding principle to lead them, a star by which to steer. Some of these seem to us silly, some true. St. Teresa of Avila wrote that “Mental prayer… is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

Another spiritual sage, the Dalai Lama, wrote, like Frankl: “An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful day.”

Perhaps less ultimate advice comes from our Chico native, NFL star Aaron Rodgers, who says you should: “Surround yourself with really good people. I think that's an important thing. Because the people you surround yourself are a reflection of you.”

Another notable person says, “When people ask me what the most important thing is in life, I answer: 'Just breathe.'” Yoko Ono.

And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

It may in fact be the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity. The Jews pointed at it, wrote about it, had it revealed to them, but in the end did not embrace this one essential thing. It would have saved them much anguish. Reaching for God’s blessings only, they kept stumbling and reaching for any blessing, any god. There was a mystery they couldn’t perceive, and yet they portrayed it in each generation. There was a path of suffering they needed to embrace, and to value, and understand. The best of them entered into it, the best of the best of them made His suffering stand against all sin for all people of all time. The meaning of what He did unlocks all mysteries and lets us into the Mind of God.

King David found out part of this mystery. He longed to dwell in the house of God all his days, and gaze on God’s beauty. Failing in several ways, and suffering for each misguided step, David still had God’s loving approval. The love that was most important was finally all he had of value.

A rich man asked Jesus for guidance, seeking God’s kingdom. Every moral measure of him was apparently in line with the commandments, yet he needed there to be more. Jesus told him to sell everything, get free of his possessions, to become Jesus’ disciple. He couldn’t go that far. Love’s defects make us sick. We need more than mere adherence to law. We need to set our Savior above all things.

Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, were of different temperaments, and Martha complained to Jesus of her sister’s laziness. He showed her Mary had chosen the better part in sitting at His feet. He would not scold her for that.

A man born blind had only been seeing for an hour when asked to judge Jesus, the one who healed him. “One thing I do know is that, though I was blind, now I see. And he was the one that healed me.” Blindness is in all our pasts, but if we have seen the Savior, not with these eyes, but with the eyes of the soul, of our hearts, of the spirit: we have seen God. We can’t deny Him.

The Apostle Paul, writing to Philippi, said that “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

It is not complicated. Jordan Peterson, a man for whom I have great respect, cannot declare his own faith in God, not yet. And it is because He understands what that means, to him. It means that IF he were to make God the center of his life, he would be judged by his inadequacies, and he is simply not good enough a man for such a holy God. He cuts himself short of claiming belief, but not because God is unworthy, but because Jordan is unworthy. And yet he can’t stop talking about God, especially about Christ. He is the most believing unbeliever I’ve ever listened to. But he is still on the other side of that line of judgment and despair, trapped in the tragic view of life. Are you?

There is no doubt that mankind is a mess. Every time a human rises up in his or her own right and personal power, though we were created to be as gods, yet we fall below the weight of our own iniquity. We haven’t discovered what He meant by making us. Why in fact did this Intelligent Designer make humankind?

Why did He make you, or you, or you back there? Or me? Answer that and you will clear your life, your own battlefield, of the distractions always clouding our emotions and accusing you of wasting time, disappointing someone, failing to qualify, falling short of the glory, not making the grade. Do you have bad dreams about showing up for a test, in your pajamas, and you have no idea what the exam is about or if you know any of the answers because you don’t know what the class was? Our lives are too often judged by such standards. We don’t even know the question. How can we get the answer right?

Christianity is not a moralistic religion, though we hold the highest morals as our standard. Christianity is not a bar of justice, where the good are chosen and the rest fall into ruin. We hold that all mankind has been forgiven and may now come to heaven based on one choice made by each individual soul correctly. The question is known, and the answer is written for all to see. It was written over His head as He hanged on a rough wooden cross, or at least part of it. It ought to be a very strong clue. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” And if we know our Hebrew scriptures, that king was to be Messiah, and Messiah was to save the world from sin, and by His stripes we are to be healed. It isn’t murky. It’s not complicated. Your quiz for the day, for every day is, Who is Jesus Christ? To you. Whose Son is He? What did He do for you? Are you willing to make Him your life?

St. Paul wrote the church in Rome, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin… if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Rom 6 It’s pretty simple really. And it isn’t a vacuous pretty religious belief, pink unicorns, pie in the sky. This is gritty, ugly, realistic, true to life—the promise of Christ’s church is that all people suffer, tragedy will indeed intrude on every life, and we will not get our wishes fulfilled here. People will be bad, even religious people, especially religious people. They were bad to God’s Son – why should we expect better? Yet at the bottom of it all we find a God willing to take it on Himself, to take responsibility for the mess and to willingly die at our hands in order to save us from what we do every day.

God is Not Dead. Darwin is dead. Darwin, sadly, had us all believing in a natural process that makes God irrelevant. Now God is the only explanation left and we must deal with Him. The Jews know this by faith, and having up to now rejected His Son, they have no answer for what they know is the gold standard of the Law. The smartest of them know there is no answer. Where did we come from and why are we here?

But there is an answer. Who is Christ? You know the answer, and it is more than just mouthing the right words. We do better on our knees. This world is not our home and our future is secure when we know what rises true above all things.

“O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”


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