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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

Possessing All Things

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent, March 6, 2022

“…in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions … as dying, and, behold, we live; … as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

HE LOOKED out over the greatest vision any man was ever given, and he sighed. There were the Chinese, their ancient civilization, like billions of human cogs in a machine of great industry under so many millennia of dynastic rulers. There were the Persians, riding horseback over high plateaus. There were the Africans, Pharaohs with their pyramid tombs, Zulu kings shaking shield and spear in their ferocity. There were the Celts, migrating west, spinning tales of nature’s gods. The Romans and Greeks, with might of arms and quest of order, subduing weaker tribes. And there, the tribes of the American continents, noble on the plains, powerful at Earth’s equator. Two tribes from old Abraham, sons of Isaac and sons of Ishmael, claiming the near-East. Billions of souls, all who had lived and would ever live in their colorful dress, men, women and babes in buildings rising and falling in ruin, aqueducts, stone bridges, implausible skyscrapers. The seas launch a million vessels, skies buzz with aircraft, even space cannot keep them back, exploring and conquering the spheres. National boundaries shift and dissolve. Political ideals capture then lose whole cultures. Musical styles rise then fall silent. Past and future history of our planet’s myriad creatures, promising greatness, then failing. The vision almost reaches its conclusion when its weaver speaks, breaking the spell.

“All these things will I give…thee, fall down and worship me.” There was nothing untrue in his claim of the countless souls before the passionate face of Jesus. “I came for these. I love them all. They have always ignored me. They don’t know and don’t care. Destruction comes for them all. What they think they have, they’ll lose, even their lives, their souls. I am among them as one of them, yet they don’t know me. I wish them to be with me, and with my Father always. This vision caster has stolen them, captured their lands, enslaved their minds, woven lies and beguiled them with false visions. They are the ones I love, and I have come to claim them back.”

“All these things will I give thee, fall down and worship me.” The possessions of the devil are great indeed. We think of the betrayal of Judas Iscariot as the archetypal treason, as it sold the life of God’s Son to His enemies. Even this was but a shadow of an earlier treason. A high and holy angel, entrusted with the protection of God’s favorite creatures: two perfect humans given a fruitful garden and each other. But this sick, proud and envious spirit shared his malignant thoughts with them, turned them dark and guilt-ridden, hiding amid the lush undergrowth.

“All these things will I give thee, fall down and worship me.” It’s always his game, and the name of his sin. Worship me. Ever since that day, our ancestors have done just that. By acts of selfishness, cruelty, violence, lust and greed: we worship the serpent, because we copy him.

Jesus confronted those who thought themselves holy: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks his own language, for he’s a liar and the father of lies. Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me… He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” John 8:44-47 He would declare Himself to them, and they would catch up stones in their hands to hurl at Him. The ownership of all the human race still lay in the clawed hands of a fallen angel. An angel who now offered us to Jesus, at a high price.

A price too high. “Worship me.” Jesus could be tempted as we are, but His temptations were fitted to Him, His needs, His weaknesses, His desires. He came to save a world of humans. So, He was offered that world. But He didn’t come to haggle with the Prince of the Air, chief inmate of the eternal prison. “Be gone, Satan: it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Jesus won that round, masterfully. The devil would be back to fight another day.

We know what it took for Jesus to finally win against the devil and his legal claims. All of humanity, all of our guilt, our rebellion, our insults, our lies, our murders, our rapes, our conniving ways He took upon Himself and bearing them all on His shoulders, died under that weight for us, taking all sin to the grave with Himself. At that moment, the legal claims of Satan died. Our guilt no longer bound our future to him. We can now freely take Jesus over Lucifer. Take Jesus and get ourselves out of this world. And as proof of His victory, we have Jesus while we’re still in this world, proving the claim that humanity on earth chooses God. In the face of the world with its pompous display, and the devil with his magic, and the weakness of our flesh, we choose Christ, and choose Him again. The cross between us and our old fate, our sins buried with Him in His tomb, our future before us, above us, in light.

Every life is given time, and with that time we must give something to the Great Cause. We’re not left here in Middle Earth just to slog out lives of desperation, or entertain ourselves by electronic wonders. iPads and Xbox, BluRay and Bluetooth, Boeing jets and Caravel cruise ships bound for nowhere: achievements of technological wizardry. I’m impressed. Jesus saw all this from that mountaintop. He was offered them too, to be CEO of Apple, Google and Microsoft, if only He’d bow down to worship the master of the planet. Have anything you want, possessions galore.

Saul had everything he wanted. He’d been trained by a great master, followed Pharisaical laws to a Tee. He was awarded power to enforce the Temple’s authority over wayward Jews who’d been beguiled by a dead prophet’s disciples, led into heresy. Saul had all he ever wanted. Then he met Jesus in a blinding light and found that he had nothing. “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, count them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, …that I may know Him, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:7-11 St. Paul was the greatest man of his age because he could let go of his world, and live in Christ’s power.

St. Paul wrote the church in Corinth not to receive God’s grace in vain, to take such a valuable gift as salvation and the new life, only to fall back into complacency with the lost boys of this world. Paul found the secret of success. Don’t try to succeed. Live intentionally, honestly, passionately, with a cause. It’s going to cost you. You’ll be opposed. Jesus was opposed. Paul enumerates the many ways it costs a saint, but the cost is sweet to pay, if it comes “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.” 2 Cor 6:1-10 And it’s that last phrase that caught my attention for this message. Possessing all things. Having nothing, as Paul had renounced the former things of title, rights to a family inheritance, authority to punish Christians, to have a wife, a family, a home, wealth. He counted them as rubbish, loss, uselessness to him. So long as he had Christ and resurrection and eternal life. What could the world add to that score?

The devil gave Jesus a view of Earth and its civilizations. But Jesus gave us a way to heaven and fellowship with the saints in light. We, with Him, might look down from a mountaintop and sigh. All those people and riches and ships and lights. All the casinos and showgirls, the drugs and booze and fame and money and power. It may have called its siren song to any of us—at one time. To have, to possess, to enjoy, to mound up treasure. But it will all burn. It’s the hay, wood and stubble St. Paul says goes up in a million-degree flame that purifies this world. Only souls survive. Only souls matter. Just the saints, fortunate enough to understand, to embrace the truth, to value the sacrifice, to believe the promise, they will, we will know a world without end, without suffering, without loss or age or treachery. And so much more, we will know the God who set all things in motion. Before He made anything, He was in existence without beginning.

All the universe ticks away to its end. But in Him, we endure, we live, we love, we have our truest longings fulfilled beyond every hope. We possess all things. No mirage. No vision on a mountain. No false hope. Reality. Forever.

Jesus said ‘No’ that day, so that He could fully tell His Father, ‘Yes’.

‘Yes’ to our redemption.

‘Yes’ to our eternal life.

‘Yes’ to the resurrection.

'Yes’ to you and me.

What do we truly own?

Everything else: let go your death grip on it. It’s here, but only for now. It all will burn. And on that Day of the Lord, when we have nothing in this world, we will possess all things, and will be possessed of Him by whom and for whom they were created. We will have an eternal world, a world without end, whose treasures really are precious in God’s sight, and robed in purest robes, washed in the Saviour’s blood, we will finally, fully have Him.


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