Power On Earth
Series: We Are Anglicans
What is the commission we have as a church?
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, September 6, 2020
“That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, Arise, take up thy bed, and go.”
NINE people were shot to death in Roseburg, Oregon, in a writing at Umpqua College class five years ago, and some of the victims were first asked to state their religion. When some said “Christian,” the gunman shot those dead. If they said another religion, many were simply wounded. Was the man specifically killing Christians? Some say no. In Southern Sudan, for decades, the Moslem government systematically denied millions of Christians basic human needs, starving them literally to death. The ISIS militia in Syria and Iraq, until its demise, rounded up Christians to behead or to crucify. Christians in Iran are arrested and tortured in Evin Prison.
Is the Christian Church completely powerless in our world today? Voices clamor to remove “Under God” from the pledge of allegiance, and scrape off “In God We Trust” from the money. Churches are being set on fire, statues of Jesus and Mary pulled down. Scientific American will not hire a Christian staff writer for its magazine as a matter of policy. Are we Christians so despised, and so disempowered that, like lambs to slaughter, we silently succumb to the pressure to fit in or die? If our God and Savior are Almighty God, how can the Church of Jesus Christ today be so weak?
Many Christians pray for a great revival, envisioning a day when God pulls down the secular state and establishes Christian values, Christian national leaders, the Church in high regard universally with the conversion of most of our countrymen. In that scenario, we Christians would be vindicated before others, and feel confident to dress up and go to Church on Sunday morning. A better and more Christian world is certainly something to pray for. But I feel that the ‘it’s-all-on-God’ part of that strategy leaves something out of the picture. It leaves out our part. But what are we supposed to do?
Now it’s certain that we cannot bring down mountains, or even cause a shift in any person’s heart and bring them to Christ, without first and last, it being the will of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. We are not the cause of anything in and of ourselves, unless it’s simply foolishness. But I think the grand revival dream of millions coming to Christ, the world becoming truly His Kingdom—often rises from a lazy Church that isn’t doing its job, not exercising power we already possess.
We revere the Apostles and the great saints of the ancient world because they stood against worldly powers and were willing to die for their faith. Through their hands came miracles of God. Their words were salted with wisdom.
The song says, “They loved their Lord so dear, so dear and His love made them strong.” There’s something in that. Jesus clearly left a deposit with His Church, with mere Christians, more powerful than anything we imagine. The key to that power is love. We look back to admire the Christians of old in their simplicity, giving their lives for Jesus, and we set apart holy days in red to remember their sacrifice. That’s nice of us. Where are the saints of today? Some recently died in Syria and Iraq and Umpqua College. But you don’t have to bleed to be a saint.
Is the Church powerful? Do we embarrass ourselves by the question? Whenever we flex our Christian muscles, are we afraid to get called on the carpet, reminded of the wicked Crusades, the Inquisition, so to cow us into silent compliance?
Our nation has taken giant steps away from Christian morality, almost challenging us to speak out. The fact that our colleges, legislatures, courts, and executive branches feel so secure to shut down centuries of Christian culture proves that Christians have lost their place in the arena of public opinion. We’re afraid of arenas. We remember the blood and we shrink from the battle.
The governor declares that Christians can’t sing, so the locked and shuttered churches now also can’t sing. Really?
Does the Church have any power? Can we rightly claim any authority? This is not a new question. Jesus was presented with a man paralyzed on a stretcher. He looked down and, having compassion for the man, even beyond his palsy, told him, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Forgiveness of sin was the sole office of God, and Jesus boldly stepped into the role Savior. It offended the Pharisees.
It’s our experience, too. We say something Christian and begin to feel the push-back, the offence that we should bring that up. Jesus said words that didn’t fit someone’s theology, He’d committed a social gaff. He knew exactly what He was doing. He set it up. He said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, Your sins be forgiven; or, Arise, and walk? But so you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, (then said he to the palsied man,) Arise, take up your bed, and go home.”
The obvious thing is the man walking. He stood up, now strong and able to carry his bed home, clearly proving that God healed him through Jesus by a word. And if Jesus could put healthy muscle back on that emaciated fellow’s body, He could declare forgiveness.
But hear Him. The Son of man has power on earth. It’s a hint. Power on earth. He doesn’t give this crowd the training, but later, at His resurrection, to His apostles He declares: “Receive you the Holy Spirit: Whosoever's sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever's sins you retain, they are retained.” John 20:22-23 Power on earth to forgive sins. He left power with us. His Church. Today. And with that power comes the power to heal. It never went away. We just don’t use it.
Jesus earlier “called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases… He said Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” Luke 9:1, 10:19 I don’t remember Him telling us that was temporary.
St. Paul reported Christ telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s reaction is that, “Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor 12:9 This is the challenge we face. The power of Christ that resides in us can’t be opened and wielded in our own strength. We are in ourselves powerless – we must confess our humanity. But if the Spirit of God lives in us, there is a power in the Church that lies unused and untapped that could today change our world. How? One by one, person-to-person, eye-to-eye, through love.
We have a power called Love. And it’s His command, so love is a grace from God. If we truly love one another to the extent that Christ loves us, how will we act toward others? The characteristics of love should show themselves when we enter a loving church, shouldn’t they? How would that look?
There will be courtesy. Respect of others is valuing the person before you as a whole, eternal being, called and saved by a mighty God, a person for whom Christ died. I must look on every Christian as a saint who will some day shine in the light of his Savior. So, I speak politely, hold the door for her, smile and inquire about his life, health, family, and work because this person is important. Important people require our courtesy, and every Christian is important to those who love. And I don’t mean oily, solicitous, phony welcoming, like a strategy used by professional greeters. I mean true, earnest courtesy.
We show generosity. Curtailed by COVID, we can’t have coffee hour. That seems minor, but our food, refreshment and interpersonal time is important. When we think of others, we want to share something at a table to sit and chat. Whenever we can do it again, enjoy it. Coffee hour is the 8th Sacrament, our time of acting out love. It’s important. And be intentional in serving others.
Another current limitation is visiting. But you may visit me in my office, or if you’re really in a bad way, I can visit you. We must visit each other in good times too. We’re not a church only when we’re in the building. We have needs. Someone needs a ride to a doctor? think of one of us. Someone is sick at home? call us. How are we to be the sheep, not the goats, to visit the sick, feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst, if we don’t even know your needs, and we don’t inquire?
Talk to each other. The simple gift of speech you may be saving only for those you already know best. Talk with someone new. Spread the joy. Give yourself to more than just your favorites. Get out of small circles.
If we start exercising our muscles of Christian love within the safe boundaries of the Church, we’ll surprise ourselves how much we enjoy the company of Christians, and might even seek out others to enjoy, may I even say, to Love? - who are not yet part of this or any other Church?
Another great power we possess is the power of prayer. Has there ever been a better time to pray? If you don’t know what to pray or how, try the Prayer Book section called Prayers and Thanksgivings, starting at page 35. Pray the daily offices, Morning and Evening. Use the deacon’s podcast to make it easy. A section called Family Prayer at the end of the book is also rich with ideas.
What can you pray for? The end of COVID and the draconian rules and limits that, out of fear, are causing healthy people to act like a cancer ward. Pray for our church to open again, permanently. Pray for boldness in our world for Christians to lovingly speak against the present madness. Pray that the hearts we have for other people, of all races, will show and be met by hearts for us. Pray for good hearts that love our nation and want it saved from destruction will stand and be counted, to the discouragement of voices wanting us to devolve into tribes, ghettos, parties, hate-groups, and mere symbols. Jesus came to every human soul. Our Lord loves all. In Him, we have an answer for the hurting.
Church: you are not defeated! Anglicans: we are not the 98-pound weakling that the bully kicks sand at! Saints: we Christians live in biblical times and we are the only ones on earth who hold the knowledge of what is happening. When a gunman stalks a classroom looking for the Christians who are bold enough to confess Jesus, something is afoot in another realm. Something’s coming to a head. And we are called to possess the knowledge of Christ in this age. Speaking aloud has dangers, for sure, but our fears are making us dumb. We know things. The world needs what we know.
Our knowledge is very much like love. That doesn’t make sense in our normal thinking. Knowing Christ’s love opens doors in you and lets the Spirit of God direct your steps, with a spiritual knowledge that guides you, pushes you forward, or holds you back, keeping you in His will. You move toward danger, even if it’s only the danger of embarrassment, saying something kind to a stranger and being a Christian out loud.
I’ve preached to 300 people at the memorial service of a complete stranger. I’d been asked by the Christian son to conduct her service and, as is my duty, I offered Christ and salvation to the crowd. I felt the offense rising in many who were present. But the deceased woman’s brother thanked me particularly for giving the call. So did the family. I had to give them Jesus, or what am I? Maybe somebody thought it over later. If you can’t talk about eternity at a funeral, when can you talk of things like that?
As Anglicans, we aren’t understood even by most other Christians. They’ve heard of C. S. Lewis, but that’s about all. We have a treasure to share. With courtesy, love, and spiritual wisdom. It may come time very soon when that gift of ours must be opened publicly. Be ready. Pray up.
There were two sets of people in the ancient arenas. The spectators in the galleries shouted out for blood, who cheered the gladiators and lions coming from the gates in full fury. Then there were those on the field. They came singing. They supported one another, holding each other up in the face of oncoming death. They loved even their captors; spoke words of faith one to another and to the jeering crowds. The world was not worthy of them.
There are still two groups of people in today’s arena, but a greater number of people just watching. We know what group we are. We know our opposers. But the world is watching, most people having not a clue. Where is the Church into which Christ deposited His great power?