St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent, February 26, 2023
“In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in fastings; by kindness, by love unfeigned, as deceivers, and yet true; as dying, and, behold, we live; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
WHAT do you believe in? No, seriously. I know we’re all here in church and we’ve just said the Creed. It means something that you got up this morning and made the journey to this place of worship. There is nothing ambiguous about our faith as we’ve just declared it. That’s corporate. Elements of faith, things you do believe. But what do you believe in? Or, as King James English has it, what do you believe on? That’s a different story.
When the lights all go out, when the bridges are cut, when enemy soldiers take the capitol, and every radio and television station has one message: Surrender—to whom do you turn? Back against the wall, fight or flight, worst case scenario: what do you trust in? For some people, quite frankly, it’s good ol’ number one. I trust no one but myself. Or, I’m about safety, I’ll going along to get along, and comply. For others it’s my Smith and Wesson. Our faith is seldom tested to the point where it might cost us our lives. But what if it were…?
We never disbelieve in gravity—not ever. We don’t disbelieve in internal combustion, or electricity, or fire. But if you trust your iPhone, remember when the cell towers fall, there go all your aps. We rely on technology, and I’m one to talk, with my three computers, a smartphone, WiFi, and electric guitars. As this is Lent, we might look to see what we would never give up. If your house were on fire, God forbid, what would you run back inside to retrieve?
What in our lives is unshakable? It’s the room you run to, a pole you hang on when all else breaks loose. If the whole world ran the other way, knowing what you know, could you stay firm in the Nicene Creed? Did I say “If”? Every magazine today pushes Buddhism, yoga, getting your chi centered or something. It’s like they’re all written overseas. Does that make you give up on Jesus? If every news show, every ad, all YouTube channels, every new law says: “Give up these quaint old beliefs of yours. Jesus was a teacher. It’s okay to think that. He just wasn’t God. We’ll forgive you. Come in the circle and worship the god within.” Do you think that farfetched? It’s already happening. A world shaken by riots and gangs is a fearsome concept; the undertow of a quantum shift in beliefs is another. We are at war, but the frontier, the DMZ of this war, is not the borders of our land. This is an all-out war against your soul.
It’s actually nothing new. It’s been raging for centuries. Our enemy used to be more subtle, harder to see, but clear to those who knew what they believed. Karl Marx couldn’t have been more plain when he called our faith ‘the opium of the masses.’ Hitler’s personal saying was that “after Saturday, Sunday:” meaning after he’d annihilated the Jews, he’d come after the church. We’ve been laughed at by any number of highly placed and powerful men and women. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, scoffed at us people of faith, at our morals, and sought to end what she called our ‘breeding and swarming.’
Jesus rose out of the Jordan’s waters to receive the powerful blessing of the Holy Spirit, just descending from His Father. The next moment, Jesus turned His face toward the wilderness. He would fast and pray forty days in the wild. There He would meet His enemy. It was fundamental that this face-to-face encounter be at the outset of Christ’s ministry. This was the same wicked face as the serpent in that primeval garden, that lied and tricked the woman into seeking glory where it wasn’t to be found. Here the son of a woman had come to Earth to set things in order. This was a power encounter. Jesus was taking a stand.
Barely able to stand on His feet after forty days’ fast, Jesus was immensely powerful in the Spirit. Hungering and almost delirious, a voice sounded at his ear—could it be his own voice, an angel, His Father? —but no, what the voice said tipped Him off: “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” Visions of fresh baked bread, piles of loaves one upon another, enough food for thousands of starving people, hoards of thankful followers rejoicing in God’s plenty, a world declaring Him their king because of the miracle of bread…
No. “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Jesus had come out here to duke it out with the liar. And now, at Christ’s weakest moment, the enemy had chosen to get personal, take an inside pole position to test Jesus’ defenses. First Check. Now he would try glory. A test from the highest point of the Temple, just jump down and amaze the crowds. You know you’re invincible don’t you, or are you? Did God really say…?
“No. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Check again. Then it will be all in one last throw. Every human being ever born, all in a vision from a mountain peak. You love them. You want them. You can have them all. Just join me. They’re mine, but they can all be yours. I am in charge here. Be my second in command.
“No. Get behind me, Satan. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” A word of command from a starving Savior: Get out of here. I will die on this hill, if I must, for God, but never for you! Jesus took His stand and He won. He would take another stand, and win everything.
We each need to know our own hill, where we must take our stand and where, if necessary, we would die defending it. If you don’t know your ground, the square you must defend on your chessboard, you can be pushed around and never know safety. The coward dies a thousand deaths. In our God, we stand and we prevail. The enemy can kill us and still we will live, and he’d defeat himself trying.
Moses shouted to the terrified Hebrews on the shore, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The LORD shall fight for you.” Ex 14:13-14 The sea parted, and they were saved.
David sang God’s quest to us, “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” Psalms 94:16
St. Paul—now there was a Marine for you—told his troops: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” 1 Cor 16:13 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Gal 5:1 “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Eph 6:11-13
What do you gain in your pursuit of mastery when it’s a war of the spirit? You gain your own soul, for this is a war set against your soul. Jesus came to give life abundantly, and to aid us in winning against an enemy who only seeks to steal, kill and destroy. If this is war, where do you go and what do you do? Paul just said it: Stand. A song I know says, “I have worn out these hands and knees, now I must stand.” Stand Demian Meng You don’t need to take the battle to the enemy, find his hiding place, smart bomb him into submission. Don’t look so far away. He’s right here. The battle lines run right through your heart. Just Stand.
Today’s Epistle warns us not to take God’s grace in vain, but approve ourselves as God’s ministers, patient in all strife. He cites afflictions, need, distress, whippings, jails, fights, hard labor, guard duty: this is war talk. And it’s the same battle over your soul, and for the souls of others.
And how will the world see us? Well, the world isn’t our problem, but rather our fellow human beings, those with eyes to see, Paul says will recognize us honorable in our dishonor, being good when evil tales are spread about us, called liars and yet telling the truth, hidden but still famous in heaven, living even in death, holding onto our joy through our sorrows, giving up every earthly thing, but hanging onto an eternal reward and crown. Is it worth it, Braveheart?
Stand. The phrase “Having standing” is a way of saying you’ve earned your sergeant’s stripes by holding your hill, your square, against countless waves of onslaught, never giving an inch. After a while, those around you will know you’re undaunted, that your place is a stronghold, and you’ve got the guts to take a stand. Stand, pray, and hang on.
At the Battle of the Bulge, the German Army made one last onslaught against the Allies in the bitterness of winter. They were on their own turf, and it looked bad for us. One American soldier was told to watch this position alone, in the snow, in thin fatigues he’s worn since Italy. The silence was broken by the mechanized sounds of tanks approaching from the east. The soldier held his ground as American tanks retreating from the front rolled up to him. “Soldier! Get on board.”
Where are you going? He inquired.
“We’re heading for safety.”
Well, if you seek safety, he answered, just park those things behind me. I am the 82nd Airborne division, and this is as far as the enemy is going to get. And they believed him; they turned and held that ground, and that very spot was where the German offensive was stopped, the battle won.
It’s Lent and we are the Church of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, and this sacred ground is as far as the enemy is going to get.