St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Easter, April 11, 2021
“…and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
SEVENTY-SIX YEARS ago, on May 8th, 1945, a world at war was blessed with the announcement of victory over Germany: VE Day. The most evil force that ever faced the Western world in genocide and total warfare was beaten. The world cheered. Victory! August 14th Japan surrendered and the allies came home. The war had summoned atomic power to shock our enemies into laying down their weapons and call it quits.
What is victory? I grew up in the years just following WWII, seeing hours of film footage, and boys at play reenacted the war. It’s hard now to imagine how planetary peace was at stake, and had it gone the other way, all the earth would be under a mad dictator. Victory demanded the destruction of their means of warfare, 75 million dying, cities bombed to fragments, tanks smoking, fuel dumps burning, mass starvation, ruin and despair. It took the evaporation of two Japanese cities. The goal was to end horror, and it took horror to do it. It was a very hot war.
The war I grew up with was called the Cold War, a contest of superpowers following WWII, with the Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe, Red China rising in the Far East, seeking to spread further violence, political overthrow, and psychological warfare. Our troops seldom faced those who sought to bury us. Drawn into dispiriting wars in the third world we sided with those seeking to maintain control. Victory was hard to define. We fought a philosophy that denied God, that sought to level all mankind to masses, to raise a fist for human achievement. You didn’t know who the enemy was. Victory was claimed in the fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbol that brought the Soviet Empire to its end. Did it? What do you know of victory, when you can’t know if you’ve won?
Today’s holocaust pits us against what lurks behind jihadist Islam. The Cold War over, we thought we had only friends left in the world. Then we woke to 1.6 billion Moslems cheering the fall of our twin towers and calling us the Great Satan. Our embassies bombed, hostages in Tehran, and al-Qaeda brought us to declare a war against terrorism. This is a war against a tactic and I’m afraid we can never claim victory. When any act of violence for its own sake can be termed “terrorism,” we might never know Victory: for if that means peace – it’s far from our reach, and we might long for the simple wars of the past.
What is the goal of victory? Is it world peace or is it only today’s destruction of one more declared enemy? The violence aimed at us begins with a hatred of us, then is back-filled with religious meaning and justification within the teachings of the Quran. The Quran calls Christians polytheists: and commands to “kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. [Disbelief] is worse than killing...” Quran (2:191-193)
War isn’t new. Historically, every year held a season when men went off to war, leaving homes behind. Battles fought at one’s borders meant victory was momentary. Israelites fought Palestinians for how many centuries… well, they still are! I am saddened by war. If it could only mean the end of Nazism and a new era of peace, as our fathers celebrated. Some wars were commanded by God, against civilizations that were detestable to Him. We have a hard time thinking God commanded wars.
David, that warrior king and poet sang, “Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.” 1 Chron 29:10
Days of warfare aren’t ended if we believe Jesus’ words regarding the end times. Wars, and rumors of war will increase. Someone on earth will always be inventing new ways to dominate. And from time to time, we will of necessity be drawn into an armed confrontation, as the sole superpower and chiefest target of the envious and the hateful. For us, victory can’t be found by becoming envious and hateful, mobilizing every time some country goes up in its own smoke. The less we are drawn into battle, the better. We don’t understand honor cultures, so we create enemies by trying to help them, and lose friends by defending them.
The only true Victory was won for all on a cross overlooking Jerusalem. Jerusalem: David had won that city, long held by the Jebusites, making it his capital city, and the site for a future Temple. Now Jesus looked down on the Temple of Herod, 1,000 years later, and lamented, crying His city would be destroyed in yet another war, under God’s judgment because they didn’t know their Messiah when He came.
The man lifted up on that cross was not victim, but Victor that day. How? He died. They had their way with Him. He was buried nearby. How could that be victory? We have known the sweet victories of people who have overcome great odds. The polio victim who struggles to walk, but who later wins an Olympic gold medal. The boy who can’t say a word before he’s four, severe speech impediments, yet leads his life bravely, and finally leads his nation as its greatest orator. The girl of color, raised under racial prejudice, told she can never amount to anything, lifting her head above the rest and being appointed to serve her country as its Secretary of State. Personal triumphs against adversity make me tear up. I love such victories, and the enemies of such heroes can’t overshadow them long. Victory by arms lasts only moments before more violence erupts. But the triumph of faith, of love, of opposing whatever’s wrong, at any cost: this is the victory that allies us with Jesus.
Isaiah wrote 2,800 years ago that a victory was coming where the power of a true king would overshadow and bring peace to all nations. “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces.” Isaiah 25:8 We know who that king will be. We don’t have to spray paint it on someone else’s walls. We don’t have to cause an unbeliever to confess it by force. Jesus wins. Let Him defend Himself. He is perfectly capable.
Victory over all our greatest enemies was won on Calvary. Jesus, by dying as the perfect man, willingly sacrificed for us, gained His victory over those that had always defeated us, no matter how tough we were. Satan, the world, the flesh, sin and death were arrayed against every man and woman, ending whatever pyrrhic victories of arms we might celebrate. Satan’s plan was to ruin God’s world, and he’d done a job of spoiling things. That deadlock was shattered when a victim stepped into his plan and tore it open, changing the game and making salvation no longer the challenge of our living perfectly, but of joining ourselves to the One Perfect Life, and in Him, defeating death. We were no longer to be judged by our sins, but by our faith. Where is your faith?
Victory is no longer won by a show of force. Even that show of force we might exert to overcome our lower natures. We strive to be good, and then wake up to remember last night. We have blown it so many times, we have no hope in our own strength. Forget al-Qaeda, forget jihad for a minute. Our greatest foe has been at work in our bodies and our souls from time out of mind. If we haven’t overcome this enemy, no external war will ever bring us peace. This enemy is too close to ignore. And millennia have proven that we can’t defeat him by merely striving to be better, to resist, to conquer by might of arms or human philosophy.
The Epistle today by St. John speaks of victory. A modern version says: “We are certain that we have love for the children of God, when we have love for God and keep his laws. For loving God is keeping his laws: and his laws are not hard. Anything which comes from God is able to overcome the world: and the power by which we have overcome the world is our faith. Who is able to overcome the world but the man who has faith that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:2-5 (BBE) This is talking about another kind of victory. There is no peace possible when you haven’t got this kind of victory, this kind of peace. Most wars, I believe, would end if the people of this world would simply seek and find the faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That victory required death and blood. It was not cheap grace. But it was His blood and His death, and then His rising to life, completely victorious over the grave. We have no fear of dying if we have Jesus. We have no need to prove anything, not if we have Jesus. We know that God can defend Himself, if we have God’s Spirit within us. We know that our sins, which we intend not to walk in any longer, are forgiven, if we believe Jesus died to save us from them. We have victory. “If we take the witness of men to be true, the witness of God is greater: because this is the witness which God has given about his Son. He who has faith in the Son of God has the witness in himself: he who has not faith in God makes him false, because he has not faith in the witness which God has given about his Son. And his witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who has not the Son of God has no life.”
Today we seem pitted against others of our own nation in political and philosophical battle that threatens to tear us in half. Raw power has displayed itself in many forms. To this, we must address ourselves as warriors—not in arms but in truth, love, goodness and faith. We can’t lie and deny our truth in order to get along, but our resistance needs cool heads and confidence in Who we stand for. Just stand. Resist our ancient enemy and he will eventually retreat.
And do not fear. Victory is already ours. Jesus won the battle, and we can, in the end, live in peace with each other and with ourselves.