Homily for II Advent 2015

NB–This is not punctuated according to grammar, but rather for my speaking style.  However, as I do not read homilies it served, instead, as an outline.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two items crossed my newsfeed this week that stood out enough to share with you in light of this week’s Gospel.

The first of these was a post by Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and my former Dean of Students during my undergraduate years.  In his post, he addressed a criticism of a chapel speaker that made a student feel bad about not being loving enough.  Dr. Piper roundly defended the speaker and stated that the purpose of a sermon is not to affirm us in feeling good, but to challenge, and yes, offend the conscience in order to bring about conversion.  The job of a preacher of the Gospel is to preach the Gospel. Sometimes that will make us feel worse about ourselves than better. But the goal is to always bring us closer to Jesus.

This was the purpose of John the Baptist.  He was not on scene to make the residents of Judea happy, or confirmed in their goodness, or feeling alright.  He was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, by preaching the need for repentance and change.  He had come to offend and rebuke, and point out the need for salvation.  He had come to tell the people that they were not good enough on their own, they could not make it on their own, and that the need they felt for something to be done, the desire deep within for a savior, was about to be fulfilled.  He told them what they needed to hear, even if they did not want to hear it.

See part of Israel’s problem is they kept wondering when God would fix it, and without waiting for God, they had repeatedly tried to make things better on their own, under their own best guidance, and it never quite worked out for them.  They wanted a kingdom, but did not want to wait for the king.

The other item was the headline in the New York Daily News that proclaimed, in the aftermath of the events in San Bernardino, that “God Isn’t Fixing This.”  It was a severe criticism of  member of a certain political party that were not being practical enough in proposing solutions to the problem, when we did not really know what the problem was at that point.  This headline was at worst, a materialist atheistic screed, ascribing to Christianity the conception of God as a mere heavenly wish granter. At best it is a classic deistic conception of God as absentee who is unable to influence the mechanistic world that the deity had created.  In either case, the message was clear, we have to do something and if the problems of the world are going to be solved, it is up to us to do it and only government policy is the vehicle to do this.  In other words, “laws must be written” to stop things like this happening again.  This is the way to utopia.

This is the basic secular/humanist position, yet belies the secular humanist position.  In the humanistic worldview human beings are basically good, until they are not, then you need laws that control the basically good and compel them to live out their basicly goodness, until they don’t, then you need more laws, rinse and repeat.  The problem is, from the Christian perspective, humans are not basically good.  If so, we would need no laws.  If laws worked, a simple “Do not murder” would keep it from happening.  You see, we do not have a law problem we have a heart problem.  It will not be laws that keep things like San Bernardino from happening. It is conversion.

God Isn’t Fixing This!  Could there be no better cry in the midst of Advent as we await God’s final rule?  Does that not sound like the cry of Israel when they wished to do their own thing and force God’s hand?  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Make a golden calf.  God Isn’t Fixing This. Give us a King. God Isnt’ Fixing This.  Ally with foreign powers to take on the Empires that threaten us.  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Throw out the Romans.  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Kill a prophet.  God Isn’t Fixing This. Crucify him!

The headline was right. God Isn’t Fixing This.  God has fixed it!  Jesus has come.  God has entered the human condition.  Jesus has been crucified and risen.  Death and evil have been defeated, though the days seem long, the promise is sure.  God has fixed it! And Jesus will come again.  Do we feel the need to do something? The solution to our problem, is not less prayer, but more.  The call of the prophet is one that cries out “Prepare the way of the Lord!” “Make the crooked ways straight. Make the rough places smooth. Prepare a highway”.  This is not a call for a physical renewal, but the spiritual renewal of God’s people.  We are to be the highway.  Our crookedness is to be made straight.  Our roughness smoothed. The solution is for us to be converted again and again.   We need to do something, so let us address the evil in our hearts, and not deny the evil in the world.  Let us turn these over to God in prayer and fasting and self-denial.  Do we want a solution? Instead of wringing our hands and pronouncing platitudes and fears, preach the Gospel,  be John the Baptists, prepare the way of the Lord by preaching the truth of Sin and Redemption, the need to repent and change, the fact that we are not all OK and good, but rather need Jesus in our lives.    Proclaim that in Jesus Christ God has fixed this, if we would but turn to him.

We do not have a law problem. We have a heart problem and God has provided a way for that to be fixed.  Let us repent, let us draw near, let us be healed, and let us proclaim the lordship of Jesus to all the world. For he is the solution to the world’s problem and pain, and he is our peace!


All the Same?

“Don’t we, Muslims and Christians, all believe in the same God?” This has been a recurring question in response to my previous post so I will briefly and inadequately address it.

Since the beginning of the Modern/Humanist period it has become standard fare to believe, and teach in places like seminaries, that religion is the projection of base human desires, needs, and aspirations upon the universe.  Religion, therefore, is simply a sign and response of humankind’s yearning for the numinous and finding a place for itself in the universe.  One should not be surprised, then, to read Marx’s famous statement that “Religion…is the opiate of the masses”1 or Freud’s dictum that “Religious ideas have sprung from the same need as all the other achievements of culture: from the necessity for defending itself against the crushing supremacy of nature”.2

For those who hold this vies, all religion is a creation of humanity. Thus, since humans all have the same desires, goals, needs, and aspirations, all religions are essentially saying the same thing and are simply speaking of the same “God” in different voices.  The analogy often used is that of blind men each describing a different part of the elephant and confusing it for the whole.

While that is a nice analogy, it rings false for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no human being can serve as the omniscient outside observer to see that we are indeed describing an elephant.  Indeed if someone claims this, back away from them while keeping eye contact, as they are obviously not right in the head. The second is that no one has asked the elephant if it is indeed an elephant, or allowed the elephant to have input (hint, Christianity and Islam claim to be revealed religions).

So, if these claims to being revealed religions are taken seriously an exploration of what each means by God is necessary. It is indeed true that the term Allah simply means “God” and is used by both Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.  Despite this, Christians and Muslims do not have the same revelation as to who this God is.

Simply speaking when Christians use the term “God” we are speaking of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is the revelation of which Jesus (I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14.6) and the Church speaks. The ancient faith of the Church holds that Jesus is both fully God and fully man (incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary his mother).  This Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and resurrected on the Third Day.  The Holy Spirit is sent to all who believe, and is given to the believer at baptism.  We believe that we shall be raised like him. At a minimum to be Christian is to hold these beliefs.

Islam proclaims that Jesus (Issa) is a great prophet, but is not God and that the Trinity is a corruption. In Islam, there is no incarnation as God cannot have a Son (i.e. reproduce). For Islam, Mohammed is the supreme prophet to whom God revealed his final message, the Koran.

“But don’t we all believe in the same God?”  No. There are two competing truth claims here, and either both are wrong, or one must be right. There is no third option. Either Jesus is who he says he is or he isn’t. Either Mohammed is who he says he is or he isn’t. It really is that simple.

Even if the answer is that simple, we must still be respectful, seek understanding, and live peaceably as far as it depends on us as we continue the Gospel imperative of working towards and praying for conversion, our own and the world’s.

1 Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher (1844)
2 The Future of an Illusion (1927)