Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sermon on Luke 11:34-41 and Philippians 2:17-23

We bagan today’s readings with this selection from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

"Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me."

The apostle Paul is a scary man. He’s of a particular breed of men called Zealots, which means that he exhibits the trait called zeal, usually defined as single-minded devotion a cause and/or person. Zealots cannot be easily bought, swayed, or bargained with. For them there is never the two schools of thought, but there is only one true way and it judges all other ways. They serve one master and one master only.

Our modern sensibilities have a hard time stomaching these kinds of people. They seem to us rather rude and presumptuous. When we think of zealots we tend to think of Muslim terrorists, Marxist rebels, Nazi death camps, Jim Jones, and Kamikaze pilots. Indeed we should. In their own way all of these people are zealots, and they unnerve us.

However, our faith is built on the blood of no less zealous people. The Apostle Paul, as we already heard, viewed his imprisonment and likely impending death as an opportunity and even as a cause for rejoicing. Is that how we would react if put on death row? Would we think of it as a prime opportunity to witness to other inmates? I venture to guess… probably not.

You will get no less scandalous of a witness from later martyrs. They too saw their hardships and deaths as opportunities from God. It was with their very lives that they held fast against all manner of persecutions and scorn. If anything the Church had problems keeping would-be martyrs from straying into self-aggrandizing suicide. How much we have changed since those days.

What we must realize is that zeal, like anything else, is only as good or bad as the master it serves. If it serves the various demonic ideologies and ism’s available on the modern market, then it should scare us all. Zeal derived from a lie is a catastrophe waiting to happen - witness September 11th four years ago, less than 20 miles from here. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable power to zealous believers, no matter what the cause that far surpasses their numbers and resources.

That being said, for those who do not believe in Christ, zeal for the Truth should be a little scary too. Not violently so, of course, but the secular world shouldn’t be entirely comfortable with a genuine Christian in their midst. The self-declared lords of this world fear nothing more than to have a self-denying zealot like the apostle Paul stirring up the people, willing to die rather than pay homage to false god’s. The only thing that scares them more than a Paul, content in his own persecution, is the knowledge that there is a Timothy right beside him willing to jerk the cross necklace off the grave of his teacher, put it around his own neck, and go forth to the same end.

It takes a certain type of man to think of death row as an opportunity. It took a certain breed of person to tell Pharaoh to let his people go, it took a very particular sort of character to prophecy against Jerusalem for its sins while it was a thriving center of trade. In a world where we’d all rather compromise, meet half way, and smirk it all off with "oh well, to each his own", it scares us to have Paul’s and Timothy’s in our midst. They’re a reminder of how far we come from living out our vocation to the fullest. We tend to resent that. It’s only in the fullness of time that we love our prophets.

Perhaps the fact that our instinctive identifications of modern zealots are communist guerillas and Muslim terrorists rather than Christian Confessors should tell us something about ourselves. It isn’t the Muslim terrorists or communist guerillas that have trouble recruiting these days. Misguided cults and aggressive Secularists certainly don’t have to beg and plead for their members to contribute time and money to the cause. You know why? Because they’re unambiguous. They stand boldly for a message and vision that the lazy world around them does not. They are called out of the world to serve their various masters. Their members know for a fact that they’re getting their money’s worth.

Be assured brothers and sisters that none of the terrorists who rammed planes into the twin towers on September 11th were confused as to whether or not all religions were alike... you know... "deep down". Do not think for a minute that anyone living next to the Branch Davidion compound in Waco were under some sort of delusion that their neighbor’s religious convictions didn’t make any real, tangible difference in how they chose to live.

So how do we cultivate the kind of zeal we see in others and put it into service for the
Kingdom? In some ways it’s easier than you might think. Needless to say the way of the
Cross isn’t learned overnight. It starts in the smallest of things. Saints are made every day
by parents reading Scripture with their children, ordinary people saying grace before
meals, spouses praying together for fidelity, single people staying true to their calling of
chastity, simple service projects worked in the community, and of course a few small
minutes each day spent in silence with God.

It falls on us, future leaders of the Church, to shepherd our flocks towards such practices.
If we do not, then we fail in the charge of leadership for which God has called upon us,
and we will be accountable for these failings on that day.

Let us pray to keep our eyes, and those of God’s people, turned towards things of the light that come from Christ’s self-giving love, so that we are totally illumined as Luke spoke today. Let us build ourselves, our children, and our laity with all of those small disciplines that gradually form zealots in the faith, so that when our times come, we are all willing to witness for Christ against all the Pharaoh’s, isms, terrorists, and other Ba’al’s of the world who would enslave God’s people to their falsehoods. Let it be said of us, as Paul said of Timothy to the Philippians, that although others seek their own, we seek first the things of Jesus Christ our God, who alone is worthy of our zeal.

And what separates our zeal from that of any crazy serving any other cause? Only this –
that our zeal is for Christ our God, the existing one, who reigns together with his Father
and the Holy Spirit, now ever, and unto ages of ages, amen.


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