Jesus Christ, the Re-Integrator
This morning I have prepared a long, rambling discourse for your edification. I’m going to review what God has done for all of mankind and then venture some thoughts on how we should respond to Him.
So first a little review—With the lapse of Adam & Eve into sin: their original fellowship with their Creator is broken, paradise is rent from them, and the earth is cursed. The book of Genesis details the ensuing downward spiral as their progeny prove no better than their parents. Too often their plans end in violence or in the slaking of lusts that do not satisfy. Whatever our ancestors were looking for, they did not find it.
The first notion that things might get better isn’t intimated until chapter 12 when God makes a promise to the son of a manufacturer of idols that is…believed. Abram trusts God and that is accounted to him for righteousness. The redemption of mankind began with that promise…and that response. God made it and a man acted upon it as if he believed it even though that man would not be able to experience much of the results of the promise.
While our sins isolate us from God and our infirmities burden us, He in His humility and infinite condescension uses any opening to turn our hearts back to Him. It is in the context of His created order that allows our freedom to have real consequences. Sure, 99.9999999% of the effort is His, but our response to His effort is absolutely critical and important.
God prepares the people of Israel, over many hundreds of years, chastising them when necessary, until they produce a person who—following the prophets but exceeding all of them—is able to respond to Him perfectly. And in communion with her, He takes on all mankind and enters into His own creation, setting it on a course to reconcile all humanity—and with it, the entire created order—to Himself.
Jesus came to show us the promises of God. He came BOTH to show us the WAY of repentance and communion AND to provide the means to achieve it. He came to establish a community endowed with gifts of the Holy Spirit so we who follow the WAY will not be starting from where the children of Adam & Eve started. Or even where the children of Abraham started.
The children of Adam & Eve entered a world in which Satan had broken the unity that had existed between God and those who bore His image. In doing so, the Devil usurped the authority that was originally given to humanity as God’s vicegerents on the earth. The Gospel reading for today shows Jesus confronting Satan and taking back that authority on behalf of restored humanity (which, at that moment consisted of just him).
Satan had concentrated his attention and power on Jerusalem because he knew that God’s redemptive plan would be carried out within the confines of the holy city, the embodiment of the hope of Israel. And the spiritual center of the city was the Temple and had been since Solomon built it.
As Fr. Glenn indicated in last week’s sermon, God had told the people of Israel through the prophets that they were meant to be a fount of His blessings that would flow out to redeem the world. Israel was meant to be a blessing to the whole world. The Temple was the locus of that blessing that was the place where man and God met. Now the Devil knew this, though he probably had only a vague idea how it was going to be accomplished. But for this reason, he directed the resources of his demonic legions on frustrating—as he understood it—God’s plan for Israel. This Satanic attention had contributed to its becoming instead an unholy place of hatred and separation from God, where the Sadducees and the Pharisees together upheld a strict partition against any trace of Gentile contamination. The unclean spirits had done their best to ensure that the city of Jerusalem and the commandments of God would be more curse than blessing to the world. (As an aside, I think Paul is addressing this phenomenon somewhat in Romans and Galatians when he writes about the effects of the Law on the Jews.)
Of course, ultimately, this concentration of Satanic force on Israel actually serves the purpose of God. How does it do this? In four ways… Jesus and his disciples are able to confront it directly during the years of his ministry, showing that Jesus exercises the power of God against evil in a way everyone who saw it with an open heart would understand. Some speculation: I think Satan knows that Jesus cannot die a natural death. The chief fear of the Devil during the ministry of our Lord is that the Son of God will become the immortal Emperor of the Earth. So, with the subverting of Judas and the cooperation of the Sadducees, he introduces Jesus to death with (from his perspective) disastrous consequences. In death Jesus—fully God, fully man, and wholly innocent—breaks the hold of death on mankind depriving Satan of his primary tool of oppression. At an equally cosmic level, the death of Jesus allows Him to harrow hell, breaking open the stronghold of Satan and reaching back in time to free all those who could not have known the Son of God.
To cap this bizarre mess (again, from the perspective of Satan), Pentecost unleashes the Spirit of God upon the Earth in an unmanageable torrent. With the arrival of the promised Paraclete, the Body of Christ is innervated to become the earthly dwelling place of mercy and blessings that Israel was intended to be. Under His fiery influence, the Church spreads over the earth, altering the destiny of mankind forever. All who are baptized in Christ share His redeemed humanity and the victory over demonic forces (Colossians 2:10-15):
And ye are complete in him which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
So Jesus’ victory is our victory. That is the Gospel, the very, very good news. We are still in the story that started with Abraham, though. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith, our trust in the promises of the Father announced by Christ Jesus His Son.
Jesus is the WAY. And while the WAY is narrow, even a tightrope, it encompasses all life and health and plenitude within its bounds. Following the WAY is not the same thing as following the commandments of God, it’s more. The commandments of God are an externalization of the will of God for mankind that can serve as a guide, but without our active reliance on God through His Holy Spirit it’s missing the point.
What does this mean? Wanting to follow the commandments is a good thing because they’re a gift of God and wanting to please God is a worthy aspiration. But wanting to follow the commandments because you think this puts you in a privileged place—as, God help me, I once thought—is just a delusion of pride. If we think not violating the commandments, or performing ascetic feats, or saying lots of rote prayers or ANYthing other than continual and active communion with the living God can be a stopping place for our spiritual development, then we are grievously mistaken.
What St. Paul calls “walking in the Spirit” is the goal of a mature follower of Jesus. Of course, walking in the Spirit is also walking in the commandments, but the externalized commandments cannot possibly cover every aspect of living the WAY.
Forgive me here, because I am sure that there are some among you who know this far better than I do, but I think the hardest part of following Jesus is the cultivation of the perpetual internal assent to God, the altering of our mental/spiritual consciousness, our mind and our heart, into a place where the Holy Spirit can dwell continually.
And while Christians, thanks be to God, cannot evict the Paraclete permanently, if we sin, we can make it difficult, though not impossible, to receive God’s blessings.
Final summary: So Jesus has destroyed the partition that has separated man’s heart ever since the Fall. He re-integrates mankind, but the response part of the equation indicates that we’ve got to practice keeping our hearts open to Him. This requires the daily, even hourly, practice of repentance “Rend your heart and not your garments and turn unto the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful…”
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost†. Amen.