FN: DNA Testing Deepens Mystery of Shroud of Turin

A fascinating and ongoing enigma. See what you think.

iuOn its face, the Shroud of Turin is an unassuming piece of twill cloth that bears traces of blood and a darkened imprint of a man’s body. Though the Catholic Church has never taken an official stance on the object’s authenticity, tens of thousands flock to Turin, Italy, every year to get a glimpse of the object, believing that it wrapped the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]

According to legend, the shroud was secretly carried from Judea in A.D. 30 or 33, and was housed in Edessa, Turkey, and Constantinople (the name for Istanbul before the Ottomans took over) for centuries. After crusaders sacked Constantinople in A.D. 1204, the cloth was smuggled to safety in Athens, Greece, where it stayed until A.D. 1225.

However, the Catholic Church only officially recorded its existence in A.D. 1353, when it showed up in a tiny church in Lirey, France. Centuries later, in the 1980s, radiocarbon dating, which measures the rate at which different isotopes of the carbon atoms decay, suggested the shroud was made between A.D. 1260 and A.D. 1390, lending credence to the notion that it was an elaborate fake created in the Middle Ages. (Isotopes are forms of an element with a different number of neutrons.)

But critics argued that the researchers used patched-up portions of the cloth to date the samples, which could have been much younger than the rest of the garment.

What’s more, the Gospel of Matthew notes that “the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open” after Jesus was crucified. So geologists have argued that an earthquake at Jesus’ death could have released a burst of neutrons. The neutron burst not only would have thrown off the radiocarbon dating but also would have led to the darkened imprint on the shroud.

Read it all.

Take Heart, Jesus is Calling You

Sermon delivered on the last Sunday after Trinity Sunday, Year B, October 25, 2015 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 42.1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34.1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 10.46-52.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we conduct our regular healing service. So in this brief meditation, I want us to reflect on why we should not only seek God’s healing of our various ailments—and I do not have in mind just what ails us physically, but also emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and generationally/historically—but that we should do so with the expectation that God indeed has the power and willingness to heal us. In one way or another, all our lessons this morning affirm this truth. And it is important that we get our thinking straight about this because I fear some, if not many, of us labor under the delusion that God is an angry God who is bent on punishing us for our sins. To be sure, God is not pleased when we sin, nor can he countenance or cooperate with any form of evil. But as we have seen in Job, this does not mean we should jump on the retributive theology bandwagon where we believe that our sickness and suffering is always a result of God’s punishment of our sins. To be sure, sometimes it is. But as the book of Job makes clear, many times it isn’t. If we really think God is against us rather than for us, we will very likely never turn to him to heal us. Or if we do turn to him while thinking God is against us, strange as that would be, why would we expect God to answer our prayers and cries, and heal us?

Instead, we would be much better off looking at the cross of Jesus and what the writer of Hebrews has talked about the past several weeks, today’s lesson included. God has indeed condemned our sin in the flesh by becoming human (or as the NT writers often affirm as the writer of Hebrews does in our epistle lesson today, God has sent his Son) to suffer God’s just condemnation of our sins in the flesh himself. How else could Paul make the audacious claim that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1-4)? God did this because God loves us and wants to free us from our sins that can and do make us sick. And while Jesus’ death was a once and for all event in which God made it possible for us to be reconciled to him, Jesus still intercedes for us to the Father as today’s epistle lesson attests. This is his most important ongoing priestly function because we all need a lot of help in putting to death our old rebellious self and putting on Jesus, our new obedient self, so that we are new creations in Christ through the power of the Spirit who lives in us! Jesus isn’t interceding to an angry and reluctant Father who would much rather punish us than heal us. After all, the Father sent the Son on our behalf to reconcile us to himself so that he could fully heal us. Why therefore would the Father be reluctant to listen to the Son interceding for us on our behalf? Does not make sense! Take a moment, then, and let that picture settle in your mind. Jesus, God the Son, is right now interceding for you and all that ails you, even the stuff of which you are not currently aware. This is true love in action and is a powerful indicator of God’s great love for each of us. This is why our healing ministry and services like today’s are so important! As John the Elder attests in the final chapter of Revelation, in the new heavens and earth there is a river with the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and on either side of this river is the tree of life for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.1-2). God wants us healed completely, my beloved, from our disordered hearts to our disordered bodies. Believe it, acknowledge it, seek it, if you are not already doing so.

We see God’s desire for healing and restorative justice in our psalm as well. God knows evil has the power to make us sick. We saw that Job’s suffering came at the hands of the Satan, not directly from God, mysterious and enigmatic as that is. And so the psalms consistently remind us that God will ultimately destroy evil and deliver those who put their whole hope and trust in him (i.e., the righteous) from its clutches, something the NT affirms in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit to live in and among us. The psalmist doesn’t say God promises to make us immune from all evil. Rather, the psalmist declares that God will deliver us from our troubles. This may not always look like what we ask for or expect. More about that in a moment. But if we have the humility to trust God in his promises, we will be ultimately vindicated as Job was in our OT lesson this morning.

But perhaps the most powerful indicator that God wants to heal us is found in our gospel lesson. Blind Bartimaeus, a beggar and social outcast, intercedes to Jesus on his own behalf (are we paying attention to the critical role of prayer in healing to which all our lessons this morning attest?). Jesus, son of David (a title reserved for the expected Messiah), have mercy on me! Mark does not tell us how this blind beggar had such wonderful knowledge and insight. How did he know Jesus is God’s Messiah? How did he know Jesus has the power to heal him? Mark leaves us to ponder this mystery.

As we would expect, some in the crowd try to silence this obnoxious pest. Perhaps some were irritated that a blind beggar had the audacity to ask Jesus for help. Perhaps some feared that calling Jesus the Messiah in the heart of Herod’s country might not result in good things happening. But it didn’t matter to Bartimaeus. He wanted Jesus to heal him and he wasn’t going to let anyone shut him up. In this poor beggar we see a faith that believed God through his Son can heal, and as importantly, wants to heal. Jesus does not disappoint. He stops and calls for Bartimaeus. Take heart, dude. Jesus is calling you. And when Bartimaeus came to Jesus, and our Lord asked him what he could do for him, Bartimaeus didn’t hesitate. I want to see. Bold, audacious faith indeed, Bartimaeus! Now let that sink in and become part of you. Put yourself in Bartimaeus’s place. You are crying out to Jesus to heal you and he calls you to him and asks you what he can do for you. Here is Jesus, God become human for your sake, asking you what is nearest and dearest to your heart. How will you answer?

Earlier in the story Jesus had asked James and John the same question and they told him they wanted to rule with him. They still mistakenly thought that hanging out with Jesus would produce honor and power and glory as the world defines it. Jesus did indeed answer their request, but in a way they probably didn’t want. He told them he couldn’t grant that particular request, but that they would eventually get to share in his own cup of suffering. O boy, Jesus! What fun! But this isn’t what Bartimaeus asked for. He knew Jesus had come as the integral and essential part of God’s plan to heal the nations. And so he told Jesus what was on his heart. I want you to heal me, Jesus. And after Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus abandoned his old life and followed Jesus to Jerusalem where our Lord would die for his sake and the rest of the world’s.

Returning back to you and your request, what is it that you will ask Jesus to do for you? Will you see Jesus as your get out of jail free card to continue to do what pleases you in the manner of James and John (at least at that point in their discipleship journey), or will you be more like Bartimaeus and see Jesus as the very embodiment of God who must be your Lord, and whom you must follow and give your primary allegiance if you ever hope to be really healed along with the nations?

Jesus also tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well. Other translations read, “Your faith has saved you.” This is so because the Greek word, sozo, can mean both healing and salvation. This should make sense to us because our ultimate salvation means our ultimate healing, irrespective of what happens or doesn’t happen to us here in this mortal life. This, then, is how we are to approach Jesus when we desire to be healed of all that ails us. This is how we should approach him as we come to our prayer and healing stations in a few moments. We are to approach the One who has the power to heal us with confidence and faith because our lessons remind us that Jesus has the ability and willingness to heal us because he loves us.

But a word of caution is necessary at this point because we all know people who have had a deep and real faith, and who have prayed for healing, and none came. Likewise, we have all prayed for folks to be healed and the healing never came. Does this mean we lack faith or that our faith is not genuine like Bartimaeus’s? No, because we have stories of Jesus healing folks, apparently without an attendant faith on their part, e.g., when he raised the widow of Nain’s dead son (Luke 7.11-17). So while the NT is utterly clear that faith is an important part of our healing, faith is not some kind of magic elixir. As the story of Job reminds us, God does not work on a quid pro quo basis. That was the basis for the Satan’s original challenge to God as well as the faulty thinking of Job’s comforters (and Job himself to a lesser extent). True, God did restore Job’s fortunes, but only after Job repented and realized he had gotten in over his head in challenging God’s wisdom, justice, and method of operation in his world. But Job’s repentance did not force God into restoring Job’s fortunes. If we really think that we can compel God to act on our behalf by what we do or say, we put God in a box just like Job and his companions did. God restored Job’s fortunes because God ultimately chose to do so out of his abundant and gracious mercy, not because of what Job did or did not do. As our Lord himself reminds us, God makes his sun rise on the wicked and righteous alike (Matthew 5.45), enigmatic as that is to us. But as we saw last week, God is God and we are not, and so from Job we learn that when God does not answer our prayers and requests made with a sincere faith, our proper response is to ultimately be silent and learn to trust God. This is the hardest thing we must learn to do, but learn it we must because it indicates we are learning humility, that we are not God, and this is prerequisite if we ever hope to know Jesus. As we saw last week, Jesus learned this after God rejected his pleas to be spared from suffering for the sins of the world. Job learned this lesson too. And if we are truly to give our lives to Jesus, so must we. We don’t learn this on our own power. We learn it in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and equips us to be God’s people in Jesus.

So when you come to a healing station today with your requests, come with the expectation that God can and will heal you. If he heals you, rejoice and give thanks! But if you hear Jesus say no to your request, will you trust him enough to accept his answer? As we have seen, you will never be able to do so if you do not know Jesus and his love for you. It won’t do to know about Jesus. Like Job, you must learn to know him and his love for you. So if your request for healing is denied, perhaps this is the prayer for you to pray: Help me submit to your will and trust you, Jesus. Hard as this is to do, if we learn to humbly trust God’s sometimes enigmatic will for us in all matters, especially in our suffering, our faith will proclaim the loudest to those with ears to hear that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Were You There?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 20B, Sunday, October 18, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 38.1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104.1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What are we to make of God’s response to Job’s anguished why questions and his cries for justice (and by extension ours)? As Christians, can we have any confidence that God has done or is doing something about the evil that often seems to strike capriciously and afflict the innocent as much as the wicked? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Last week we looked in part at Job and his anguished cries for justice. Job, a righteous man by all accounts, had inexplicably been afflicted by all kinds of evil: loss of property, family, and health, most of the things we tend to hold near and dear to us in this world. Why had it happened, Job wondered? What had he done to deserve this? Job’s wife wasn’t much help. She had cursed God and encouraged Job to do likewise. Job’s three friends who had come to comfort him ended up making his suffering even worse by accusing him of doing evil and therefore deserving of his loss. After all, conventional wisdom of Job’s day (and ours to a lesser extent) argued that God rewards righteousness with good things and punishes evildoers. All these catastrophes in Job’s life suggested to them that Job wasn’t as innocent as he claimed to be, that he was getting his just desserts for his evildoing. This only made Job angrier and serves to this day as a model of how not  to try to comfort someone who has suffered catastrophic loss. Of course, no one but the reader was in on the joke: that Satan, with God’s permission, had caused all the damage to Job in an attempt to get Job to curse God.

We saw too that Job cried out for answers. Why would a good and just God allow these terrible things to happen to a good and righteous man? It just isn’t supposed to work that way and these kinds of questions have caused many to turn away from God out of anger and bitterness. Job wants his day in court with the Judge, to question the supreme Questioner so to speak. But as we saw last week, he is afraid because he knows God is sovereign and will do what God is going to do. And besides that, God apparently was making himself absent to his loyal but anguished creature. What to do?

Now in today’s OT lesson, Job finally gets his wish (careful what you wish for, Job). God’s appearance to Job is both off-putting and gracious. God appears to Job out of the tempest, biblical language that usually means death for the recipient. But God does not kill Job. Instead, in a series of rhetorical questions, God quickly puts Job in his place. Were you there, Job, when I created the world? Are you able to control its creatures so that they do your bidding as I do? What kind of questions are those, we wonder? I remember reading this passage for the first time and being really irritated at God. Nice non-response, God. Why won’t you answer Job’s why questions? They’re legitimate. We’ve got a right to know why you allow evil to afflict folks, seemingly at random. We demand answers, dude!

But of course the point behind God’s questions to Job is to remind us all that God is God and we are not. Of course we were not there when God created the cosmos. Neither are we given the answer as to why God made the audacious decision to create image-bearing creatures with the intent of having us run God’s good world on his behalf. Given human nature, that makes no sense at all! But as Isaiah reminds us, God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. This is so true that not even the immeasurable limits of the cosmos can begin to bridge the divide between God’s wisdom and ours (Isaiah 55.8-9). God is simply reminding Job (and the rest of us ever since), that we are not able to understand the answer, even if God chose to give us one. In other words, in answering Job the way he did by reminding Job that God is the only Creator, not Job, God invites Job and the rest of us to assume an appropriate posture of humility when dealing with our Creator. It isn’t that God does not want us to ask tough questions. God doesn’t want us to waste our time asking questions about which we can’t possibly understand the answer. We weren’t told why the Satan was allowed a seat at the heavenly council at the beginning of Job. And here, God reminds us of the cold, hard facts. You ain’t me, folks, so stop trying to act like you are. You don’t have the perspective I have. You don’t have the knowledge I have. You don’t have the power I have. Trouble is, you think you do! But it’s kind of like trying to explain quantum mechanics to a two year old (and not a few adults as well!). It’s just impossible for them to understand the answer so why bother trying? The only difference is, our pride makes us think we can understand, that we are God’s equals when it comes to his good creation and how it runs. But as God reminds Job, we simply are not and this calls for wisdom and humility on our part.

But if we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts and minds to believe, God is not entirely silent about the issue of evil in his good creation. And so besides humility, a proper response to God’s were you there question is to reflect deeply on what God has chosen to reveal to us about the operation of evil in his world because there are some things that apparently we can understand. As we have seen, God consistently refuses to answer our why questions about evil. But God has chosen to reveal to us what he has done and is doing about evil in his world and this is worthy of our attention and faithful consideration. As the writer of Hebrews alludes to in our epistle lesson, the answer to our questions about what God is doing about evil in his world point us to Jesus, specifically his death and resurrection.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? asks the old Negro spiritual. No we weren’t because in some ways Jesus’ death is as impenetrable as the mystery of why God allows evil to operate in his world. But one of the things the writer of Hebrews surely wants us to see is that God has defeated evil in his world, as well as the dark powers behind it, by becoming human and taking the full brunt of evil on himself. As Paul reminds us in Colossians 2.15, on the cross God disarmed the rulers and authorities, triumphing over them. We want to shake our heads in disbelief at this. Are you crazy, Paul?? Look around you! Seems like evil is doing quite nicely, thank you. But Paul wrote these words while he was languishing in prison, himself the victim of injustice and evil brought against him because of his faith in Jesus. Paul knew the score. So have the multitude of Christians who have suffered persecution and martyrdom at the hands of God’s enemies. Yet they believed that somehow, someway, evil had been defeated on the cross of Jesus, if not yet fully vanquished. That will have to wait for the Lord’s return at the Second Coming for the latter to be fully accomplished.

And as the writer of Hebrews points out to us, Jesus also apparently struggled with God’s plan to defeat evil. Alluding to his cries and prayers and tears, presumably in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died, the writer tells us that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. But what does that mean? Jesus had been obedient to his Father’s will throughout his entire ministry. It wasn’t like he had been disobedient and now that he was facing death had to learn obedience. That just doesn’t fit the record.

Rather, what we are seeing in the Garden of Gethsemane is the fully human Jesus coming to grips with what he must do to save us from our sins and overthrow the evil that has corrupted his Father’s good creation. To do that, Jesus must suffer in our place. He must die our death. And that means he must inevitably be cut off from communion with his Father. The writer of Hebrews wants us to see how a perfect and sinless man could feel our own weakness and sins. Think about it. Is it not terrifying enough for us to consider what will become of us if God had never entered history on our behalf to rescue us from his just wrath on our sins? The thought of our fate is a terrible burden for us to bear, made even more unbearable by the shame and guilt we often feel when we contemplate our sins. These feelings inevitably make us believe that God cannot do anything but hate us for our evil. Now multiply that feeling by a gazillion-fold and we can begin to appreciate the agony Jesus struggled with in the garden. Surely there is another way, Father. Please. But there wasn’t. Jesus had to suffer for us so that we could live. In effect Jesus became Job for us. And so he ended his prayer with, “Not my will, but yours be done.” This is how Jesus was made perfect in obedience. He could have walked away from his awful task of bearing the world’s sins but he didn’t. He chose to obey his Father and did something that was impossible for the rest of us to do, thanks be to God!

But there’s more to this story than our own personal salvation, massively important to us as that is. Jesus also broke the power of evil over this world, enigmatic as that may seem to us, and he calls us to obey him as he obeyed his Father. He calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross as we follow him. He calls us to the same humble obedience to his Father that he lived out while a mortal on this earth. I’ve died so that you can live forever and broken the power of evil over you, he tells us. And when I was raised from the dead by my Father, I ushered in God’s new world because I also defeated evil when I died. And now I call you to follow me, to be my agents of new creation. You are to bring God’s love and healing power to others. You do that, not by lording it over them and hating them. You do this by following my example. The world hates me and it will hate you if you follow me. The powers, while defeated, still pack a powerful punch and they will try to hurt and kill you if possible. You must do this by returning their hate with love and by forgiving them. You must overcome evil with goodness. I can’t tell you fully why this is so because you are not able to hear the answer. I must simply ask you to trust me and suffer when evil rears its ugly head against you. It will scare you like it scared me. But I am your great high priest. I can help you endure and overcome. Evil’s day is done. Your day is just beginning and you have an eternity awaiting you when God’s new world comes in full. You need each other’s help and support. That’s why you need to love each other and be humble enough to look out for each other’s needs. But you also need my help and support because I am your Lord and Savior. I have overcome evil and death and can help you do likewise if you let me. Will you?

Our immediate reaction is often one of revulsion. This makes no sense to us, Jesus! Why can’t you just bring in the tanks? You’ve got the power to take down evil. Why don’t you just do it? No, we’re more at home with James and John’s request. We don’t want to learn obedience through suffering. We don’t want to change the world like that. We want to be the higher ups in your organization, Jesus, with privilege and power and honor and glory. This surely isn’t how you intend for your kingdom to come on earth as in heaven!? Say it ain’t so!

But it is so. This is the Lord’s answer to our questions about what he is doing about evil. This is how the kingdom comes and we are invited to be more than bit players in the unfolding of that kingdom, unlikely or enigmatic as that seems to us as finite, mortal humans. We must look to Jesus, to his cross and resurrection. We must look to his presence in our lives, collectively and individually, in the power of the Spirit so that we have the power to obey him in his call to our suffering love. That’s quite a challenge, my friends. But our Lord is up to it and promises to be with us every step of the way if we are willing to learn obedience through our suffering for his sake. And as unlikely and counter-intuitive as it sounds, when we learn obedience through our humble, suffering love for God and his world, we proclaim the loudest that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.

Were you there when God created the world and when they crucified our Lord? No we weren’t, we answer in appropriate humility. But that’s not important because we believe that our present and future hope, along with the hope of all creation, is secure because of the love, goodness, and faithfulness of God made manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Cutting to the Chase

Sermon delivered on Trinity 19B, Sunday, October 11, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10.17-31.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Sobering words, aren’t they? So this morning I want us to reflect on what this might look like on the ground and why we should care.

We begin by clarifying what the writer of Hebrews has in mind when he talks about God’s word. The writer doesn’t tell us, but based on how God’s word is used in the rest of the NT, the four gospels included, it is not unreasonable to think that the author had in mind both the word of God contained in the OT and the message that Jesus himself had announced, that God’s kingdom was coming to birth in and through his work. You know, that strange little announcement Jesus made about the kingdom of God being at hand and therefore the need for us to repent and believe the good news (Mark 1.14-15; Matthew 4.17). Put another way, the word of God as the writer of Hebrews uses it means the promises contained in the OT that God’s kingdom or rule would break in on earth as in heaven and usher in the Age to Come, and how those promises had come true in Jesus, especially his death and resurrection.

This word of God, the promises of the OT made manifest in Jesus, is not some lifeless print on a page. It is living and active. It created the cosmos. And somehow it cuts right to the chase, right to our disordered hearts, exposing them and us for what we are: hostile and rebellious creatures who constantly try to usurp God’s rightful place and rule, putting our own wants and needs ahead of God’s commands and his good will and purposes for us. It is precisely this rebellion that got us tossed from paradise and causes so much of the world’s suffering and folly. Thankfully, God is busy putting to rights all the wrong in his world and we can join him or fight him. In a nutshell, this is God’s word. We can spend our time avoiding it. We can spend our time denying its ability to cut to the chase. We can spend our time denying that God’s word even exists—and it seems that more and more folks are choosing that option these days. But as Fr. Bowser so eloquently stated last week, our attempts to run from or deny reality really don’t matter. God’s reality is what it is and that means we have a choice to make. We can either run from God’s word or embrace it. There is no middle ground.

This seems to be part of the author’s point. We can spend our life ignoring God’s word, relegating it to the proverbial “to-do list,” precisely because we don’t see it as being relevant to our lives. But we cannot escape the ability of God’s word to judge all our disordered desires in the end. It will expose us for what we are, even what we try to cover up or repress. No use, says the author of Hebrews. God’s word will one day catch up with you and will judge you. You can run, but there’s no place to hide. And if you haven’t made the necessary changes to get your house in order, you will not achieve the promised rest for God’s saints in Christ when the New Age comes in full and heaven and earth are united in a new creation. And here’s a helpful hint. You don’t want to lose your eternal rest. Trust me. If we are looking for some feel-good passages in Scripture, Hebrews 4.12-13 probably isn’t a good place to start.

But even in the midst of this sobering warning comes encouragement. If we know God’s judgment is coming on our sin and folly, it is better to get with the program and examine ourselves in the light of God’s judgment and truth so that with his help, we can start working on the necessary changes we all need to make (more on that in a moment). And we get this at a basic level. Isn’t it better to have a doctor examine us right away, uncomfortable and even painful as the examination might be, than to wait for the doctor to do a post-mortem exam on us after it’s too late? Yet even though we know this is true about medical and spiritual conditions, how many of us prefer to live in denial and hope that our condition just goes away?

That is why guys like me, um, encourage you to engage the Scriptures regularly, because among other things we all need a healthy dose of reality. We live in a culture of increasing unreality where I’m OK and you’re OK and everything will be all right in the end. But that’s just not true and we need a healthy dose of reality and Truth that can only be found in God’s word made manifest in Jesus. The sooner we are honest about ourselves and our standing before a just and holy God who cannot tolerate evil of any kind, the sooner we will find ourselves on the road to recovery. For most of us in this room, the good news is that we seem to have a pretty healthy view of reality and our need of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But in light of our epistle lesson this morning, none of us dares sink into complacency because our tendency toward self-delusion is almost limitless. We need the constant exposure of the living and active word of God in our lives lest we head back to La-La Land and lose our rest. I can hear some of you now. Not fair! Not fair! That sounds like a lot of work! Well, yes it is because we live in an evil age and our hearts are desperately sick (Jeremiah 17.9). But don’t worry. There will be plenty of time to rest when God’s new world comes in full. When that happens, we’ll all be glad we were willing to do the hard work of living obedient and faithful lives.

We see how God’s word penetrates and shakes things up in our gospel lesson. Jesus is confronted by a man who asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Greek for eternal life can also be translated as the Age to Come, the time when God’s rule is fully reestablished on earth as in heaven. So let us be clear what the man is asking Jesus. He is not asking how he can get to heaven. He is asking Jesus what he must do to be part of the Age to Come when heaven and earth are recreated into one. In effect he asks Jesus, What must I do to become a citizen of God’s kingdom on earth?

Jesus’ answer shouldn’t surprise us. Follow the commandments he tells the man. After all, God gave his people his commandments to help equip us to live as citizens of his promised new world. If God won’t allow murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars, et al. in his new world, why would he encourage us to live that way now? It’s not about being a goody two-shoes. It’s about living in ways that will help us become fully human beings again and that takes a lot of practice. The man tells Jesus he has kept the latter half of the Ten Commandments (did you notice that Jesus curiously omits any mention of the first three that insist on our ultimate loyalty to God?). So far so good. The man probably was feeling pretty good about his chances of making the cut. But this is Jesus he is talking to, God’s word made flesh, and things are never as straightforward as that. You lack one thing, dude. Your money is your god. It is a false idol. So go and sell all you’ve got, give the money to the poor so that you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me. BTW, in telling the man that he will have treasure in heaven, Jesus doesn’t mean the man has to go to heaven to access it. If I tell you I have a cold beer waiting for you in the fridge, it doesn’t mean you have to get in the fridge to drink the beer. Neither do we have to go to heaven to access the treasure God stores for us there. He’ll bring it to us when the time is right.

We hear crickets chirping in the background amidst the ensuing silence. God’s word, sharper than any two-edged sword, has just cut to the chase. The man refuses to get rid of his false idol and goes away sad. This story does not have a happy ending, folks, much as we would like to see one. We see only God’s judgment fall silently and terribly on the man’s idolatry and it means death. This is how God’s word cuts to the chase. Are there any false idols we need to ditch in our lives, idols like diversity, liberty, tolerance, science, power, wealth (none of which are necessarily bad until we make them our gods), the notion that all religions are equal, et al.? We won’t even know they are false gods unless we allow the word of God to expose them for what they are in our hearts. And if we wait too long, we will never have a chance to ditch them, ask forgiveness, and follow the one true living God made known to us supremely in Jesus Christ. Mark tells us this through the story. In telling the man to ditch his false god and follow him, Jesus is telling the man that loyalty to him now serves as the exclusive loyalty God demands of his people in the first three commandments! That’s just cray-cray, we exclaim! Aren’t there multiple paths to God? Nope, says Mark. There’s one true God and he’s shown himself to us in Jesus. End (or beginning) of story. It is right about now that we feel the word of God penetrating our hearts deeper and deeper. The writer of Hebrews would surely tell us our eternal rest is in danger if we don’t wake up and worship the one true and living God revealed as Father, Son, and Spirit.

Or consider our reading from Job this morning. Had Fr. Bowser not gummed up the works and complicated my task by his preaching last week, we would have seen how God allowed Satan to be present in God’s heavenly council and gave him permission to wreak havoc on Job’s life. Consequently, Job lost it all—his property, his children, his health. But of course Job is not privy to this heavenly agreement. He doesn’t know that God has allowed Satan to ruin his life. And while we are in on the joke regarding Job’s story, we too are not told why God allows evil to operate in his world to corrupt and destroy it. We just know that God allows it.

Now conventional wisdom in Job’s day (and ours to a lesser extent) went something like this. God blessed righteous people with wealth and abundance as a sign of his favor on them. This was the basis for Satan’s challenge to God in the first place. Job acted rightly because God had blessed him with lots of stuff. Take the stuff away and Job would surely curse God. It is also the basis behind the apostles’ reaction in our gospel lesson. If the rich who are blessed cannot be saved, what about the rest of us schmucks? Now in today’s lesson, we hear part of Job’s lament to God. He wants a hearing with God because Job knows he is a righteous man. Job wants justice, baby! He wants his day in court so he can question the Judge about all the unjust things that have happened to him, things he is mistakenly convinced God has caused.

But here’s the rub. Job cannot seem to find God. God is absent to him. No matter where Job looks, no matter how he cries out to God for a hearing, God doesn’t seem to be around. Sound familiar? Can you relate? The longer we are in this game of being a Christian, the more likely it is we have had this experience of the seemingly absent God. But how can that be? God is everywhere! To make matters worse, Job finally comes to the conclusion that God will do what God is going to do. After all, God is sovereign. No one can stand before him or change God’s mind. This realization terrifies Job. How can he possibly prevail? And he starts to lose all hope and heart. As we listen to Job’s anguished cries, not to mention the psalmist’s, whose very lament Jesus used on the cross as he felt the weight of the world’s sin crush him so that for the first time in his life Jesus felt his Father’s absence, we start to feel the word of God penetrate our hearts and it is not a comfortable feeling. We too become terrified at the possibility of either an unjust God who is unlimited in his ability to be unjust (at least from our perspective), or who doesn’t love us enough or care about us enough to be present to us in our anguish.

But this is God’s word we are talking about and while there is justice and judgment in that word, there is also grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And so we return to Hebrews for the last word. The writer reminds us that Jesus has ascended into heaven as a fully human being and serves us as our great High Priest, whose God-given job it is to serve as an intermediary between God and humans, a sure sign of God’s love for us. As our great High Priest, Jesus intercedes to God for us. He is an effective intercessor because he knows completely what it is like to be human, except without sin. Jesus remains fully human and knows our afflictions. He knows how we are tempted, how we are afraid, how we are prone to disorder and folly as often as we are to goodness, righteousness, and truth. This allows him to be fully sympathetic to our needs and answer our prayers effectively. Most importantly, he has the power to help us. Let that sink in for a moment. Let it challenge your fears and disbelief. Let it begin to heal you and give you the basis for real hope to be able to live in this world faithfully as his disciples.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to approach Jesus’ throne of grace, God’s unmerited forgiveness of us through the blood of the Lamb, with boldness. We aren’t being encouraged to be arrogant here. To the contrary, real arrogance would be to refuse God’s offer to help and heal us through Jesus and the operation of his Spirit in our lives! No, God knows our weaknesses and offers us a real solution to overcome them. If we take this promise seriously and pursue it faithfully, there is never a reason we should ultimately succumb to evil or be defeated by it. Yet all too often when trouble comes, we forget this promise and fail to avail ourselves of it. Hebrews 4.14-16 should therefore be a constant go-to verse for us whenever we are in trouble.

In closing, then, let us resolve today to work on getting well, seeking the help of others if needed, but always approaching Jesus’ throne of grace with confidence and hope. Let us remember that this is Jesus, the one who died for us, who rules the cosmos, and who intercedes for us. Let us take our hopes and doubts and fears and dreams to him, confident of his love and power. Doing so is another way we can proclaim to the world that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity, as we invite others to join us in finding the love and mercy and healing we all crave. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I Stand by the Door

Sam Shoemaker (1893-1963) was an Episcopal priest and well-known preacher of his day. It must stand at the heart of the Church’s work and is worth your serious reflection.

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world.
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it…
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door—the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch—the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter—
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it—live because they have not found it,
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find him…
So I stand by the door.

Go in, great saints, go all the way in—
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics—
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depth and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture in a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there [by the door].
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of his house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia,
And want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much:
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.

The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them, too, I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in.
Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear him, and know he is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But—more important for me
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
“I had rather be a doorkeeper…”
So I stand by the door.

—Samuel Moor Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door