Friday, May 9, 2014

Are your efforts thwarted? hopes dashed? dreams up in smoke? Stop hoping in what is hopeless

HIGH HOPE

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  Romans 8:15-17

If there is one thing the Christian faith will not allow us to do it is to live in fantasy land.  The whole world is delusional today.  This in itself is nothing new, but being wired-up 24/7 we are never allowed to forget it, and before long we start to believe our own propaganda, but please don’t put any stock in the prevailing social themes of the day.  If we hear that justice is blind, the economy is on the mend or that democracy is spreading to the world we can be pretty certain that the opposite is true, because every solution that men propose to fix the world’s problems only makes things worse.

As students of scripture we know that the world cannot improve because people cannot improve.  We have a fatal and incurable wound called original sin and because of it death reigns in the world.  That is bad enough, but what is of particular astonishment to God’s children is that it still reigns in our flesh.  We know that we are justified by faith and at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are forgiven of all our sins and the New Man within serves only Christ, but we see another law at work within our members, and it makes us afraid.  It makes us wonder if we are really the Christians we profess to be.  Because of this St. Paul goes to great lengths to calm and encourage us.  He confirms that we are God’s children and that we have a Father who will never leave us nor forsake us; and that in spite of the war that rages within us, and all around besides, there is no reason to be afraid.

How does Paul do this?  Certainly not with fairy tales or phony forecasts.  Instead he gives us rock-solid reasons to live each day with all boldness and confidence in Christ.  He teaches us that though we are born as sinners, God Himself has adopted us and become our Father in Christ.  The point Paul makes here is strong and comforting.  The Roman Christians to whom Paul first wrote this letter understood his example very well.  In the ancient world unwanted children were abandoned and left to fend for themselves or die, but if such a child was fortunate enough to be adopted under Roman law, his troubles were over.  In the eyes of the law such adoption put him on the same footing as the natural born children up to and including the sacred rights of inheritance.  Now whatever was true of Roman law is doubly true of God’s.  Before baptism and apart from Christ we are left alone to fend for ourselves but we are not free.  Instead we are hopelessly enslaved by the devil, addicted to our passions and consigned to do the Evil One’s bidding for him.  However, when God adopts us in holy baptism He liberates us from the power of darkness, and brings us into the kingdom of His own dear Son in whom we have redemption, that is the forgiveness of our sins.  Our former life is now of no consequence, and our sins are remembered no more!  As God’s adopted children we are not only His children, but also His heirs.  People dream of winning the big lottery, or receiving an unexpected inheritance from a wealthy relative.  Those things rarely happen, but when we are adopted by God we become heirs of the One who holds title to the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore.  Surely, not even those things can satisfy us; no amount of worldly gain ever can.  Whatever we attain soon loses it’s luster, and we either want more of it, or something else entirely.  We cannot be long satisfied by any blessing unless it is inherited in conjunction with Christ.  Unless we are first united to Him, not in our pious imaginations, but by the sure Word and the objective sacraments we have nothing.  As it is we are in Christ, adopted sons, and thus co-heirs of God.

Lest we think that there can be heaven on earth St. Paul reminds us that we are also: co-sufferers with Him and that we will be co-glorified with Him as well.  Again, we dare not live in fantasy land.  The world lives in denial because it sees no resolution to the sin, suffering and cruelty that marks humanity.  Without the light of God’s Word and the love of Christ we would live in the same denial, but we do not!  Not because we are more courageous than others, but simply because we know how the story ends, that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. A s such we have the ability to gauge reality in a sober way and accept it for what it is.  Accepting it is not the same as liking it or approving of it.  We do not like sin -- ours or anyone else’s -- nor do we like to suffer, but we know that hardship is unavoidable, and we know, moreover, that there is a certain nobility to it for us because it makes us like our Lord, the One whom Isaiah names: the Man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.

As Christians, suffering is not meaningless, indeed it serves a blessed end.  We are all afflicted by what we might term spiritual ADD.  The pleasures of the world and temptations of the flesh cause our minds to wander, and not just a little!  But suffering makes us forget the false pleasures of sin and focus on God.  It makes us rely on His strength to endure, and on His mercy to bring them to an end.  By suffering we are conformed to the image of the Son, and as His sufferings ended with rest and resurrection, we know that ours will too.  Our troubles are not endless.  God will raise us up in due time, and make us to inherit a share of His glory.  This is no small thing!

These promises are all apprehended by faith, but left to our own devices we could never retain them.  So God gives us His Spirit to comfort us along the way and to keep hope alive.  The Spirit in turn gives us the church and ministry; the gospel and sacraments; a storehouse of churchly tradition, ecclesiastical art, sacred music, liturgy and hymnody, brotherly love and more than time allows us to recount.  Are these things the opiate of the people that Karl Marx declared them to be?  Yes they are!  But unlike the delusions the world advances these are real, of divine origin, and thus the truest pain reliever there is.  They will carry us until we receive our full inheritance.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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