Sermon for May 6th, 2018
Note: This morning 4 of our youth were to receive their first communion during mass.
“And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.”
Or so says John in his epistle this morning, then he goes on to say:
“Who is it that conquers the world, but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Well, when I think of world conquerors I think of people like Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, Ghengis Khan… Napoleon and Hitler certainly gave it a go, but I sure don’t think of myself as one. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but I don’t feel compelled to invade Poland, or any other country for that matter…so how am I supposed to be a conqueror?
And what about our faith? Is the Christian faith conquering the world? You could make the argument that there was a time when it seemed like Christianity was bound to take over the world. It certainly was a dominant force in the West for many centuries, but what about now? We all know that church attendance in the West, meaning Western Europe and North America, has been on the decline for many years now. How can we say that our faith conquers the world, when many of us can remember a time when churches were bursting at the seams?; when parishes had their own basketball teams, and great, grand buildings were planned and built? Instead of conquering the world, I know plenty of Christians that feel defeated by it; that feel as if the world has conquered us. Well if all I ever looked out and saw were empty places and empty pews, where people used to sit, then I might feel discouraged too, but that’s not what I see. I see the faces of the people that are here.
Yes, we are a growing parish and it is nice to see new faces all the time, but that’s not what I am talking about. When I come to church, I want to focus on and give thanks for the people that are here, not just lament the folks that aren’t. Even when it seems like only a few are gathered, I think it is important to remember what each one of those people had to overcome to get there. They don’t have to be there. Whether you realize it or not, you actually had to overcome a lot to be here today. You had to overcome or resist a lot of forces in this world to come to church this morning. Now let me be clear here: we do not live in a part of the world where people are being actively persecuted and killed for being a Christian. There are many people who risk their lives to worship the God we worship, and there are people who overcome unimaginable obstacles to serve Christ. I want to honor that; but I also don’t want to minimize the forces that were working against you this morning either. Because the world doesn’t want you to be here.
You all had to overcome some pretty powerful forces in the world to be here, including some pretty powerful drives within yourselves. You had to overcome the desire to stay in bed. You had to overcome the desire to spend a restful, leisurely day off at home (which for many of you I know is a rare treat), but instead you decided to get dressed and come here. You had to overcome the demands and needs of your children, and maybe of your spouse or other family members. You had to overcome traffic, which in Long Island is no minor accomplishment. You had to overcome the temptation to drive directly to the mall or to brunch. Maybe you had to overcome your own doubts about whether this resurrection we proclaim really happened, or doubts about the very existence of God. Maybe you aren’t sure how much of this you believe and you question if your time couldn’t be better spent elsewhere. That is no little thing to overcome. The world didn’t help you to get here this morning. The world doesn’t want you here. Even in a nation where we are free to practice our faith, the world will still put all sorts of obstacles in your way to prevent you from worshipping God. And even after you have managed to overcome all of that, and made it through the doors of the church, you are still going to encounter obstacles or individuals or dare I say sin, that is going to want to make you turn around and head back home. Believe it or not, there are faithful Christians that week after week even endure bad preaching and bad music for the sake of worshipping God. No one in this church obviously, but they are out there I assure you. So if you are in church today, then in some small way at least you have had to overcome the world, because the forces of the world don’t want you here.
Why? What gave you the strength to overcome those worldly desires? What led you to make this place a priority over your other needs and desires? What drove you here today?
Well, the answer, for me at least, is not a 2012 manual Mini Cooper. The answer, I think, is love. There is no other reason for you to be here. The world doesn’t care. Unless you are one of the few people that actually works for this parish I can assure you that your boss isn’t watching. There might have been a time when society expected you to attend church, but not anymore. You know, maybe that’s a good thing, because now the only reason for you to be here is love. But that is also the best reason, because there’s not a force in this world more powerful than love. Love will lead you to do all kinds of crazy things. Love will lead you to risk or even give up your life, for the sake of your beloved. When we talk about finding the courage to overcome obstacles, love’ll do it, and it only takes a little.
Whether you have thought about it or not, I am willing to bet that the driving force behind you being here today is love. Love for Jesus. Love for the God that he both worshipped and revealed to us. Love for the man that was willing to suffer and die rather than deny the truth. Love for the guidance, wisdom and insight revealed to us by God, wisdom that gives our life meaning and purpose and direction. Love for the man who’s resurrection from the dead gives us hope of a world to come, even when our minds can’t completely understand all the mysteries of the world we are in. You might not have thought about all that as you got in your car to come here today, but sometimes love works very quietly that way. And love is so powerful that it only takes a little bit to start changing you, but it grows if you let it. And the more that little seed or spark of love for Jesus grows, the more we are going to want to listen to what he said. And the more we listen to what he said, the more our love for him is going to push us to do what he said. The more we abide in that love of his, the more we will love what he loves until one day we discover ourselves obeying his commandments and not looking at them as burdens or restrictions, but a joyful sign of the love we have for our Lord and Saviour. You know, on the night before Jesus died, he commanded us to remember him whenever we partake of the bread and the cup of the Eucharist. We’re pretty good at that; but on the same night he also commanded us to love one another. That’s a bit harder. But if we can look in our brothers’ and sisters’ faces and see someone that Jesus loved enough to lay down his life for, it’ll get easier.
You know, sometimes I think the church puts the cart before the horse: trying to teach people to obey God before they have taught people to love him. But once you’ve got love, that obedience part takes care of itself. As Paul says, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant. Love doesn’t usually blow its own horn, so you may not realize just how powerful it is, but it can, does and will overcome the world. Look how far it has already gotten you. Look how far it has gotten us. We may not have millions of dollars in the bank, and every seat may not be taken, but if we have love for Jesus then we already have everything that we need. The world doesn’t want you to be here, but your presence here today is living proof, that our faith, and our love, can overcome the world.