Sermon Archives

Tuesday, March 27, 2018
The Holy Tuesday
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Becoming the Christ - Transforming Purpose

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The ancient world was replete with gods.  From Aphrodite to Zeus, and from Isis to YHWH, there were gods of all sorts for people of all sorts.  Not only did communities and cultures have their own gods, but the different trades and skills and areas of life and society each had gods of their own.  There was Hephaestus for metal workers and sculptors, Hera for mothers and families, Mars for war and agriculture, and Isis and Aphrodite for fertility, and the list goes on and on.

And yet, while each of the various gods had their community of interest and area of responsibility (to use a modern phrase!), it seems they also has much in common.  Read the ancient texts and one would reasonably conclude that the common purpose of a god was not simply the care and provision of their people, but rather the accumulation of praise and adoration by disciples and worshippers.  And so we have accounts not only of the various deeds of the gods, but also of the great contests of power and might, not only to the amazement of their people, but also for the people’s fealty and devotion. 

We need look no further than the biblical account of YHWH to hear stories of the ancient gods battling one another for power and glory.  In Egypt, YHWH and his servant Moses set themselves against all the gods and prophets of Egypt challenging one another to a various feats of increasing challenge – frogs and gnats, rivers of blood, hail and a passing plague of death to all the first born. 

Generations later, YHWH, with his singular servant Elijah, is challenged again, this time by the 450 prophets of Baal and the idolatrous king Ahab.  And so the prophets of Baal prepare their sacrifice and call down fire from heaven, but to no avail.  At midday they cry all the more, cutting themselves with swords and lances, but still Baal is silent.

Then, as the day slowly fades to night, the solitary figure of Elijah comes forward.  As if it wasn’t enough to simply out-do the ranks of Baal’s prophets, Elijah goes further and drenches his sacrifice with four amphorae of water not once, but three times.  And then in a show of divine glory and power, he prays:  ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’

And with that YHWH acted!  “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.”

Before all this takes place, however, Elijah captures the true heart of the matter as he says to the people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)

For the ancient gods shared a common desire to increase the body of their followers.  Zeus, Hera, Baal, and YHWH each in their own way sought more loyal followers. 

In such a world, the temptations of Jesus make all the more sense – be like the other gods and people will adore you; perform ever greater miracles and the people will follow you.  You can imagine the temptation, both human and divine.  Wasn’t this the very purpose of divine life?  Wasn’t all about acquiring more and more followers?

But then we hear the words of Jesus himself:  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

With this simple image, another transformation of Jesus takes shape before our eyes.  All that he has understood about divine and human purpose, the acquisition of glory and praise, lay bare before him.  Would he commit his life, as men of great power all around him would do and as the gods before him had done since time immemorial, to himself? To his glory and praise?

Or, would he give his life over in order to give life to others?  Here was a new purpose for life, divine and human.  In place of self-preservation and the acquisition of glory and fame and power, a new purpose emerges:  life for others, for you and for me. 

As Jesus makes his way through Jerusalem, a new purpose stands before him; and a new purpose for our life stands before us.  Will we choose accumulation of glory and fame and power as the purpose of our life?  Lord knows generations of men and women before us have.  Or will we choose life for others as too few have done?

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

We know what choice Jesus makes, he allows himself to be transformed.  But what about us?  Which choice will we choose?