Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epiphany 2B 2018 Let The Light Shine In The Temple

Fr. Dale Matson

Let The Light Shine In The Temple

From our opening Collect: “Almighty God, Whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory. Amen”

God’s people are Children of light. The light of Christ that dispels darkness glows within His temple. Each of us is His temple. St. Paul made it quite plain in our Epistle lesson today. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” But you say to me, “How do I go about giving glory to God in my body?” We give glory to God by living respectable, disciplined, and productive lives. John Henry Neumann once said that being holy is simply doing the things of daily life well.

Being holy and showing the light of Christ simply means putting others first beginning with God Himself. That is our first commandment. Having no other god, putting God first is our prime directive and when we do not do this we commit the sin of idolatry. In our world today, those who live in darkness have other gods. They have replaced God with golden calves fashioned by the hands of men. They are not free. They are slaves to material things. Their thoughts are dominated by unbridled passions and obsessions. They have not taken captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Christ’s death and resurrection have given us freedom to be the children of light; to do good deeds to step outside of ourselves and experience the compassion that God has for his creation.

Paul tells us in our lesson, "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.” Here he is expressing the liberty we have in Christ as individuals. I believe this is a wonderful understanding of our liberty. Our liberty is not license. We each have a tipping point where things we use begin to dominate us. Things we own begin to own us. Things we seek after begin to possess us. We rarely call addictions a form of idolatry but that is what addictions amount to. They have become first in our lives. They have replaced God on the throne before us. We can manage to live without God but we cannot live without our friends like the Marlboro Man, Jack Daniels, Henry Ford, Brad and Angelina, Justin and Selena, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, shopping, Mr. Job, eating, drugs and visual images that “cause the lamp of God to grow dim” in the temple of your body. So many folks want to be ‘in love’, infatuated with someone else, to fantasize about him or her but they don’t want to do the hard work it takes for a committed, enduring love of someone else.

My own story is replete with the siren calls of idols. I remember the first puff on a cigarette that made me immediately cough. I remember sneaking a sip of my dad’s whiskey when I was about 5 years old. I immediately began crying because it burned as it went down. “My dad turned around, looked at me and said, “That’s why they call it ‘firewater’ bud”. I went from that place to a place where those things that made me cough and cry dominated my thinking and my life.

The root of alcoholism is spiritual but the collateral damage affects the soul, body, social and economic life of the alcoholic. I am speaking as someone who decided to stop killing myself on the installment plan almost half a life ago. Additionally, God allowed me, as a psychologist and a priest, to comfort others with the comfort that I received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

I had recommitted my life to Christ and was recently baptized as an adult in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (LCMS) when the Lord made me aware that a drunk was unsuitable as an ambassador to His kingdom. God’s grace can even reach down into the heart of an unrepentant drunk.

I did not initially put the bottle down but a person full of ‘spirits’ does not manifest the Holy Spirit to others.

Whether one views alcoholism as a disease or a ‘character defect’, the long-term trajectory for the alcoholic is morbid. The road along the way is full of evidence that there is a problem but personal denial will leave the alcoholic blind to the destroyed relationships, health problems, an erratic job history and missed opportunities.

The root sin of the alcoholic is idolatry. Alcohol is a drug viewed by the alcoholic as the elixir of life. For so many alcoholics, alcohol is a dependable friend who softens the anxieties, sings you to sleep, helps you speak your mind, and makes you the king of an imaginary kingdom. Alcohol even helps you eliminate those folks who hassle you about your behavior. Those who help you play the game (enablers) are the folks you keep around. Usually, the alcoholic keeps one friend around who drinks more that he does so he can be an ‘average’ drinker. After all, isn’t it really about you and your love affair with alcohol?

There is cumulative damage along the way but the prime directive for the alcoholic is to make sure he has enough booze available everywhere he goes on an ‘as needed’ basis. It is your god and you are a devoted follower who prays without ceasing. The only thing that comes close in importance is your employment because it allows you to tithe to your god. It insures entrance into the holy of holies. There is no need to make plans, to aspire to accomplishments, maintain relationships because once you are drunk (and that is the reason alcoholics drink) you are in heaven. This trajectory for many will lead to a life on hold, treading water, paused until life ends. The blackouts will come with increasing frequency. If the liver manages to endure then organic brain syndrome will conquer the last lucid thought.

The alcoholic is not in heaven. The alcoholic is in hell. If he would just look around at the good people he has exchanged for his current loser friends but his former standards no longer mean anything. He has sacrificed himself to his god (Romans 12:1). The god of the alcoholic is a creature, a golden calf, and the evil one. He tells you the truth in a lie as only Satan can do. “If you stop drinking you will die.” The old man must die so the new man may come forth.

Quitting is the biggest sacrifice an alcoholic will ever make. He must step off the throne, die to himself and start over. The fragile rotting ego must be razed. Recovery begins with this. “Help me Lord, help me”.

Each person has his or her own tipping point. I know recovering alcoholics who drink from the cup and other recovering alcoholics who do not. "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.”

Christians are called to be a fit residence, a clean dwelling for the Holy Spirit. In our world today we are often given false choices about what we stand for. We were all horrified by the brutal terrorist acts by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the radical Muslim murders in Paris. Yes, I agree with Pope Francis who defended free speech as not only a fundamental human right but also a duty to speak one's mind for the sake of the common good. He also stated however that there are limits to free speech and I agree. All things are lawful when it comes to free speech but not all things are beneficial.

Christ does not call for us to kill those who offend and attempt to defile our faith. He calls for us to pray for them. Jesus Christ is God the Son. He revealed to us that God is a God of love and compassion. For Christians, the cross is the central point in human history. Christ died and rose from the dead. He defeated Satan and opened the door to eternal life for those who died with and in Christ. So, how does a Christian respond? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. Paul stated in 1st Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (1:18). The cross is offensive to our civic selves because Christ did not condemn or curse those who conspired against Him. He did not call out for vengeance or retribution. He did not even call out for justice. He called for God to have mercy on those who crucified Him. He asked God the Father to forgive them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34) “ A greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

Christians are surrounded by darkness. There is a votive prayer candle in our hearts. It is the light of Christ in this world and darkness cannot overcome it. Almighty God, who’s Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory. Amen

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