1994 Sermon, 2 easter B, Our Faith overcomes the world
Year B, 2 Easter
St. James' Episcopal Church
The Rev. Timothy J. Howe
Scripture: 1 John 5:1-6
Title: Our Faith overcomes the World
You know, sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life is down right painful. Sometimes life threatens to do us in. This past week, many of us went through some exceedingly tough times. People were in the hospital, a parishioner died, families went through crises, in short, many of us had a rough week. I don't know about you, but I feel kind of beat down by it all.
There's a line in the movie The Princess Bride where the hero tells his true love that "Life is pain, princess. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something." That line typifies this second week of Easter. I realize that many of you also had tough things happen this past week.
When a church makes a major move forward for God, one thing that happens is that all the forces of hell rally around and seek to trip up and disrupt the things that God is doing. The Scripture tells us that we face three major enemies in this life. They are the world, the flesh, and the devil. I have seen all three in operation in our midst this past week.
I can only guess at all that this implies. I know that we are making a major move forward under God's guidance with this move to these new facilities. I know that by increasing the size of our facility, we will reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. And I know God desires for us to be a force for good in this area. These are things that scare the spiritual forces of wickedness and they try to counter act and disrupt what God is doing. Why? Because they are in rebellion against God and seek to destroy His handiwork.
This is why, every time we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God (That's the devil), and the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God (that's the world), and all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God (that's the flesh). We renounce them because we want to please God and not to destroy the things He is doing and creating.
But, sometimes, like this past week for many of us, these forces of evil and death seem to gain the upper hand and threaten to undo us. We are thrown to the lions and we begin to wonder why.
Is it possible for us to gain the upper hand when we face the struggles of life? Is it possible to overcome when bad things happen to us? If so, how do we do that? What do we do?
You know, there was a book written not too long ago called "When Bad things happen to good people." The basic conclusion of that book was that God is not able to intervene to help people when bad things happen. The author claims that God is somehow limited in His abilities to rescue people. Many of us fall into that attitude and mentality when we face a life crisis. We are in good company. The psalms are full of cries of anguish as the various writers cry out to God to save them from the perils they face. Job cries out to God that he might understand why all these evils have befallen him. Jesus hanging on the Cross cries out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? We are in very good company, indeed.
Whenever a crisis occurs, our natural tendency is to question why and wonder if God cares. That is our natural tendency. There is another way to look at this issue, however, and I would like to lay it out before you now.
St. John, in his first epistle, dwells at great length on the fact of God's love. He urges his readers to dwell in love and walk in love and reflect the presence of God's love in our lives by extending love to all those around us. St. John grounds his argument in the historical facts about Jesus that he himself has witnessed and touched and heard. John is convinced that what he writes is the truth. What he writes is the truth.
So, what does he write that applies to life crises? He writes, "this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith." How does our faith overcome the world?
Our faith overcomes the world because our faith is placed in Jesus Christ and He has overcome the world at its deadliest. In faith, we bind ourselves to Jesus, in contempt of, and opposition to, the world. This does not guarantee that we will not suffer. Indeed, in all likelihood, we will suffer because we are going against the flow of the world. God calls us heavenward. The world seeks to pull us down into its destruction.
Our faith overcomes the world because as we place our faith in Christ, the love of God works inside us so that we lose our love for the things of the world. The petty baubles and tinny trinkets of the world lose their emotional hold upon us. God works in us to give us a love for those things that are eternal and real. The things of the world lose their appeal for us and thus we overcome the world.
As we live in faith, God works through faith and purifies our hearts. He purifies us from those lusts and desires rampant in the world through which the world gains sway over us. We lose that inner compulsion for those things that destroy us. Instead, we gain an inner drive and hunger for righteousness and purity. Jesus works in us through the Holy Spirit to alter our very desires. This sometimes takes a long time, but through faith in Christ, the process of purification operates in our lives, cleansing us from the corruption of the world and fitting us for the purity of heaven.
Our faith overcomes the world because we no longer draw upon the world to give us strength. We look to a different source of life, namely God, to supply all our needs. Jesus provides us inner strength to stand up to the world and its disapproval. When people accuse us of being too religious, we don't have to be ashamed. (Truth be known, we probably feel we aren't religious enough.) In fact, God by His Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts to sustain us and make us into His image. And greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Why? Because He who is in us created all things, including the world and all that is in it. If Christ dwells in your heart by faith, then you have within you the greatest source of strength and power ever known. He is mightier than the biggest bomb known to mankind. He is stronger than the greatest peer pressure that others can wield against you. He can sustain each and every one of us through all the trials and temptations of life and deliver us safely into eternal habitations.
This is important because it is by faith that we see heaven at hand, an invisible eternity, with which this world is not worthy to be compared. Through the vehicle of faith, God informs the soul that it must be ready to enter this eternal world to come and thus, we overcome this world of woe and trouble by preparing ourselves for the world to come.
Our faith is born of God- it comes from God, operates in our souls through His Holy Spirit and leads us toward God and the things of God. Our Lord is not limited in His power or ability as some make Him out. No, He has infinite power and ability to work within us to give us the victory over the world and all the things in the world that seek to destroy us.
Our faith overcomes the world because by faith we are now connected with eternal reality. Eternal reality is God Himself. God never passes away or dies. Nothing in this world can touch Him to destroy Him. God lives forever. Through faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ, we participate in eternity. By definition that which is eternal lasts forever. We know this world does not last forever. We die, things decay and someday the sun will explode. When that happens, we will be in heaven, just beginning our residence there.
So, what is it that overcomes the world? It is our faith in Jesus Christ. Through this faith, this world is conquered. Jesus has already conquered this world and by placing our faith and trust in Him, we too participate in His victory over it.
So, be of good cheer when life threatens to overwhelm you. Be of good cheer, I say and look up when the storms break over you. Look up and behold your Redeemer, living and true, with open arms to receive you and bless you. For He has overcome the world.