Sunday, July 8, 2018

Amazing God

May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is never pleasant when you give someone important information and they refuse to believe you. I remember one such occasion when I was working as a broadcaster in the Azores. It was a joint-services unit, made up of people from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. I was in the Navy; and my immediate supervisor was in the Air Force. One day I was called down to the Naval personnel office to sign my regular six-month evaluation. And I was rather stunned to find that it was rather a poor one – I had always had excellent ones in the past. And not only was I the senior naval person at the station, I had essentially being given a promotion recently, being made the manager of one of the sections in the station, and had had no complaints about my work – quite the opposite in fact – the poor evaluation was rather out of the blue.

I did not, of course, sign it. I knew exactly what was going on. My supervisor had going through a bad patch in his own career and had been taking it out on those around him. Clearly my turn had come. I went straight to my supervisor and asked for a meeting to discuss the matter. He gave me a little smirk.

'There's nothing to discuss,' he said. 'I have written it. And there's nothing you can do about it.' Now, that might have been true were I in the Air Force as he was; but, as I said, I was in the Navy. And that wasn't how things worked. I was entitled to discuss the evaluation with him – in fact, he should have discussed it with me before sending it down to the personnel office – and I was also entitled to go over his head and appeal what he'd written to higher authority. And I warned him that, on the basis of my past record and known current performance, that what he'd written wouldn't stand. And I suggested to him that, based on my superior knowledge of the way that the Navy worked, that the least embarrassing way forward for all concerned would be if he would simply re-write the evaluation.

Naturally, he refused to believe a word of it. He was outraged that I would challenge what he had written. I was called a great many names. He also said a great many uncomplimentary things about the Navy when things turned out exactly as I told him they would and the evaluation was changed, leaving him with egg all over his face as a result.

He should, of course, have believed me when I told him about the way things worked in the Navy. I was after all, as I said, the senior naval person in the station. But the simple fact is that there are times when people don't want to hear the truth. No matter how clear that it it, objectively speaking, the truth; and despite the fact that consequences will follow for having treated the truth as if it were a lie.

This is the situation we read of in our Gospel reading today. Jesus is visiting Nazareth. And objectively speaking they should have no doubts about who he is. He has by this time healed a great many people. He has, for example, cleansed lepers, he has by his power caused a paralysed man to rise from his mat and walk, he cured a woman of a flow of blood that has afflicted her for twelve long years that no physician was even able to grant her some relief from, much less cure. And if that were not enough, he has cast out demons from those possessed by them, including the notorious case of the Gerasene Demoniac who was in the power of not just one evil spirit, but an entire legion of them. More, he has calmed a storm that threatened to engulf the boat he was on and the other boats that accompanied him. He has even raised the dead.

On the basis of this objective evidence they should accept him as the Messiah. At the very least they should regard him as a great prophet, a holy man sent from God. And yet they reject him. Why? It would seem because of pride. They can not believe he could have walked among them for almost thirty years, from when he was a boy until he was a man come of age, without them realising that he was someone special. And so they mock and sneer at him and will not accept him - to his amazement.

But before we wonder too much at their foolishness, perhaps we should look to our own age. We live in a time of great apostasy, of turning from the faith. Some do so openly, rejecting Christ and what he teaches; of these, some think Christians deluded – others hate them and see them as the enemy of progress in the world. But they, at least, are open about their apostasy. Others I think are perhaps worse, the ones who claim to be Christian, but feel in no way bound to live by the faith, at least not in its entirety. They cherry-pick what they like or causes them no discomfort or challenge; and the rest is put to the side, either ignored or vociferously dismissed as no longer mattering in the modern age. It is almost as if they think there is two Christs; one in the pages of the Bible, and another for time in which we live. But this can not be so; for as St Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews, 'Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. What he taught, and has been passed down to us in Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, stands until the end of the ages. And of those who would claim otherwise, we may look to our Lord's own words in Matthew's Gospel where he said that not everyone who calls him 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of his Father in heaven.

My supervisor suffered no lasting harm for his refusal to listen to my advice concerning Navy performance evaluations. At worst some slight embarrassment at being proved wrong in the end, along with some damage to his reputation among the Navy personnel on the base. Indeed, perhaps in the end it did him some good by teaching him that he can not treat people unfairly and expect to get away with it. But those who reject Christ by refusing to listen to what he says to us through the Bible and what he teaches us through the Church he founded risk far more. The risk being counted among those our Lord said would not be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. This is truly a fate worse than death; because it is a fate that entails the loss of eternal life in heaven.

And so as I end, I pray that all here, and all those throughout the world who count themselves Christians will heed carefully what Christ taught us – and died that he might bring us – so that they will in the end be granted to spend eternity in the place they were created to be – with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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