Monday, February 11, 2019

Talking About Dependency: Interviewed by Fr. Anthony Perkins on Ancient Faith Ministries' podcast, 'Good Guys Wear Black'

My friend, Fr. Anthony Perkins, was also at the recent International Orthodox Theological Association conference in Iasi, Romania.  He sat in on my presentation 'The Effects of Dependency on the Orthodox Churches of Western Kenya' and asked if he could interview me for his Ancient Faith Ministries podcast, 'Good Guys Wear Black'.  So here's the link if you would be interested in listening in on our conversation:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Political Lynching, 2019 edition

Statue of General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

I speak as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and an Independent voter.  More importantly, I speak as a citizen of the United States of America.  And my question simply is, when did we as a constitutional democracy ever rush to convict one of our citizens of a crime and deny her or him of their position and good name on the basis of accusations and hearsay only, without giving her or him the benefit of due process of law afforded to everyone in our country?  Oh right, I recall that there was a time in the last century, and in the previous centuries as well, where we denied Black people (Native Americans, too) due process, where on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations a man might be chased down, beaten and lynched, hung on a tree for the entertainment of his white neighbors.  All because of an accusation.  Was there ever a trial?  No.  Was there ever evidence produced?  No.  Was the man actually guilty?  Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't.  But that was actually not the point.  The real point of this charade of justice was to enforce upon all the other black people who was really in charge.

Statue of General Stonewall Jackson on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

It is appalling to have to say it, but we are seeing the same thing happen again today.  We are not at the point of seeing bodies dangling from the limbs of old oak trees.  But we are seeing the same forces at work, social media mobs demanding the destruction of careers, of lives, Democratic party politicos feeling obligated to join the mob as it bays for social justice blood.  In this case, it is the Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax who has been accused, first by one woman, now by another, of rape.  The news accounts call the accusations 'credible'.  Once again, ironically the issue is not 'justice', but securing the desired 'social justice' reality by fear and intimidation.  This is a standard go-to play for all repressive cultures.  Evidently we are seeing it all over again today.

Statue of General JEB Stuart on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

What the news accounts are not saying, in line with the general rush to hang the accused first, and then ask questions, is that there are no other witnesses, there is no other corroboration.  Mr. Fairfax says that, yes, he had sex with accuser Number 1, but that it was consensual.  The attorney for Accuser Number 1 says it was RAPE.  And that his client is willing to testify to that end.  Well I'm sure she is.  But unless she has actual evidence to back her claims up, we are faced with a classic 'He said, she said' scenario.  Without evidence, rape can not be proven, much less a man convicted.  We are, ironically, back to what happened to now Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh just a few months before.  Accusations were made.  The mob gathered demanding the man's destruction.  But no evidence was ever produced.  There was no way to tell which party was lying.

Monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

In our country, we protect by law people from the peril of false accusations.  So important is this principle that we are even willing to let the guilty go free, not because they are innocent, but because to convict a person without evidence, without due process of law, is considered an even worse outcome.

We have seen the erosion of constitutional rights for individuals before in this country.
Ku Klux Klan rally on Washington DC in 1925.
You would think the Social Justice mobsters would be ashamed...

The people demanding Mr. Fairfax's political hide are putting their own woke ideology ahead of our constitutional rights and democracy.  Back when Mr. Kavanaugh was enduring a similar trial by social justice and social media mobs, I made the comment that if these people are allowed to succeed and destroy this man, then no person will be safe from whatever accusation anybody might wish to hurl at someone else, and for whatever reason (especially a so-called 'social justice' reason).  And so here we are, even with the beat down they got with respect to Kavanaugh, these social justice morons and Democratic sing-alongs are out to prove their cred against their own guy.  I don't agree with Mr. Fairfax's politics, but what these social justice mobsters are doing to him is simply wrong.  It may turn out that there actually is evidence against the man, in which case things should be allowed to take their course as prescribed by law.  But 'accusation' does not equal 'evidence'.  We do not convict and punish men and women just because someone accuses them of something.  Otherwise, we simply have regressed to a Virginia of 100 years ago.  Which is a place that this citizen of Virginia, of the United States, would rather relegate to the history books.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Response to Dahlia Lithwick's Article 'The Lies that will Kill Roe'

Dahlia Lithwick is a journalist that I rarely agree with, but whom I respect as usually attempting to give all sides to a story, even if her conclusion would not be my conclusion.  However in the Slate article "The Lies that Will Kill Roe", Lithwick gives some insight into the mind of those supporters of abortion rights and how they continue to justify not only the continued killing of babies in the womb, but the expansion of the right to murder even in the process of being born.

I was ready to engage with a full-throated Lithwick moral justification for abortion in the face of conservative attempts to shut it down.  But what I read was both profoundly disappointing and telling.  Lithwick offers no moral justification.  She simply starts from the perspective that abortion is a legal right, and then she decries all of the many legal and legislative stratagems that have been thrown up by conservatives to curb if not outright block access to abortions.  Lithwick channels a seething rage that anyone would have the temerity to get in the way of what has been a guaranteed right for women since decision. Roe vs Wade decision.

But what struck me was the utter banality of her argument.  Abortion is one of, if not the defining moral issue of our generation, and the best that Lithwick could do in supporting it was throw in the air a dust storm of procedural grievances.  Lithwick is an intelligent and, at times, witty writer.  But she didn't touch the elephant in the room, not even with a ten foot pole, if I may mix metaphors.  And that is because she has no rebuttal, no argument against the conservative Christian claim, the conservative claim (the Muslim claim and the conservative Jewish claim) that abortion at any point takes a human life, and denies arbitrarily that human person the same right to live her or his life as you and I have.  The 'what abouts' are what's usually used by abortion supporters to justify their 'compassion' in allowing abortion.  What about women who's lives are in danger?  What about women who were raped?  What about babies with deformities?  All of those are terrible, tragic things.  But let us get one thing absolutely clear:  as terrible as these things are, killing a human being is always worse.  There will almost always be a better way to resolve these tragic situations that multiplying the tragedy exponentially by killing another human being.

Lithwick must base her argument on other minor points rather than the moral elephant looking straight at her.  The only way to distract from the horror of medically terminating the life of an otherwise healthy human being (or even an unhealthy human being who needs the love and care of a family for however long he or she may live) is to somehow diminish the reality of that human life developing in his or her mother's womb.  And once one chooses the path of diminishing the intrinsic value of a human life in the womb, the same justification will be used again and again to justify other forms of human life deemed less than human (terminal illness, Downs Syndrome children, Alzheimers and other dementia patients, mentally ill people.  Suddenly we find ourselves back in the horrors of National Socialism and their solutions to ensure a pure race.  The fact that abortion supporters are blind to the slippery slope they themselves are sliding down speaks volumes to their naivete and their boundless confidence in their own capacity to know what's best for everybody else.

What Lithwick refuses to acknowledge is that many people are working very hard to block access to abortion, to prevent abortion, to come up with alternatives that help a mother and her child, to ultimately close the chapter on this terrible nightmare for countless millions of our children who are not with us today because they were murdered - we fight and speak and write and legislate and demonstrate and adopt unwanted babies because we understand abortion to be morally wrong.  It is this argument against which I have stopped hearing rebuttals.  Maybe it is because Lithwick and her tribe believe that there is no such thing as a binding morality on anybody. But they betray the emptiness of their own thinking, because even their claim is a morality, one which they are attempting to make binding on everyone else.

I don't know about you, but if I had to choose between a morality that considered human life at best utilitarian, and at worst not worth preserving in the face of a mother's whim or of whatever difficulty one finds oneself in, or a morality that values each and every human life and seeks the best for each one, regardless of age, regardless of sex, regardless of race, I would rather put my life in the boat of the latter. There are too many examples in history and around the world today of what happens when a society chooses not to value a human life.  But people like Lithwick are too busy being outraged by procedural issues to comprehend that there might be matters that are more important at hand.  Much more important, actually.

Abortion cannot end soon enough.  And when it ends, we will have to make good on our rhetoric to care for the mothers in their tragedies, and for the babies whom nobody wants.

Lithwick's brief article gives a frightening foretaste of what a culture - our culture (!) not bounded by Christian values and morality will be like.  It's a culture where outrage defines the boundaries, or pushes them out of the way.  It's a culture where 'love' and 'hate' are appropriated in entirely new and previously unimagined ways.  A culture where what was wrong is now celebrated as so very right.  And what was bad is now good.  It's a culture where everything exists for one's personal fulfillment, and where the greatest wrong is to be perceived as getting in someone's way.  Pregnancies, babies, children, even teenagers, are a total drag on one's personal freedom.  They totally get in the way of living the self-consumed, self-centered, self-aggrandizing life that has become the empty apogee of so much of American and European culture.  I have watched with increasing horror over the past 30 years as our culture accelerates away from the morality (however flawed the execution of that morality was) that characterized our nation from colonial times.  In many ways, it seems too late.  Momentum is with the smashers of Christian morality.  And as we have seen with issue after issue, it's hard to stop a train once it builds speed.  The one glimmer of hope I see, if Lithwick's article is at all representative, is that the 'new morality' is almost entirely reactionary.  It is another French Revolution - down with the old.  Off with their heads.  Man, I mean, Person the barricades!  etc. But Lithwick and her tribe have nothing positive to say.  Rage against what is perceived to have oppressed all these little groups is what is happening right now.  And without a positive vision to direct everybody towards, the anger and rage will simply turn within and devour everyone who doesn't meet the latest version of woke orthodoxy. 

But these people are going to take us through hell before it's over.  It's the weakest who have already suffered the most.  But if these people are allowed to succeed, then they will take the rest of us down with them.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Birthday Abortion

This is where the train has been headed all along.  Once a society frees itself from the constraints of Christian morality, it should surprise no one that a different morality is choosing the music and enforcing its dance on everyone.  Social justice wokeness, drag queen children’s hour in the public library, social media mob action to shut down, shame, banish and hurt anyone who transgresses the orthodoxy of the moment - terrible as they are, all of these things are as nothing compared to the tangible steps being taken by state legislatures to legalize killing infants up until the point of birth.  New York has done so already.  Virginia is on the verge of doing so, and has a Democratic governor who thinks it’s a good idea. 

I was personally shocked when I first heard of this - it seemed to come out of nowhere, especially after decades of incremental efforts by pro-life activists and politicians to place restrictions on the Roe vs Wade right for a woman to have an abortion.  There have been people, who see this new pro-abortion legal assault as a natural and necessary extension of abortion rights, who have wanted to see this happen for a very long time.  And right now they are having their day.  They are not encumbered by Christian theological or moral concerns - they have devised their own morality and philosophy and have a pantheon of gods that - surprise, I know - looks and thinks just like them.  But really, this should surprise no one.  This is what ‘the world’ always has done, and always will do.

What should surprise, and shock, and simply gut everyone who pauses long enough to look is how quickly American Christianity has simply caved.  Out in FoxNews land, where people follow their comfortable routines and go, either to their little church, or their ginormous mega-church, where we hear that God loves us sooo much, and wants us to be the best we can possibly be, and that God is on our side and is about to break through in revival, where no dark cloud hides the sunshine pouring forth from our court deity - among us in so-called Christian America, there is no awareness whatsoever that the battle has been raging all around us, much less that that battle has been lost.  We are cultural, intellectual, theological, and political dinosaurs.  And what’s worse, if that’s even possible: we are now the enemy.  And those who have taken over the levers of power in our country at every level from federal offices and bureaucracies, to the institutions of academia, to state offices and legislatures, to the boards that govern our cities and towns and schools - these people are taking decisions that are remaking our nation, our states, our cities and towns, our schools, and the institutions and companies where we work into something that is not just not Christian, but actively anti-Christian.

And where have we been, we Christians?  Let’s just say we haven’t been following Jesus (ie. we haven’t been disciples).  And we haven’t been managing all the things God has entrusted to us, be it opportunities, education, gifts and abilities, money and stuff, in a way that glorifies God and advances His kingdom (ie. we have been miserable stewards).

And so now we live in a world where we can be terminated from our job if we think that homosexuality is a sin.  We become social pariahs if we refuse to get on the bandwagon and affirm a young boy’s desire to surgically remove his penis and testicles and take drugs to give him the features of a female.  We can have our career and future prospects ruined on the basis of accusations alone, due process be damned. We can be refused to be considered for an academic position if one is a white male (though care will be taken to carefully mask the racism).  Or if we have an academic position, we can be hounded from our work if we refuse to affirm the SJ cause of the day.  And evidently we live in a land that actively butchers babies, even on their birthday, and should the child survive the active efforts of the doctors and nurses to kill him or her, they are left passively to die - something that is still referred to as infanticide.

I simply don’t get it.  Where is this coming from?  Why does anybody think this is a good idea?  Especially when there are people like myself who would gladly take an unwanted infant and raise them in a home where they are loved.

I just don’t get it?  How can anybody who themselves have ever been born, who themselves have ever been a baby, want to turn around and allow the murder of other babies who had the misfortune of not being me or you?  The arbitrariness, the lack of some absolute to anchor the new morality means that the justification for these things is just being made up on the basis of personal preference.  Today we are killing babies on their birthday.  There is nothing left to stop us killing post-birth infants that are in our way and inconvenient.  Nothing left to stop us killing those with inconvenient diseases.  Nothing left to stop us killing those with dementia.  Nothing left to stop us killing those who are not of any use to us.

We can see where the abortion train is going by looking at what happens when the god of personal preference takes control.  A horrific number of abortions occurs in India and China.  The majority of those babies killed are little girls.  In the US the greatest percentage of those babies who are murdered in the womb are black babies.  One does not stop the genocide perpetrated on African American babies, or the gendercide executing thousands and thousands of little girls (who would grow up to be women just like the ones driving the abortion-rights train) by removing all legal constraints preventing abortions whenever and for whatever reason.  It seems to me to be madness driving this forward, heedless of the consequences.  It just staggers me to watch the lessons of the past one hundred years dismissed as if we know better.  But we seem determined to throw the switch and send our train down the very same set of tracks, willfully ignoring for the sake of short term gain the historical, philosophical and theological fact that the bridge up ahead long ago collapsed into the gorge.

That is our culture, and based on the choices being made it will not end well.  And a lot of people will suffer until it does finally end, not least of whom are the babies who are being ritually slaughtered to feed the gods of self and hubris who now drive this culture.

But Christians - what has happened to us?  What has happened to you?  Where are you, even now?  In our unimaginably wealthy homes with our unimaginably wealthy lifestyles, with our comforts and conveniences piled so high we have to have garage sales to make room for more.  We have lived for so long professing a faith that has cost us nothing, that now we can’t imagine that it could be any different.  Why aren’t we Christians marching in outrage on the state houses in New York and Virginia and all the other states where this is happening?  Do we not care that infants are being sacrificed to satisfy the gods of social justice and personal convenience?  Of all the transgressions that sent the God of Israel around the bend in the Old Testament, when Judah built a fire pit to the god Moloch in the Valley of Ben Hinnom outside Jerusalem and began sacrificing children into the fire - this as much as anything else, triggered the judgement that fell on Israel and then Judah which caused them to be vomited from the land.  We are not Israel or Judah, but God sees, and God knows.  And God is always on the side of the poor, the defenseless, the widows and the orphans - how much more so on the side of the poor, defenseless unborn who have no one to speak up for them or to help them or to save them from so-called ‘doctors’ and ‘mothers’ who would kill them.  God’s priorities have always been crystal clear.  But our priorities as American Christians have conspired to bring us precisely to this point.  Personally, I think this is a Revelation 2-3 issue for us.  God has some significant things against us.  We are starting to reap the whirlwind that we ourselves have sown.  And unless we, American Christians, repent, our lamp stand will be history.  Just as the lamp stands of those churches in Turkey are now history.  God sees. God knows.

The early church existed in circumstances that barred it from privilege and power.  They had none of the things so many of us assume we must have to live a fulfilled life.  And yet God used them to bring, one by one, their neighbors to Christ.  And one of the chief ways the early Christians made an impression on their neighbors was their willingness to rescue babies who had been left outside in a lonely place to die.  Maybe we are about to see history repeat itself.  One way or another, though, if the thought of babies being killed in our hospitals is not enough to rouse American Christians from our soporific life of overindulgence to actually do something in love for our neighbor, nothing will.  And the game might as well be over, except of course, for the shouting.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Missionary Pulpit in an Urban African Church Planting Context; Or, The Foolishness of Preaching

Effective preaching is a challenge in any context.  There is the text, the prism of the preacher, and the capacity or desire of the hearer to understand, much less respond.  Challenges in a any one of these areas are enough to make the preacher’s attempt to communicate the Word of God to a congregation an exercise in futility.

Kisumu from Lake Victoria (before the water hyacinth clotted this bay)

Preaching across cultural barriers exponentially increases the complexity of the preacher’s task.  Differences of culture, of language, of perspective, of economic situations present unique challenges to anyone who hopes to be an effective communicator or anything, much less the Gospel.

Many of the people in our Church come from places like this

This is precisely my situation as a preacher in a church-planting situation in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city on the shores of Lake Victoria.  Eight months ago we began meeting as the new Orthodox parish Church of St. Moses of Africa.  From three or four, we have slowly grown to more than twenty, most of whom are not Orthodox and who we hope to catechize and baptize in the coming months.  I am not ordained, but I share preaching responsibilities with our priest in charge.  More than half a dozen times this has included open-air preaching in the city square to a congregation of street boys and glue-sniffing addicts.  Needless to say my preaching experience in Kisumu i unlike any other I have experienced in my thirty years of preaching in church contexts.

Downtown Kisumu

My preaching has always been determined primarily by the text.  I view myself as an expository preacher, which means I take as the main point/s of my message the main point/s of my text.  But having done the hard work of exegesis, my task has actually only begun, as I must now attempt to translate what I have discovered into something the people listening can understand and which makes sense to them (and not just to me!).  And then there is the issue of application.  I may know how this passage should be applied to a congregation of American Orthodox (or Evangelicals, or Presbyterians, or Pentecostals, all of which I am or have been), but do I know my host culture well enough to be able to suggest what the implications of this passage for men and women and young people who’s day to day reality and assumptions about that reality are very different from my own?  This is where things get really hard.

Of course the hardest thing of all about preaching is that ultimately I cannot enable or force the change called for by the text.  I can get all of my preaching ducks in a row, but unless the Lord Himself is part of the equation, eyes will remain closed, ears remain shut, hearts remain hard, and nothing of eternal significance will be accomplished.  Those preachers who regularly play the emotion card in order to get a ‘response’, usually of people ‘coming forward’ after the message for prayer or to ‘receive Christ’, would do well to look at the long-term results of their efforts.  Are any of the people who ‘responded’ leading lives as disciples of Christ today?  The churches of Kisumu are full of people who ‘made a decision for Christ’ at some point but whose lives fundamentally are the same as before.  People go to church here too often for reasons other than wanting to grow as a disciple of Christ and a steward of what God has entrusted to them.  But that is another issue.  The point here is the foolishness of preaching.  Sure we can manipulate people emotionally, but without the actual power of God, such preaching glorifies the preacher and not the Lord Jesus.  But when God is present in the preaching of the Word, then the Word preached becomes the most effective of all sacraments at turning the hearts of sinners back to their Maker, and of edifying the Church (in the sense that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12-14), and of providing spiritual food for the mind, just as the Body and Blood provide spiritual food for the heart.

So this is why I preach, because it is the means God normally chooses to glorify Christ, to proclaim the good news about Christ and to show the Way that God has made for our salvation through Christ.

What follows are two recent attempts to preach to the members of our urban African Church-plant.  As an Orthodox Christian, I follow the lectionary.  Usually I preach from the Gospel reading, as I find my audience more responsive to stories.  But sometimes I preach from the epistle if I think the message is particularly pertinent.  The first example is from 2 Corinthians 4, the reading from Sunday, January 20.  The second is from Luke 19, the story of Zaccheaus, which was the Gospel reading for today.  I am very much still a work in progress.  I sometimes despair the anyone ever listens, or that I am an instrument worthy of the task I’ve been given.  But I press on and trust that God knows what He’s doing, and that somehow, at least for now, I am part of His plan for the provision of His Church.

Children in Nylenda, a slum not far from where I live

A Sermon Preached on Sunday, January 20, 2019
‘Treasure Hunt’

2Corinthians 4:6-15
Brothers and sisters, it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Do you know what a treasure hunt is?  It’s a kind of game we get children or young people to play.  We hide a prize and then give everybody a clue as to where they will find the next clue. And so everybody scatters hunting clues.  And the last clue will take you to the treasure.  And if you get there first, you win the prize.  So here’s an example of the first clue - ‘I am thirsty, so I look at the floor and only orange in a bottle will do.’  So what do you think I am talking about?  Orange Fanta in this case.  So I pick up the bottles of Orange Fanta, and look here, it’s the next clue!  So that’s how it works.  Now if you are like me, you are probably thinking, ‘That’s a game for children.’  But what if I told you that I have hidden a real treasure in a suitcase just like this.  And inside the suitcase is 1,000,000 Ksh.  All of a sudden, I think even the grownups would be interested in playing!  Just so you’ll know, there isn’t another suitcase filled with cash.  There is no 1,000,000 Ksh treasure to find.  

But I mention this game because there is an even bigger treasure, a treasure that God has for you and me.  The problem is that we can’t see this treasure.  We can’t deposit it into any bank.  We can’t pay for groceries with it.  But this treasure is the most valuable thing that exists on this planet.  With this treasure, your sins can be forgiven.  With this treasure, you can be set free. With this treasure, you can have a new life.  With this treasure, you can be empowered to be the person God created you to be.  With this treasure you can love your neighbour.  With this treasure you can love God.  With this treasure, you can make a difference for good, for the kingdom of God right here where you and I live.  With this treasure, even though we die, we will rise again.  With this treasure, we will live forever with Christ on the New Earth and the New Heaven, where there is no more sickness, no more tears, no more suffering, no more dying.

So I have a question for you - do you have this treasure?  Are you experiencing the peace, the joy, the love, the kindness, the goodness the gentleness, the faithfulness, the self-control that this treasure brings into our lives?  Do you want this treasure? Because it is ours to have.  This treasure is not a Church.  This treasure is not a list of do’s and don’ts. Instead this treasure is a person.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6 - ‘For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

Let’s unpack this, because this is everything.  First note that we don’t ‘find God’ - God finds us!  We are the ones who are lost in darkness, wandering about in our own ways, doing what seems best for us, but never finding solid ground on which to stand.  But in our lostness, in our darkness, when we were ‘without hope and without God in this world’ (Ephesians 2:12), God came to us with His light to show us ourselves and show us the way out.  God ‘has shown in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God’.  This light that leads us out of our slavery and sin and death is knowledge - but it is a special kind of knowledge.  It doesn’t come from going to school or accumulating degrees.  It is the knowledge that comes when we see with the eyes of our heart the glory of God.  That is, when we see God for who He is.  This is not the God of the health and prosperity preachers.  This is not the God of the politicians.  This is not one of the mahindi gods, or Chinese gods or even American ones.  This is the God who created light from nothing.  And who created the world and all that’s in it.  And who created the whole universe that moves in every direction around us.  Who has all power in his hands.  When we take a moment and consider who God is and what He has done, then we begin to understand something of His glory.  And God, this God, is speaking to us, to you.  God’s works all around us are speaking to us, to you.  God is shining his light into your heart and mine.  But the glory of God isn’t some luminous light.  It isn’t a feeling we experience when singing or praying or shouting.  Instead the glory of God is a person.  And God gives us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.  When we see Jesus, we see God.  When we know Jesus, we know God.  And when we receive Jesus, we receive God.  This is the treasure God has for us.  Not riches and prosperity, because these are like smoke in the air and will vanish into nothing.  Not power or pleasure, because these can do nothing to fill the infinite chasm of poverty in our hearts.  Jesus alone has the power to save you.  Jesus alone has the power to heal you.  Jesus alone has the power to turn the darkness you are in to light.  Jesus alone has the power to save you from the power of death itself and raise you up on the last day.  And Jesus alone has the authority to judge.  Because he is both completely a man who lived on this earth just like you and me - He knows. He sees, He hears, and He knows.  And because He is also God incarnate, of the Holy Trinity, He has the authority and the power to hold the wicked to account and to make every wrong right, to undo injustice, to banish the hypocrites, to dismiss the corrupt but to welcome instead the poor sinners who look to him as their only hope.  This is our Treasure.  Jesus is what God gives to every person who seeks him.  ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’ (Matthew 7:7-8)  This is prayer that God delights to answer.  If you ask for Jesus, to know Jesus, to be filled with Jesus - you are asking for the most important thing.  And God will fill your heart and your life with Jesus.  And you will never be the same.

‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels’, says Paul (2 Cor 4:7).  It’s true.  I am still on the way, and so are you. I haven’t arrived yet; have you?  Some days I make bad choices that hurt me and hurt other people.  Some days God seems very far away.  Somedays I forget that I have this treasure, that I am the Lord’s and He is mine.  But God is still at work, says Paul.  Being found is not something I can do - that’s what God is doing.  Being healed is not something I can do - that’s God’s doing.  Being transformed is not something I can do - that’s God’s work.  I can make myself willing.  I can offer myself.  But Paul reminds us that we are just jars of clay, living our lives with broken bodies, broken minds and broken hearts.  ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.   We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed - always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body…’ (2 Cor 4:7-10)  

This life is hard.  And it is hard because of what the accumulated sin of many many others is doing to us, and because of what our own sin and wrong choices are doing to us and to those around us.  And so we struggle.  And we feel forced to compromise every day again and again.  And then, because we are human, we will all die; whether by sickness or accident, death will happen to each one of us.  Those who think they can live this life without this Treasure have deluded themselves.  They think that because nothing bad happened to them today, it won’t happen to them tomorrow.  We see a perfect example of this with all the boda boda drivers, who wear no helmets and drive their motorbikes like demons and think that they will live forever and that the consequences for their choices will never catch up with them.  But the consequences of their choices and ours, too, will catch up with us.  Which is why we all need a new way, a new life; which is why we all need a Savior.  We need the Treasure that only God can give.  We need Jesus.

This, explains Paul, is why he is writing to the little church in Corinth.  And this is why I am preaching to  you this morning.  This is why we have come to Church.  ‘Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.’ (2 Cor 4:13-15)  If this life is a Treasure hunt, then all of the clues have brought us right here.  And the reason Paul can speak with such conviction is the same reason I can stand before you and preach.  And that is simply because Jesus rose from the dead.  If the resurrection never happened, and Jesus is still dead, then we have no hope, and every person who has died has perished.  But if God raised Jesus from the dead, THEN THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!  It changes our lives, it changes the meaning of what we experience. And it gives us the hope that the God who has shown us His Treasure in the face of Jesus Christ will finish what He has started in each one of our hearts and lives.  Because if Jesus is alive, then ‘He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.’  That’s why Paul can say ‘All things are for your sakes’ - we go through this life and all these trials so that we can be the light and the love of Jesus to those around us still walking in darkness.  God is using our lives, and our words and our love to speak to everyone around us.  We are His grace.  And God’s grace is spreading through us to many.  And this, says Paul, will cause many to thank and praise God.

Are you living for yourself this morning?  Or are you living for God?  Paul presents us with a radically different understanding of the purpose of our lives than what our families have, than what our neighbours have, than what many churches have, than what the politicians have, than what the media has.  Who are you listening to?  Have you found the Treasure?

One of the many Roho or 'Spirit' Churches in K

Sermon from January 27, 2019
‘Lost and Found’

Luke 19:1-10
At that time, Jesus was passing through Jericho. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he a lso is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."

Zaccheaus was a lost man.  By the standards of his world, he had everything.  A big house outside Jericho, lots of slaves, every comfort and luxury one could imagine, and lots of money.  Never mind he had alienated his people by cooperating with the Romans, becoming their tax collector, charging his own people two, three, even four times as much as they actually owed, and laughing all the way to the bank.  He was a man of power and influence.  He did whatever he wanted to do in order to get what he wanted.  

'Christ is the Answer Ministries'  One of the 'successful' mega churches in Kisumu
a branch of CITAM (the former Nairobi Pentecostal Church) in Nairobi

But that was the trouble.  He had gotten what he wanted.  Power, wealth, influence - he had become a somebody.  But he had begun to realize that it was all empty.  He had been reaching for the clouds, but when he got there he discovered there was nothing in his hands but empty air.  And he began to realize that people who had much less than he had, who were nobodies, were much happier than he was.  Zaccheaus began to realize that he had made a terrible mistake.  And now there was no way out.  He was a spider caught in his own web.

Another Kisumu congregation

And then Zaccheaus heard that the prophet from Nazareth, Jesus, was walking through Jericho.  Zaccheaus had heard about Jesus - everybody had heard about Jesus!  So he rushed out of his compound.  He wanted to see for himself.  There - where the crowd was - slowly moving down the road.  Zaccheaus ran to where the crowd was.  But he couldn’t see anything.  He was too short, and there were too many people.  So Zaccheaus ran ahead of them and saw a tree, a sycamore tree, and he climbed up in it.  And watched as they drew near.  And, there He is!  And He’s looking at me!  And then Zaccheaus, and everybody, hears Jesus call his name!  ‘Zaccheaus!’  said Jesus (‘How did He know my name?’)  ‘Come  down for I must stay at your house today!’  

A tent-church in Kisumu

So Zaccheaus hurries down from the tree and comes face to face with Jesus.  We aren’t told what happened in that moment.  We aren’t told what Jesus said to him.  All we know is that from the time Zaccheaus meets Jesus in the middle of that crowd on the road in Jericho, Zaccheaus is a changed man.  Everything is different.

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Kisumu

So Jesus changes directions and starts moving towards Zaccheaus’ house.  And all the people start murmuring, because they know who Zaccheaus is and what he’s done.  If anyone deserved the label ‘sinner’, Zaccheaus did.  And why was Jesus going to see someone like him? 

Power of Jesus Around the World Church in Kisumu

All we’re told is something of the speeches at the end.  A miracle seems to have happened.  Zaccheaus the corrupt tax collector has come to his senses.  And his change isn’t just one of words.  He determines to give back fourfold all of the money he has cheated people of; and not only that, he announces that he is giving half of what he has to the poor.  I don’t know about you, but this is what I call a change in direction.  This is what I call repentance.  But more importantly, this is what Jesus recognizes as repentance.  And as He is leaving Zaccheaus’ house to resume His journey to Jerusalem, Jesus says, ‘"Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."

Roho Israel Church members in Kisumu

A couple of take-aways.  First notice that what Jesus calls salvation isn’t what people today call salvation.  People today will say they are saved if they have trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and that this means they are born again.  But salvation came to Zaccheaus not because of his words, but because of what he did, because his life changed.  Repentance that doesn’t lead to a changed life is worthless.

Abira Gogo Roho Israel Church in Kisumu

Secondly, Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  Zaccheaus was found because he realized he was lost.  He realized he had messed his life up.  Zaccheaus knew he needed a savior.  Most  people, including most Christians, are too proud to admit that they are sinners needing a savior.  They might confess general sins, but one can only repent of real particular sins.  God doesn’t forgive general sins.  He forgives sinners who have used their thoughts and words and deeds to live for themselves and to hurt other people and to rebel against God.  Jesus saves those who know they need a savior and who want to change.

Lastly, we see in this story about Zaccheaus that Jesus changes everything.  Zaccheaus was crushed under the burden of all of his wrongdoing and he didn’t know the way out.  And then he met Jesus.  Jesus showed him the way, in fact Jesus is the Way.  But you have to be willing to go Jesus’ way.  Jesus doesn’t forgive us simply to allow us to stay the same.

In the case of Zacchaeus, the change that occurred on that day when he met Jesus was not a one-off.  Instead after the death and resurrection of our Lord, Zaccheaus continued as a Christian.  And Church Tradition says that he followed St. Peter to Caesarea on the coast and was the first bishop there, where he died in peace.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. 

Your feedback and helpful critique is welcome.