Apr3SunA sermon for Lent 5 April 3, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
"Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the leading scientists and mathematicians of his age," (writes scholar J. M. Cohen in his introduction to Pascal's famous Pensées)
"His work (on the vacuum, on the mathematics of the cycloid, (and on conic sections,) led him to the solution of problems on which the best minds of his time were engaged.
Furthermore, as a practical inventor he gave the world the calculating machine, and devised also the first public bus service,
the first syringe, and the first wrist-watch.”
Still, (according to Cohen), "The central moment of his life was undoubtedly not that in which he proved the existence of the vacuum,
but his vision of two hours' duration on the night of 23 November 1654,
the record of which he carried ever afterwards, written on a parchment,
around his neck:
This record includes the phrases:
Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee,
but I have known Thee
Joy, … tears of joy
I have fallen away: I have fled from Him, denied Him, crucified Him
May I not fall from Him for ever.
Total submission to Jesus Christ …
I will not forget Thy word..”
(Kevin Miller, vice president, Christianity Today International; from J. M. Cohen, introduction to Pensées. (Penguin Books, 1961) preachingtoday.com)
Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest scientific geniuses ever,
counted all his achievements as nothing compared to the knowledge of Christ Jesus, as experienced in that divine vision one night.
All his inventions and discoveries, which would change civilization,
were worthless in comparison to this spiritual, transcendent experience
which helped him become aware of the presence of God in his life
in a completely new way.
Because of this and to remind himself of the importance of this evening,
he wore a piece of parchment around his neck where he had written down his thoughts and feelings during this vision.—
Pascale could have been one to boast in his achievements, for sure.
If anyone else could boast in their accomplishments,
the Apostle Paul surely was one of them.
Paul could boast to being an exemplary Jew of the highest standing.
A member of the tribe of Benjamin (impeccable pedigree!),
a Pharisee, that is a dedicated student and teacher of the Law of Moses,
Paul boasted of incredible zeal,
he was a 100% persecutor, an inquisitor, so to speak,
of heretics and those who deviated from religious orthodoxy.
He could claim to be righteous under the law,
he followed every Law and kept every commandment…
hard to believe, but probably he basically did.
So in other words, Paul was blameless.
But he came to a new understanding,
that all this what he previously held as important
What are things that we can we boast of?
What are things that we are proud of?
Is it our Resumee, our report cards, our credentials,
Perhaps it’s the praise of our grandchildren,
Maybe we’re pretty happy about our credit score, or our house which has appreciated in value many times over the past few years.
For Martin Luther a “god” is
“anything on which your heart relies and depends.”
Anything no matter how good, can be a replacement for God if it’s what we trust or rely on most.
A god can be something that we’re proud of.
Who is your god, is it your net worth, your spouse,
your kids, cottage or job?
Paul writes to the Philippians:
Everything is loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.
All Paul’s achievements, were rubbish,
Literally in Greek rubbish is s-h-i-t
Everything including his sufferings were trash compared to the new knowledge of Jesus as Lord.
What a bold statement!
My richest gain I count but loss.
Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss
because of Christ.
All is loss, all is rubbish compared to knowing Christ.
Through the power of resurrection, there is a new creation.
Because of Christ: there is a massive paradigm shift =
a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.
Because of the power of resurrection there is a major upset
in one’s worldview.
What’s up is down, and what’s down is up.
Christ changes everything!
The fact that Jesus died on the cross and was raised,
this reality reorients our existence.
And everything else pales by comparison:
the credentials, the possessions, the personal relations.
The resurrection showed God’s unconditional love and desire to be with us forever, that nothing could separate us from God’s love, and mercy,
And that God’s reign of justice transcends all divisions,
That we have direct access to the throne of the Almighty,
That the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is with us always.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Do you want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?
During our 5 week Lenten journey,
We’ve had a chance to reorient, re-prioritize our lives in preparation for Easter.
One of the ways we’ve done this as a community of faith is to use
a variety of newer statements of faith during our liturgy.
I think one of the key ways to understand how we determine our priorities is to reflect on the creeds or statements of faith.
They help us understand and clarify what we know and hold dear.
Ideally, there are elements of these statements of faith that we can hold on to,
and declare, yes: “everything else in my life is rubbish”
except for knowing Christ and the faith of Christ and the faith through Christ.
In today’s statement of faith, it starts out like this:
We believe it is a matter of faith to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
We believe it is a matter of faith to recognize equally and love all members of God’s human family whatever their race, creed, color, gender, sexual ori-entation, marital status, physical or mental capacity.
I would say these two statements are something that has very high value,
and would be something that originates in the power of the resurrection,
Namely that the resurrection bridges all divisions between humans,
and that all are equal in God’s eyes.
The statement of faith also reminds me that as Jesus emptied himself and became fully human, and identified with the poor, needy and outcast, even the marginalized on the cross,
so we need to do the same, and speak up and advocate for the homeless for example, or those who don’t have access to affordable housing,
or the refugees from non-European countries.
What we hold to as primary in our lives (is important),
Because all else falls into place in its natural succession..
For example If our cottage is more important that God,
Or our cottage is our god (according to Luther)
then that’s the way it is, and we’ll live our lives accordingly.
I think Paul is right on here,
by saying all is rubbish compared to knowing,
and participating in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Perhaps this week you can take some time to make a list of the things you hold most dear, and ask yourselves:
can I count these things as rubbish compared to the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord?
Perhaps you might even want to symbolically write them on a piece of paper, toss them in the recycling bin,
and place a cross on top of them as a Lenten exercise (like I did)?
Let’s take a moment of silent reflection.