Paul writes, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom … so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God”.
My friends: we’re in the midst of a war.
We’re in the midst of a civil war.
It’s not a new war; it’s the same rebellion that has been brewing since the dawn of time, since that first time that men and women thought that they knew better than God Himself, and like rebels throwing out the rightful king, tried to replace his authority with our own.
We’re in the midst of a war.
Isaiah, one of the messengers of the rightful king, sent behind enemy lines to proclaim the truth and call the rebels back to repentance, said this very clearly this morning:
“Cry out”, he said, “do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, announce where they have missed the mark.”
You see, deep down at the heart of all our troubles, all the injustice, all the pain, the grand drama proclaimed by the scriptures all comes back to a simple point: we rebelled against the rightful king, and now find ourselves in rebel occupied territory; and God, the rightful king, patiently sends messengers to win us over to the truth, so that when he comes in glory to reclaim his throne, he finds us ready and willing to proclaim him king and share in the glory of his reign.
At the heart of our problems, at the heart of human suffering, is our rebellion; at the heart is our proclamation that we, not God, should be the masters of our lives.
And, as we’ve heard these past few weeks, God, the rightful king, has actually made the expectations pretty simple, so simple perhaps that we have a hard time accepting them. As we heard last week, what does God require of us? Does he want you to claw your way to the top? Does he want you to worry and stress about tomorrow? Does he want you to store up riches so you can trust in your wealth? No! You know what the Lord requires: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Does God have some complicated secret plan for our lives that we need to somehow discover? No! There’s one plan: to follow Jesus, to become Christ-like, to faithfully follow that path that hits the target, and when we go off course, to repent and try again.
We’re in the midst of a civil war.
And sometimes, it’s important for us to be reminded of that.
We need to be reminded because, throughout all of history, rebellions and civil wars all have one thing in common: they depend on misinformation. Or, to use the up-to-date term, every civil war, including humanity’s age-old rebellion against God, is absolutely dependant on fake news.
Think about it: right back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, it’s misinformation, propaganda that sparks the rebellion. “Don’t worry”, was the lie, “there aren’t really any consequences for tasting that one single tree that you were specifically told not to touch”.
Isaiah, too, is sent with his message to correct false reports and misinformation. The people had bought into the rebel propaganda: just go through these motions and all will be well. But outward expressions are only effective if they reflect inward change. As Isaiah says, what’s the point of putting on sackcloth as a sign of humility if you’re going to strike your neighbour and, in your humility, trample down those who are oppressed?
No, throughout history, the messengers of God have been sent, in the midst of this rebellion, to remind us of the truth.
St. Paul, throughout his epistles, makes this point clearly: worldly wisdom, “the wisdom of this age”, is an insufficient response to faith. Worldly wisdom, the propaganda on which our world attempts to run itself, says that says that you need to work harder, to prove yourself, to seek revenge when someone does you wrong; worldly wisdom says that we need to keep up with our neighbours, and, at the end of the day, this rat race is all that there is, so eat, drink, and be merry, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
But, in the wisdom of God, true strength is made perfect in weakness. In the wisdom of God, the strongest love is found in one who would lay down their life for another.
God demonstrated his ultimate, unmatched power by taking on our flesh and destroying death itself, and then freely offering the same to us: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness in the eyes of the world, though we all know, deep down, that real power can’t be built on pride in relation to others. Power that depends on keeping others weak isn’t true power at all.
We’re in the midst of a civil war, and we, St. Paul says, are those tasked with counteracting the misinformation of our age.
As many of us have been reading through Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, this idea of a civil war is one of his central images woven throughout the book.
As Christians, we find ourselves in enemy-occupied territory, as the world around us has gone along with the age-old rebellion against God. And in the words of Lewis, our task is to be the loyal underground resistance, preparing the way for when the rightful king reclaims his throne.
Lewis was writing during World War II, and he uses the image of the French Resistance. France was invaded by Nazi forces and, for any number of reasons that ultimately boil down to pride and promises of power, France surrendered and let Nazi rule reign.
But, even as that happened, the Allies had a plan to drive back those forces. And a crucial part of that plan was the Resistance: normal, everyday people, living everyday lives, who were willing to hold on to the truth in the face of the propaganda and lies; people who were willing to work behind the scenes, freeing prisoners, providing food to the hungry; people who were willing to take risks in order to sabotage the destructive plans of the oppressors; people who were willing to work carefully so that, when the forces of freedom landed, they found faithful friends who had prepared the way for them.
Now, it’s just an image, not to glorify a brutal human conflict.
But if it’s true that our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil is an epic rebellion against the rightful King, and that the powers of this world are those who have gone along with the propaganda and lies, then it’s a great image nonetheless.
Our work as the Body of Christ is to be the Resistance.
We, like the prophets and apostles, are to speak the truth in love, confidently contradicting the propaganda of the powerful. But, like the Resistance, we’re to speak the truth knowing, like St. Paul, that no amount of public debate or worldly philosophy is going to make sense to those who have bought into the worldly conception of power: it’s not loud debates, but a humble, steadfast life of justice and mercy that wins ground and proves the truth of our cause.
And, like the Resistance, we’re to sabotage the ways of the world. Where the world teaches us to serve ourselves, we’re to sacrificially serve the needy. Where the world teaches us to seek revenge, we’re to show mercy. Where the world lives as though what you see is what you get, we’re to live with the confidence that we were created for more; that we were created, by God’s grace, to live with him, forever, and that the trajectory we set in this life – whether we’re following toward the target set by Christ, or whether we’ve set our own rebellious course – that trajectory set now leads us to our destination when the rightful king takes his throne, welcomed by those on his side, while the rebels are driven away.
You are salt and light.
This is a civil war, a rebellion, in a broken world.
And we, the Resistance, are to be salt and light.
But lest we be caught up in our modern world, let’s remember that salt isn’t primarily about flavour. You don’t have to go back far – if you asked our grandparents and great-grandparents about the purpose of salt, the answer isn’t about flavour, but preservation.
Salt keeps your meat from spoiling. Salt dries and pickles your produce to keep it over winter.
We, the Body of Christ, are the salt of the earth: our mission, during this rebellion against God and his truth, is to keep it from spoiling.
And we’re the light of the world, a city on a hill: a signal fire defiantly burning in the night, showing the rightful King that we’re here, that we’re ready; and as we live, as our faith produces good works, that light invites those around us to join our side, to turn from the prideful propaganda, and lay down their rebel arms.
For, as Isaiah said, when this conflict is ended, when the Lord reclaims the throne and welcomes those who prepared the way, he’ll rebuild what was lost: paradise will be restored, and as the temples of greed and power tumble, the ancient ruins of justice and mercy will be rebuilt, and we, the faithful resistance, will be called the repairers of the breach, and the restorers of the city.
We’re in the midst of a civil war, a rebellion built on misinformation and pride. We’re gathered here to be strengthened by God’s grace, to receive our marching orders. The question is: will we have the faith to carry out our mission, to confidently contradict the prideful propaganda around us? Will we have the faith this week to sabotage the works of injustice and oppression?
We are the salt and the light: and, by God’s grace, this mission depends on us.
To God be the glory now and forevermore. Amen.