The Darkness Around Us - Lenten Vespers
February 21, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
THE DARKNESS AROUND US, I. Paganism
We were created to worship God and to have fellowship with Him. Therefore the need to do that is built into us, as St. Augustine observed, “My soul finds no rest until it rests in God.” When we get cut off from Him, we still have to worship something, so we turn to the objects that fill us with natural awe; the earth, the sun, the powers of nature, and in so doing we invent our own religion, which we call Paganism. The gods of Paganism follow the natural seasons. The Hindu religion is the most organized and systematic form of Paganism, which includes a trinity of married gods centered chiefly around Vishnu and Lakshmi. Around the Mediterranean were similar divine couples; Baal and Astarte, Osiris and Isis, Marduk and Ishtar, and the Greek Uranus and Gaia.
In many ways the Pagan system reflects the real one. One might ask How do you know it isn’t the other way around? Because the other gods all live in inaccessible places in pre-historic times. The real God who became incarnate in Jesus did so in real history, during the time of Augustus and Tiberius, in a real place, Israel. The incarnation of Jehovah was a real Person, Jesus of Nazareth, whom is mentioned also by non-Christian contemporaries. The stories of the pagans might be older, but they are the copies. What God did in Jesus, and before that in Israel, is the original.
During the Christian ages Paganism found a place in the cult of the saints. During the Renaissance it moved away from Christian themes, making use of pre-Christian material, like magic. The Enlightenment tried to reduce everything to nature itself, so it through out both Paganism and Christianity, leaving only a very general idea of God about whom nothing could be known. Romanticism, however, went the other way, bringing back interest in Oriental religions, and in Jesus Himself. Naturalism had nothing to do with Paganism, but after WWII it reappeared, first in the drug-rock culture, then with environmentalism, and after that with a return to superstitions. Many young women today identify themselves as witches, intentionally practicing esoteric arts. We must not confuse these with Satan worship. We will talk about direct dealings with hell on week 5. These deal with the earth, and worship it. They don’t really care about the Evil One. And they are accompanied by a new interest in Buddhism, reincarnation, and the gaps between the physical and spiritual realms.
Jesus calls us to tolerate these, not to agree with them, but to tolerate them. But we cross the line when we tolerate the teaching that we are worshipping the same God. We do nothing of the sort. There is One God and One Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Let no one tell you otherwise. Many people claim to be spiritual. There is only one Holy Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus as the only Savior. Any spirituality that does not lead to holiness is false.
It’s hard to accept that God is not being unjust when He punishes the ungodly, even though He forgives us when do the same things. In the first chapter of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says the wrath of God is revealed against wickedness, against suppression of the truth, against living as though God didn’t exist. Now we might be tempted to say that God forgives us because of our faith. Don’t say that. All our faith does is bring us to Jesus. God forgives us because of His sacrifice, His victory, His merits. Pagans deserve God’s anger just as much, but because they cannot access His atonement, they get what they deserve. God’s divine qualities were evident from the things He made. Those who deny Him have no excuse. God is not being unjust. He loved the whole world and gave His Son for the whole world.
St. Paul then tells us that as a consequence of Paganism, their minds were darkened, their thinking turned to vanity. Should we feel sorry for them? We must be like our Lord. He had compassion on the crowd who had nothing to eat, He wept over the city whose pride kept them from the faith, He mourned the death of His friend. Jesus is lovingly concerned about all the children of men. So it belongs to our calling to love the Pagans, to proclaim the Law and the Gospel to them, to bring them to the cross for cleansing and regeneration. We must not be distracted by any charming patter about the “Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.” We know that to be truly brothers we must share both parents. The Mother of God’s heirs is the Church. No one, anywhere, is disqualified from being a child of God’s Lawful Bride. One need only be baptized in the name of the Triune God. The unregenerate remain our half-brothers, God’s natural children, who could be adopted as His heirs if the stubbornness weren’t in the way. As long as it does, His wrath is revealed. They become constantly more dissolute, more perverted, more ungodly. Their hope is in vanities.
So would it be with us were it not for Mother Church, who bore us for Jesus by creating our Faith, nourished us with the milk of Word and Sacraments, guided us with childhood opportunities, and educated us in the faith by providing pastors and teachers. Jesus is faithful; so is His Bride. The earth is not our mother. She is God’s gift. The sky is not our father. It both hides and reveals the vastness of God’s power. The sun, moon, and stars do not shape our fortunes. Our assurance rests in this: God is for us, who can be against us? We pray that some day all of our Pagan friends might say the same thing, turning to Him who truly can save. Human history verifies the facts of our faith. It verified no other. AMEN.