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Private Confession: By Appointment

All Bets Are Off

January 23, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Mark 1:14

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
January 24, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Epiphany 3
All Bets Are Off

Now after John was arrested Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God in these words, "History is fulfilled! The reign of God is here. Turn and believe the Good News. (Mark 1:14 – DKV)

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On the morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001 the people of NYC woke up like they did every other morning. They got dressed and went about their daily routines. Their minds were occupied with spelling tests, sales presentations and how they would spend their evenings.

Sixty-eight year old Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain for the FDNY, also got up that morning as usual. He said Mass and went about his day: the last day of his life on earth. Yes, everything was going on just as it always had done, but at 8:47 AM all bets were off.

Suddenly pastrami sandwiches and IPO’s meant nothing. Chaplain Mychal Judge, imitating the love of Christ (Jn 15:13) rushed into a collapsing building to save whom he could. He is casualty #0001 of the 3,000 people who died in NYC that day.

His lifeless body was reverently carried out of the building by his fire department flock using an office door for a funeral bier; and he has since been canonized as a martyr and saint by the RC church.

Last March there was another seismic shift of our tectonic plates. It was not as sudden as 9/11 but in the opinion of many, more destructive. Not just in terms of the flu, but because of over-reactions by governments who could not afford to be seen doing nothing.

Suddenly Caribbean cruises were off. School was off. Work was off. Dentists was off. Haircuts were off. Shuttle busses were off. Church was off … as humanity curled up into a collective fetal position and shriveled away in fear.

All bets were now off.

Today, like survivors of a nuclear winter, people are beginning to peep out their doors to see if the sun still rises. They venture out to sweep off the front stoop, pick up some debris, and sort things that sat unsorted for nearly a year.

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When Jonah appeared in the great metropolis of Nineveh, likewise, all bets were off. He came as a type of Christ, in the person and power of Christ, to warn earth’s most evil nation, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!" 

And O what power was in those words!

According to the sacred record Jonah provided no escape clause or terms of surrender, just this: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!"

But no message ever spread more quickly. Without the benefit of electronic social media the entire nation got the memo in short order. They repented and called urgently upon God that he might relent of the tragedy he was about to perpetrate upon Nineveh for their bloody violence. Bloodshed that ranged from daily abortions, to the mindless cruelty that man perpetrated upon his fellow man; and woman upon her fellow woman.

It was the end of the world as they knew it! And bets were off!

Now either the nation had to turn outward to its Creator and Judge in humility; and live according to his holy commandments; or the great city of Nineveh, one of the most brilliant human accomplishments of the ancient world, would be flattened, never to rise again.

O that God would bless the modern world with such courageous leaders. Men like the King of Nineveh who, when the matter reached his ears, took off his royal robes, left his throne, dressed himself in burlap and sat in a pile of ashes; from which he called a nation-wide fast. A national day of prayer in which he preached this sermon:

“Let the whole nation cry out mightily to God! Let every man repent of his evil way and from the violence of his hands. Who knows! God may relent, have compassion, and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish!"

And in one of the most gracious paragraphs ever recorded in Blessed Scripture the prophet writes this: “When God saw the things they had done, how they had turned from their evil ways, God had compassion on them and relented of the disaster that he said he would bring upon them.

He did not do it!”

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Now when our Lord appeared in the flesh, once again all bets were off. Hear his urgent message to the cold-blooded world of today:

"History is fulfilled! The reign of God is here. Turn and believe the Good News.”

Now that is not how any translations of Scripture render this verse, but that is the sense of it. When our Lord assumed human nature, history reached its climax, and all bets are off.

Now there are only 2 ways.

There is the broad and easy road that leads to destruction, and the narrow way that leads to life. (Mt. 7:13-14) Or in the words of Solomon, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:;12) Scripture further says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” Ps. 14:1 & 53:1) Which we can interpret in light of the Lord’s incarnation to say, “The fool says in his heart there is no Christ. No judgment. No salvation.”

That, Beloved, is the mark of a fool.

But the voice of Jesus who is greater than Jonah, says this: "History is fulfilled! The reign of God is here. Turn and believe the Good News.”

When Andrew, Peter, James and John met the Lord that day they instantly understood that all bets were off. That this man was, in the words of Simeon, “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.”

They instantly comprehended as they gazed upon GOD IN HUMAN FLESH that choice was now limited to two options: 1) continue with business as usual which is our default position; 2) or leave the world behind and follow the one who is LOVE DIVINE ALL LOVE EXCELLING. Who is: the consummation of all history.

In today’s epistle St. Paul confirms the Lord’s words when he writes that: “Time is now cut very short … and that the present structures of this world are passing away.”

With such blessed blinders he goes on to say that: those who have wives should live AS IF they had none; those who mourn AS IF they did not; those who rejoice AS IF they were not, those who buy AS IF they had nothing; and those who operate in this world AS IF they did not.” (1 Cor 7:29 FF)

Like Jonah, and like the Jesus, St. Paul continues to proclaim to Nineveh today that a person must either gather with Christ, or scatter with the devil. There are no other choices!

Please note St. Paul’s use of the phrase, “as if”.

The apostle is not telling us to leave the world and live as Christian hermits in the desert. We must love our spouses. We must participate in the world’s economy if we expect to eat, for as St. Paul also says, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10)

But at the same time we must live as St. Paul himself did whose sole identity was with the cross Jesus; by which cross he considered the world dead to him, and he dead to the world. (Gal. 6:14)

No we cannot leave the world as we sometimes wish when hope grows dim. When troubles wash over us like a tsunami. When “every earthly prop gives way.” That will happen in due time, in God’s time, for each of us. But in the mean time let “ever walk with Jesus, follow his example pure."

Let us declare him to be our “first love.” And anyone who does will also love sacrificially. Not only his spouse, but those he buys from, and those he sells to, thus uniting our sacrificial love to Christ’s own love which: surpasses knowledge, and fills us with the fullness of God. (Eph. 3)

Then like Fr. Judge we, too, can rightly be called martyrs, and canonized saints. Amen.