Tuesday, July 10, 2018

“A Christian Response to New Age,” Genesis 3.5–6, July ‘18

1.                   Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word today as we continue our sermon series on a Christian Response to World Religions is taken from Genesis 3:5-6 (read the text).  The message is entitled, “A Christian Response to New Age,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                   There’s a basic difference between New Age thinking and Christian thinking in the interpretation of the fall of Eve in Eden. New Age interpreters see this event as a wonderful example of self-fulfillment. Eve desired to experience something new. She didn’t want the limitations of being human, of being dependent, of being under God. She wanted to be in control.  Both Christian thinkers and New Age thinkers see rebellion in Eve’s action. New Age thinkers see it as an act of liberation. But, Christians see it as an act of slavery. New Age thinking in the West undermines and replaces Christianity. It uses Christian terms and Scriptures but completely changes the interpretation of the texts.
3.                   We Christians see in the event of the Fall the classic example of mankind’s refusal to let God be God. The first humans, Adam and Eve, wanted to be God. They didn’t want to be limited in their knowledge and experience. Satan rightly asserted that God had withheld from them the knowledge of good and evil. They only knew good. Why shouldn’t they also know evil?  Little did they realize what evil would be and how it would bring about the collapse of all the goodness God had created for them and all living things. They didn’t trust God. They wanted to find out for themselves. They did, and now we all know what evil is.
4.                   But, New Age thinking is that we should praise Eve for her choice of eating the forbidden fruit. New Agers say that we should be like her. We shouldn’t accept any limits. We should want to be like gods. In fact, New Age proponents assert that we are god, if we would only realize it. That is the point of Shirley MacLaine’s books and Charles Manson’s teachings.
5.                   Charles Manson had a radical following in the 1960s and eventually conducted the ritual murder of actress Sharon Tate and others in Los Angeles. Manson got his followers high on LSD and taught them New Age principles of the unity of all things. He stated that there is no God, no truth, no absolutes. There is only what you choose. You determine what is right and wrong for you. In the great scheme of things, everything is good. In Manson’s words, “Everything and anything is good. Just follow your own karma.”
6.                   New Age thinking is really westernized Hinduism. New Age promotes the Hindu fundamentals of reincarnation, karma, and cosmic unity. There is no external God. There is no one to whom we are eternally accountable. There is no absolute right and wrong. There is no place for obedience to the will of a Creator God.
7.                   And since there is no disobedience, there is no sin. There is no holy wrath of God against sin. There is no need for a Savior. New Age promoters say there is no God to whom we are accountable. There is no sin. There is only ignorance of our divinity. Like Eve, we must seek to know and experience whatever we can and discover the truth for ourselves, whether through yoga or séances or LSD or astrology or goddess religions.
8.                   New Age thinking is to try anything and everything. Who is to say it is wrong for you until you’ve tried it? It isn’t wrong because someone doesn’t agree with it. Who says there is anything such as good and evil? Did God really say that? If he did, isn’t he just trying to keep you from real wisdom, from knowing all he does? It’s the temptation of the Garden all over again. This is the new serpent in our Garden.
“Satan always tells you the truth when he tempts you—but only half the truth.” When Satan told Eve that she would be like God, knowing good and evil if she ate the fruit, was that true? Yes, it was—but it was only half the truth. Adam and Eve would know both good and evil, but Satan didn’t tell them what evil would be like.
9.                   Take a New Age book, Developing Your Psychic Abilities. Some statements are dangerous. “It is possible to expand our psychic abilities!” “Some people have ESP and clairvoyance and déjà vu experiences.” Other statements contain an element of truth. “The mind helps heal the body.” It is true that God built amazing potentials into his marvelous creation. We may develop and use all these potentials he has given us. We can be open to discovering many more yet unknown resources in the world.  But, all these resources are to be used for God’s glory, for his ends. They are often used in rebellion against his good will for our lives and for his world. It is good to pray for God’s help in using all his gifts to the fullest, but it is wrong to use them for selfish purposes, to seek to be our own masters—to try to be like God!
10.               Here is where we Christians must be cautious. Some New Age emphases are actually rooted in Christian faith and disciplines. Just because it is different doesn’t mean it is bad. The old maxim is “All truth comes from God.”  Meditation is not bad. You can use it to draw closer to God and his Word. Mind/body healing is not bad. God can use it just as he does medical healing. There is a proper reverence for the earth as our “home,” a source of many of God’s blessings, but not as a new religion. New Agers speak of a new world religion and a new world government. But will it be a pantheistic devotion to nature?
11.               That’s the point. Does it all bring us closer to him and his good purposes for our time on this earth? The great temptation for any of us is to use religion to serve our own purposes, rather than God’s. New Agers want to use religion to find peace and power and expanded consciousness. What for? Just for the feeling of greatness. Just for the feeling of being godlike.
12.               That’s our temptation too. We all want to use God, rather than be used by him. We want to use forgiveness—and even the Sacrament—so that we feel better about our sinning. We want to drop a few dollars in the offering plate and go home thinking how indebted God is to us. We too want to take the forbidden fruit because “it is a delight to our eyes.” We want to have our own wisdom. We don’t want to obey. We want to use God, not be used by him. All of us fallen creatures have a selfish soul, whether we are New Agers or Christians or whatever religion. We have a rebellious heart. We want peace and forgiveness and wisdom, healing and psychic power just for ourselves.
13.               Yes, we are the rebellious children God loves so much. For us Jesus took the punishment of all our sins. He has washed us clean and now clothes us before him in the white robes of righteousness, washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 22:14). Through our Savior Jesus, there is peace, healing, and unity in this fallen world. It doesn’t come through all sorts of gimmicks and rituals and experiences. It comes as God’s beautiful gift. He declares us forgiven by grace because of Christ, and we receive it by faith—nothing more, nothing less.
14.               Then God sends us out to share this gift. He sends us out with the Good News to all the earth, including New Agers. You don’t have to search here and there, or try this and that. We don’t need ever new experiences, ever new highs, to feel good about ourselves.  God wants us to know that we are his children. He declared us his own through the waters of Holy Baptism. We are forgiven! At the start of every worship service we hear the absolution, “You are forgiven.” Each time we receive Christ’s body and blood, he assures us of peace, joy, confidence, fulfillment.
15.               We are free, then. No longer do we have to yearn for peace and contentment of heart. We are free to let God use us all our days in his service. Our quest is no longer for our own fulfillment and satisfaction. We are free to live for others. As Paul said, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:15).  Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

“A Christian Response to Animism” Luke 10.17–20 July ’18

1.                   Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Today we begin a sermon series on a Christian response to World Religions.  Our text today is from Luke 10:17-20, which says…(read text), the message is entitled “A Christian Response to Animism.”  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                    From the very beginning the mission of the church was opposed by the spirit world. St. Paul clearly warned that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12). This is what animism is. It is the recognition that there are powerful spirits all around us, invisible to the eye.
3.                   It’s striking that people around the world, from the beginning of time, have been aware of this. All cultures throughout the ages, separated by continents and centuries, have similar concepts. Sometimes people dismiss animism as sheer superstition and imagination. But the fact is that every society in history has had contact with the spirit world, and that is why all societies have a religion.
4.                   There are people who have a very clear awareness of this spirit world. In traditional societies, they have been called “shamans.” A young woman who was in a pastor’s marriage preparation classes said that she can tell what the situation of spirits is wherever she goes. As soon as she enters a room, she knows if good spirits are dominant or bad spirits are dominant or if they are in conflict. I personally have no awareness like this (and, frankly, I’m glad I don’t).
5.                   Here is an illustration of this.  A Lutheran missionary was on a trek to the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas in Northern India, when he came across a shaman in one remote area. The missionary tried to get the shaman to allow his group to be present when he did his shaman work, usually in the early morning or late evening. During the day he worked in the fields like everyone else. Shamans are not only the seers but also the healers. As it turned out, the shaman resisted the missionary’s presence because, he said, he had a good spirit. If they came to his work with an “unclean heart,” he feared that the spirit would beat the missionary’s group through him. Once he was possessed by the spirit, he had no idea what he was doing. Since he “had a good spirit,” anyone who came to him also had to have a pure heart.
6.                   Finally, one of the Lutheran missionary’s group decided to share a personal problem with the shaman. The shaman sensed that this person was genuine and finally granted him an audience. In the early morning the missionary’s gathered at the shaman’s home. They had two translators with them: a local man who knew Sanskari and Tibetan, and their group translator, a Tibetan who knew English. The shaman did his ritual at his little altar, and soon his voice changed to a very high pitch. He was now possessed by the spirit, and the spirit spoke through him.  The spirit asked the missionary’s friend about his problem, and he revealed its nature. It was striking that the spirit knew much about the missionary’s group already. He spoke of the missionary’s group as two “religious teachers.” (The other man was a pastor from Germany.) After the spirit had given his direction, he went on to confirm the message. The shaman (still possessed by the spirit) told the missionary’s friend to take five kernels of grain from a heap that was in front of us. The shaman then took two of these and placed them on a leather drum in front of him. If the kernels turned in one direction, it would confirm the message. The kernels indeed did begin rotating on their own as they were supposed to, by the power of that spirit.
7.                   The shaman then turned to the Lutheran missionary and asked if he had any problems to share. Of course, missionary’s heart started pounding because he didn’t have anything, and he thought he might be in for a beating! But, the shaman told him to be “careful about his official papers.” The missionary didn’t know what that meant, but when they had returned to mainland India, he did find that our visa papers to remain in the country had run into trouble with the Indian government.  When the shaman had nothing more to tell us, he turned back to his altar and did some chants. Soon his voice returned to normal. As soon as he was back in his senses, he turned quickly to the translator who was with the missionary’s group and asked if everything had gone all right. He was still concerned that he might have beaten them!
8.                   Animism is a very complex world. This shaman had what is called a “good spirit”; he was caring and pastoral in all his dealings. Other shamans and spirits are very evil. Some animistic societies use voodoo and mantras and curses. These are supernatural forces, “authorities and powers,” far greater than our powers.
9.                   For this reason, missionary work often begins with what is called a “power encounter.” God must demonstrate to the people that he is God, that he has power over these spirits. They know the power of the spirits they worship. If they stop worshiping them and convert to Christianity, they want to be sure that they will be protected from the spirits’ vengeance. At the beginning there will often be miraculous healing, demon exorcisms, visions, and even claims of raising the dead. The people need to see the power of God so that they can trust him.
10.               It’s similar to what God did with Moses when he called him at the burning bush. Moses threw his shepherd’s rod down, and it turned into a snake. He put his hand into his cloak, and it turned leprous; when he put it back, it was healed. Moses needed to see the power of God so that he could go to the Pharaoh in God’s name.
11.               Animism isn’t limited to primitive tribal societies. The fact is that every society and every religion is flooded by it. Hinduism and Buddhism have their high philosophies, but the vast majority of their adherents worship spirits. Surprisingly, this is also true among Muslims in the villages.  A few years ago, a Lutheran missionary had Saturday morning Bible studies with several dozen Taiwanese teachers who were studying at the university. Only two were Christians. The rest were Buddhists by name, but basically animists in practice. Whenever they had a need or a problem, they went to a shrine and pleaded with the spirit of that place to help them. There usually are different spirits for different needs. Taiwan is a highly advanced society, technologically and educationally, but the popular religion still is animism.
12.               We see the same also in some Christian circles. Look at the popular worship of saints in Latin America. The shrines to different saints are located exactly where the old shrines to different spirits were. People still come for the same purpose; they only invoke a different name.  Look at the current fascination with angels, especially among our country’s New Agers. What is the purpose, of channeling, séances, and prayers to “my personal angel”? This is animism, an attempt to use supernatural powers for our personal interests and goals. We use different names, but it’s the same thing. New Agers call them psychics or “holistic healing practitioners,” but they are basically shamans.
13.               People don’t want to deal with a sovereign God. They don’t want to be called to obedience and service and sacrifice. They want to be served. They want God to serve them. They want to use God. They want the powerful genie to grant them their wishes in life.  Anthropologists have found that almost every society has a clear idea that there is an all-powerful God. How else could this world have come to exist? But, God often is seen to be remote and uninvolved in real life. You really don’t have to deal with him. What you have to deal with are the spirits. These can and will help you with your problems, like the saints who help you find things or who protect you while driving or who are your “patron saint.”
14.               The good news we have to share—and to celebrate—is that this great God does care. He is involved. He’s not remote. In fact, he became man. Our Savior Jesus  was born in a manger in a little town called Bethlehem. This all-powerful God experienced our life. Therefore, in the words of the author of the epistle to the Hebrews:  We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. . . . For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14–16).
15.               Every society throughout history has developed some way to cope with the punishment for sin. Beat oneself. Sacrifice babies or animals. Do anything to appease the anger of the gods over sin. All people, as St. Paul writes, “have the requirements of the law written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Rom 2:15).  Once again, though, the good news is that the Creator of the universe isn’t indifferent or remote. He cares. He cared so much that Jesus came to take that punishment for sin in our place. As fantastic as that sounds, that is how much he loves. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16).
16.               What good news! What a great revelation! What a wonderful surprise! We don’t have to worry about the whims and fancies of the gods. We don’t have to somehow, in some way, placate them. The all-powerful God has lifted all that from our shoulders. The all-loving Father has accepted the sacrifice of the Son, raised him in glory, and has, in the words of Paul to the Ephesians, “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given. . . . God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body” (Eph 1:20–23).
17.               That is for you. You are free. You are in the loving hands of the all-powerful God of the universe. You are loved and valued and respected by him, personally and eternally. He is the one who asks that you pray to him directly as your dear Father in heaven.
18.               Tell the world. Tell the New Agers. Tell those praying to angels. Tell yourself: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20), in the book of the Father, by his marvelous grace.  Amen.  Now may the peace that passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.