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Sermon for Advent 3 Year C Philippians 4:4-7

November 1, 2015

nedLet your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. words from our second reading.

In the name…

Are you ready for the end of the world on Friday? If you follow the Mayan prophecy. What sort of Christian are you? Mrs. Winterson or Ned Flanders.

Jeanette Winterson describes her mother in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as dour, surly, judgmental, a killjoy telling others to repent or they’ll go to Hell.

Ned Flanders, the cheerful smiley person in the Simpsons is always saying ‘Praise the Lord’ with what a friend of mine calls ‘the false grin of the saved.’

We had a very strange pairing of readings this morning. There was the sermon of John the Baptist in our Gospel. A smelly, poorly clothed killjoy from the desert, damning everyone who doesn’t behave and believe to unquenchable fire, and quite possibly enjoying the work; Some who came out to hear him preach and to be baptized were told,

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance… Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Compare the Baptist’s words with those of Paul in his letter to the Philippians. “ Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. ….the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds.”

Mixed messages? “The Baptist says “Vipers, bear fruit, and repent – or prepare to fry in hell. Like Mrs. Winterson.

Paul tells the people in Philippi, “Don’t worry, be happy, the Lord is near. Like Ned Flanders.

Our readings seem to have contradictory advice. One tells us to prepare for our Lord’s coming by getting our act together or else! The other that we should throw a party and relax. Well, which is it?” Contradiction?

The Gospel is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. It can simultaneously “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable.” Realising that some Christians may have been dreading the second coming of Jesus, Paul called those in Philippi to rejoice in expectation of Christ coming again.

Liberals tend to dispense with the idea of judgement. How can a loving god send people to Hell? Surely his love wins everyone over to heaven? But without judgement, evil people get away with it. There is no redress for the poor, the downtrodden.

I rather like the idea of St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Western Church says it’s heresy but there’s a strain of it in Eastern orthodoxy. It’s this: How about if everyone goes to heaven? But some aren’t cut out for it. Heaven becomes like Hell to them.

How so? An analogy. Imagine heaven as an endless concert of beautiful music. Then imagine a person who is tone deaf. He cannot hear the beauty in the music. For him, it is a hell of endless banging and crashing noises. Though I hope that God melts his heart so that his ears gradually become attuned to the beauty of the music.

To enjoy this beauty, we have to attune our ears here and now, in this life. To be open, not closed, people. John the Baptist gives an example of this later in his sermon. ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’

You can take this literally. I never cease to be amazed when I see people in town clutching shopping bags of designer label clothes, Maybe because I am a bloke who hates shopping and has bad dress sense. But do they really need all these clothes?

When John tells people to “repent’ and give, it’s as though he is saying, “Let your faith result in a change in character which reflects the very love of God for us in generosity and compassion in the face of human need. ” Be empowered toward genuine detachment from selfish gain and give for the love of your neighbour, By Kingdom living. It’s good news, because it liberates the stiff-necked religious person from selfish interest and empowers them to live free from the accumulation of things or self-protection.

Psychologist Erik Fromm speaks of the hoarding personality those who are symbolized by the multitude, the tax collectors, and the soldiers – who ask John, “What shall we do?” The hoarding personality is a difficult one to change – repentance will not come easy for them. Fromm wrote: “A person who finds his security by withholding his possessions, his feelings, his gestures, his words, and his energy….. withholds for he feels that he possesses only a fixed quantity of strength and energy and if this stock is diminished or exhausted it can never be replenished. This is a stingy person who builds an invisible and protective wall around himself. He has no pleasure in giving or sharing, he is a closed fortress and is suspicious of others.(That reminds me of Mrs. Winterson.)

If a stranger knocked on her door she got the poker from the fireplace and stuck it through the letter box.) He is lonely and unrelated to the world around him. He fears that the outside world threatens to break in to his fortified position.” He fears that the outside world threatens to break in to his fortified position. So he is going to fear judgment. Fear that heaven is a Hell for him. The very opposite of the attitude of Paul in our second reading: Do not worry about anything…. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds.

How do we move from a fortified position to one of giving? Gradually. Paul goes on to write: whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence …think about* these things

Think about* these things. James Allen, author of As a Man Thinketh, once said “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”

Our thoughts and emotions are represented in the body as electrochemical reactions. These chemicals are constantly floating around in our bodies and are stored in different places….. negative thoughts, and the associated harmful chemicals, have detrimental effects on our health.

You can control the degree to which harmful chemicals float around in your body by adjusting your thinking patterns. Start by making a deliberate decision to change how you’re thinking. Commit to putting a concerted effort into this for a week and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your attitude, emotions and resulting behaviour.

moderationLet your moderation be known unto all men. I asked for the King James Version this morning because the RSV wrongly renders it ‘gentleness’. But moderation – whatever does that mean? ‘Abstinence is easier than moderation’ ? ‘The Bishop’s wife is moderately chaste.’? It has nothing to do with wine or women: The Greek word translated ‘moderation’: epieikes is closer to `magnanimity’: magnanimity which includes courtesy, kindness, con­sideration, caring, forbearance, thoughtfulness. Let your magnanimity be known unto all. Let Christ’s magnanimity be known through you to all. The Voice Said, Cry – E. James (SPCK 1994) pp. 165f

 Magnanimity – giving. After all, they say that Christmas is a time for giving.


Origen was also a Christian and he knew that God was full of love. How is it possible to acknowledge a loving God Who keeps people in torment eternally? If God is the cause of hell, by necessity then there must be an end to it, otherwise we cannot concede that God is good and loving. This juridical conception of God as a instrument of a superior, impersonal force or deity named Necessity, leads logically to apokatastasis, “the restoration of all things and the destruction of hell,” otherwise we must admit that God is cruel.

As for tradition, again, from what I’ve read, the dominant view was a form of universalism in the first couple of centuries. Even if it wasn’t the dominant view, it was much more than a minority view. As far as I can tell, Augustine’s influence and the condemnation of Origen (though not for his Universalism) changed that. But we’re talking about the first few centuries.****

* If Jesus expects us to forgive “70 times 7” times, surely he would expect nothing more of himself?

** Hastings Dictionary of the New Testament: “There is no word either in the O.T. Hebrew or in the N.T. Greek to express the abstract idea of eternity.” Also, NT Wright (can’t find the reference) says that eternal life would have been understood as “life in the age to come”. The mindset was about ‘ages’, not ‘infinity’ or ‘eternity’.

*** William Barclay: “I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.”

**** Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: “Under the instruction of those great teachers, many other theologians believed in universal salvation; and indeed the whole Eastern Church until after 500 A.D. was inclined to it. Doederlein says that ‘In proportion as any man was eminent in learning in Christian antiquity, the more did he cherish and defend the hope of the termination of future torments.'”
also Jerome: “Most persons regard the story of Jonah as teaching the ultimate forgiveness of all rational creatures, even the devil.” and Augustine: “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.”

(Greek, apokatastasis; Latin, restitutio in pristinum statum, restoration to the original condition).

A name given in the history of theology to the doctrine which teaches that a time will come when all free creatures will share in the grace of salvation; in a special way, the devils and lost souls.

This doctrine was explicitly taught by St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in more than one passage. It first occurs in his “De animâ et resurrectione” (P.G., XLVI, cols. 100, 101) where, in speaking of the punishment by fire assigned to souls after death, he compares it to the process whereby gold is refined in a furnace, through being separated from the dross with which it is alloyed. The punishment by fire is not, therefore, an end in itself, but is ameliorative; the very reason of its infliction is to separate the good from the evil in the soul. The process, moreover, is a painful one; the sharpness and duration of the pain are in proportion to the evil of which each soul is guilty; the flame lasts so long as there is any evil left to destroy. A time, then, will come, when all evil shall cease to be since it has no existence of its own apart from the free will, in which it inheres; when every free will shall be turned to God, shall be in God, and evil shall have no more wherein to exist. Thus, St. Gregory of Nyssa continues, shall the word of St. Paul be fulfilled: Deus erit omnia in omnibus (1 Corinthians 15:28), which means that evil shall, ultimately, have an end, since, if God be all in all, there is no longer any place for evil (cols. 104, 105; cf. col. 152). St. Gregory recurs to the same thought of the final annihilation of evil, in his “Oratio catechetica”, ch. xxvi; the same comparison of fire which purges gold of its impurities is to be found there; so also shall the power of God purge nature of that which is preternatural, namely, of evil. Such purification will be painful, as is a surgical operation, but the restoration will ultimately be complete. And, when this restoration shall have been accomplished (he eis to archaion apokatastasis ton nyn en kakia keimenon), all creation shall give thanks to God, both the souls which have had no need of purification, and those that shall have needed it. Not only man, however, shall be set free from evil, but the devil, also, by whom evil entered into the world (ton te anthropon tes kakias eleutheron kai auton ton tes kakias eyreten iomenos). The same teaching is to be found in the “De mortuis” (ibid., col. 536). Bardenhewer justly observes (“Patrologie”, Freiburg, 1901, p. 266) that St. Gregory says elsewhere no less concerning the eternity of the fire, and of the punishment of the lost, but that the Saint himself understood this eternity as a period of very long duration, yet one which has a limit.

the main difference between Gregory’s conception of ἀποκατάστασις and that of Origen would be that Gregory believes that mankind will be collectively returned to sinlessness, whereas Origen believes that personal salvation will be universal Giulio Maspero, Lucas F. Mateo Seco, ed. (2009). The Brill dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-16965-4. p. 59

In Christian theology, universal reconciliation (also called universal salvation, Christian universalism, or in context simply universalism) is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God^ Otis Ainsworth Skinner (1807-1861) A Series of Sermons in Defence of the Doctrine of Universal Salvation Page 209 “Repentance is a means by which all men are brought into the enjoyment of religion, and we do not expect any man will be saved while he continues in sin. The reason why we hold to universal salvation, is, we expect all men will repent.”

Gregory of Nyssa, in his book Sermo Catecheticus Magnus, described: “The annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that He may be ‘all in all,’ embracing all things endowed with sense and reason.”

He further stated, “when death approaches to life, and darkness to light, and the corruptible to the incorruptible, the inferior is done away with and reduced to non-existence, and the thing purged is benefited, just as the dross is purged from gold by fire. In the same way in the long circuits of time, when the evil of nature which is now mingled and implanted in them has been taken away, whensoever the restoration to their old condition of the things that now lie in wickedness takes place, there will be a unanimous thanksgiving from the whole creation, both of those who have been punished in the purification and of those who have not at all needed purification

This position has been anathemised by the Second Council of Constantinople: “IX. If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.” This council is accepted as the fifth ecumenical one by both the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox, the Old Catholics and Catholic Anglicans. Protestants are apparently a mixed bag on anything past the first four ecumenical councils.

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