Ecclesiasticus 17:1-15
Trinity XIII
September 10, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

“Good and Evil”

The 51 chapters of Ecclesiasticus enjoyed the popular support of the Early Church. The name, Ecclesiasticus, we do well to remember, means “of the Church.” The Early Church Fathers referred to it as the “most excellent Wisdom” and often quoted from it! It was popular because it furnished first-century Christians instructions on how to live a holy life!

The English reformers followed the counsel of St. Jerome who a thousand years before their time indicated it was to “be read for edification, but not for confirming the authority of Church dogmas.”

This morning’s lesson reminds us that we are not immortal. Our time on earth is very limited. God has placed us in His beautiful world for only a “few days and a short time.”

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
And the last date he spoke with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That was spent alive on earth
What a pity we do not realize
What that little line is worth.

It matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

Based upon this reminder of the brevity of life, we are encouraged to take care in how we live day by day! This comes through plainly when we are told in verse seven that God has shown us “good and evil.” The implication is that He has shown us good and evil for an important reason! We are to cling to that which is good at every opportunity… and we are to turn away from that which is evil whenever it appears.

He has shown us good and evil! He has shown us both paths and the many, many people who travel them. He has shown us the endpoint of both pathways – Heaven and hell.

He has shown us good and evil by tutoring us carefully with the “thou shalts” of life as well as the “thou shalt nots” of life!

Why has He gone to such great lengths to show us good and evil? Because He loves us! God is love. He wants to preserve us from harm and danger and destruction.

You have undoubtedly heard of the name Nietzsche. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. A 19th century German philosopher (1844-1900).

One of the books he penned was entitled Beyond Good and Evil. And I have often thought of that title and what it meant! In it Nietzsche denied God’s universal morality for all of mankind. Why? Of course, it meant accountability to God on the part of every man, woman, child, and young person. The fallen sons of Adam and the fallen daughters of Eve do not want to give an account to the Almighty nor to bind themselves to His declarations of good and evil! So philosophers help them by defining the concept of “good and evil” out of existence!

So Nietzsche said, Let’s move beyond the stifling restrictions of God’s laws and focus instead on man’s “expansive energies.” Let’s get beyond the cruelty of restraint He places upon man and focus instead upon “life affirmation.” He, like all of the Enlightenment philosophers before him, was intent upon getting past the concept of good and evil! He once termed himself the first “immoralist” — and was proud in declaring himself such!

We should note that Nietzsche was instrumental in the “Death of God” school. In short, he wanted to replace “Thus saith the LORD” with “Thus saith Man!”

And he was quite successful! His writings and teachings found great acceptance among other moral rebels who sought the freedom to do as they pleased.

His concept of “Beyond Good and Evil” found fertile soil among the Neo-Orthodox theologians of the last century, the 20th century (men such as Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann). Through them “Beyond Good and Evil” entered the seminaries of the mainline denominations and rapidly flowed to their many members. Neo-Orthodox “modernism” sought to adapt Christianity to the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) – an act based on their belief in the evolution of truth. Karl Barth, on one occasion, was reported as being asked, “What do you believe about homosexuality?” – and replying, “What does it matter?” You see, he was beyond the framework of “good and evil.”

“Hath God said?”, the Neo-Orthodox army asked God’s people… just like the serpent of old asked our first mother, “Eve.” She was, sad to say, beguiled! And, so too, I am sorry to say, has a great swath of Christ’s Church!

Categories of “good and evil” we should not be surprised to discover, were soon replaced by less restrictive terms such as “values.” God’s commandments were soon replaced by the less offensive “faith traditions.” This is the “newspeak” (or “fictional language”) which George Orwell so insightfully identified for mankind.

The members of Christ’s flock were taught that to avoid looking unsophisticated in the eyes of their peers, they needed to move through the evolutionary stepping stone of God’s Laws on up to the “needs of man.” Self- discovery… self-realization… self-actualization… self-affirmation… self-worth. It soon became a scene that was all about man – and his existential needs – with our Lord, at the best being relegated to the role of a “facilitator” for man to help him in his new role as sovereign! A glorified ‘lackey, if you will! And at the worst, He was pronounced “dead”!

Soon, the mainline denominations looked no different than the world… thought no differently than the world… believed no differently than the world… sounded no different than the world. They, for all practical purposes, became one with the world!

And current public opinion polls sadly corroborate this tragic fact – the mainline denominations have shown themselves to be joined to the world – to have been absorbed into the world. To talk of right and wrong is no longer chic (that is, stylish) in modern circles – to talk of acceptance and toleration is. To be chic today is to be more tolerant than God – thereby showing just how backward the “God concept” and His outdated Laws are – and those who follow them!

Of course, it is OK for God’s people – for you and me — to buck the world. Jesus did! That is an important consequence of our calling as Christians! A great privilege! Be not conformed to this world, we are commanded in the Epistle to the Romans. But be transformed by the renewing of your minds that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Save yourselves from this untoward generation, warned St. Peter on the day of Pentecost!

And do not forget what God has given us from the start… His definition of good and evil – not just for a window of time… but for all of time. It is a reflection of God’s Own Heart! He has shown us good and evil – that we might be wise in how we live.

Whatever happened to Nietzsche? At the age of 44, he had a mental breakdown that was so severe he had to be taken care of by others for the remaining eleven years of his life – others who disagreed with him – for they believed in God, loved God, and humbly loved those made in His image. There is a very famous photograph of Nietzsche that was taken the year before his passing in 1900 – simply entitled “The Ill Nietzsche.” It shows a discomforting, haunting blank stare in his insanity… the end-product of his worldview!

Such insanity is, if you can see it, an accurate representation of all those who exchange God’s simple declaration of good-and-evil for man’s grand New Orthodoxy based on the wisdom of man! It has been called by some “fire in the minds of men”… by others, self-delusion… self-deception… self-destruction! God calls it a wasted life!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, life is short. It passes by so rapidly. Let us use the time allotted to us – the “dash,” if you will – prudently. Let us know good and evil as our Heavenly Father has shown them to us! Let us follow the right as our Creator defines it. Let us recognize and shun all of the sham of our day which bombards us constantly!

He has shown us good and evil. World without end. Amen.

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