NOTE; Obviously this is an old sermon. The themes are exactly the ones I struggle with today. You can interpret that several ways. I’m not sure myself. I feel the same issues but with greater intensity. As our Lord says, “Work while it is day for night is coming when no man can work.” John 9:4
THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Almost ten years ago I was interviewed for the local evening news in Jackson, Mississippi. The young reporter came to ask my opinion about prayer in public schools.
I thought long and hard about how to say what I thought.
For one thing a sound bite format is not kind to Anglican ways of thinking. Most issues are more complicated than that.
Secondly as a minority church in a sea of free-church Protestants, Episcopalians have some inkling of what it is like to have the “majority opinion” forced on us.
I am sympathetic to the concerns that prompt such controversy. But in many ways we have entered a post Christian era in this country. Which is to say that we can no longer assume that Christianity and culture are contiguous. I thought back almost twenty years to an article from the October 1986 issue of Christian Century. Here is an excerpt from an article by William Williman.
“THOUGH I COULD NOT have known it at the time, a momentous event in my faith journey occurred on a Sunday evening in 1963 in Greenville, South Carolina, when, in defiance of the State’s archaic Blue Laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.
Only lately have I come to see how that evening symbolizes a watershed in the history of Christianity in the United States. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina – the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western World – gave in and served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the Church. If Christians were going to be made in Greenville, that the church must do it alone.
There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head-to-head with the church to see who would provide ultimate values for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.
In taking me to Church, my parents were affirming everything that was American. Church was, in a sense, the only show in town. Everybody else was doing it. Church, home, and state formed a vast consortium working together to instill Christian values. People grew up Christian simply by growing up American. All that ended the night that the Fox Theater opened on Sunday.”
Dearly beloved, take nothing for granted!
We can no longer assume that people who come here for the first time on Sunday morning have any idea about what we believe. The truth is that we often are not all that sure ourselves.
• Some come because it is what they have always done.
• Some come because it is good for the children to get values.
• Some come because one can make business contacts at Church.
• And some come because they are hungry for God.
Many come for a bundle of reasons.
Regardless of how it has been in the past, the culture will no longer prop us up. If we are going to be Christians and make Christians we will have to do it the old fashioned way: by depending on God and each other, and that, my fellow Episcopal Christians of Saint John’s is a choice.
W. F. Albright translates the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34 this way: “Do not think thatI have come to impose peace on earth, Do not think that I have come to impose peace on earth by force; I have come neither to impose peace, nor yet to make war. I have come to divide . . . a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be members of his own house.” Albright continues, “Jesus does not come to impose peace by FORCE. On the contrary, his coming will involve painful decisions. He will not interfere with human freedom.”
We are free to choose. The culture will not prop us up. It may no longer be good business to be Christian. In point of fact the Gospel is increasingly not the worldview the culture proposes.
And yet the call of Jesus is clear, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
The country is anxious. Many want props. But I am not convinced that legislating props will do the job. When we venture beyond the safety of cultural Christianity, (civil religion) we will find that life is changing. Several things become evident.
• We want to see all bad in others and not in ourselves.
• We don’t know the reality of the Gospel all that well ourselves.
• We have majored on minors and minored on majors.
• We despair.
• We see the bad in others and not in ourselves.
This produces self-righteousness and contempt that is alien to the Gospel. A poem from He Sent Leanness, A Book of Prayers for the Natural Man by David Read
HOPE FOR HEAVEN
“Lord, I am quite convinced that I shall not be at home in heaven. Is this all Thou hast to offer? Thy eternal City as men have described it seems unbearably cosmopolitan. There are some nations (which I will not at present specify), some denominations (which shall be nameless), one political party (Lord, Thou knowest), and many types of musicians (if such a word can be applied to them at all), with whom I could not possibly live. Could I, perhaps, have a quiet detached mansion on my own, with a few specified visitors for short periods?”
Most of us are not that honest! By being “good” and keeping some of the rules we see ourselves as O.K., rather than saved by grace and NOTHING else. [Period]
• We don’t know the reality of the Gospel too well ourselves.
We’d have something more to share than rule and moral codes. We know the form but deny the power there of. We are always prepared for God to do nothing. When he does something we are ill prepared. We do not live as if there is a resurrection. We live as if we hoped there might be something, but we are not sure what it is.
• We have majored on minors and minored on majors.
Christians have been busy fighting about number of issues. Many issues cannot be “solved” or “voted on” and put to rest as much as we might like. We will have to pray and live through most of them. It is messy but throwing stones and being willful will not promote the Kingdom of God.
We have gotten things backwards. We build buildings and then try to figure out what to do with them, rather than preach the Gospel and build buildings to house the community that grows from that Gospel. We are in the process of looking at long range building here. But we are not doing neutron bomb evangelism: kill the people and save the buildings.”
For much of the late 20th Century the Church rearranged the deck chairs on the luxury ship Episcotanic. And when we do venture out beyond the doors of our churches we look around and we despair.
• We despair.
We act as if there is nothing that can be done and that God is finished. Despair is a sin!!! To despair is to say that God cannot act. We have never yet had to face any real difficulty for being a Christian. The most that we have ever suffered is mild embarrassment — and that not for long.
Let me be clear this morning about what I believe. Let me make a brief “I have a dream speech”. I believe that Saint John’s exists for one reason and one reason only: to be a place where souls are transformed in relationship to God! God in Christ Jesus calls us to follow him, and this journey is not one of convenience. It is a cross we pick up not a hammock. The Journey to God begins with you and with me.
There were three friends who were eager workers, and one of them chose to devote himself to making peace between people who were fighting, in accordance with ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. The second chose to visit the sick. The third went off to live in tranquility in the desert. The first toiled away at the quarrels of men, but could not resolve them all, and so, in discouragement, went to the one who was looking after the sick, and he found him flagging too, not succeeding in fulfilling the commandment. So the two of them agreed to go and visit the one who was living in the desert.
They told him their difficulties and asked him to tell them what he had been able to do. He was silent for a time, and then he poured water into a bowl and said to them, ‘Look at the water.’ It was all turbulent. A little later he told them to look at it, and see how the water had settled down. When they looked at it, they saw their own faces as in a mirror. Then he said to them, ‘In the same way a man who is living in the midst of men does not see his own sins because of all the disturbance, but if he becomes tranquil, especially in the desert, then he can see his own shortcomings.”
I long for Saint John’s to be like a desert place where we become still and see ourselves and in that stillness hear the call of God. That is why we are here. Welcome in name of the resurrected Jesus!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.