Sermon for The Sunday After The Epiphany
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
January 10, 2010
Last Sunday morning while most of us were here at church or visiting family or friends at the end of the Christmas break, a most interesting comment was made by Brit Hume of Fox News on the program Fox News Sunday which has provided an absolute firestorm of commentary on the Internet and blogs. The response has produced everything from facebook groups entitled “Thank you Brit Hume” to other groups calling for his firing and removal. For those of you who have not stumbled upon this on the Net, or didn’t hear about this, this is what Brit Hume said last Sunday morning:
“Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person I think is a very open question, and it's a tragic situation for him. I think he's lost his family, it's not clear to me if he'll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal -- the extent to which he can recover -- seems to me to depend on his faith. He's said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"
After a moment of awkward silence, fellow panelist Bill Kristol quipped, "Well, Brit's concerned about Tiger's soul, which is admirable, but I just made a more straightforward sports prediction, which was that he'll come back and win the Masters."
No, I’m not going to turn this sermon into a comparison of the doctrines of repentance and redemption between Christianity and Buddhism, but I am going to address those two issues of repentance and redemption in light of Christianity and one additional issue, on this the first Sunday following the Epiphany.
Last Wednesday evening, we commemorated the Feast of the Epiphany with our weekly Eucharist service beginning not in the bright lights of the sanctuary, but in a darkened church and in complete silence. The world in which Jesus’ life began was one of darkness. The people of Israel were living in the Promised Land but were not free because they continued to live under the occupation of the Romans and Herod, the puppet king put in place to keep the peace. They lived with the expectation as promised by the prophets that God would one day return to Zion and reign as king forever and ever. Certainly the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah begin to come to mind here. A baby was born in Bethlehem, and the heavens could not keep this fact silent. A light broke forth in the sky, and was of such magnitude that a group of astrologers and mystics from the East said one to another, “We are beholding something of a magnitude beyond our comprehension.” They were exactly right. Something beyond human comprehension had occurred, and did so according to a Divine Plan.
What should have been a most insignificant event, turns out to be the most significant event outside of Creation it’s self. A young couple arrives in Bethlehem, following the command of a pompous, egotistical, narcissistic man in Augustus, and while they were there have a baby born in a stable to be witnessed by a group of shepherds. Creation was being renewed, and Gentiles were the only ones who read the signs in the heavens and came to see what miracle had taken place.
We started the service last Wednesday in darkness, but finished in the light. We started in anticipation of what lay ahead, and departed being filled with Christ in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. We started in the darkness of the sin that besets us all, and left with the assurance of God’s forgiveness and redemption. There is no darkness so dark that can overcome the light of Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is what Brit Hume was talking about last Sunday when he graciously offered the Redeeming and Redemptive Blood of Christ to Tiger Woods. He wasn’t piling on to an already horrendous situation. Rather, he was offering Tiger a way out, and ultimately, the only Way out.
***Bill O’Reilly interviewed Brit Hume one night last week, and Hume made the follow-up comment, “Jesus Christ offers to Tiger Woods something the Tiger Woods desperately needs.” Mr. Hume, you just nailed the message of the Gospel, and how many of us are ready, willing and able to make that same proclamation? My prayers is that we all are.
However, we live with the reality that we will be persecuted for doing so. Society will despise us for making bold proclamations such as this and living out the Gospel mandate of spreading the Good News of the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – just ask Brit Hume.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann aired Hume's remarks and sneered, "WOW. Hume's attempting to inject religion in a discussion of Tiger Woods, and says one religion is better than another."
Dan Savage, a guest, agreed: "Being Christian is the best religion because it offers a 'get out of adultery free card, like Mark Sanford and David Vitter. It is an insult to Christianity. Didn't his mother tell him, 'Never discuss religion in public?'"
Olbermann described the "Peter Pan quality" of Hume's remarks, "Our God can beat up their God."
Tom Shales, who reviews TV for "The Washington Post," was also contemptuous "of his trying to compare two of the world's great religions...Is it really his job to run around trying to drum up new business? He doesn't really have that authority, does he, unless one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize?"
A blogger nailed Shales directly with this arrow, "You've managed to offend over 70 percent of Americans who call themselves Christian. I know you're probably an agnostic or even an atheist, so you won't understand, but 'proselytizing' is a tenet of Christianity. Ever read Matthew 18:19, sir?"
Bill O'Reilly gave Hume an opportunity to respond on his Monday show, asking if he was proselytizing, "I don't think so," replied Hume, adding, "Tiger Woods needs something that Christianity offers, forgiveness and redemption."
"Remember Chuck Colson, a leading light of Watergate?"
O'Reilly replied, "He made a true conversion."
And what did that conversion produce? Colson created Prison Fellowship, which over 30 years brought tens of thousands of volunteers into prisons, giving millions of inmates genuine hope for a new life. A single transformed life can impact millions.
Knowing that, Hume responded, "If Tiger Woods made a true conversion, we would know it. It would be a magnificent thing to witness."
It would indeed.
O'Reilly asked why Hume's observations sparked so many negative jibes at Christianity.
"It has always been a puzzling thing to me that if you even speak of Jesus Christ (and I did not use his name in my remarks), all hell breaks loose. It is explosive. I simply spoke of the Christian faith. But that triggers a very powerful reaction in people who do not share the faith and do not believe in it. It always has."
Jesus predicted this would happen: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:18-20).
Many Buddhists have been puzzled by the controversy. They don't believe Hume denigrated their religion, but simply described it. As one Buddhist blogger put it, "Buddhism doesn't offer redemption and forgiveness in the same way that Christianity does. Buddhism has no concept of sin. Redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense are meaningless in Buddhism."
Hume's critics are disingenuous in claiming to be offended by Hume's elevation of Christianity as a better answer than Buddhism. The fact is that Christianity does offer a better answer.
What prompted Brit Hume to offer the Christian faith as an answer? More than a decade ago, Hume described his own conversion and what motivated it: "I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me," in the aftermath of his son's suicide.
Tiger Woods ought to explore the Christian faith and consider Brit Hume's compassionate advice. If he made a genuine conversion, went back to playing golf and being faithful to his wife and children - he would likely be forgiven by them in time as well as by his fans.
Tiger Woods could become his generation's Chuck Colson.****
There is one thing that Brit Hume left out of his statement last Sunday and a third point that Christianity offers over and against other faith traditions. Hope is one of the greatest gifts of the Christian Faith. When we lay a body to rest in the Burial Office we do not do so as people without hope, but with the following words, “UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
We live with both the sure and the certain hope that there is something far more glorious and wonderful that awaits us all at the general resurrection of the dead. This body which was sewn in corruption will spring forth in incorruption into the glorious body of Christ, and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. This is what we have to offer to the world. The light which shineth forth into the darkness is alive in each of us. And as we say in our service, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” we continue to do the very thing we were created to do – to bring honor, glory, praise, and worship to our Heavenly Father.
****Source for passage marked with asterisks, Michael J. McManus from Virtueonline.org