Monday, April 26, 2010

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter (Feast of St. Mark)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 25, 2010

In September of 1992, Forbes magazine ran an article by Peggy Noonan entitled “You’d cry too if it happened to you.” I would not have stumbled upon this article were it not for Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias who excerpted a few paragraphs from the piece in talk he was giving. It struck me the first time I heard it, and it continues to do so every time I re-read it. I offer Ms. Newnan’s words to you as I begin.

"We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”
The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.
But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.
The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.
Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate."

Why do I mention this article?

This was written in 1992, recounting a story from 1971 or 1972. Spring forward to just the other morning as I was perusing the headlines, this jumped out at me, “Tiger Woods’ and Jesse James’ alleged mistresses to star in reality TV show.” I realize that the reality TV junket has gotten pretty big of late, but this show “aims to "catch celebrity cheaters with their pants down" and is the brainchild of Bobby Goldstein, the man behind the original reality show "Cheaters," where non-famous people spy on their partners to uncover proof of infidelity.”

Folks, we’ve got a serious problem here!

I realize that most of us sitting here this morning abhor stories like these, and the fact of the matter is, we the church, we as the Body of Christ, had better have something to say about this.

In many cases there are times that we should be outspoken, visible witnesses to the societal atrocities that are an affront to God, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel. There are times when we are called to march or protest or write columns or papers to help make our point known, or if nothing else, let others know that there are still people out there that think this kind of thing isn’t okay! After all, even our Lord did as much when he cleansed the Temple of the money changers, declaring that they had turned His Father’s House into a den of thieves. We must work with the gifts that God has given to each of us to say and do those things that the situation demands.

However, there is always another strategy that any of us can employ no matter where we find ourselves.

As the old adage goes, we can kill them with kindness.

As St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome the Proverb, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

In many ways, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount had this type of teaching in mind. After he concludes the Beatitudes, he immediately goes on to speak about Salt and Light. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

In borrowing from Ravi Zacharias at the beginning of this sermon, I will paraphrase some of his words here when he asked the most relevant question, “How do we present the sweet savour of Christ to a world that either doesn’t want to hear it, or rejects any claim that there is any such thing as absolute truth?”
How do we present the message of the Gospel to a society who thinks it has no need to repent from anything, and in many cases resent religion in any form whatsoever as backward, outdated, outmoded, and stifling?

Former Bishop of South Carolina, C. FitzSimons Allison puts it this way in reference to a quotation from C. S. Lewis’ essay “God in the Dock:”

"What was true in Lewis’s day, the middle of the last century, is even truer in post-modernity. We who live in the modern (and post-modern) times have traded our role with God’s role. God is no longer the judge of us but we of him. We have abrogated to ourselves the attributes of deity and given to God the responsibility to justify himself, repent, change, or disappear as irrelevant….At no time in the history of either Christian or pagan religions has a people shown such hubris toward God or to the gods."

As much as we’d like to believe that Fitz has it wrong, we know in our hearts that
he’s hit the nail squarely on the head. He’s diagnosed the human predicament perfectly, and we are left with the most difficult of questions for us as Christians – what do we do now?

As I mentioned before we have two courses of action that must be employed, and our calling is to be in fervent prayer as to which strategy to employ when.
There are times when vocal and sometimes confrontational action is necessary and justified. Even then, it must be done in a spirit of charity.
However, most of the time our lives will be spent quietly going about our business, and simply doing the things that God has called us to do. Even then, we must remember the words that have been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel every day, and only when necessary use words.”

To me that is the most effective way to win converts, and help people see the glory that is the Grace of God. Christianity isn’t a straightjacket approach to life, but rather it is the freedom to live within the bounds that God has given to us. How could two teams play a football game, or soccer game if there were no sidelines. There would be no freedom at all, only chaos and confusion. God’s laws, the Creeds of the church, the teachings of the Church Fathers are all avenues which help us live within the bounds of the Christian Faith, and to do so freely. Jesus promised us that he came to bring life and to do so abundantly. This is the message of hope that we have for our hurting and broken world. May Almighty God continue to give us the words, the actions, and the tools share this most wonderful gift.

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