Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
May 29, 2011
There are two words when one speaks of theology that are really two sides of the same coin, and they cannot be separated, the one from the other. The two words I’m speaking of are orthodoxy and orthopraxy. When I say orthodoxy here, I’m of course not referring to the Orthodox Churches of the East. I’m speaking of the root word orthodoxy here which means right belief. Of course, those churches that propagate and declare the historic, Christian, orthodox faith whether they be Eastern, Western, Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, what have you, are the group of Christian believers who share the common faith and belief. This must be the starting point. Right belief is foundational. When one is orthodox he believes in the dogmatic declarations of the faith as indisputable and not open for debate. These questions have been settled and must be believed in order for a person to call himself a Christian. A Christian must profess that God is a Trinity in Unity – one God in three Persons. He must believe that the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is both completely human and completely divine – deriving his humanity from the womb of the Virgin Mary his most holy Mother, and deriving his divinity from God Himself, through the Holy Ghost. We declare that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that he died a physical death and rose from the dead with a resurrected body; that He ascended unto the right hand of Almighty God, where he ever makes intercession for us to His Father. We believe that His death was the full, perfect, and sufficient atoning sacrifice and the complete oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the entire world. We also faithfully assert that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. While not a completely exhaustive list, these are the points of agreement shared amongst all believers who would call themselves orthodox and subscribing to orthodoxy. Those who do not would be called heretics, or those who teach and uphold a contrary faith.
Until the middle of the last century it was fairly easy to come up with a pretty good list of what would be considered orthodox and what was not, and no matter what church you attended the orthodox faith would have been preached, the differences being matters of church governance and polity, or matters of style in worship. These would have been considered differences amongst believers, and our salvation didn’t depend upon which camp we happened to fall in regarding these notions.
The other side of the theological coin has to do what the notion of orthopraxy, which basically means right actions. We don’t hear that word nearly as often as we should but in essence orthopraxy is orthodoxy put into motion. It’s what we do with our right beliefs once we’ve embraced them and take them to ourselves and own them. It speaks to the fundamental principle of how is the Christian life lived out. If orthodoxy is believing the Creed, orthopraxy is living the Creed. Orthodoxy is believing that through the empty tomb we have received newness of life and that we are a new creature in Christ, orthopraxy is living as that new creature.
St. James speaks this morning on this final Sunday in Eastertide about being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. My former church in Montgomery, AL adopted James 1:22 as their tagline verse on their signage and letterhead. If the church sent out anything one saw that verse front and center.
So what does being a doer of the Word look like? More importantly, are we doers of the Word?
This morning you’ll notice on the hymn boards and in the bulletin that today is Rogation Sunday. The Rogation Days are the three days which precede Ascension Day, and they are a time when we are to be intentional about asking God for his protection and blessings. Traditionally it was a time for farmers to have the priest bless their crops after the spring planting with the hope of a fruitful harvest, and some churches performed solemn processions around the property asking that God might be with them in the coming year.
How appropriate that we would hear the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel today that, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” We are specifically commanded by Jesus to ask for God’s blessings.
Let me make something very clear here. I’m not talking about asking God for that new BMW or Mercedes and specifying what color. This is not some prosperity gospel sermon that simply says be sure you ask God for whatever you want and be sure to do so in Jesus’ name because it says right here in John 16 that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name He’ll give it to us. That is not what Jesus is saying here. This is when we need to check to make sure our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy are in sync.
For how does St. James conclude his first chapter? He says, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” That doesn’t sound like asking to have my physical needs met on my terms just because I asked for it in Jesus’ name, now does it? That sounds allot like a life of intense self-examination in light of God’s law, and a life of service and self-sacrifice, loving one’s neighbour as one’s self.
Orthopraxy, right action, is the living out of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Speaking of another instance of two sides of the same coin.
I know many who say that we simply need to live out the Great Commandment and let the rest take care of itself. I say no to that assertion. To me that’s simply being content with one’s orthodoxy and leaving the orthopraxy to handle itself. I believe that we absolutely must do both. Certainly right action is loving God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength, and loving others as we would ourselves. Right action is also doing what our Lord commanded his disciples when he departed from them on that first Ascension Day when he told them to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
We simply cannot have the one without the other.
The only way that this is truly lived out is through a lifetime of rogation, a lifetime of asking, an existence shaped by prayer. If you hadn’t picked up on it before now the central theme behind this day on the Church Kalendar is to foster a life of prayer.
What are we to ask for; what are we to pray for? How are we to pray?
We are to ask and pray for those things that are in accord with God’s Will. It’s taking the words of the Lord’s Prayer to heart and truly mean it when we pray, “thy will be done.” Those are perhaps the four hardest words to pray because it brings us front and center to the reality that we are not God. Wasn’t that the temptation of the serpent to Eve? Didn’t he say that she wouldn’t die but that she’d have her eyes opened and she’d be like God?
Orthodoxy and orthopraxy, rightly understood, are two interconnected words that show us with crystal clarity that we are nothing save but the grace of God. One of the churches here in Moultrie had a marquee out front that said God without Man is still God; Man without God is nothing. Truer words have never been spoken.
Jesus wants us to ask the Father in His name for blessings beyond our comprehension. He wants to shower us with his grace and mercy. However, the life of prayer that we are to cultivate is radically different than what we might think. As the late Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse once said the life of prayer, “is the habit of relating, the habit of referring all our thoughts and words and deeds, and all our circumstances to God through Jesus Christ. It is not just particular petitions; it is thanksgiving, it is adoration, it is penitence and intercession. Prayer is not some magic charm employed to change the will of God. Prayer is looking into the mirror of the charity of God, and remembering, and being changed by what we see.”
We are called to look to that “perfect law of liberty, and continue therein.” We are to daily strive not be forgetful hearers, but doers of the work. And if we pray for the guidance and the strength to do this we shall indeed receive those abundant blessings that our Lord wishes for us to possess and intended for us to inherit from time immemorial.