Friends of the World?

Friend of God?

Lessons: St. John 17:11-19; I John 5:9-15

In the 1960’s Paul Newman starred in a movie called Cool Hand Luke. It was in essence a story about a clash of wills between Luke who was a prisoner and the Warden. The Warden over and over again described their conflict this way. He would say “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Luke was a kind of hero because he represented a man whose will would not be broken. And as much as we can admire that in some circumstances that must not be the kind of relationship that a Christian has with his Lord. What the Christian must NOT have with Jesus is a failure to communicate. And we must realize that if there is a failure to communicate it is not because the Lord has failed to make Himself clear. It is because we are not listening. In some cases our unyielded wills are keeping us from hearing Him clearly. In other cases we have an agenda or a picture in our heads of how we think things ought to be and we are so busy making that picture come true that we don’t really hear what He is saying to us.

I bring this up because in today’s Gospel Jesus is communicating very clearly about our relationship with the world but that agenda or picture does not fit with what many many Christians have in mind and so His words fall on a lot of deaf ears. His words are not easy to hear and so it is easy for us to create another reality. He tells us we are enemies to the world and yet Christians all over are making friends with the world, wanting the world to like them and even acting just like the world. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus is saying so that we don’t have a failure to communicate.

First let me clarify the language. When Jesus is speaking of the world here He is not talking about the created order. We are not enemies of the land and seas and sky. The earth is the Lords and all that is in it. He created it and called it good and so it is. When Jesus speaks of the world in this context He is speaking of the people and systems of this world that are under the forces of evil. These people and systems use power and control and fear and in essence seek to replace God in our lives. They seek to enslave us while Jesus has come to set us free.

We need to hear what Jesus is saying here about our relationship with the world. The bottom line is they will hate you because you won’t play along. He said, “The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.” They hated Him and so they will hate us also. And so it should not shock us when they denigrate us or their puppets make fun of us on TV or laws get passed that contradict our beliefs.

The wrong response, the very wrong response is to wring our hands and try to figure out ways to make them like us again. This is a wrong response because it inevitably leads to compromise.

The Supreme Court is poised to change the definition of marriage this summer and I have been seeing a lot of chatter on the Internet that the Church had better change her position on same sex marriage or she will die. And I bring this up not to single out gays because I have my own set of sins. But the difference is that I am not trying to get my sins legalized or try to put others out of business who can’t accept me.

Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus defined marriage. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh. St. Paul goes on to tell us that the husband and wife are icons of Christ and the Church. Heterosexual couples who live together outside of marriage and same sex partners and polygamous relationships all assault those holy icons. Jews held marriage as a sacred institution and for 2,000 years it has been honored as a sacrament of the Church. Neither the State nor the Supreme Court has the authority to redefine what God has ordained. It can no more tell the Church what marriage is than it can tell us how to celebrate Holy Communion, but you are naïve to think that they will not try.

If the Supreme Court redefines marriage we cannot compromise in hopes of making the world love us. It won’t and it never will. I told the Bishop that if they redefine marriage then I have signed my last marriage certificate because in doing so, I am declaring that the Church accepts the new definition. Of course I will continue to officiate the Sacrament of Marriage but if a couple wants Caesar to recognize their marriage then they will need to get Caesar to sign their paperwork. In the end it may be a better thing to get the Church out of the State’s business and the State out of the Church’s business. It has always made me very uncomfortable when I have been to Protestant weddings and the minister declares, “By the authority vested in me by the State of Tennessee, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The authority of the Church does not come from the State, it comes from God and it is a good thing to have those two distinct from one another.

But it won’t stop there. I can easily foresee a time when the State will try to force the Church to accept its definition. Under antidiscrimination laws or hate speech laws or threats to take away tax deferred status it will try to silence the Church and force her to comply. Still we will not be able to compromise and at that time we must certainly not have our faith waiver. If opposition comes then it should come as no surprise. Jesus already told us that it would. He said that they will treat us as they treated Him. We don’t need to think that we have done something wrong or have lost God’s favor, we just need to stand and when all else is done remain standing.

So in this context of the world hating us what is our task? Are we to build bomb shelters, fill them up with food and ammo and hide out until the Lord’s return? Do we resurrect the Moral Majority, seek to take over the government and change all the laws and in essence make American a theocracy? I read of one guy who suggested that Christians go into massive debt so that when the Rapture comes we leave the Antichrist with all of our financial problems. I‘m not crazy about any of those options. What is our task?

Jesus tells us in His prayer. He prays for them to be sanctified in the truth and then He sends them out into the world that hates them just as the Father sent Jesus into the world that hated Him. Sanctified and sent. Later in the prayer He says that He is not only praying for them but for all those who will believe, so this all applies to us as well. Let’s consider these tasks of sanctify and send.

Sanctified is one of those theological words that can be scary. Sanctification or holiness can bring up images of women with long hair and no makeup or a long list of all the things that we and and can’t do and it may even involve snakes. But when we see how it is that Jesus prays for us to be sanctified then it comes into better focus. He prays for us to be sanctified in the truth and then He declares “thy word is truth.”

In praying that we would be sanctified by the truth He is praying that we will get the world out of us so that He can send us back into the world. We are not going to do the world any good if we think and act just like them. And the best way to get the lies of the world out of us is to fill us with the truth of God.

But to be even more specific I don’t believe that Jesus is praying for us to get our theology right nor is He praying that we memorize a ton of Scripture. In praying for us to be sanctified in truth I believe that He is praying for us to have the right picture of who God really is so that we have something truly wonderful to share with the world. With the true picture of God we have some very good news to bring to them. And when we bring them the good news THAT will make them like us, right? How did that work out for the Apostles?

There is one other part of Jesus’ communication to His disciples through this prayer that we must not miss. Amidst these sober sayings of the world hating them and sanctifying and sending them, He declares that He is telling them these things so that His joy would be made complete in them. And how does that joy come about? Our lesson today cuts off the remainder of the prayer that tells us how the joy comes about. Later He prays “I in them and you in me that they may be perfectly one, so that the world will know that you send me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Sometimes we focus our attention so much on the call to unity in this prayer that we miss the other parts. Did you catch them? Jesus prays for us to have the same kind of unity with Him that He has with the Father and then He states that the Father loves us as much as He loves the Son. Take a moment to wrap your mind around that one. God the Father loves you as much as He loves Jesus Christ and invites you to share the same kind of relationship that they have with one another. Belonging and love; these bring us great joy in our life and God invites us to find ultimate joy in belonging and love with Him.

Now let’s take this idea of belonging and love and come full circle back to Jesus’ statement that the world will hate us. When you realize that you have belonging and love with God and then are told that the world hates you, you will quickly come to the realization, “Who cares?” As St. Paul put it, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In fact I want to end this sermon by allowing St. Paul to finish that thought.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And the Church said, “Amen.”

Love Takes Courage

Lessons: I Jn 4:7-21; St. John 15:9-17

Love Takes Courage

“As the Father has love me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love….this is my commandment, that you love one another….I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

I’m not really sure that I am picking up what Jesus is laying down here. It’s kind of vague and mysterious. Unless…….wait a mo……..perhaps, just perhaps He is telling us to actually love each other. “By jove I think he’s got it.”

So while it is abundantly clear that He calls us to love one another, how can He put that in the form of a command? It would be nice if it turned out that we really did love each other but how can you command someone to have a feeling. When I first met Beth I could not command her to love me. Right? I had to trick her into it. And who has not had the experience where “you’ve lost that loving feeling, now its gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa”? You can’t command love to come back, can you?

Well, yes you can if you understand that principally, love is not a feeling. After Jesus gives the command to love, He tells us what love truly is.

First Jesus connects love to obedience. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” But some might object that this sounds like love with strings attached. Isn’t genuine love supposed to be unconditional?

Think of it this way. When I was a child, if I told my father that I loved him but that I was not going to do what he told me to do, there would have been two results. First my disobedience, which is also disrespect, would have proven that my love was hypocritical. Second I would not have lived past my childhood.

The notion that unconditional love frees you from responsibility and accountability is wrong headed but it is not a new one. The attitude that says “I am a believer and I know that God loves me so I can do whatever I want to do” was what Paul was addressing in his letter to the Romans. Some even went so far as to argue that since grace abounds where there is sin, we should sin all the more to receive more grace. As ridiculous as that reasoning is, it is equally ridiculous to separate love from obedience. We demonstrate our love for Jesus by doing what He tells us to do, just as a child demonstrates his love for his parents by honoring them and being obedient to them.

This understanding of love actually gives the lover power. I say that because if your love is primarily related to a feeling then you are powerless. Feelings come and feelings go and you have little or no control over them. But if your love is related to obedience then you don’t wait for a feeling to come before you act. You act because it is the right thing to do. You act because you are keeping the commandments and that act is love.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan was on a business trip and don’t you know that the last thing he needed in his life was to take care of a mugging victim. He could even have excused himself because a priest and a televangelist had already passed the victim by. He could have told himself that it was not his problem. But obedience to the law of love, treating others as you wish to be treated, made it his problem. He didn’t wait to get to know the guy to see if he liked him or not. That was irrelevant. He knew what the Lord would have him do and he did it. His act of obedience is love.

The next thing that Jesus teaches us about love is that love is connected to truth. That makes sense because truth opens the door to greater intimacy. Isn’t it so that the ones who love you the most know the most about you? “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I have called you my friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Jesus is calling them into a deeper relationship. As the disciples demonstrate their love for Jesus through obedience, He reveals more of Himself to them. And what an incredible statement that He is going to make known to then EVERYTHING the He has heard from His Father. Love and truth are joined one to the other.

The last time I gathered with the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee we were at St. Paul’s in Murfreesboro. The clergy were so divided that we could not elect a bishop. A meeting was called to see if we could find a way to heal our divisions, which were theological in nature. The speaker of the day suggested that what was dividing us was the writings of St. Paul and so his answer was to just pay attention to the red letters, which are the words of Jesus. It was presented as a loving approach to seek compromise for the sake of the unity of the Body of Christ. But when you dissected what the speaker was really saying, he was really saying that since truth was dividing us we just needed to have less. I have also heard a similar argument over the years from Christians who say that we should avoid theology altogether because it only leads to division.

Contrast that line of thinking with how love and truth are interconnected in our lesson from 1st John. Right after John declares that God is love he goes on to talk about Jesus being an atoning sacrifice for our sins and he weaves that theme several times in this lesson. St. John does not say, “God is love but let’s not talk about the theology of the atonement because it has the potential to divides us.”

It is not truth that divides us; it is those who refuse to walk in the truth that divides us. It is not truth that divides us. What divide us are the lies that come from father of lies. Truth brings us closer to Christ and as we each grow closer to Christ we grow closer to one another. It says in Ephesians, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Third, Jesus connects love with action and with sacrifice. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Earlier in the same Epistle St. John said, Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Because this is Mother’s Day the obvious illustration of love connected with sacrifice is our Mothers. My Mom left the workforce to care for our family. She could have had a career, she could have built lasting friendships with coworkers, and she could have made a lot of money. She walked away from all of that to raise a couple of Navy brats. She gave up her life for ours. And I can tell you from personal experience, that while some men may believe that being a housewife is a breeze, let the man of the house have the kids alone for a few weeks and he will get on his knees and kiss the floor when Mom comes home. The next day he won’t have to drive, he will skip to the office, whistling with a blue bird on his shoulder.

It’s unfortunate that the people who make the news are the ones who break the laws or famous people in some kind of scandal. There are a myriad of examples of sacrificial love that people do every day to bring light to the darkness. These are the ones that we should focus on and hold before our children as true heroes. I’m thinking of the military and police and firefighters who risk their lives every day so that we can live in peace and safety. The teachers and social workers and volunteers of all kinds who accept low pay or no pay at all so that they can make a difference in this world. Missionaries who take the Gospel into hostile places. The religious, monks and nuns who lay down their lives through intercessory prayer all hours of the day and night. Politician who……..okay that was a bad example but you get the point. Think of these unsung heroes and you are picturing the kind of love to which Jesus calls us. The most famous Bible passage in the world tells us that love is not passive. It tells us that love is action and love is sacrifice. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” Our calling is to love God back by loving this way. To love not just in word but in deed. Each week I mention in the bulletin some act of love in the section 4HS & 4SO. I do this because when you boil it all down that is why we are here. We are here for His sake and for the sake of others. Love is action and sacrifice.

It is Jesus’ call to this radical form of love that makes Christianity a power that lightens the darkness. It also makes it stand out as unique in a world that thinks that all religions are basically the same. While they do share some attributes, I would argue that no one else taught as Jesus did that love fulfills the commandments and anyone who teaches that today is merely quoting Him.

I saw an interview last week of a Muslim cleric who said that Pamela Geller, the woman who sponsored the cartoon contest in Texas about Mohammed, should be tried under Sharia and if found guilty she should be put to death. Death because of a cartoon? It saddened me to see how their legalism had made him so void of love and it demonstrated to me once again the uniqueness of Christianity. I am not convinced that we worship the same God. If He were the same God He would be schizophrenic to have two such diametrically opposed revelations. “This is my commandment, that you love one another….but you can execute people who draw cartoons.” We need to understand how desperately this dark world needs the light of Christ’s love and be about His business obeying His commands. Also we need to proclaim Christ as not one option among many but as the only hope for this world.

It is Jesus’ call to radical love that makes Christianity so impossible to do under our own power. When I was in seminary, theology came to me easily, it was a more difficult to learn Greek and Hebrew but I nearly gave up trying to love some of my fellow seminarians. To learn Greek and Hebrew I had to study more but to learn to love I had to pray more. Perhaps that is why Jesus adds the words about prayer to this commandment to love one another. He says, “so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” If you take it out of context you could say that the Lord is promising you whatever you want, like a Mercedes Benz as Janice prayer for. But if you keep it in context the next line tells us what it is that we should be praying about. “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” The kind of love the Jesus is talking about does not come through mustering up the will to do it. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and that is why we prayed in today’s collect for God to pour His love in our hearts. As Augustine prayed, “Command what you will, but give us the grace to do what you command.”

One of the things that I so much appreciate about Jesus was that He was no Pollyanna. He said that there would be wars and famine and earthquakes and yet in the midst of this darkness He tells us to be lights in the world. He tells us to love one another. More than kings or armies or even great philosophies, the love of Jesus is THE power to lighten the darkness of this world. So let your light shine. Amen.

The Structure of the Liturgy

High Mass

We read in the Book of Acts that the Church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

The Mass is divided into two major segments. The first is the Liturgy of the Word. This is how we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. In it we read Scripture, we chant the Psalms and we hear an exposition of God’s Word.

The second major segment is the Liturgy of the Altar. This is how we devote ourselves to the breaking of bread. In it we recall God’s grace to us throughout the ages and above all in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ. In it we participate in the New Covenant and unite ourselves with Christ by receiving His Body and Blood.

Fellowship and the prayers are woven throughout both major segments. A key element is the participation of all. The word “liturgy” was derived from a Greek word that meant public service. In liturgy the congregation does not sit by passively watching a performance but participates in the prayers and rites of the Church. The priest is only the officiant. He is not the performer. That is why the priest faces the same direction as the congregation as he leads worship. Together we minister to Christ.

Same Sex Marriage and the Loss of Freedom

Gay Marriage

A sober warning is given in a wonderful article written by a woman who was raised in the family of a same sex marriage.[1] However I am not seeing that warning repeated in social media. With the Supreme Court poised to change the definition of marriage, I hope that it not too late to hear her prophetic call.

Her warning is that same sex marriage will erode fundamental rights and her proof is what has transpired in Canada. She gives abundant examples, but we don’t have to go to Canada to see the validity of her argument. It is already happening here in the United States.

Consider the family run bakery that was fined by the State and put out of business for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The lesbian couple gave dozens of negative symptoms that they experienced due to the rejection, that ranged from sleeplessness to weight gain (even though they didn’t get the cake). We need to move past the hysteria surrounding the event in order to consider what really happened and then some very troubling things come to light that are harbingers of things to come.

It is important to note that the family did not prevent the couple from getting married nor did they prevent them from having a cake. That would have violated the couple’s rights. The family simply refused to participate in the wedding based on their religious beliefs. Again they didn’t stop anything, in fact they didn’t do anything, they simply declined to participate. By bringing suit, the gay couple was in effect telling the family that they do not have a right to their religious convictions. And the State, essentially playing thought police, agreed. What then is the point of freedom of religion if we are not free to live according to our religion?

This takes the discussion beyond legalizing gay marriage to the next step of silencing any and all opposition. We not only have to accept it, now we are required to participate in it. We are no longer free to disagree because disagreement is labeled as hate speech and punished accordingly. But the power of Dawn’s article comes from the fact that she loves her gay parents and so no motive of fear or hatred can be assigned to her. Her concerns for the loss of individual freedoms come from being a witness to that fact.

Not only is freedom of religion under attack but also freedom of speech. A teacher in New Jersey was suspended for expressing her opinion, not in the classroom, but on Facebook.[2] It is noteworthy that the picture at the top of the article is of protestors holding signs “No Hate In Our State.” Disagreement equals hate. More recently a fire chief in Atlanta was fired because he authored a devotional book that taught biblical principles of morality.[3] Last October the mayor of Houston demanded that preachers submit their sermons concerning sexuality or gender for review.[4] There was such a backlash that she backed down but it would be naïve to believe that was the last time such a demand will be made.

Examples are plentiful of people being silenced and these examples should shock people into action. Even those who support gay marriage should be the first to defend the freedom of speech of those who do not, because these rights are for us all and not just for those with whom we agree.

[1] A Warning from Canada: Same-Sex Marriage Erodes Fundamental Rights by  Dawn Stefanowicz