Last weekend I was in Dallas Texas for the 25thanniversary of Bishop Iker’s consecration. As I was taking a taxi to church I had a flashback. I was in Dallas 46 years ago this summer with 80,000 other students for an event called Explo ’72. We gathered for evening worship in the Cotton Bowl to be led in worship by folks like Johnny Cash and to hear sermons by Billy Graham as well as other luminaries of that time. During the day we had evangelism training and then we went door to door sharing our faith. I drove from Florida to Texas and back, cramped in a VW Beetle with two other really big guys, and by what must have been a miracle we still remained friends and didn’t murder each other.
If you had asked me then where I would be on my Christian journey in 46 years I would have guessed that I would be much farther along than I actually am. I can easily say with St. Paul that I have not obtained my goal. I say that because each week when we confess to God that we have not loved Him with our whole heart nor our neighbor as ourselves, I really mean that confession because I haven’t. I want to but I haven’t. My one consolation is that since this confession is written in our Prayer Book for the WHOLE Church to pray EVERY Sunday, my guess is that I am not alone.
That said I do not consider myself a failure as a Christian and I hope that you do not either. We only fail if we quit and the word “quit” should not be in our vocabulary. So if quitting is not an option then the next question is “What is the way forward?” How do we grow more deeply in our love of God and our love for our neighbor? Two things jumped out to me in today’s propers that I believe point us in the right direction. The first is from the collect where we pray that we will KNOW Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. The second is from our lessons which clearly call on us to not only know it but to SHOW it.
Notice that the prayer does not ask for us to be shown the way but rather to know Jesus as “the Way.” This is the correct way to pray because Christianity is not merely an ethical religion where someone tells us what is right and wrong and then we are left on our own to do it. Jesus comes along side us to take us with Him. He does this through the Holy Spirit whom He promised to His disciples. So we must never forget that we are not in this alone. The Way is not a direction, the Way is a Person.
Before the 1979 Prayer Book it was typical for a parish to march all 6thgraders through a Confirmation class, often rather they wanted it of not. Kids were given assignments to memorize the Lord’ Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the 23rdPsalm etc. Many were taught the catechism and some were even warned that the Bishop may ask them really difficult questions and so they better have it down cold by the time that the Bishop visited.
None of this was wrong in itself, and the Church might do well to reintroduce some of those disciplines, but one problem arose from this process. It led some to believe that all they had to do to be a Christian was to have the right information, to be able to pass the Bishop’s test.
But as you know memorizing the Creed and believing the Creed are not necessarily that same thing; just as liking Jesus and living like Jesus are not necessarily the same thing. Our reading from 1stJohn drives this home.
How do we know that we have passed from life to death? Is it by how many verses we have memorized or how much theology we know? No! We know that we have passed from death to life when we love as He loved. We know that we have passed from death to life when we lay our lives down for one another. We know we have passed from life to death when we share with a brother or sister in need. We know that we have passed from death to life when our love is not in words but in deeds.
Bob Goff in his book Everybody Always tells of meeting a witch doctor in Uganda who was arrested and tried for mutilating a boy as a child sacrifice, but the boy lived to testify against him. Although this custom of child sacrifice by witch doctors was prevalent in Uganda this man named Kabi was the first one ever to be put on trial. Bob is an honorary consul of Uganda so he attended the trial and said to look at Kabi was to look in the face of evil. To Bob’s delight Kabi was convicted and sent to the kind of prison in Uganda that makes medieval dungeons seem like Disney World.
But something bothered Bob. Bob was on a journey of moving from liking Jesus to becoming like Jesus and so Jesus words about loving our enemies weighed on him. He pulled some strings to meet with Kabi in prison and in time Kabi repented of his wicked life and sought forgiveness through Christ. Bob not only knew Jesus to be the way but he showed Kabi the way.
Next Bob got permission from the warden to have Kabi share his story with the other prisoners. Kabi stood before hundreds of men and told what Bob called the worst gospel story he had ever heard. Most of what Kabi said about Jesus was so wrong that Bob began wonder about his own beliefs. But in spite of this horrible speech a sea of men came forward and Kabi and Bob grabbed bottles of water and baptized them by the scores. When we act with this kind of love we not only know Jesus as the Way but we show Him to be the way. The challenge is as Bob put it, “Don’t put a toe in the water of love; grab your knees and do a cannonball.”
We also pray to understand Jesus as the Truth. You certainly have heard of Scientology. It is a self-proclaimed religion invented by a science fiction writer. In truth it is a cult that had been publically accused of imprisoning and even murdering some of its detractors. So I have great admiration for actress Leah Remini who left it after 30 years and has been vocal about their abuses. One of their core doctrines is that 75 million years ago a being named Xenu brought billions of people to earth in space crafts, placed them in volcanoes and then blew them up with a hydrogen bombs. They clustered together as thetans and became negative forces that attach themselves to people today. It is the job of Scientology to help you get rid of the thetans…for a price. Why do I bring up this totally believable religion? Because it is estimated that there are about 30,000 followers in the US! That is the size of a large diocese.
So we pray to know Jesus as the Truth because we are so easily deceived and there are so many competing voices out there. We need to have one clear voice. We need to be convinced that Jesus is the Truth. He is the final authority and He is the canon by which every thing and every one else is measured. It is absolutely true that He speaks through the Scriptures and through the Church but we do not call either the Bible or the Church “Lord.” It is as we trust Him to be the Truth, and to lead us into all truth, that we are set free.
But again we must not only know Jesus as the Truth we must show Him to be the Truth? How do we do that? We do it through the fruit of our lives. The Bible calls it walking in the truth. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
If there is no difference between how we live and how non-believers live then people would be justified in doubting the validity of our beliefs. But if we evidence our love by keeping His commandments then our lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit. When folks witness love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. they will want to know what it is that we know and we will be able to tell them not what we know but WHO we know.
We also pray to know Jesus as Life. There is an old black and white movie of the sinking of the Titanic that ends with the crew and passengers singing an old Welsh hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” There is some debate if this is the last hymn that was sung before the ship went down but there is no debate that a number of hymns were sung by the passengers as they awaited their deaths. The survivors in the lifeboats testified to that.
One wonders what they would be singing if a cruise ship went down today. Would there be enough people with faith and practice on board to come up with the verses of even one hymn? I would hope so.
It is knowing Jesus to be our life that prepares us for our inevitable death. The family members of Barbara Bush testified how her faith allowed her to die with great peace and on her own terms.
But more than that, it is in knowing Jesus to be Life that gives meaning to our lives here and now. Have you noticed that people without faith often feel like victims of life’s circumstances. But people of faith can say with St. Paul, “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t mean that we understand or even like all that life brings us but in the end we know that there is nothing that the Good Shepherd cannot work to our good and so we are free to face life without fear.
How do we show Jesus to be the Life? We do so by living lives of contentment and peace. We end the Mass by blessing you with the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension and the intent is for you to walk in that peace during the week. How can you do this? Because your sins have been put away, you have worshipped in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, you have united with Jesus through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, you have been declared a citizen of a kingdom that cannot be shaken, you have been given His Spirit to empower you, He is now preparing a place for you and He will return to receive you to Himself. If that doesn’t give you contentment and peace then all the pills in Walgreens are not going to help you. And please don’t lose that precious peace be taken away over a drop in the price of Bitcoin or the latest scandal in Hollywood or whatever those knuckleheads in Washington DC are doing or not doing. All that stuff is going to pass away with the new heaven and the new earth. You are accepted in the Beloved and the kingdom is not in trouble. Walk in peace.
46 years ago I was a pretty idealistic kid. I just knew that I would become the Navy Seal version of Christianity and here I am 46 years later still trying to learn the basics of loving God and loving my neighbor. But I’m not discouraged! There is one thing I am convinced of and that is 46 years from now I will finally have my act together and so will most of you. Christ is risen and is coming again. Amen.