Wisdom 16-2:1 James 3:16-4:6 Mark 9:30-37
Our Scripture lessons today are particularly relevant because even though they are ancient texts they read as a diagnosis and prescription for our trou8bloed world today.
The diagnosis is found in our lesson from the Apocrypha. If you are new to Anglicanism I need to first clarify our use of the Apocrypha. We do not believe it to be the Word of the Lord. Those are the canonical books of the Old and New Testament. That is why the Lector ended with “Here ends the reading” rather than the usual “The Word of the Lord.” But because the Apocrypha has been so widely received by the Church catholic, east and west through the centuries, we hold that it can be edifying to read. We are not to draw doctrine from it but we can learn from its wisdom.
Here is the diagnosis from Book of Wisdom. There is a universal conflict between darkness and light and it runs through the ages. “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions, he reproaches us for sins….the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is not like ours and his ways are strange.”
Translation: “We would be much happier if you Christians weren’t around to remind us of our sins. So we are going to shut you down.”
Does the conflict between light and dark exist in our day? You know that it is! Over the last few weeks pro-abortion forces were putting pressure on a Senator to vote a certain way. When she would not bow to their pressure she received over 3,000 coat hangers in the mail as well as death threats. Death threats! It seems that we are moving slowly towards mob rule with Antifa entering our streets to assault anyone who does not agree with their radical agenda. A new form of atheism is raising its head and not just attacking things like prayer at a high school football games. In an article entitled “So Many Christians, So Few Lions these people were quoted and they were educated folks. They suggested that someone who holds strong religious views (us) should not be allowed to serve in any capacity where laws are made, or serve on the police force or be allowed to influence children. One 45-year-old woman with a Masters Degree even said that Christians should be somehow supervised if they were working with other people.
So if it is true that there is a universal conflict between darkness and light, and some believe that the answer is for the righteous man to go away, then what is the righteous man to do? Let’s first consider what the Church has done in the past that hasn’tworked.
One approach has been to retreat from the world. Early Christians called anchorites went into a cave or climbed up a pole and separated themselves as far as humanly possible from the world. Some forms of monasticism did similarly and were really a form of escape. It may have helped their individual souls to flee from the world but it did little to address the conflict and even less to advance the kingdom of God.
A second approach was to take the fight to them. Light attacks the darkness. But whether it be the Spanish Inquisition of the Middle Ages or today’s militia groups that call themselves “Christian,” it is very very difficult to square that approach with the Sermon on the Mount.
A third approach, which we see in liberal mainline denominations, is “if you can’t beat em join em.” Embrace every new thing that comes down the pike so that you will be relevant and popular. The thesis is that this will bring many into the fold and end the conflict. How has that worked out? Between 1980 and 2010 the Episcopal Church lost 30% of its membership and today the average Episcopal Church has an average Sunday attendance of 57.
Jesus’ approach was not to run away from the conflict, nor to take the fight to them, and it most certainly was not to blend in with the darkness. He was salt and light in the midst of it all and He calls on the Church to be the same. Our other lessons give us practical ways to do so.
But first it is important to see the conflict for what it really is. The conflict between light and darkness is not Republican vs. Democrat, or Conservative vs. Progressive or America vs. Russia. The conflict is between Jesus who is the Light of the World and the Prince of Darkness. That was what St. John wanted the persecuted Church to see in his Revelation. The persecuted Church’s battle was not with the Roman Empire, it was with the dragon. St. Paul says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. It’s vital that we see what the conflict truly is because that keeps us from thinking that the solution comes from winning an argument on Facebook.
So lets ask the question given the conflict that we are in, as Francis Schaeffer put it, “How should we then live?”Two approaches stand out in our lessons and they are a both/and and not an either/or. They should be done concurrently.
The first approach is to get the world out of the Church. We get this from James. At first blush it seem like James is giving them quite a tongue lashing, even calling them “Adulterers.” But the Apostle is doing more than name calling. He is making the strongest of declarations that while the Church must be in the world, we MUST, MUST, MUST get the world out of the Church. Why? Because we cannot be effective for the Kingdom of God if we are acting like the world, continually engaging in conflicts and disputes. The Washington Post had an Op Ed with the title “Americans are addicted to outrage.” I couldn’t agree more. There is plenty that is wrong in our world and we do need to expose injustice but when EVERTHING is offensive then nothing gets truly addressed and nothing is made right.
Christians must not be addicted to outrage. We cannot extend the Kingdom with everyone wanting their own way or envying what others have or being jealous towards one another as James points out. We can’t bring the healing power of Christ to the world if we are battling one another or if we are in a constant state of being offended.
James’ council is that we have to make a decision. He says that friendship with the world puts us at enmity with God. Let me be clear. He is not saying that we cannot have friends IN the world. He is saying we cannot have friendship WITH the world. We have to make a choice. This reminds me of Jesus’ teaching about not being able to serve two masters. We have to make a choice. To be a friend of God means that you reject the values and standards and mores of the world. Or should I say that we are to reject the LACK of values and standards and mores of the world.
The world that is full of lies and angst and chaos must be kept outside the walls of the Church. We are to be built on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ who has said to us, “In the world you will have much tribulation but fear not I have overcome the world.”We should not be surprised by the world’s animosity towards us but we also must not fear it and we must not react to it. Instead we must walk in the Spirit and get the world out of the Church.
At the same time that we work to get the world OUT of the Church we must work to put the Church IN the world. This approach comes from Jesus and as is so often the case with Jesus it seems counter intuitive. But it only seems counter intuitive because we have been flying upside down for so long that we have gotten used to it.
This approach to facing the conflict between light and darkness is to become like a child. In today’s Gospel He speaks of receiving a child and in a few more verses He again takes a child in His arms and teaches that if we do not receive the kingdom like a child we shall not enter it. When we put those two events together it becomes clear that He is using children to instruct us.
What can we learn from children? Before they are corrupted by the world children freely accept others. I have seen toddlers who are total strangers walk up to one another and hug. Many years ago I was standing in line with my daughter on my hip in a BBQ joint. As we were waiting to get take out I saw her look at a black woman and then look at her arm. Then looked back at the woman and back again at her arm. I realized that it was the first time that it had even dawned on her that there were differences in the races. Gratefully I got her out of there before she could announce it to the world.
Children don’t see color or social status or ask what model of tricycle the other is riding. They just see another kid and become friends. I believe that Jesus is telling us that what we are to bring to the conflict is love and acceptance. When we meet outrage with outrage it only increases the outrage. We are not to have love and acceptance of the darkness but of those who are victims of the darkness. St. Paul says in Romans “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink…do not overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.
The wonderful benefit that being childlike brings to our lives is that it offers us an alternative the rat race. In the rat race you are living for yourself. In childlikeness you live for others. In the rat race status is all-important. In childlikeness the other person is all-important regardless of status. You will even receive a child.
We can tell that the disciples were getting drawn in the rat race direction because they were discussing among themselves who was the greatest. What is somewhat shocking is that they knew that they were wrong to do so because when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about they were too embarrassed to answer Him. He knew anyway and so He took a child in His arms and showed them another way to live.
What a lesson that is for us. Even walking with Jesus and witnessing Him loving and accepting others, seeing His humility, watching Him choose servant hood over status and power, they were still tempted to go the way of the world and join the rat race. If the temptation was that great for them, then how much more do we need to be vigilant in being childlike and keeping kingdom values? I suggest that the call to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”is a daily decision and not a one-time choice.
Last week I saw an interview of a man who is walking in everything that I have been talking about. He was imprisoned for 27 years for a murder that he did not commit. He had only been out of prison for 48 hours when they interviewed him. When asked if he was bitter he said that the Lord would not allow him to be. He even said that if the folks who put him in prison were present right now that he would hug them. Every time the reporters asked him about the events that finally led to his release He kept saying, “That’s the way God works.”He was void of anger and he was at peace. Even in prison he kept the world from getting inside of him and even in prison he was childlike in his simple trust in God and his love and acceptance of others, even towards those who did him so unjustly.
That interview was not only inspiring to me but it gave me hope. If that man can obey the call of Jesus while imprisoned in a Federal Penitentiary, then there is hope that I can do the same living freely in the comfort of my own home. I pray that you will share that hope as well. I want to walk as a child of the light. I hope that you do too. Amen.