Proper 5+Year C The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+9, June AD 2013 St Thomas Parish Isle of Hope GA
I Kings 17:17-24 Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-24 Luke 7:11-17
After a long life, dutifully serving his parishioners, the elderly priest died. He found himself in Heaven, where he was warmly greeted by St. Peter. "Welcome," St. Peter said, "You have lived a good life. Let me take you to your quarters, and then I'll show you around Heaven."
St. Peter took the man to a rather plain building, and escorted him to a small room. The room was humbly furnished, but was functional. The priest was a bit surprised, having expected Heaven to be a bit more extravagant, but he was happy to be there.
They then began their tour of Heaven, and it was absolutely beautiful. The priest felt silly for his initial resentment over his room.
Finally, they came upon an enormous mansion. A butler opened the door to the mansion and a man came out, dressed to the nines, and proceeded down a long walkway to the front gate, as servants rolled a red carpet before him. When he reached the gate, a chauffeured limousine pulled up, and the man got in. It drove off.
"Was that God," the priest asked, stunned by the display.
"Oh heavens no," replied St. Peter. "That was a lawyer."
"I don't want to seem ungrateful, but can you answer a question for me?" The priest continued, "I spent my entire life devoted to my parishioners, and teaching the gospel, and I have very humble quarters in Heaven. I just don't understand what that lawyer did, which would merit such a beautiful mansion."
"It isn't what he did," St. Peter replied. "You see, we have thousands upon thousands of priests up here. But he's our first lawyer."
In a book first published in 1930, a British author, Frank Morison, a skeptic of the Christian faith, thought to write a book dismissing the 'miracles' of the last week of Jesus' life on earth.
Coming from his background in the legal system, Morrison takes us through each event pointing out the inconsistencies and abrogation of Jewish law. Morison ended up writing a book that was completely the opposite of what he had originally set out to prove. That was not at all his intention. He was not a religious fanatic or even a highly spiritual person. He was like a lot of people with some remaining veneer of religiosity left over from his childhood. The peculiar thing is that instead of disproving the Resurrection, Morison writes that having seen all the facts one is left with only one ultimate conclusion - yes it happened. The title? "Who Moved the Stone.?"
He is one in a long line of those who scorned the gospel of Christ and later were turned into followers. The first in a more famous list is St Paul who tells of his conversion in the Newer Testament reading from the letter to the Galatian Christians this morning.
Another was C. S. Lewis (perhaps you've read or recently seen one of his books from the Chronicles of Narnia at the theatre). An Oxford professor and writer, he became an atheist as a younger man. Persuaded by arguments made by Christian thinkers, he, "...came into Christianity kicking and screaming." Lee Strobel , for many years as a hard-nosed journalist and atheist, set out to confirm justification for his atheism, instead he found that the evidence he encountered led him to the Christian faith. Francis S. Collins M.D. Ph.D. is a physician-geneticist, famous for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, and his leadership of the Human Genome Project, was an atheist when he finished graduate school, He later became a believer as a result of philosophical and scientific reasons. His conversion and reasons for belief are his book "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief". Dr. Hugh Ross, the youngest ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. Testing the scientific and historical data, Dr. Ross became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God. Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist, author, satirist, media personality, soldier, and spy. A professed agnostic for most of his life, he became a Christian, and 1969 published several books on the faith. Even Charles Colson of the Watergate scandal went into prison an unbeliever and found Jesus Christ; And finally and even surprising to me (!) Anne Rice a best-selling author of Gothic and spiritual books. Anne, a self-described atheist, returned to her Christian faith which she had not practiced since her youth. She has stated that she would "write only for the Lord" from this point forward, and there are a myriad of others who tried with their intelligence to disprove the Christian faith and ultimately became believers.
Someone has said that an 'unexamined faith is not worth having.' What convinces you of Christ? GK Chesterton famously said that: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
The Lord has been called the "hound of heaven" who pursues the peoples of the earth out of passion and love. The scripture says: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (I John 4:10) Salvation begins and ends with God initiative.
We see in the readings today a series of "miracles" or 'signs' as the word really means in the Greek language. What does a sign tell you? It points to something greater than itself. It communicates a message. Each of these signs speaks of someone coming from death to life. Two of them were physical but the really significant one comes from Paul who was once known as "Saul" before he became a follower of Jesus Christ. Two were resuscitation-- miraculous enough, but one was transformation coming spiritually alive from spiritual death forever!.
Only Christianity bases its claims on the TRUTHFULNESS of historical events open to scrutiny and investigation. A Christian's faith is an objective historical faith. The two most significant events that have convinced skeptics over the centuries are: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the conversion of St Paul. In Acts 1:3, the historian Luke tells us that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead by “many infallible proofs.” One eminent scholar JND Anderson of the Harvard Medical School said in the conclusion of a book in 1968: “Lastly, it can be asserted with confidence that men and women disbelieve the Easter story not because of the evidence but in spite of it.”
When but a junior high student I went through a crisis of all of the major issues of any religious faith, especially Christianity. How do I know God exists? the Bible is true, Jesus was born of a virgin? Jesus rose from the dead? Several books were helpful to me regarding the 'proofs' of that which we believe or at least the reason behind them, well substantiated particularly a older writing called: "Know Why You Believe." That would be my challenge to each of us today. Not why the priest believes or if you're young, why your parents believe, but why YOU believe! Know why and what you believe. What brings you to Church on Sunday? The respectable Christian thing to do on a Sunday morning on the Isle of Hope? Or could it be, an encounter with the living Christ? You see we live in a relativistic, get along society. But will social pressure keep us from Christ Jesus? Will the loud promises of wealth, fame and pleasure as we see every day on TV and the net, distract us from engaging that faith into which we were baptized? The beatitudes say in one translation: "blessed are they who know their need of God for theirs in the kingdom of heaven."
We might ask why some are so eager to convince us of the "untruthfulness" of Christianity? Why purge it from the public sphere? Paul wrote that the gospel is foolishness to those who do not believe. It wrestles with the ultimate...death. Are some afraid of what might it mean for them if believers are RIGHT? What convinces you of Truth with a capital "T"? Have you examined the Truths? Do you live by opinion or by researched conviction. Faith is not pious or baseless opinion. St Peter wrote: "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15 NIV)
The knowledge of God in Jesus is a supernatural event. It is by, with and through God's Holy Spirit. It is into that blessed covenant with God we are baptized that as we grow we believe into conversion that completes our baptism promises. That is what confirmation is about. But anyone who seeks after God must be open to receive God's revelation to them. This morning are we convinced? Have we looked beyond 'church alone' and encountered the living Christ?
Our collect said: "O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them..." Right thinking begins and ends with God. KNOW why and what you believe.
Perhaps you've heard this verse? " For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." But have you heard the
next..." For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world
through him." That is the gospel, literally the "good news." That is why for 2000 years we have
proclaimed "Alleluia! Christ is Risen!" Amen
AD MAJOREM DEO GLORIAM