Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Foundation of God

 Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Epiphany III+C             
24, January AD 2016          

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10                                                                           Psalm 19  
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a                                                                              Luke 4:14-21  

 In seminary, I was taught that the collects are the harbingers of the Anglican / Episcopal theological tradition. In theory the collects for every Sunday inform our theology in the Anglican tradition.  What was our supplication or request from God together this morning a little while ago.  

This collect asks God to help us: to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works;

In our present day, Christianity is being challenged on every side.  We are seeing for the first time in our nation's history, Christianity being smeared, threatened, sued, and persecuted.  This is something novel in the American experience.  Our nation was founded on the precepts in the Bible.   John Adams our second president said this: " Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (The supposed deism of John Adams' day was not as removed from the Christian faith as we have been told.

As we approach the choice of our next leader,, I notice a very disturbing trend over the last few decades and in both parties of our nation: the sacrifice of Truth, casual intentional deceit, untruth and manipulation. Christianity, the great tempering force for truth is told to sit in the back seat and "shut up."  The words of Jesus  John 14:6  I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me, are considered narrow and prejudicial and unwelcome. . Whatever 'political pundits may say, dishonesty is unacceptable.

. Great swaths of our nation have forgotten the principles upon which we were founded much fueled by the Black Robed Regiment, the ministers who stood for the revolution based on the Holy Scriptures because of the covenant that the king had broken with the colonists.. There is no more "the Truth", rather we are told that "that is YOUR truth".  It isn't mine.

 Much like many of our people, so the people of Israel after seventy years in Babylon, in modern Iraq had forgotten the laws of God..  The priestly offerings ceased with the destruction of the Temple Solomon built.  They had not heard the reading of the Book of the Law since that time to our knowledge, for 70 years.  When heard it, our text says: "" all the people wept when they heard the words of the law."  It is much of this same understanding that informed those who wrote our present system of laws.  When we return to our foundations, I hope it would give us sorrow.  No one likes lies, but we put up with them from national leadership.   George Santayana (1863-1952) said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

By our original documents, it is clear that the nations' foundations are steeped in the Christian faith.   Though how  deceitful re-writes of history have been, even the atheists cannot escape God in Christ at the core of the American experience.. The glorious terrain of the virgin land of North America testifies to God.  The first verse of our Psalm reads : " The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork, to the great chagrin of evolutionary theory.   You cannot stamp out God, no matter how hard you endeavor to do it.

What was the first thing that Mao Zedong's did when he became the ruler of the budding Communist China?  He closed all of the churches and other religious buildings and forbade their literature.  The state was now God.  There are those who seek the same for the United States. All references to God are removed from public building, crosses from cemeteries, and all references to the highly religious beliefs of American history are purged from textbooks.
We are a long way from the days when Jefferson rode his horse to the capital building where several different groups held worship services on Sunday.  On top of all of this, we are warring with a sect of Islam who prescribes every act of everyday life.

Into this scenario Jesus comes. Welcomed or unwelcomed Jesus comes.  He goes into the synagogue in his home town.  As most of the synagogues did not have professional rabbis, the members of the congregation would stand up and read from the scrolls.  Jesus is asked to read, so he takes the scroll of the Book of the prophet Isaiah and turns to a passage that tells of the prophesied Messiah and reads:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me  to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives  and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
This was well enough as usual and expected.  He then sat down to teach and has the temerity to say: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Was this local boy for real? How dare he?  Blasphemer!
What began with a Bible reading quickly turned into a riot and some of the people wanted to take him as a mob to a nearby cliff and cast him down, however God had other plans.  In the text that follows, we read about another one of Jesus' miracles But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Back to the collect, are we seriously able to pray this?  Christians are again dying for their faith. Houses of worship over a thousand years old are being destroyed.  In the midst of this, missionaries are telling stories of Moslems, who experiencing ISIS, are questioning their faith.    Many have reported seeing Jesus in a dream that leads them to the underground churches.    The true stories of men and women who against all of HUMAN reason, risk their lives to tell of Jesus.   The recent release of our fellow Americans from Iranian imprisonment. 

God is moving.  Let us pray for the Moslem people, that they may find the Lord of Life. Conversion requires moving from one structure of looking at reality to another. From the purely natural human perspectiveCto God=s perspective!  To quote one of my many mentors: Conversion is saying to GodCAI can never walk away from you because my life has no meaningCpurposeCor focus without you at the center of my personal history. @Conversion is truly meeting  Jesus, having a life altering encounter,  being restored to union with God who gives ultimate meaning to life itself.
The persecution is spreading.  Our Anglican Church is suffering terribly in Africa and Asia, in South Pacific and of course the middle east.  .  It is  most certainly is coming here and our choices are far more than party and much more of person..   Like the ancient martyrs we celebrate on our kalendars they many are going joyfully.  As we read in the first reading:  the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Let us pray daily too be filled with that joy.  God's strength in us is born out of joy. 
Perhaps some of you will remember this hymn.  It is in the 1940 hymnal written by a Unitarian poet, the son of a Unitarian minister, James Russell Lowell,  to protest the American war with Mexico. Although he was not a follower of Jesus as Christ, he does speak to weighty moral choices we are called upon to make at times of life.  He named the poem: This Present Crisis, we know it as Once to Every Man and Nation.
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

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