But, it is not only the flag-waving brand of patriotism that must guide my words this day. I need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, so as to minister from this pulpit the word of God. Concerning what we remember this weekend about things temporal, including good things temporal, I feel burdened to speak out as a prophet. This nation, which I love, and the whole "free world," are embarked on a journey as perilous as the only voyage of the Titanic. Our confidence is equally unfounded, and just as deadly.
The only hope, for recovering our national health and well-being, is expressed in the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us." (Isa. 33:22)
The Washington Times reported, this past week, that since 2005 the number of children born out of wedlock has grown, in the United States, from 25 percent of all births to 40 percent. This means that almost half the young children, that you see, are survivors of the abortion holocaust in a way more dramatic than the remaining 60 percent. It means that moral chaos and confusion threaten the future of our whole civilization; for I am sure that the numbers in other free nations are just as startling. It means that parents are not as truly committed to their children as parents were in previous generations; for they make no effort to provide stable families.
We hear, also, a lot about the efforts to destroy marriage, to render the definition of the very word meaningless. And, if the word "marriage" becomes meaningless, then the foundations of society will have been destroyed. We may blame those who want to see imposed on our various states the legal fiction of "same-sex marriage." Yes, they deserve blame; for if everything is marriage, then nothing is marriage. But, we must disperse the blame wider, for the "same-sex marriage" crowd are merely displaying the latest symptom of an older disease.
That disease includes a willful confusion between the meaning of two very distinct words. Those words are "tolerance" and "mercy." One of the finest bishops of the Episcopal Church (amid all its glaring faults) in my lifetime was many years ago the Bishop of South Carolina, Fitzsimon Allison. I heard him say, several years ago, that today repentance and forgiveness is out of fashion; it has been replaced by "disclosure and acceptance." No matter what the sin, a public disclosure seems enough to gain the acceptance of society at large. This too is a form of the confusion I mentioned. We have confused tolerance with mercy, and this has been to every body's harm.
Looking at today's Gospel I see a line that gives me a clue as to who, above all others, deserve the greatest amount of blame. It is this, where Jesus said, "Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?" We know from the 23rd chapter of Matthew that these blind guides were the religious leaders, "scribes and Pharisees." Who should accept the blame for why 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock, and for why the very definition of marriage is in danger, and for why so many young people are growing up in moral confusion and ignorance, disabled from the outset by neglect? Parents? Yes. But, above all the clergy. Somewhere, somehow, decades back, a large portion of the clergy decided not to rock the boat, not to become too unpopular, not to risk their own security; they accomplished this by neglecting to teach the truth of God's commandments. Yes, I know he was not an Anglican; but, I wish every Christian clergyman over these last several decades had spoken with the directness, moral clarity and passionate conviction we saw in Billy Graham.
If the blind lead the blind...who is charged with teaching the truth of God's word so that light may shine for all? Who is charged with warning, teaching, and guiding the people of God in the right ways? The clergy: pastors, priests ordained to teach the word of God. Clergy who suffer from their own moral confusion are blind leaders of the blind. If only, for the last four decades, the clergy in every place had spoken with moral clarity! We left the Episcopal Church partly because of their moral confusion about sexual conduct and abortion. Many of the clergy stopped laying it on the line, and began making excuses to accept anything and everything.
What is wrong, you may ask, with tolerance? First of all, is the desire to be tolerant simply for the benefit of others? Why has the "same-sex marriage" problem arisen, both politically and in religious bodies? I will tell you why it has arisen. Far too many people wanted God's Laws to be relaxed for their own benefit. They wanted to make it easier for themselves, and so they added "tolerance" to the seven virtues, and began proclaiming it as a moral imperative-indeed, the only moral imperative. In a church body, like the Episcopal Church, where even bishops were divorcing the wives of their youth to marry someone younger, how could it not lead to toleration of everything, even of things that are self-destructive in the most obvious ways?
But still, you may ask, don't we need tolerance? After all, are we not supposed to live by what we heard in today's Gospel? "Judge not...condemn not?" Do we not need a certain amount of tolerance in a world where most of the people are not committed Christians? How else can we live in peace? And, yes that is true; we cannot make people live by God's word. But, we do have the duty to proclaim it, and to be very clear about what we believe and stand for. Most of all, we must teach it to our own children; and here is where the next group deserves blame: Parents.
For, as much as the clergy should have spent the last several decades preaching the word of God from the pulpits, Christian parents have always had the duty, clearly spelled out in the Bible, to teach their own children the ways of God, including his commandments and his Gospel. There is no option in this matter; for the parents, especially the fathers, are directed in both New and Old Testament passages to teach their children God's word.
Mere tolerance is not mercy, and it is not merciful. Jesus follows his warning not to judge, and not to condemn, with this: "forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." I want to make something very clear: It is impossible to forgive something that you tolerate. Forgiveness is a very condemning sort of thing, in a way. For, in order to forgive something, you must first acknowledge that it is wrong. Now, we want to welcome all kinds of people to come here, to "taste and see that the Lord is good." As the previous weeks have shown, He calls us to bring people into His House; that is, to evangelize. And the call is simple, as it came out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus himself all those centuries ago: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:14,15)
A Gospel with no repentance is no Gospel at all, just as a Gospel with no cross is no Gospel at all. Without repentance and without the cross, there is no hope of attaining the resurrection of the dead. But, Christ, who both died for our sins and rose for our justification, gives us the promise of eternal life only by way of repentance and of the cross. Simply tolerating the sins of all others so that we may tolerate our own sins, is not the way of the cross. It is not repentance. If we want the hope of eternal life for ourselves, and for our children and for our neighbor, we must reject tolerance in favor of forgiveness. As today's Collect puts it:
O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.