Friday, July 03, 2009

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8:18-23
Luke 6:36-41

This particular Fourth Sunday after Trinity lands, here in the United States, one day after Independence Day. I am a patriotic American, and I am easily moved by any remembrance of the Founding Fathers, those men in Philadelphia who expected, all of them, to be hanged by the British Army. They really did pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They did leave us "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over." They endured what was to them "the sufferings of this present time." Some of them lost everything this world offers. And, many of the soldiers and militia men who fought for American Independence died bravely, so as to leave something better behind them, something for us.

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.


poetreader said...

Another memorable piece, Father. Those who sit under your ministry are uncommonly blessed.

However, I've come to see that this awful idea of gay "marriage" osn't actually destroying anything, but stands as a symptom of an already achieved destruction.

In my 68 years I've watched as divorce has developed from an unusual and shameful thing to a painful but open option to a very ordinary event that most people expect to experience

I've watched cohabitation develop from an uncommon arrangement placing its practitioners outside the bounds of respectability to just another option. I've watched single motherhood grow from a comparative rarity to a fairly common lifestyle choice.

In all this time, marriage, in secular society, and even among Christians (including the most conservative ones) has become a mere temporary arrangement and people are actually shocked that anyone stays married for 50 years.

In short, I'm convinced that civil narriage has been effectively de3ad for some years now and that the acceptance of the gay agenda is largely a result of that rather than the other way around. We've toerated ourselves out of business.

The church needs to get tough in sticking to principles and restore marriage, among us to what Our God intends it to be. We probably annot, for the foreseeable future, do much about its death in secular society, but we can insist that Christians follow God's directions.


RC Cola said...


I agree completely that gay marriage is a symptom of the destruction of marriage, not the cause.

This is one of those things that cannot be solved by legislation. Instead individuals must take their marriage vows seriously--to recognize it as the sacrament that it is. That requires proper catechesis. Proper catechesis begins at home.

For my part I have been (perhaps too) selective when choosing a spouse. Trying to find a spouse who believes that love is an act of the will rather than a sub-waistline tingle, or that children are humans not fashion accessories or tax write-offs has been challenging to say the least.

The problems with marriage in the modern world are so deep and broad, that I wonder if marriage problems are just a symptom of an even deeper problem.

RC Cola

poetreader said...

RC Cola,

I agree. Modern society has a world view entirely man-centered. In America we focus on rights. We hear a lot about that this time of year. We, not only 'secular' people, but even the most conservative of religious people seem able to get along without as asking what God has to say about our purported rights.

Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of Gos and his righteousness and all these things will be ADDED unto you."

If we would do that, marriage would cease to be merely a vehicle for our own self-gratification.


Mark said...

From a RC perspective:

Many of our clergy speak in a cacophony of voices on social justice issues of various (sometimes dubious) importance, but what's sorely needed today is a strong and sustained voice in the defense of lifelong commitment between a husband and wife. I believe that marriage would be strengthened, and divorce reduced, if enough like minded clergy of all denominations somehow banded together and sustained such an effort.

Our ecumenical discussions sometimes seem academic and esoteric to the uninitiated, but here is one ecumenical area that's flesh and blood, and vitally important to the health of our country. May God inspire us to come together to the defense of marriage as He defined it.

charles said...

Excellent exhortation, Father. You hit the nail on the head, and Independence Day is better celebrated in mourning and repentance than festivity and parades. We are on a collision course with bondage and scattering unless we change our ways. You so right to say, "a gospel without repentance is no gospel at all". We do not love God if we do not understand our sin. Rather, we make Him a creature and idol of our own wickedness, so that we may be justified without a higher, divine judge.

poetreader said...

Well said, Charles


Anonymous said...

If we carefully examine the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we see that what Christ is really teaching is that the true sin was the seperation of the son from the father, who in this parable (as in many of Christ's parables)represents God. The son made all sorts of mistakes with disasterous results, but in reality the real sin that was behind it all was the seperation from his father.

Likewise, that truth still holds true. The true sin is still seperation from God. The sin of seperation from God may cause sexual imomorality, drunkeness, drug abuse, abuse and cruelty of one's spouse, theft, murder, etc., etc., etc. But in reality, the "root of the immorality, etc. is the sin of being seperated from God our Father.

BCP Catholic