(Written to be delivered July 3, 2011)
The Epistle: I John 3:13-24 * The Gospel: Luke 14:16-24
Today’s Epistle speaks clearly about the duties of Christian love, that is, charity (agape). It speaks of practical ways to live as a Christian among real people in the real world: “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” In light of the Gospel reading appointed for this day, we need to see that another practical way to love our neighbor is stated in the Parable: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
Do we see the mission of the Church, evangelism, as a duty of charity? If we do not see it that way, then it means we fail to believe inwardly the very religion we practice outwardly. We stand at a crossroads, or even better, we are at a fork in the road. It is clear to me, from years of observation, that for a few people the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism never got beyond the legitimate concern of self-interest.
I do not condemn that. It is right to have enlightened self-interest. The commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” does little good for someone who lacks enlightened self-interest. It is certainly not intended for those who are self-destructive that they love their neighbor only to the degree that they love themselves. It is right to love thyself in the proper sense, which above all is based on loving God. For, if you love God, it is your first duty not to throw away your own soul, and that is because He has placed so great a value on your soul that it was redeemed by the costly and most worthy thing of all, the blood of His only begotten Son. Christ loved you and gave Himself for you. So, enlightened self-interest is part of fulfilling the First and Great Commandment to love the Lord thy God.
Nonetheless, the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism is quite worthy in itself, if we believe the Gospel at the center of it; and, this is true not merely for own sakes. Right as the legitimate kind of self-interest is, we must move forward beyond its limitations. We have preserved something good and valuable. More than that, we have at the very core of who we are and what we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very lifeline needed by each and every human being.
That is why this parish has an Evangelism Committee, and it is why we want to reach people in the world around us. The riches of God have been given to us so that we may be generous to those in need. A reality, a kind of law at work, is that the more we give away our spiritual wealth, the richer we become inwardly.
Now, inasmuch as tomorrow is Independence Day here in the United States, I want us to consider our duty, a duty of charity. Let’s think seriously about the words, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in,” in light of where we are and in light of the times. We need to be realistic and practical, which is the only real way to be spiritual. So, where are we, and what are the times?
1. This country is not a Christian country at present.
It has been a long time since anyone could honestly make a case that it is. Let us look at something said by the second President of the United States, one of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams: “Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Without a moral foundation of God’s universal and unchanging Law, what does freedom produce, and what do free people demand of a representative government? Right now mothers are free to have their unborn children assassinated, as long as the assassin has the right license. In some states the word “marriage” has finally become utterly meaningless, not just by rampant divorce and immorality, but by a new legal definition that has no true meaning whatsoever; for, we know by revelation that God created marriage as part of human life, and that by it a man and a woman become one flesh; we know that He blesses marriages with children. John Adams has been proved right: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
2. In the absence of God’s law.
My younger brother, in his book Atheist Delusions, argues in one part of it that spokesmen for the new Atheist movement have no logical reason to suppose that ethical or moral principles can be sustained by atheism. Indeed, if they managed to free society from what they call “religion,” each succeeding generation would only find itself brought up farther and farther away from any reason whatsoever even so much as to care about ethical considerations of any kind.
I can tell you what a non-religious society would most resemble, even in terms of its ethical standards: It would most resemble the first twenty minutes or so of the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, though likely without the apelike appearance of the people – all hairy. If such a society became ordered it would look like all of the tyrannies of recent times, be they the Nazis or Communists. Ideology would exist, but not ideals that we could recognize.
Above all, even the semblance of two very important things, justice and compassion, would vanish away from the structures of an Atheist society, just as these two things were almost entirely absent in every form of pagan religion known to the real academic discipline of History. Whether the Suhtees of India, the strangulation of emperor’s widows (as late as the 15th century) in China, the daily human sacrifices on Aztec altars, or even centuries before that, the mass human sacrifices by fire among the Celts in the Wicker Man ceremonies, pagan religions have proved to be cruel. Atheism would fare no better than paganism, as the Communist regimes demonstrated. They had their very large shares of human sacrifices too, sacrifices to the god of the State and of ideology that exists in isolation from an absolute moral code from the Divine Lawgiver.
It is safe to say, on the basis of history, that the Church created compassion as a social and cultural norm. Today, we expect to find hospitals and medicine in any inhabited place. We expect courts of law to be about, at the very least, some effort towards justice for all. But, why should we expect these things? If we raise successive generations without a Church that can say, Thus saith the Lord, we may well expect nothing but cruelty in place of compassion and the exercise of raw power in place of justice.
3. We are all missionaries here and now
“Here,” because we are not living in a Christian culture, except insofar as it is a memory, a memory which cannot long sustain influence over the population. “Now,” because we must act wisely in light of the times.
We have not yet begun to think of ourselves as missionaries, however. We are living with the illusion that everybody knows the Gospel, and that the churches are filled everywhere, and that most children are raised to know the Ten Commandments and to believe in God.
And, let me be clear. Evangelism is always the mission of the Church, in every place and time. We cannot assume that people know the Lord of the Church simply because they have church membership somewhere. But, as it is, if we are to be effective in our own country in this, our generation, it is time to wake up and be realistic about what has happened to the culture all around us.
Ideally, we will embrace the reality of where and when we are as an opportunity to serve God. I do not pretend to have all the answers for the positively best way to present our message. I welcome ideas. But, more important than a solid program of evangelism is the foundation for making the effort; that is, the belief in each heart that the Christ we know, the Gospel we believe, and the Church in which we have found both truth and valid sacraments to meet the needs of our own souls, is so good that we must share this wealth. What matters first is that this practical and vital part of our faith is the unshakable conviction of each heart.
“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
It helps a great deal if we know that here, in Christ, is the food and drink of eternal life, the word and ministry of reconciliation with God, and the only true medicine for the soul. Practically speaking, for those of us who have decided to Continue the Anglican Way, now it is high time to move forward beyond the legitimate concerns of self-interest. Compelling people to come into God’s house, if we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a duty of love. If we are to compel them, charity must compel us.