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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Epiphany VI - 2/06/11 Is. 2:6-19; Ps. 138; I Jn. 3:1-8; Mt. 24:23-31
We read in Isaiah this morning that "the Lord has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high..." Isaiah is referring to the Israelites who were almost indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.
The Tower of Babel had become a symbol for that kind of pride. Like the children's game, King of the Mountain, the worldly strive in power struggle to be the one at the top, fending off all those climbing up the pyramid trying to throw the man at the top down, and to rule themselves at the top of the power pyramid.
In the pre-synagogue days, before the Babylonian Exile, with one central Temple in Jerusalem, there would be many temptations, especially for those far away, to use the local pagan shrines for worship. There were few if any Torah scrolls other than at the Temple, and there would therefore be little teaching of the Hebrew faith, no synagogues, no local rabbis, just memories of the occasional trips to Jerusalem, with worship at the Temple, probably a festival, eating of the slaughtered sacrifices, and perhaps a reading of the law. And then another lengthy gap to the next trip to Jerusalem, with more temptations from local pagan people and shrines.
Nevertheless, even at a distance, the Hebrews were not totally without recourse to the Temple. They would, as it were, "pray towards the Temple", as Jonah at the bottom of the sea, and as our Psalm says, "I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise thy Name...." But the self-discipline to live that way would be considerable without the presence of the Temple nearby.
This Tower of Babel, however, was being built by Hebrews themselves, who had fallen back into paganism. They had been evangelized by the pagans. If the pagans were not consciously evangelizing the Hebrews, Satan certainly was. He was at war with God and was using the pagan addiction to power struggle to assault the Hebrews.
Before the Babylonian Exile, there was still little sense that the Hebrews themselves should evangelize their neighbors. Pagans were taken care of mostly by military means, forcing them out of local areas, or destroying them. God was understood to intervene in the situation by strengthening and guiding their armies to victory.
And the haughtiness of men shall be humbled, and the pride of men shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
The Lord might do the humbling all by Himself, no Hebrew armies needed.
And the idols will utterly pass away. And men shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord and from the glory of His majesty, when He rises to terrify the earth.
The notion of spiritual, as different from military, warfare, was almost unknown.
But after the Exile in Babylon, the dispersion of the Word of God through the Torah Scrolls with rabbis and synagogues out among the people, changed everything. The Hebrews became the first substantially literate people because they more and more wanted to know, because now they were able to find out, what God had said -- pointing them toward their personal foundation of being, and their moral direction. No other people on earth had that incentive to become literate. Pagan holy books were written, but they did not promote that same desire and love of the Word of God, nor for evangelism, spreading the word of the Creator of the whole Cosmos.
It no doubt took time for the people to understand the power of the word spoken in truth and love. But spiritual rather than military warfare slowly became the chosen way to spread the Word of God, persuasion with the Sword of Truth rather than of steel, shedding the Light of God in the darkness of the world. Many pagans around the Mediterranean basin became God fearers in local synagogues.
Then, with the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, spiritual warfare took another turn. Jesus confronted Satan directly, to his face. He could perhaps have annihilated Satan at that confrontation in the desert, but He did not. Satan still had a purpose in the plans of God.
The Psalmist says, "For though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly; as for the proud, He beholdeth them afar off." The Lord who stands at the top of all power pyramids, goes down to those at the bottom, to the weak, the hungry, the lame, the poor, and ministers to them. "He hath respect unto them." He evangelizes them. No other deity in history does that. God is introducing the people of the earth to the best of all possible worlds, a world in which the mightiest power and the highest authority loves His creatures with a passion.
In St. John's 1st Epistle, things move on -- getting better. We discover an astonishing truth, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." And then, "Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not...."
As we find our personal stability in the power of the Holy Spirit, we become able then to conform our wills to the will of God. Our brokenness no longer drags us back into inability to obey. Our wills are mended so that they can work properly and respond with effective behavior. We become capable of repenting, and of serving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And in becoming so, the works of the devil within ourselves are destroyed. Trusting and obeying become for us living options.
All that takes time, and will not be complete until the return of the King, but progress should be measurable here and now. And we can become effective evangelists.
The return of the King is described in our Gospel from St. Matthew, the "end times".
But all the principles of Biblical living apply to today, and to today's circumstances. The same God who raised up the Hebrews is raising up Christians to evangelize our time and people.
We have been thinking about our ministry here at St. Luke's for some time. It was noted that many young men have come through St. Luke's over the years, some of them going on to ministry. It was suggested that perhaps the Lord is using our parish for just such a purpose, and that we ought to look into the local colleges and universities to establish contacts there and a ministry to the young folks.
Last Thursday, I spent a couple of hours at the local Chapman University, talking with those who run the chapel program, reading their literature, and walking around. The university is run by the UCC, the United Church of Christ, which is a far-left denomination. Their chapel is called an "all religion" chapel, with Hindus, Muslims, Wicca, and assorted allegedly "Christian" denominations participating.
The one recognizably hopeful denomination was the Roman Catholic presence. I will try to contact the priest and see how he sees the situation. It may be that we will be able to find students who would be interested in our ministry. We cannot have a presence on the campus without students inviting us, though they said they would put out pamphlets describing our church.
The chapel is a huge cube, totally abstract and characterless in design, so as to allow any possible religion to feel at home. In the decor, no particular religious expression allowed, apparently.
I told them that I am a Reformed Episcopal priest. I think they did not hear the "reformed" part, because they went on to gleefully tell me that John Shelby Spong was coming to give three talks at a coming event. John Spong is the Episcopal bishop who back in 1987 introduced the Episcopal Church to the homosexual agenda.
Chapman University, probably like most institutions of higher learning in America, is Enemy-held territory, and thus a field waiting for evangelism.
Here are some comments from a book, UNChristian, by David Kinnaman, a researcher at the Barna Group, which polls and researches various aspects of the religious life in America. The book is about how Christians are failing to reach the Busters and the Mosaics, the two latest age groups after the Boomers in our current American history. Boomers, Busters, and now Mosaics.
These youth believe that truth is relative, they focus not on truth, but on relationships, which they treat as fluid. (Nevermind that it is precisely in relationships where one needs truth most of all.) The journey is more important than the arrival, so their goals are constantly in flux -- except for the one constant -- they want to feel good. They value the quality of their relationships, they say, but that is deeply subverted by their lax morality which destroys relationship. They want to be "inclusive", especially inclusive of homosexual persons, and others with a "different" sexual lifestyle. Whether sex, drugs, religion, or other past times, if it makes you "feel good", they tend not to see anything particularly wrong with it. Making one feel good is a prime indicator for them of goodness. As we heard way back in the '60's, If it feels good, do it.
"Feel good", of course, is all that one has left if there is no truth and righteousness to pursue. But feel good without truth or righteousness becomes self-destructive. And so it is.
These Busters and Mosaics are a rootless bunch. Although they value relationships, they are constantly changing them, trying this and trying that. Signs of pathology abound among them. One in seven is addicted. One in three overweight. One in six in serious debt. One in four of those married have already had a divorce. One in two are seeking new relationships and leaving the old. One in eight are lonely. One in two feel stressed out, double the proportion of the earlier Boomers. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in their age group (see page 128).
This is a cohort of citizens in deep trouble because, for all their seeking "authenticity", they do not know who they are or where they are going. They do not know who they are or where they are going. Does that ring bells?
Anyone who could give them a clue on the matter would probably find a welcoming audience. If salvation means knowing who you are, personal, ontological stability, and if it means moral stability, you know where you are going, then ought not we Christians be precisely the ones who could reach out successfully to them and point them toward the Source of both personal and moral stability? That is, toward salvation? This Buster and Mosaic identity probably describes a significant portion of the population at Chapman University.
Later that last Thursday evening, at our light group, I described some of this situation, and one woman present responded, "Yes, and the boys are talking like girls." Many boys and now men, have been feminized in the war against boyhood and manhood. The girls are clearly the social leaders in many, perhaps most, such institutions. The three offices in the chapel were staffed by women, and girls appeared to outnumber men among the students by about the reported in America 2/3rds girls to 1/3rd men. These young men will have a hard time being the spiritual leaders of their families -- if they even indeed think about the matter.
We have come a long way, baby, from Old Testament times and from New Testament times. But the basic problems remain, deja vu, ever the same -- Personal and moral stability, which only God can supply.
Education has spread to be available to the whole population, but we have 35% of our adult population still functionally illiterate -- they cannot read a bus schedule, write a check, or do the common things necessary to functioning in society. But worse, a much larger percentage of the population is spiritually illiterate, they cannot tell the difference between one deity and another, between one religion and another. Life and relationship have been reduced to the mush of relative truth.
If God has in mind that we should minister to these students at Chapman University, He will have also in mind that we be prepared for talking with such persons -- the role of apologetics. But being able to explain the Christian faith reasonably and gracefully does not begin on the front lines, it begins in our homes and our churches. If our personal experience and understanding of our faith is not reasonable and graceful, it will not likely be so talking with Busters and Mosaics. We must learn how to live our faith in that way first among ourselves. It begins in our homes and churches.
Most Busters and Mosaics have had some significant relationship with Christians and with a church. But many have felt themselves mistreated, ignored, misunderstood, and many have rejected what they saw as the hypocrisy of Christians, and what they perceive as our sheltered, out-of-touch-with-reality Christian bubble. So we begin a discussion with them probably with a few strikes against us. We must know how to respond to persons who might carry a grudge against Christians, inviting them into honest dialogue, where we both make ourselves vulnerable.
My experience with homosexual persons tells me that it can indeed be done. We can invite those who disagree with us into often productive, long-term relationships, and then get out of the way enough to let God do His work in them, and make His own invitation to them to become His sons and daughters.
Jesus solves our problem. We need to live in that solution - proactively, as Paul in Athens and elsewhere, preaching in the most public places available, destroying the works of the devil. Most of us, including myself, have a ways to go before being able to do that well. But that is what God will be calling some of us to do.
The forces of darkness cannot stand in the light of day, and will either retaliate to put out the light, or be forced back into the caves, under the rocks until one day the Lord appears in all His glory. And the Lord will find us where we ought to be, working each in our own capacity in His vineyard. The Day of the Lord will be hastened by the servants of God, wielding the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, with truth and grace -- among non-believers. Evangelism.
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