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We Bind Unto Ourselves Today...
F. Earle Fox
We Bind Unto Ourselves Today...
F. Earle Fox
St. Luke’s REC, Santa Ana, CA
Easter 3, April
2 Sam. 12:1b-23; Psalm 40; 1 Peter 2:11-17; John 16:16-22
Hymns 347; 542; 273; 268
The final hymn we will sing today will be #268, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity...” but we will sing, “We bind unto ourselves today the strong name of the Trinity...” Emily had suggested it for a closing hymn, which I thought appropriate, but wanted to do something different. I want us to go out united in Christ, not at odds about disagreements. Jesus has returned to the Father. We live now as the Body of Christ here on earth. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar so that we can walk out the church doors as the living, witnessing Body of Christ in the world.
It happens all too often that when parishes end, there are serious disagreements which fracture the fellowship. People go their own way, sometimes angry, resentful, bitter, perhaps blaming someone else for the demise of the parish. “If only – so-and-so had (or had not) done xyz...! This would not be happening.” And, of course, the person could be right. But leaving with bitterness is not the Godly way of ending things. So I am delighted that, as the time drew more close after the decision to end St. Luke’s had been made several months ago, our fellowship actually began to warm and open up in a new way. There was a deeper spirit of friendliness rather than resentment or accusation and blame.
The remaining few agreed to stay steady until the final day, to keep faith and fellowship with each other. And that is what has happened. I asked each person to pray by name for each other member that each of us would find the place God has in mind for us as we seek another Christian fellowship. We did not dribble away slowly, leaving only a couple at the end...... “Last person to leave turn out the lights....” The dozen or so of us who agreed have kept faith with each other. God was teaching us to love each other.
As churches go, St. Luke’s is not a
very old church, about 25 years old, if I recall correctly. But some have been
here all or most of that time. That means a sizable commitment of one’s life to
this parish. St. Luke’s has moved around a bit over its life span, but has been
here at Fairhaven for several years. I began to supply here about three years
ago, and then became the priest-in-charge May 1st,
just two days from exactly two years ago. It was only, as we say, part time, but
you cannot be the pastor and priest for a group of people without investing
yourself deeply. For these three years, St. Luke’s has been a major part of my
So, what was my vision, what did I want to accomplish?
We live at the end of a two hundred year period in which the Christian Church has been in major retreat in the West, with little presence or testimony remaining in the public arena. The result should have been predicted – the moral, political, economic, and spiritual chaos which we see all around. The spiritual chaos has been the fundamental root of our moral, political, and economic chaos.
We are in need of a New Reformation, to once again look to the Scriptures to see whether we are on track so that we can deal with the failures within the Church and with the new problems put in our path by the surrounding and dominant secular and now neo-pagan culture. That is what the Reformers of the 16th century did, and we must do it again.
The Scriptures were written with a message for every age, including ours. But we Christians are having a hard time figuring out what that message might be in a way that commands respect from a public sold on neo-paganism. There are ways of doing that, which has been my teaching mission here at St. Luke’s. We are in a winnable battle – if we do it God’s way. Sin will not disappear until the Lord comes back, but we can certainly clip its wing feathers so that it cannot get off the ground, and make it hide under the rocks and in the caves. Today a degraded lifestyle is (yet once again) touted openly as the new wisdom. And most Christians do not have the understanding or the words with which to do that clipping of the secular, pagan, and back-slidden Christian feathers.
What must we do? Here are six New Reformation theses which I have nailed on the door of St. Luke’s Church (don't worry, only 6, not 95):
(1) We must learn how to be truth-seekers at any cost to ourselves. That is the Godly and Biblical foundation of all else.
(2) We must learn again how to explain and reestablish the Biblical worldview as the foundation in the Church – let alone in the world out there. You look far and wide before you see or hear even Christians expounding on the Biblical worldview as the basis for Western culture – which it is. Western culture is Judeo-Christian culture, not secular and not neo-pagan.
(3) We must learn how to present atonement and salvation in ways that are consistent with the Biblical focus on truth and its worldview. Christians are all over the map today – 2000 and counting Christian denominations. There is little stable agreement among us.
(4) We must learn how to explain and reestablish Biblical government, which is what the Lord slowly built up over 1500 years of Western culture. Reformed scholars of the post-Reformation period into the 1700’s gave us powerful insights which led to the founding of America, a City on a Hill. We must reestablish that city.
(5) 3000 Americans die violently – every day. We must learn how to defend the lives of the pre-born under the law and grace of God, and stop ignoring them. For all the effort and resources spent on overturning Roe v. Wade, we have accomplished very little in almost 40 years of trying. We have blood on our hands.
(6) We must learn how to teach Biblical sexuality. It all depends upon which worldview you inhabit. Sexuality is radically different between the Biblical and the secular/pagan ways.
All this is true because we pastors are seldom teaching the truth about the Biblical worldview and about Christian commitment in every aspect of life, including the public arena: politics, education, welfare, etc.
So most Christians are practicing atheists. We do not inform the world that Jesus is President of presidents, and Judge of judges. Or if we do say it, we do not say it very loudly. We are acting as though God did not matter, not very much, and that His judgement is not upon us for our failures in all of the above issues. That is acting like an atheist, practicing atheism.
Christians, for the most part, do not know how to present any of these issues in a convincing way. We are still losing on all counts. The Church must either take on these tasks or continue circling in the muddy backwaters of our degraded civilization. All six of these tasks can be accomplished.
My regret is that I had hoped to do that teaching in a parish setting, but that is not to happen for now at least. Other avenues might be opening up.
The good news is that increasing
numbers of Christians are catching on to the mess we are in, and that we must
correct our own thinking and behavior, get the logs out of our own eyes, before
we can teach lapsed Christians and the secular and pagan folks.
In the 1500’s Reformation, there was one issue at which both the reformers and the catholics failed – the issue of loving one’s enemy – those with whom one disagrees. The failure of love, as St. Paul points out in I Corinthians 13, is a much greater sin than any suspected heresy. Failure of love destroys the possibility of restoring theological and intellectual unity, any possibility of mutual truth-seeking.
So, what if – the first reformers had stayed in the Catholic Church and reformed from within – because each side loved the other? Without the mutual love, nothing much different would happen.
But it was not to be. The two sides nearly destroyed Christian culture in Europe with their 30-years war and other mutual violence, and set the stage for the secular conclusion that – if this is what having Jesus in your heart does, who needs Jesus in their heart? We still hear the clearly false charge that religion has caused more wars than anything else on earth. It is false, but we still hear it, and again, most Christians do not know how to answer it.
But here at St. Luke’s over the last
several weeks, the Spirit of love prevailed, and so I praise God for His mercy,
and thank each of you who, knowingly or not, have participated in that act of
holy communion. Something beautiful has happened. The reason we come to
Holy Communion at the altar rail is so that we can have this kind of mutual
relationship among ourselves and for the world.
So..., today we have a funeral to conduct, the putting to rest of St. Luke’s Reformed Episcopal Church. Yes, it is that serious. When something good of which we are a part dies, we, the participants must look to ourselves first to see why. We must perform our due diligence with God and ask Him, “What might I have done differently which might have brought a better outcome? Where have I been disobedient to Your purposes here at St. Luke’s or in my own life?”
I have been your leader, so it begins with me, but I urge all members of St. Luke’s to let the Lord assist you in taking any logs out of your own eye so that you can be genuinely helpful with anyone else’s specks in their eyes. We are sinners, one and all, which means the odds in favor of any of us being totally innocent in the matter are vanishingly small.
Repentance does not mean beating up on
ourselves, it means turning around and going God’s way. It means a change of
heart and mind and behavior. Repentance is a blessing, not a
guilt-creating curse. Repentance is the cure for guilt. When needed, we
ought to seek repentance with everything in us. It leads to freedom and joy, not
to bondage and shame -- as many feel.
At the end of the service we will have lunch for everyone, and then we will disperse all of our worldly goods to others who have needs for such goods, chiefly Christ’s Chapel and the Rev. Randall Pierpoint in Riverside, whom many of you might know. But Fr. Pierpoint will be sending Bibles and Books of Common Prayer to Fr. Howden, once the priest here but now in Scranton, PA, at an REC parish. The Reverands Pierpoint and Howden are apparently good friends. And Bob Peterson, a former member, who is starting a Bible study and hospital ministry in Nevada will pay for the shipping of those items to Fr. Howden. Skip Fraser will take all those items to Fr. Pierpoint on his truck when we get it loaded up after our lunch. A few items will be returned to Dr. Robert Bowman who had loaned them to St. Luke’s. Russ Smith, our treasurer, will be sending the remaining financial assets to the diocese, and I will likewise send whatever records the diocese requires, completing the interment. Naked a parish comes into the world, and naked it leaves.
As I mentioned in my email invitation to friends and former members of St. Luke’s to join us at this final service, there are black Christians in New Orleans (and maybe persons of other colors and places) who sing and dance in the streets at a funeral. Yes, there is grief, and that is good and right that we express our sadness when someone or something good and beloved dies. But there is also the continued calling of God to work in other parts of His vineyard. And that is a matter for singing and dancing. Our life in Christ goes on, sturdy and militant for Jesus.
The Lord finds ways, as we are truth-seekers, to weave each of us, with all of our faults, into His ever growing tapestry of life. So, each of our past experiences should be a learning experience. Though we may have reason to regret some of them, we must learn from them.
God keeps reminding me that He has me
right where I need to be to do my growing. That sometimes gets a bit scary, but
it also turns every event into a possible positive experience. He is teaching me
to say, “Thank You God for testing me again,”
rather than whining “How can You do this to me??! How
can You let this happen??!”
Being able to say, “Thank You God for testing me again...” has
saved my composure many a time.
We read about a death in the Old Testament lesson. David’s son by Bathsheba dies. There is no such thing as an illegitimate baby, but David is an illegitimate father, and the son dies for the sin of the father. David sees the baby dying. He fasts and mourns deeply at the losing of his son. But then, when the baby dies, David cleans himself up, washes, puts on clean clothes, goes to the Temple to worship God, and then returns home to eat with his people. They ask why he stops mourning when the baby has just died, to which David replies, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
That is an amazing statement. David was a common-sense realist. He was able to let go of that which he loved when he knew that he could no longer have the beloved. He submitted to what he understood to be the will of God.
Some among us have prayed and wept over the closing of St. Luke’s, maybe some have fasted. But the time is now, or soon will be for each of us, to let go and let God, to look up and see what new the Lord has in mind for each of us in His vineyard.
The Gospel lesson is also about a death, the coming death of Jesus. The disciples are about to be cast into that painful and uncertain stage in between life and death, as was David. Jesus tells them about His coming death, and that they will weep and lament, but that the world will rejoice. Yet their sorrow will be turned into joy because that which could not happen with David’s baby will happen with Jesus, He will return. “But I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22)
David’s heart had become emotionally dependent upon his son because of the natural attraction in a father for his children. But the disciples had become dependent upon Jesus because Jesus had purposefully drawn them to Himself precisely to create that dependency of the disciples upon Himself. It was that dependency, that perception that Jesus had the words of life, which enabled Jesus in His death and resurrection to draw them through their own deaths to self, and then to rise with Him, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
That was indeed a gift from God, as which events proved, no one could take from them.
And is not that the gift of God to us even as we leave St. Luke’s, the gift of the presence of God which no one can take from us? It may seem small in the total picture of things, but it is the kind of intrusion of God into our lives that can change the course of history.
We have spent many hours over long years here at St. Luke’s and in other churches, reading the Bible, hearing sermons, and receiving the body and blood of Jesus, seeking that dependency which the disciples had with Jesus – so that we too could follow Him and His words of life through His death and resurrection into the new life. The death of St. Luke’s is partly a death for us, a participation in the death of Christ. And it can be also a participation in His resurrection as we move on to a new and deeper relationship with Him, with one another, and with the wider Body of Christ, the Church.
The Lord has us right where we need to
be to do our growing.
So, yes, we will sing, “We bind unto ourselves today the strong name of the Trinity...” We go forth as one, not as divided. We go forth together in Christ. Who but God could do this for us? No psychological gimmick could make this work. This is the work of God to unite His people for which Jesus prayed in John 17, which would convince the worldly that He, Jesus, came from the Father. The world knows that it cannot produce this kind of unity (or it ought to), a unity which transcends personal disagreements and gripes, a unity which goes deeper than anything the world can give us, a unity which the world cannot snatch from us – because it comes from a place deeper than the world, the flesh, or the devil can touch: the Hand of God at the bottom, undergirding all things.
Lord, we ask that You confirm in us the ability to be ourselves fully and wholly for You and for one another. Guide us as we go our separate ways, knowing that we are children of the same Father, working in the same vineyard; in Jesus' name, who brings to us this message of freedom and wholeness.
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