Faith Under Fire and What To Do About It

Lessons: Wisdom 1:16-2:22; James 3:16-4:6; St. Mark 9:30-37

So Few Lions

I read an article on book that considered the results of the 2012 American National Election survey. It was done by a couple of scholars named George Yancey and David A. Williamson. I know, BORING! But it caught my attention because of the title. So Many Christians, So Few Lions:

My guess is that they gave the book this name because it reflects a growing trend in America. They discovered that religious prejudice is much more prominent than racial prejudice and the author of the article said, “Surprisingly to me, dislike of “fundamentalists” was even higher than dislike of Muslims. Islamaphobia is acknowledged at least as a possibility, but prejudice against conservative Christians doesn’t even have a name. Lest you take comfort that Anglicanism is evangelical in nature and not fundamentalist, don’t think for a second that secular people know the difference because most Christians don’t either.

The second part of this finding was also troubling. This is what they said. “Our research confirms the finding of our 2010 study that people who harbor animosity towards conservative Christians hold relatively high levels of social power.”

To prove their point they quoted respondents to the survey concerning conservative Christians. “‘Restrict their ability to become judges, senators, representatives, member of Cabinet, military chief of staff and other powerful members of government,” said a man over 75 with a bachelor’s degree. “Should not be able to make decisions regarding the law, they should somehow have to be supervised if they are working with other people” said a woman under 45 with a master’s degree. “We should put in place mandatory extreme prison sentences for anyone or any group that attempts to take away civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution,” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. “Churches should not be allowed to provide orphanages and adoption programs,” said one elderly man with a doctorate. “I think we should restrict the indoctrination of children in religious dogma and ritual” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. Conservative Christians should “not be allowed to hold political office, be police etc., serve in the armed forces,” said another middle aged man with a doctorate.”

Here is the good news. This research suggests that if you have been feeling like your faith is under attack, then you are not paranoid. But I have even better news. Our lessons today, diagnose the problem, tell us what to do about it and give us hope. Let’s first see how the texts diagnose the problem.

I’m going to do something that I have never done before and that is to preach from the Apocrypha. Now before you run out of the building and call the Bishop to report me for heresy, allow me to explain. The Anglican Church holds the Apocrypha as deuterocanonical. That mean we see them to be edifying writings that are close to Scripture but not the inspired Word of God. That is why the lector said, “Here endeth the lesson” and not “The Word of the Lord.” That said, because they are ancient and edifying texts, while we are not allowed to draw doctrine from them, we may turn to them for wisdom as we would the Church Fathers or modern theologians or Jerry Springer.

Consider how well this lesson from the Book of Wisdom diagnoses the problem. Why is there so much animosity towards Christians? We need to be honest and admit that some of it we bring on ourselves through being us poor examples.

But it’s not just us. The text shows us what is in their hearts. They say, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions, he reproaches us for sins….the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is not like ours and his ways are strange.”

Translation: “We wicked people would be much happier if you Christians weren’t around to remind us of our wickedness.” As WC Fields would say, “Go away boy, you’re bothering me.”

But even deeper than being reminded of their sins, the wicked are troubled by the righteous because they challenge them. They cause them to worry that they may be living their lives based on a profound lie. The text says, “For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when life comes to an end, and not one had been known to return from Hades.” Since this is what they believe then they conclude, “Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes and let no flower of spring pass us by…let none of us fail to share in our revelry; everywhere let us leave signs of our enjoyment.”

There was a beer commercial years ago that perfectly captured this sentiment. “You only go around once in life so grab all the gusto that you can.” Meanwhile the righteous are saying, “You don’t only go around once. This life is actually preparation for the life to come and you need to be prepared because He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.” As they see it, they are trying to have a party and we are consummate party poopers. So we need to go away.

I saw an ad that was supposed to convince people to make a purchase but to me it demonstrated the sheer vanity of this “grab all the gusto” approach to life. There is a new Transporter movie out, and he is famous for driving a high end Audi, so I got on line to see what his car cost. It was something like $130,000. But what got me was the advertisement that went with it from the Audi dealer. It said, “Be the envy of every driver in Massachusetts.” First of all, I went to seminary in Massachusetts and so I know that drivers in Massachusetts don’t envy one another because the only thing that they are concerned about is how not to die in a fiery crash. But secondly, if making others envy you is a goal then that is one sad goal. How does impressing strangers who will forget all about you in about 15 seconds add depth to a person’s life? God desires for our lives to have much more meaning than that and so He warns us not to commit the sin of envy. It just another way that our very presence convicts them they are headed in the wrong direction and they don’t want to hear it. That is the diagnosis.

Now let’s consider what our lessons tell us that we are to do about it. What are we to do about this hatred toward Christians? I take two things from our lessons.

First from the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are to become the servant of all. This is how we turn the other cheek towards our enemies. It would be all too easy to develop a bunker mentality and pull back from the world and wait for the Second Coming but that is not the answer. Our calling, in the face of the animosity, is to find ways to love and serve in the world. That certainly is the model Jesus set for us. He knew full well that He would die in Jerusalem and yet He visited regularly and even wept over it. Romans 12:20 puts it this way, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

The second thing we are to do I take from our lesson from James. I heard a parishioner say the other day that he thinks James is quickly becoming his favorite book and I am right there with him. There is so much practical wisdom in it that you could spend a lifetime learning from it.

At first blush it seem like James is giving them quite a tongue lashing, even calling them “Adulterers.” Imagine how you would feel if next month Bishop Lyons got into the pulpit and called us that? But rather than merely a tongue lashing I see the Apostle making the strongest of declarations that while the Church must be in the world we MUST, MUST, MUST get the world out of the Church. Why?

We cannot be effective for the Kingdom of God if we are continually in conflicts and disputes as James speaks about. We cannot extend the Kingdom with everyone wanting their own way or envying what is others or jealous about one another. We can’t be the hands and feet of Christ in the world if we are acting like a bowl full of Chinese fighting fish.

So James’ council is that we have to make a decision. He says that friendship with the world puts us at enmity with God. Let me be clear. He is not saying that we cannot have friends IN the world, he is saying we cannot have friendship WITH the world and still be a friend of God. We have to make a choice. This reminds me of Jesus’ teaching about not being able to serve two masters. We have to make a choice. To be a friend of God means that you reject the values and standards and mores of the world. Or should I say that we are to reject the LACK of values and standards and mores of the world.

I’m not about to claim that I have all of the world out of me but I must confess that I enjoy that Christianity is counter cultural, and I don’t mind being thought of as different. The world is so full of lemmings that I actually feel badly for them. They jump onto every cause trying to find meaning and significance and they find neither.

First the standard to uphold was zero population growth. We only had a few years of food left so we need to stop having kids and so all the lemmings ran over to that camp and anyone who didn’t go along was considered a hater. But we didn’t run out of food.

Then the headline was that were facing a coming ice age and it was all because hairspray and deodorant were killing the ozone layer. So let’s all have flat hair and become stinky to save the planet. They ran to that camp and all people with big hair that smelled good were called haters. But we didn’t have an ice age.

Next came the pro-abortion crusade under the guise of women’s health and rights, which ironically ignored the health and rights of the unborn child. The lemmings ran over to that camp and again anyone who didn’t join in was a hater.

Then came the plethora of “Free Tibet” bumper stickers owned by people who couldn’t find Tibet on a map. I could go on and on but you see the point.

Each decade invented a new cause celebre for folks to run over and join before the world comes to an end, but the world has not come to an end. Why? Because Jesus is still on the throne, His Word is sure and true, His Church spreads His kingdom and it is a kingdom that will never be shaken.

The world is full of lies and angst and chaos and that is why we must get the world out of the Church. We are to be built on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ who has said to us, “In the world you will have much tribulation but fear not I have overcome the world.” We should not be surprised by the world’s animosity towards us but we also must not fear it or react to it. Instead we must walk in the Spirit so that we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We need to get the world out of the Church.

The third thing I said that these lessons bring to us is hope but actually more than hope. I say that because there is a jewel of a line almost buried in the midst of James’ strong admonition. It comes when he tells us why we cannot be friends with the world. He says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit He has put in us.” The Message says that God is “a jealous lover.” That may be going a little too far as a paraphrase but don’t miss the point. For many people it is difficult for them to really grasp that God loves them but what this passage is saying is that He more than loves us, it says that He jealously yearns for us. That is what I mean by offering us more than hope. That is actually overwhelming.

What would it do for your prayer life if rather than getting up in the morning and thinking, “I better say my prayers so that the Lord won’t be mad at me” you think, “God is yearning to be with me, why don’t I check in.” What would it do for your Bible reading if you got up in the morning and rather than thinking, “I have better read my Bible so that I don’t get behind in my plan,” you thought to yourself, “God is yearning to speak to me this morning, why don’t I open His letter?” What would it do for evangelism if rather than seeing it as our duty to spread the good news we saw God yearning to have others in communion with Him?

Again it is an overwhelming concept to think that God yearns to be with us but that is what the text is saying. Get that down deep in your soul and see if it does not change your life! I admit that I am not there yet but it is a journey that I am looking forward to make.

At the risk of making you mad that I didn’t just say this to begin with and sit down, allow me to summarize what I hear these texts saying to us.

Bulletin: The world hates you. Always has, always will.

Bulletin: Your response is to go in peace to love and serve the world but not bring the world back into the Church

Bulletin: God yearns for you. If God was on Facebook your picture would be on His profile page.   Amen.

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