Sunday, May 7, 2017

Knowing This How Should We Conduct Ourselves?

Easter 4A 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

 Fr. Dale Matson

Note: This will be my homily today God willing.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul stated that preachers are to offer words that instruct, encourage and comfort. I hope this homily will reflect this today.
I wrote a condensed history of St. James Church with contributions from several of our long time members and hopefully most of you have had a chance to read it by now. I believe it was important to get it to you folks prior to our vision dinner last night. We are beginning a new chapter in our church history. It is like beginning a journey. It is always important to know where you are at before you start out. In navigating the wilderness, I always mark a waypoint on my GPS to indicate where I began.
St. James not only moved as a visible congregation. A great cloud of witnesses’ accompanied us and continues to surround us. We are a part of the communion of saints. We bring our story with us just as the Israelites brought their stories and the Ark of the Covenant along with them as they journeyed in the wilderness. Why do I say these things? It is because St. James is not a collection of individuals. We are individually members of a body; the Body of Christ. We are joined to one another.
We were not any more secure in our St. James campus than we are now. While we have temporary shelter in a building we are no longer secure in our culture. The Episcopal Scholar Ephraim Radner recently stated, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches [my italics] within which to be a Christian.” That is a rather telling admission on his part. I am not so pessimistic because I believe our Anglican Christian Tradition provides both hope and a rough blueprint for us to follow.
The Arian Heresy was that Christ was not divine. I believe we have descended one more step in our modern culture even in the modern church by saying not only that Christ is not divine but also that the individual is divine. That is idolatry. I have heard it said again and again by modern church leaders that the church should focus on “Human Flourishing”. That is human focused not God focused and that is idolatry.
What St. James Anglican Church must continue to hold on to is the basic knowledge passed down to us by the saints who preceded us. Christ is divine. We are not divine. God is the Creator and we are God’s created creatures. We, as the Body of Christ have comforting immutable knowledge in a world that is increasingly confused, individualized, fragmented and floundering. We have 2,000 years of context as a church.
Some families have a lengthy recorded history. For example my wife Sharon has an album that goes back many generations on both her mother and father’s side of the family. She lives within the context of that story. It is a place of comfort and security. As a school psychologist I worked with many children who didn’t even know the name of their father. Those children were adrift, floating isolated and alone. That is the culture we find ourselves within today.
When I interviewed graduate student prospects as the director of the Fresno Pacific University school psychology program, I would ask them to tell me their story. What became clear to me over the years was the different worldviews the students brought to the program. Almost all of the Hispanic students told their story in the context of their family and culture. They did not see themselves as individuals distinct from the family, which included the grandparents. Sometimes it would take an hour for their stories to unfold. Often, I would get lost in the lineage.
            In our society today, individualism has now been raised to the level of idolatry. Human rights translated in today’s terms is, “I’ve Got To Be Me” (A song popularized by Sammy Davis Jr.) Today, the individual is free to do whatever he or she wants in the pursuit of their uniqueness. It is me absolving myself of a responsibility to my neighbor. Ignoring my neighbor is failure to love my neighbor as myself.
Eventually, the individual comes to see herself only as an individual with personal goals to be accomplished and a resume’ to be embellished. They don’t have skills or jobs but the educational system has ensured that they have self-esteem.  
Life lived in a collaborative fashion produces richer results, affirms and empowers others and draws us out of the hell of self-absorption. There is no such thing as a self-made person. Each person begins with a genetic endowment from ancestors just for a starter.
 Hyper-reflection is a preoccupation with self. Kierkegaard called it “extravagant subjectivity”. Some just call it “navel gazing”. Our contemporary society caters to and assists this self-seeking narcissism. Smart phone “selfies” are encouraged and applauded on social media.  The term used for our present age now is “Liquid Modernity”. Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual. “It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the 'liquid modern' man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support.” Probably the best way to understand Liquid Modernity is that liquids, unlike solids, take the shape of their container.  In our society we can be whatever we call ourselves. Objective reality no longer matters. Our culture has descended to subjective emotional individualism.
This individualism contributes to the symptoms of anxiety, hypochondria, depression and character disorders. At its most pathological point, it is the Schizophrenic collecting his urine because his bodily functions have become the sole focus of his attention. An individual in isolation may succumb to hyper-reflection, dryness and desperation.
In contrast, a life lived interconnected to the community does not threaten the loss of individuality; it nourishes it. Family, friends and the Church are groups that provide structure, nurture faith, provide service opportunities, and direct us toward God and away from ourselves. The older I become, the more I see individualism as a pernicious modern malady.
 It is in knowing Christ that we truly know ourselves. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20, NASB)
According to Rod Dreher author of the recently published “The Benedict Option”, the modern church is no longer preaching Christ. He calls the belief system of the young people in the modern church “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD).
1.                   A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2.                   God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
3.                   The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
4.                   God does not need to particularly be involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5.                   Good people go to heaven when they die.
Dreher further states, “Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised with the world so much that it is compromised in its faithfulness.” I believe this is not true of St. James that is a congregation in exile because of its faithfulness.
Dreher states, “Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture. He claims we need to rediscover the past including the writing of the early church fathers and the traditions of the church. The “Evangelicals did not reject them [the church fathers], they just ignored them.”
Can you see where Dreher (who is a convert to the Greek Orthodox Church) is headed here? The Evangelicals are now looking at the Liturgical churches as a role model for the future. It is more than the liturgy of the Word, the Gospel message. It is also the Liturgy of the Table, the Eucharist. In this rediscovering, Dreher wants the Evangelicals to “Recover Liturgical Worship”. “There is a connection between neglecting to take Liturgy seriously, or giving up Liturgy altogether and abandoning Christian orthodoxy. If we are to maintain these truths over time, we must maintain our Liturgy.” Agreed!
Dreher borrows from Han Boersma “…who identifies the loss of sacramentality as the key reason the modern church is falling apart. If there is no participation in the eternal-that is if we do not regard matter, and even time itself as rooted firmly in God’s being- then the life of the church can scarcely withstand the torrents of liquid modernity.”
Can you see here how the best selling book, the “Benedictine Option” is offering church renewal by rediscovering what we at St. James already have? We are deeply rooted in Anglican Christianity. Just as our salvation was bought with a price; the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, our steadfastness and faithfulness were bought with a price too. We lost what we had but we still have the only treasure that matters, the Pearl of Great Price. Our faith and tradition remain in tact.
Knowing this how should we conduct ourselves?
 Dreher states, “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful [my emphasis]--and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.” Finally, Dreher states, “Instead of being seeker friendly, we should be finder friendly, offering those who come to us a new and different way of life.”What do we at St. James have to offer? We have Truth in Doctrine, Beauty in Liturgy, Goodness in the hearts of the people and the One as the many made one in the body of Christ.
In our Epistle Lesson today we hear, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” As we look to the uncertain future, we must keep in mind the opening verse of todays Psalm on this Good Shepard Sunday. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Amen

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