Father Dale Matson
If you examine the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday of Easter, there is a common theme that emerges. The reading from Acts, states, “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:48) The entire Psalm (145) is a song of praise unto almighty God. Our New Testament reading from Revelations states in part, "Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, "Amen! Alleluia!" Then a voice came from the throne, saying, "Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” (Revelation 19:1, 4-5) Finally, our Gospel passage states in part, “Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately.’” (John 13:31-32)
It seems like the church today has become so human centered that it is has forgotten our priorities; our obligation to God. The first line of our Lord’s Prayer is, “Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The first line of the Apostle’s Creed is. “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
Do you remember the phrase in the old Ford commercial? “At Ford, quality is job one.” What is job one for the church? Yes, I know that the church has a social ministry. We have a duty to serve Christ in others, to feed the poor, visit those in hospitals and prisons. This is the social gospel but the social gospel is only a part of the Gospel that has been entrusted to us. There are “churches” that reject evangelism, the uniqueness and deity of Christ and are really universalist organizations. Unfortunately many of these Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Still refer to themselves as Christian churches when they are Christian in name only. A social gospel is easy. Lots of folks outside the church are involved in the social gospel. Even the United Nations and Bill Gates are involved in the social gospel. Some liberal churches have rich endowments and can keep the back doors open for the soup kitchens even when there are less and less folks coming in through the front doors. A social gospel emphasis is what I would call mission drift. What did Peter say when he was asked for money by a beggar? “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” If quality is job one for Ford, what is job one for Christians?
One of our promises in our baptismal covenant is to serve Christ in others. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? People I will, with God’s help.” If we are saved, why do we need to serve? It is because loving others through service gives glory to God. Job one for the church and Christians is to glorify God. Let me repeat that. Job one for the church is to glorify God. You say to me, “but father Dale, my friend Jesus did it all for me. I’m saved by the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. He has reconciled me to the Father, cleansed me from all sin. In believing in Him, I also have eternal life. I don’t need to do anything. That would be salvation by works and we don’t believe in that. OK then, what is our proper response to God?
In Luther’s explanation of the first line of the Apostles creed, he said this. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.” (From Luther’s small catechism)
We sing the doxology as communion begins, Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The word liturgy itself means the work of God’s people. We say in part in the Eucharistic prayer, “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God. People It is meet and right so to do. the Celebrant proceeds It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God. Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Celebrant and People Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts: Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Thank God for our liturgy. The focus on God has remained the same for 2,000 years even when sermons have so often wandered from the truth during this same period. There is no mission drift or creep in the liturgy. The liturgy is benchmark Gospel.
Our proper response to God is to thank and praise serve and obey. It is to love God first and then love neighbor. Think about the phrase we use in Holy Eucharist Rite I. (BCP) “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.” This is taken directly from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Is Paul exaggerating here? He quotes the Psalms (44:22) when he claims, “As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36) My brothers and sisters, this is not about us. This is not about our glory. This is about God’s glory.
We live in such a narcissistic age where people tweet what they had for lunch. Is it really earth shaking news that Justin Bieber tweeted and then deleted a photograph of Selena Gomez and him? We have gone from the frenzy of Sesame Street to the disjointed videos of MTV to the impulsivity of Twitter. This is not just narcissism. It is mass induced Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is outrageous when a Boston Red Sox player can address the nation using the “F” word and be given a pass because of the emotion of the moment over the Boston Marathon bombings. This will set a yet lower standard for civility. How much profanity is in the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln? In that battle alone about the same amount of Americans died as in the entire Viet Nam War. Lincoln’s last line states, “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The “under God” part has been removed from the other four versions. This version is inscribed at the Lincoln memorial.
Make no mistake. Our government is as concerned about fundamentalist Christians as it is about Islamic Jihadists. When the bombings occurred during the Boston Marathons, there was immediate speculation by our leadership that the bombing was a response to income tax day. (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/axelrod-obama-thinks-boston-bombings-could-be-related-tax-day_717924.html) The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified the Family Research Council as a “hate group” due to their traditional marriage views. (http://washingtonexaminer.com/fbi-video-domestic-terrorist-says-he-targeted-conservative-group-for-being-anti-gay/article/2528072)
On that terrible day in Boston, my heart sank knowing that many of the runners stories were like me. Boston is not really about elite world class runners. The Boston Marathon is mainly about people like me who pushed themselves to their absolute limits in a qualifying marathon just to be an ordinary Boston finisher. I thought about my finish times at Boston and I would have been at the finish line about the time of the explosions.
Christians respond to God with thanks and praise, service and obedience. Christians give God glory with good works not evil acts. Our lives lived well; a race well run is our testimony to others. We do not kill people so that our God will be glorified. We are called to love our enemies and pray for them. The world is coming to a place where it sees a moral equivalence to militant Islam and fundamental Christianity.
In 2006 a man named Charles Roberts entered a one room schoolhouse in an Amish Community and took ten girls hostage. He killed five girls and wounded five others before killing himself. During interviews conducted later it became apparent that all of the girls knew that Charles Roberts was going to shoot them. Some conversed among themselves throughout the ordeal. Shortly before Roberts opened fire, two sisters, Marian and Barbara Fisher, 13 and 11, requested that they be shot first that the others might be spared. Barbara was wounded, while her older sister was killed. Before the day was out, leaders of the Amish community went to the Robert’s home to offer forgiveness to the Roberts family. That is a fundamental Christian response to evil. Marian and Barbara Fischer and the leaders gave glory to God. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_school_shooting
In 2011 Anders Behring Breivik was identified as the suspect in the bombing and shooting related deaths of over ninety people. The New York Times was quick to quote the Norwegian police who referred to him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. I am saddened that anyone would consider a radicalized murderer to be a Christian. This was not a Christian act nor was it the act of a Christian. No person who has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside could commit such a barbarous act against innocent individuals.This was not the act of a fundamentalist Christian. It was the act of a radicalized man filled with fear, motivated by hate and empowered by Satan the murderer. As our Lord told us, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:16). And what are the fruits whereby we may know a Christian? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23a).
Jesus the Christ came to live as one of us His mighty works including His rising from the dead revealed and glorified the Father and destroyed the works of the Devil. He allowed Himself to be sacrificed so we could have an abundant and eternal life. He is not just our savior and our Lord. He is our true self as Christians. Does the way you conduct your life give glory to God? That is our job one. To God be the glory, Amen.