Saturday, June 4, 2016

Contending For The Faith

Pentecost 3C 2016

Fr. Dale Matson

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Window In Chapel Of The Innocents At Saint James Anglican Cathedral

Our opening Collect for today states, “O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

If you are wondering why there seems to be such great confusion today about what is the right thing to do just look at Genesis where the confusion all began. The serpent said to Eve, “… for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

The problem was Adam and Eve already knew what was good. By disobeying God and obeying the serpent, they knew evil. The serpent did not say that they would be able to discern between good and evil or that they would choose to do good over evil. Evil clouded their minds and destroyed their relationship with God their creator. The further we are from God, the further we are from reality, sanity and the more confused our thinking is.

We live in times where the spirit of the age has taken hold and become dominant in our society and our western culture. The mass media and social media have hastened this decline. There is great pressure on the church to give up the fight, to acquiesce and approve of what is evil in the eyes of God. It is an upside down world where holding fast to that which is right is difficult.

Again our opening Collect states, “Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.”

Two weeks ago we began a week of prayer, fasting and discussion to help discern God’s Will for St. James. In fact we have asked for God’s leadership many times and I believe our crucial decision is not ahead of us but happened nine years ago in 2007. Every thing that has happened since that time flows from the decision to leave the Episcopal Church and be received as an Anglican diocese of the Southern Cone under Archbishop Gregory Venables. For those who may have forgotten or who may have never known why we left, we were contending for the faith. Some of the orthodox Christians who remained to fight inside the Episcopal Church referred to us as “quitters” and “leavers”. The voices of those who decided to stay in the Episcopal Church and contend for the faith over the years have been muted by a process called “reconciliation” or silenced by deposition. The Reformation called for by those who remained never came from within. It never came at all.

John David Schofield our bishop led the vast majority of our churches in our diocese out of bondage into the wilderness. Like the Israelites who left the bondage of Egypt, we had to learn obedience and relearn our identity.  The Episcopal Church called us schismatics who damaged the unity of the church but there can be no unity without truth. They also claimed that we left with property that rightly belonged to them. Since that time we have been defending ourselves in court. We have been asking for justice to be served.

I am retelling this story because the story of the people of Israel leaving the bondage of Egypt is a story often repeated by the Old Testament leaders to generations long after their departure to remind them of their unique relationship with God.

I am retelling our departure from the Episcopal Church and deliverance from bondage for the same reason. We too are a chosen people led by a heroic bishop. We were the first of several dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church and this original group became the nucleus of what is now the Anglican Church In North America (ACNA). We were the tip of the spear and have suffered much during this wilderness of litigation. Is it because when all's said and done, we were fighting the Episcopal Church for the property?

In fact, we have been contending for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people. (Jude 1:3) That is also what Father Carlos said last week. As I listened last week, I had to smile because I had already penned that same phrase from Jude as I begun preparing today’s homily. We have chosen God’s truth over a false unity in a house spiritually divided. We have been fighting for the uniqueness of Christ as Savior and redeemer. We have been fighting for the Gospel of Jesus Christ not some manifesto of human flourishing. We have been fighting for the truth, the necessity of repentance; forgiveness and sanctification, of becoming Holy, not calling things good and blessed those things that are evil.

Living into our true selves can only mean one thing for the Christian. Christ must become more and we must become less.          
We have been contending against the spirit of the age as Anglicans using Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Innovation requires abandoning all three.

What I am talking about is more of a Biblical understanding of the spirit of the age. To understand it more clearly, it is better to say the spirit of the ages for this spirit of disobedience was present with Adam and Eve at the fall of the human race.
There are other elements to the spirit of the ages, not just disobedience. The spirit of the ages is not spiritual but materialistic. That is why Nicodemus was confused when Jesus said that he must be born again. Nicodemus stated, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” No Nicodemus, being born again is a spiritual birth not a physical birth. People confuse the kingdom of this world for the Kingdom of God. There is a bumper sticker that reminds me of this. “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Really, I believe that he who dies with the most toys is the biggest loser. He is the one who can’t pass through the eye of a needle.

Another element in the spirit of the ages is individualism. There are positive aspects to individualism like someone who does not conform to the pressures of society like Rosa Parks. She refused to go to the back of the bus just because she was black.  Individualism in its worst form however is narcissism. Narcissists are people that believe the rest of the world is there to make them happy and to adore them. I think we have helped this along with the self-esteem school program called “I am special”. As Christians we are individuals but members of the body of Christ, the church. We all have spiritual gifts unique to each of us intended for service to other members of the body. Individualism may be one of the most dangerous elements in the spirit of the ages because folks believe that being an individual means they have a right to do whatever they please. Once again, the church is pointed at as discriminating and bigoted because we don’t condone behaviors legally engaged in by consenting adults. For example, just because Marijuana is legal does not mean that it is not harmful. As the electronic highway signs state, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”

Another element in the spirit of the ages is the loss of Truth. Satan is the author of lies, Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?” when Jesus said, I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Modern church leaders say that Christ is “our truth” but will not go so far as to say He is the truth for fear of offending others. What does this do for the main mission of the church? We are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world. We are not told to avoid offending others with this message.
What is God calling us to do? I believe that is the same question Christ’s disciples were asking as they sat fortified behind a locked door in the upper room. We have been called to action. How is God calling us to act? We have been called to good works. We need to discern those good works.

While we have been hoping for justice these past nine years, I think about how our Lord responded from the cross to the biggest injustice in history. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

I know there are many here who have spent much of their adult life attending services on this campus. Some have been married here. Some have buried their parents, spouses or even children here. Bishop Schofield ordained me as a deacon and priest here. There are many joys and sorrows shared here but if we must, we can take those memories with us. Memories can’t be taken from us. Many of us are older and change can be difficult. Pray for resilience in this time of transition.

When Sharon and I came to St. James, we had left Holy Family Church. The priest there at that time was one of the individuals who brought a lawsuit against his own bishop, John David. Bishop Schofield had peacefully released the few congregations who chose not to depart with him. Sharon and I met with the priest prior to the suit being brought and pleaded with him not to proceed. He told me that I was a poor follower and he could not support my ordination for deacon if I didn’t get on board. He said he was going ahead with the lawsuit and we placed a key to the front door of the church on his desk as we were leaving.

I called Fr. Carlos and told him what had happened and he immediately began praying about the situation. He then said, “We could sponsor your ordination”. God provided a new church and a new rector. Although we still miss some of the members there where we worshiped for eleven years God has provided many new sisters and brothers in Christ. We are spiritual survivors from that church. Some were not so fortunate.
The most important thing for us is not what happens but how we respond to what happens. If our legal case is not heard, do we respond with righteous indignation or like our Lord from the cross? Forgive them for they know not what they do. And if they get the property, what will come of it? I sometimes smile when I think about what happened when the Philistines captured the Ark Of The Covenant. The property has been a blessing to us like the Ark was a blessing to Israel. Like the Ark, the property could become a curse to those who may capture it.

The author of the spirit of the ages is Satan who is the ruler of this world and this age. As a church our marching orders remain the same against the spirit of this age. Preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. “O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them”. Lord, with Your inspiration, may we help others come into the light of Your Truth.  Amen   



Pageantmaster said...

Prayers for you, your people and bishop in the Diocese of San Joaquin at this time Father Dale. He is faithful and makes provision for His people. Time to be about His business, as you say.

Be encouraged, much as your witness is such an encouragement to me.

God bless


Dale Matson said...

Good to hear from you and good to know the folks in England are praying for us.