Monday, June 23, 2014

A Sermon for the First Sunday After Trinity

As I warned, I read Morning Prayer and preached a sermon yesterday.  Here it is.  Again, you have been warned.

First Sunday After Trinity, Morning Prayer
Psalm 73
Jeremiah 23:23-32
Matthew 7:13-29

Living Signs

Last Sunday, we celebrated Trinity Sunday.  And the sermon mentioned that is it an unusual holy day.  For instead of focusing on an event - such as does Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost - Trinity Sunday focuses on a truth, on a doctrine, that of the Holy Trinity.

And you may have noticed that in the process of celebrating and remembering that great Truth, we also noted false doctrines that are not true, particularly as we recited the Athanasian Creed.  Moreover, the Athanasian Creed notes quite a number of false doctrines that are not true.  And although it perhaps may have sounded a bit odd to us, that creed illustrates an important point about virtually all the doctrines of our faith.  The truths of The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints are such that doctrines and beliefs not in line with that Holy Faith are false.  And, indeed, the Bible teaches so again and again.

And so did our Lord teach again and again.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus was not post-modern.  He was not a relativist.  He did not say, “I am a way and a truth, but there are many ways, and if something is true for you, then it’s true.  Go ye and find your own path!”

No, he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except though this way, though me.”

And that remains true and ever will be.

But teach such truth to modern ears, and you will be thought narrow-minded and worse.  Moreover teach that truth is true, period; that falsehood is false, period and that – and here’s how to really get a rise out of modern and post-modern people today – teach that sin is sinful, period.  Teach that and you will be labeled a bigot.  “How dare you teach that my way is false and wrong!” is a response we might receive.  Other responses might not be appropriate to be recited from this pulpit.

We can see all around us that the Lord’s teaching about truth – what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth” that is true regardless of whether man thinks so or not – the Lord’s teachings about truth and falsehood grate on modern ears. 

So what should we do?  Should we follow the lead of certain mainline denominations and of the so-called Emergent movement?  Should we follow the example of Katherine Jefferts Schori and Brian McLaren, and be more flexible about truth?  Heck, even Pope Francis has welcomed Muslim prayers during a service for peace at the Vatican.  Should we for the sake of peace in this modern world, hold to a more “generous orthodoxy” as McLaren advocates and as Pope Francis practices? Should we massage and adapt the Christian message to today? For the sake of reaching modern and post-modern people, should we make our Gospel more flexible, more broad, less insistent on truth and falsehood, on right and wrong?

No.  We should not!

And that not only because truth remains true, period.  And falsehood remains false, period.  But also because people’s lives are at stake.  Look at our 2nd Lesson today from Matthew 7.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

The way to life – and we just saw from Jesus’ teaching that the way to life is Jesus and his truth – the way to life is narrow.  Other, more broad ways?  They lead to destruction.

This is why Jesus then immediately warns about false teachers in Matthew 7.  And note that he did not say, “Beware of false prophets, for they are . . . incorrect.”  No, he said beware of false prophets, because may wear sheep’s clothing, they may claim to be to be truthful even Christian leaders and teachers, but they are really ravenous wolves which devour souls with their lies.  False teachers lead people off the way of Jesus to broad ways of destruction.  And that is why there are numerous warnings about false teachers throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

Time does not permit me to go further on that topic.  But that may be God’s mercy.  Almost as dangerous as false teachers is getting me started on the topic of false teachers and church leaders.

St. Paul taught that we should follow Jesus by teaching the truth in love.  One reason we seek to teach the truth and to love people through our words, our lives, and our worship is we do not want people heading to destruction.  We want people on the narrow way that leads to life.  We want people to follow Jesus.  So something more important and weighty than being merely intellectually or theologically correct is here.

Now if I may digress for a moment.  I know this is not the happiest of sermons.  And I confess, I can be a hard man.  So allow to be more positive for a moment.   There is one area of modern life that has not yet been corrupted by post-modern relativistic rubbish.  And that area is highway signs.

Now I am not a great fan of the Department of Public Safety.  The date of my driver’s license expiring is a date I dread more than death.  But I have to give credit where credit is due.  If a bridge collapses because it is taken out by a flood or by other mishap, they will not wring their hands and say, “It would be so dogmatic to say the bridge is ‘out’.  That word ‘out’ is so exclusive.  We should be inclusive.”

Someone suggests, “How about a sign that says, ‘Different Bridge Ahead’.”

“Well, that’s better.  But ‘different’ may offend.  People may take that in a negative way.  I got it.  Let’s say “Alternative Bridge Ahead.”

So instead of “BRIDGE OUT” the post-modern DPS puts up a sign that says “ALTERNATIVE BRIDGE AHEAD”.

And let’s say our enlightened DPS does not want to put up a “ROAD CLOSED” sign because who are we to get in the way of people following the ways they want to go.  So the DPS of the state of New Relativism puts up a sign that says “FOLLOW YOUR OWN PATH.”

Does the real DPS put up signs like that?  No, they do not.  They put up a “ROAD CLOSED” sign.  And in case people are tempted to ignore that sign, they may also put up a warning sign that says, “BRIDGE OUT AHEAD.”  Yes, very dogmatic, but that’s what they do.  And then they also put up “DETOUR” signs --  instead of getting you killed this way leads to where you want to go.

When it comes to matters of truth and falsehood, and life and death, we should be like highway signs.  Now, yes, we should be more personable and loving than highway signs.  But the world and this messed up culture in particular is telling people “ALTERNATIVE BRIDGE AHEAD” and “FOLLOW YOUR OWN PATH.”  We as the Church and as Christians should tell people that the bridge is out ahead.  In fact it’s hardly a bridge at all, and certainly no bridge to God; it’s a broken bridge to destruction.  And the broad highway there that looks so attractive leads to destruction.

And we need to tell people, there’s a better way.  Really there is only one Way, Jesus Christ.  We need to be honest and confess that we are sinners, too.  We need to be forgiven, too.  Like our collect this morning, we should be humble.  We don’t have it all together and we don’t know it all.

But we know the One who does.  And he loves us and knows the way for us.   Because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And we should invite people to follow him with us.  We should be living signs that point to the Way.

Now if in our words, our lives, and our worship, we proclaim the truth, “true truth”, The Truth, and also warn about falsehood and its deadly consequences, there are people that aren’t going to like it.  And there may be persecution even.  Now the persecution of Christians going on here in the West is nothing compared to the persecution of Christians going on in places like Iraq, Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, North Korea, but persecution here in the West is increasing and is likely to keep increasing.  And short of persecution is a lot of displeasure from this world concerning the Gospel.

But what is more weighty? The displeasure and pressure of this world or the pleasure of God?  Of God saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and of his children saying to us, “Thank you for having the love and the courage, the guts, to be living signs pointing us to the Way”?

There is truth, period.  There is falsehood, period.  There are ways that lead to destruction.  And there is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

With God’s help, let’s live like it.

Let us pray.

O GOD, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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