Deception is a Killer

Pritans

I have often commented that one of the best things and one of the worse things that ever happened to the Church over the years was when the Christian religion was made the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. 

            It was one of the best things that could have happened because it ended the time of persecution and created a way for Christianity to spread over all of Europe and North Africa. 

            It was also one of the worse things because state sponsored religion, or legislated religion, is full of inherent problems caused by people, human beings, who seem to have a natural inclination to impress their own value systems on others, sometimes not with the best of intentions.

            Today we continue to fight a seemingly never ending war in Afghanistan that was initiated by a state sponsored religion.  The Taliban, as you know, is an Islamic right wing sect who has taken their religion to extreme ends.  Even after years of fighting, people in Afghanistan continue to live in constant fear of the Taliban’s religious police.  People have been jailed for insignificant offenses, like wearing their beard to short, or playing music, or in the case of women . . . shot for going to school.  The Taliban take their cue from the Koran, or Islamic Bible.  They read into every verse, a literal interpretation.

            I mention this today, because in the Gospel this morning, Judea also was in the grip of a state sponsored religion, which was in effect, a Theocracy.  The Priests and scribes of that time were much like the Taliban of our day.  They had read into every verse of the bible a literal interpretation, and from it created thousands of laws that the people were bound to uphold.  In effect, they had enslaved the people into a religious and legal nightmare where people could be stoned by mob rule for offenses or turned into the temple police for saved a lamb that got tangled on the Sabbath day.  The Jews had laws governing every moment of every day that oppressed the people unendingly.  This is what Jesus came to change.

            Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything; but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” In this way Jesus was telling the Scribes and the Pharisees that they were in fact the best that the world had to offer and its one great hope for survival, but they had been corrupted by teachings that were never intended by God.  They had enveloped their people in the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  They had opened crooked money changing schemes in the temple and had exacted temple taxes and sacrifices, even from the very poor, who could not afford them.  They had set themselves up as the holy and pure elite among their constituents, even though in private they were themselves corrupted by money and power.  They had used their power to corrupt the true message of Judaism, which was a religion of worship, charity, prayer and tolerance.  And because of this, God sent Jesus into the world, to set things right.  And that is why he was crucified.

Nearly four hundred years ago the pilgrims arrived  here to settle in a new land at Plymouth, Massachusetts.  They left their homes because of religious persecution by a right wing state sponsored religion.  They came to risk life and limb, to endure hardship in an untamed wilderness and exposure to the elements.  In the first few years almost half of them died.  They came to settle in a new land where differing religious belief systems would not only be tolerated, but welcomed.  They knew what they believed and they knew why they believed it.

And so the beginnings of one of the chief tenets of our country’s constitution began.  The Freedom of religion, second only to the Freedom of Speech.  The Pilgrims founded this country based on the freedom of religion and the proposition that all men are created equal in the sight of God.

But perhaps what you didn’t know, and buried in the dusty pages of history, are WHO the founding fathers were escaping from.  Everyone has the mistaken idea that it was the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, but it was not . . . they were escaping from us, Anglicans and The Church of England.  Our church called them separatists and they were considered traitors to the crown because they did not believe in the hierarchy of the church or the use of communion altars or graven images.  For this they were either imprisoned or ‘re-educated’ in the ways of the church or were barred from holding land or having tradesmen’s jobs. They were the sheep of their time, living among the wolves of their time.  And so they fled England and its State sponsored Church to come to America. 

Back in the narthex there is a testimonial about me.  It is signed by a Bishop and sealed with a seal.  It says basically, that here is a person who is to be trusted beyond any doubt and who believes that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation.  It was my certificate of Holy Orders to the Diaconate in the Episcopal Church twenty-six years ago this week.  I read it every so often to remind myself what others think of me and how, in some cases, I have failed to live up to that standard.  If I have succeeded in anything, it is most likely in the latitude I try to extend to every person I meet.  I lived with the wolves once, and I would tell you that at one time I would have been first in line to utterly condemn today’s liberals.  But one day I finally grew up.  And with spiritual maturity comes spiritual temperance.  I can remember in my youth trying desperately to follow a bunch of arbitrary rules in order to stay pure.  One of the silliest that I can remember was a teaching against eating lobster and pork.  It must have taken hold, because even today the thought of eating lobster still bothers me a little.  The church where I grew up was to the far right of the spectrum of orthodox belief.  The priest tried to instill in its members, the Judaic dietary laws, that one shouldn’t drink milk with roast beef or steak; that you shouldn’t mix bread in the same bowel as you mix meat.  He of course, meant well, but I think he was wrong in suggesting this.  That chrch had denied the teachings of Christ in order to gain control through the ignorance of the people and so I left.

The church where I ended up before coming here was to the far left of the religious spectrum where anything goes so long as it is not illegal, or fattening . . . they of course left out ‘immoral’ as a rule.

So you might ask, what happened?  What happened is that I discovered that in both cases the love of God had been sucked right out of my religion and all I had left was a black and white belief system on one hand, that was condemning and on the other a religion of exclusive intolerance that was outrageous; both of them far from the Kingdom that I believed Jesus had come to secure for me.

But today I know where I stand, which is somewhere in the twilight of religion.  I say this because to me, though I know his ways well, God is still a complete mystery, awesome and hidden from my eyes.  Who am I to judge his creation, his motives, and his Spirit?  My religion boils down to this.  I know that Jesus came to die for my sins so that I wouldn’t have to; and that through his sacrifice, I am saved.  That’s it!  That’s my whole philosophy.  Like Paul in today’s Epistle “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” . . . . Period.

 

There are many today who would try to sway me from this skewed, but orthodox, way of looking at our religion.  There are many revisionists in our day who read into the scriptures and find things that aren’t there or re-interpret the things that are.  In doing so and teaching others to do likewise, they have led many far from the truth.  Today in the gospel lessons Jesus warns us . . .

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished . . .

And what is the law?   The ten commandments? The golden rule? The greatest commandments?  It is indeed all of these and more, written for our enlightenment and encouragement in the scriptures.  But how do we know we have the correct interpretation?  How do we know we are right?  How do we know that others are wrong?         Anglican’s hold true what Paul describes today . . . that we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.  Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

Anglicans hold fast to the truth revealed by the Spirit through those who have come before, through the church fathers, the creeds and the bible, the scriptural basis of our faith.  The orthodox believe what the early church received from the first believers, the apostles, as it was taught to them by Jesus Christ Himself.  We believe what Christ told us to believe.

In all this we must remember that there is only one Church, one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord and Father of All.  You may call yourself an ‘Anglican’, or a ‘Lutheran’, or a ‘Methodist’ or a ‘Roman Catholic’ but in the end we are simply all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have received the Spirit of Life from our Father in Heaven; so long as we hold true the message that has been given to his people. 

But what about the differences between us and all our differing belief structures?  The differences in which we find ourselves pale in comparison to the joy God holds in the saving grace of one of his own.  Do you think it really matters to God if his ministers are ordained through a hierarchy of bishops or directly touched by the spirit?  Paul never even met Jesus until after the resurrection.  Is Paul’s ministry to be any less revered than Peter’s, who actually walked with Jesus and was physically touched by him?  Does this negate the apostolic tradition of the church?  No . . . I believe the scripture shows us that God uses every and all means and methods to get His point across and that it will remain for us a mystery until we see him face to face.

The Church today is at a critical time in its life.  There are some voices who have come forward to show the faithful an alternative pathway to the truth, but their words and actions show that they are deceived and their deception is a killer. They do this because they believe they have been enlightened by the spirit and have been given a new freedom to act out and to embrace what they choose to hear; to believe what they want to believe . . . but in fact, they are promoting a false gospel and teaching others to do the same because they claim they have a God given freedom to do so.  In the same way, we all may possess the freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theatre, but that does not mean we are justified in doing so.

 When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women; when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it will turn against humanity and eventually lead society to destruction.  I believe that this is what we are seeing in the continued splits and fracturing in the Church in many places in the world today.

We must continue at all times to pray for the church, this week and always.  Amen.

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