And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
(Luke 21:5-38 ESV)
The Alliance Defending Freedom has a video on Barronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington State sued for not providing services for a same-sex marriage. On Feb 18, 2015 a State Judged ruled that by not making arrangements for the service, Stutzman violated anti-discrimination laws, stating:
“On the evening of November 5, 2012, there was no conflict … The following evening, after the … enactment of same-sex marriage, there would eventually be a direct and insoluble conflict between Stutzman’s religiously motivated conduct and the laws of the State of Washington. Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly-licensed business, Arlene’s Flowers.”
I want to point out two things about this. First, this isn’t the case of refusing to sell a product to someone. It’s a crucial distinction to make. Refusing to be engaged creatively with something against your conviction is different from not provided a material product to someone you disagree with. As the facts in the judges opinion noted, she was willing to provide flowers, but not do the arrangements herself. While flower arrangements might not be expressive as lyric, the parallel is demanding that a musician compose a piece celebrating something he or she disagrees with. (We have no problem when a musician asks a politician to stop using songs because of party affiliation.)
The second thing is that, as Stutzman explains, for Christians marriage is sacred. It is a sacred event. Christian weddings are worship services. For some traditions they are sacraments, in the same category as the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. In other words in a Christian understanding this is coerced participation in a worship service. Stutzman had provided services to one of the plaintiffs for nine years. She understands the difference between providing flowers for a birthday or valentines day and participation in what Christians understand to be a sacred ceremony.
There are attempts to reduce our first amendment right to the “free exercise of religion” into freedom of opinion or freedom of worship. But exercise, for any religion means that convictions must be lived out through real decisions. Whether that is through the decision to act, such as feeding the hungry, or a refusal to act, as in the case of conscientious objection to military service, the exercise of religion cannot be reduced to personal thought or private worship. When someone is coerced by the state into participating on a creative level against their convictions in an event they understand as worship we are in danger of losing even that emaciated understanding.
Judges Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook’s majority opinion in this is absolutely brilliant common sense and refreshingly humble. Among the points is that if our society is evolving to redefine marriage, then it should be allowed to evolve through the will of the people in the legislative process rather than through the courts.
I was reading a Washington Times piece on Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling overturning California’s homosexual marriage ban. As the article states, ‘He denied that there is “any rational basis” for distinguishing the marriage of man and woman from same-sex relationships’ and ‘The evidence shows conclusively that moral
and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex
couples are different from opposite-sex couples.’ It is terrifying to think that a federal judge is stating as fact that neither religion, or especially, morality are rational. If morality is irrational, regardless of one’s belief system, what is it’s basis?
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
In many ways the Church seems to be in exile, without having moved. The changes in our society over the past fifty or so years have been profound for the Church in America. Denominations have lost members. Many can remember a culture that would have been embarrassed at breeches in traditional values that are now taken as a normal part of life. Actions that would have ruined an entertainer’s career at one time now seem to increase their popularity and profit making potential.
The Sabbath is perfect example of this change. Not long ago the idea of a business being open on a Sunday would, at least in parts of the country, been unthinkable. Now it would be difficult to find a national chain that closes on the Lord’s Day. I mention this, not to pine for the good old days, but to illustrate that while the Church was at one time supported by the society as a whole, now the culture around us is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the Church. We find ourselves in Exile, asking the same questions our ancestors in the faith asked when the Jews were taken from the promised land to live in Babylon.
Much debate in the Church in the past decades has been over how we respond to the Exile-like situation in which we find ourselves. Some would say that the Church should acquire political power and fight for the overthrow of those seen as enemies of the Church. They draw up agendas and form political action committees. Others think that separation from the culture is the answer, set up alternatives systems to “secular” culture. Some seem to completely embrace the culture around us baptize it and denounce the Church’s past actions as hypocritical and oppressive.
I have often turned to the above passage of scripture, a letter from Jeremiah to the elders and other Jewish leaders in Babylonian exile, as a guide for Christians living in cultural exile. It reminds us that, although we should remember that this world is not our home, we are still to settle in and dwell wherever we are. Just as the Jews were to be part of their community, we should fully enter into the place where we live. We should not turn up our nose at the food or ignore the interests of the people with whom we live. We are to care for the place where we are, seeking the “welfare of the city,” not pray for the death of our leaders or the overthrow of the government. We have no excuse to separate or exclude ourselves, but rather enter into the life of wherever we are and seek its redemption, bearing witness in our words and actions, to the Redeemer. And just as God warned the Jews of false prophets, (vs. 8 & 9) we are to be wary of those seeking to turn us against the place or draw us away from our obligations to it.
Yesterday I preached on the visit of the magi. My main point was that the priests and Bible scholars had forgotten Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations even as God was revealing Christ’s birth to Gentiles. I spoke about how easy it is for us, as the Church, to remember our calling and mission.
This morning I came across a New Year’s Day editorial by Peggy Noonan, via the Gospel Coalition that was pointing out the loss of mission and purpose by many of our civic institutions. I wish I had found it while preparing for my sermon. She writes:
Maybe the most worrying trend the past 10 years can be found in this phrase: “They forgot the mission.” So many great American institutions—institutions that every day help hold us together—acted as if they had forgotten their mission, forgotten what they were about, what their role and purpose was, what they existed to do. You, as you read, can probably think of an institution that has forgotten its reason for being. Maybe it’s the one you’re part of.
I noticed this article on a USA Today blog this afternoon. It reports that “The Southern Baptist Convention has broken its 127-year-old ties with a Fort Worth Baptist church because the SBC views its stand on homosexuality as too lenient”.
What caught my attention was the differences in articles I’ve been reading on the formation of the new Anglican Church in North America that consistently portray the groups that formed the ACNA as conservative schismatics leaving the Episcopal Church (for example here and here). Nevermind the fact that the Episcopal Church has arrogantly ignored the larger Anglican Communion.
Reports of the inaugural convention fail to mention that some bishops who “left the episcopal church” have been deposed for “abandoning the communion” of the Church.(Here, here, and here) Nor have they mentioned the priests who have been defrocked for their criticism.
When those who hold traditional views are in the majority they are seen as the agent causing division, when it was the Fort Worth Church that broke away from the clear teaching of the Southern Baptist Association (who, by the way won’t be suing for property or defrocking clergy). On the other hand when they are in the minority, they are portrayed as “breakaway”, “dissident” and schismatic.
When a mother can kill her baby, what is left of civilization to save?
– Mother Teresa