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Many times throughout our lives…the world demands that we prove who we are. At that bank we must show our identification, at my children’s schools I must sometimes have some proof that I am their parent, in airports we are regularly asked to prove that we are not terrorists…and while that used to annoy me…I welcome the chance for EVERONE who will be getting on my flight to prove that they are NOT terrorists.
When it comes to religion in the 21st century…
People, even church going people sometimes want or need proof…Just the facts…
Honestly I don’t see anything wrong with that desire to know over just believing… it’s a common and worthy struggle for a Christian. God can take it. It doesn’t hurt his feelings… It’s why Jesus came back to Thomas and said…here, Thomas…here’s the proof you need…here are my scars.
Many church leaders demand proof of a real faith from their parishioners…
Recently we enrolled my son at a local Christian school and they required a written statement of faith from me.
Many times, even people of faith, long for tangible proof of God’s existence, even though it brings up some guilty feelings... I’ve asked God on a number of occasions to speak out loud to me….you know it a big God sized voice...like “David, don’t buy the minivan...purchase the pickup with the sports package…” maybe someday He will, and I’m NOT saying He doesn’t speak that way to other people
But our creator has chosen to speak differently to me…in silence and while I’m in prayer with a nudge or in scripture with clarity or through my wife or another Christian….no banners no godly text messages…no revelation through loud speakers.
Still people like things proved…don’t we…
a testament to that are the number of different Law and Order programs and CSI’s that are on every night these days….
Most People like logic…Most people need proof.
About 14 years ago I met a man named Carl George. Carl George, who is still going strong today, is one of the heavy hitters, one of the shining stars of Congregational Development. Every minister from every denomination under the sun who was worth his salt in the late 80’s and early 90’s had studied under Carl’s Meta-church training. According to Carl, many 20th century churches were unhealthy and small minded and needed in some cases to be re-geared a bit to reach the unchurched citizens of their cities. Citizens who were becoming more and more mired in a world of technology heavy- instant gratification and a narcissism that makes the individual king above family above church and community and above God himself.
And there I sat, young diocesan youth coordinator, being trained by the master. The most striking thing I remember from those 4 days in the upper room of the Diocesan House was a story. It has stayed with me all this time and has become a permanent part of my faith development and personal testimony.
It is a story about a moment that Carl considered to be faith reality check.
The true story goes like this. Carl George and his team had been hired as consultants to train a group of Russian Orthodox priests.
---Now Carl and his team are Southern Baptists.
And Russian Orthodox priests…are not.
So from the very beginning there was some tension. After all the Orthodox church began when the one church split into two in 312 AD and they have remained virtually unchanged since they were begun by the apostles themselves. The Baptists have been around only about 50 years less than the Church of England which began in the mid 16th century.
So in a sense, this meeting was like the learned, accomplished, well respected grandfather asking advice from his teenaged grandchildren about how to set the clock on the VCR.
After 2 days of meeting and talking… the Orthodox Priests asked Carl and is team if they had any questions about their church and it’s people….
After some silence one of the more evangelical of the group asked, “We have been wondering, and we don’t mean to offend, but we were wondering, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
The answer came.. “Yes”
There was some more silence ….and then one of the Orthodox priests Said to Pastor George..
“And we were wondering about you and we were wondering about your faith….we were wondering. Who are your martyrs?”
So that morning, what Carl discovered was that while the one side was worried about whether the other was saved…the other side was wondering how much this young progressive protestant denomination had suffered in the service the savior. In other words….had Carl’s church been a church of words or action?
The proof that the Orthodox needed to know if the men across the table were Christian or not was not a statement but a behavior…
When asked why do you believe in Jesus, how do you know it’s true, a friend of mine always says. Because my people have been dying for the cause of Jesus Christ since they first heard the Gospel. There is proof in their blood.
And over the years, millions of people have gone to their deaths, including almost all of the apostles, most of the early bishops and church goers and all over this world today because they profess and confess the transforming and grace giving message of Jesus Christ.
And I’m not talking about the crusades…or religious wars…I’m talking about martyrs who died either because they would not convert or because they behaved in a way which honored God and was contrary to what the world was forcing them to profess.
The list is long…
The apostles Peter, Paul, James
Polycarp, a 2nd Century Turkish bishop who would not worship the emperor as a God.
Castorus, Claudius, Nicostratus, and Simpronian. Skilled stone carvers in the quarries of 3rd century Yugoslavia. Martyred when they refused to carve an idol for the Emperor Diocletian.
Simeon Barasabae and 100 other priests slain by the 4th century Persian Army.
John Wycliff, a 14th century English priest; who was first to translate the Bible into English was put to death for what he did.
More currently Sudanese Christians are being killed or sold into slavery daily
In China and North Korea, Christians are imprisoned, harassed, and denied basic human needs because of there faith…
October 2005 Theresia Morangke, 15, Yarni Sambue, 15, and Alfita Poliwo, 17, of Indonesia were beheaded because of their faith…
But all this is Distant history, or taking place in distant lands…very little of this is happening on our doorstep but it is happening to us….these men, women and Children are ours….they are our legacy, they are OUR martyrs…And they are proof enough that the Gospel of Christ is real…
Because these weren’t political or ethnic killings these deaths were caused by the fact that professing Christians who preach Godly transformation, who profess love and grace, who forgive, who do not answer slander with slander and who believe in Jesus are counter cultural. They go against what is normal in most societies.
Because Christ’s message is powerful and frightening to the darkness in this world.
I feel I need to let you in what started me on this rant this morning….
As I was preparing this sermon I went to the commentaries (which are books written about what the Bible is saying) as I usually do to research what the scholars had to say about the Gospel reading…
Within 1 minute of study I learned that there were two directions that I could go to gain a deeper understanding of the reading…
In one direction …the verse that takes us up the mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John and then to Moses, Elijah, and God the Father is treated as a true occurrence something that really happened.
A moment in our faith history when the Glory of God’s Kingdom intersected with our own world and something amazing happened….and it was true…
Or I could go the other way and read the 20th century theological opinion that all never really happened and that I was to treat it as legend and deny the miracle, deny the eyewitness account, and ultimately deny that God can meet us…his children…in any other way than by practical…non miraculous….and earthly ways….like a church news letter or a sunset.
The first thing that came to mind was, “Legend”? You mean all those people died for a legend? You mean I’ve devoted my life to a “Legend”? You mean that my life was saved by a “Story” a “Fabrication?” a …Giant white lie?
What am I to do with that?.....What about at Baptism/….what do I say to the parents and God parents…Do I say….thank you for coming…I’m really glad you bought all the lies, we’re going to have a nice little ceremony so that you can get some great pictures. And by the way your joining the long line of Christians who really have nothing to believe in?
Or do I say to them that the Lord God…the God of Abraham, Isaac, Mary and Jacob wants to be a part of your child’s life through Jesus Christ. Do I say…God, the real God, who works tangibly and clearly IN our lives and in ways that we can see and know…also works outside of our reality, outside of our rationality, outside of our well planned lives and because of that we are able to experience a miracle today?
And of course the truth is that if you believe the Bible….any part of the Bible in today’s world you are labeled anti intellectual. Try bringing up the transfiguration at a party sometime…not only will there be confused looks shot about but you will be instantly labeled a Jesus Freak and a religious robot….
----And still the Gospel marches on….because…it is true.
I am grateful to God that St. Peter makes the point for me….in today’s Epistle reading…..
Just incase you don’t know…Epistle just means letter…Peter writes this letter to tell the members of this church community something he’s said to them over and over before…that Jesus is Lord….and the Gospel is true….
And because this church is made up real people, people like us who are prone to waffle in our opinions and faith lives every now and then, Peter does not mince words when he says… Listen to me…
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Peter had been there….and the one who came after him…knew the man who had been there and the next Bishop knew the man that knew the man who had been there….actually been there…. that is what we call Apostolic Succession….
And we have benefited greatly from it…and the proof that comes from living in it….
know this…when a priest or bishop laid his hand on you at baptism or conformation or in healing….that that laying on of hands can be traced all the way back to those first disciples (who lived with Jesus) as they commissioned new Christians to do the work of the Bible…. you can believe that….it is true …you can take it to the bank….
And if it is true….
Then that truth is available to us this day and every day in Christ….
the truth that Jesus was real and super-connected to God the Father means that you and I can have that same super-connection.
That sacred moments like up at the altar, at our weddings, at our baptisms, and on our knees we are not reaching out to a legend but being blessed by the Holiest of Holies…our Lord and Savior…our Master, our Comforter, our Redeemer. Times…just like up on that mountain where the greater kingdom of heaven intersects with our lives….
Do you think like that? Do you consider your marriage or your baptism to be that kind of a moment. Think of what it does to those very common events…it makes them holy…it makes them sacred...not just fun, not just wonderful…but holy. Do you think of your baptism as a holy moment…do you let that holiness live and breathe in your life…what about your marriage…is that holiness revealed even weekly in your relationships with your spouse and children… If you’re considering marriage….can you handle that????
So…do you need proof? That’s okay…sometimes we all do need proof…
if you need it…look around you….the people around you are the legacy of the truth not of a legend.
The record of history is your proof. The deaths of martyrs and the lives of the saints among us today is our proof. The work of the Holy Spirit is our proof…the Transformation that comes from knowing Jesus…is our proof.
The vast communion of the saints both in heaven and on this earth is a witness to the power of something that is real and not contrived for the sake of community.
The Jesus who was lit up that day…so high on that mountain, who spoke with prophets long dead, who receive an audible blessing from God the Father, and who just blew the minds of the three disciples who were with him is ….amazingly available to us. To you and to me…
And that is why we bother…that is why we seek the truth for our denomination….that is way we sing the hymns and pray the prayers, and have the youth groups, and show the Alpha videos….
Because it’s true…. Because, whether we believe it or not…it’s all true.
What I’d like us to do is spend a few minutes in silence….contemplated what the truth means to us as individuals and as a family. Pray about the intersection of the Kingdom of Heaven and your life on Earth. How often to you realize it is happening? How often to you provide a moment in your life for it to happen at all? What proof has God given YOU specifically that He is chasing you, or filling you or blessing you? If you’d like to speak to me or Jack or the other Priests when they return from England we welcome it….
Let us pray….