August 17, 2014 Ninth Sunday After Trinity
Proverbs 8:1-21, Psalm 115, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, St. Luke 15:11-32
You just can’t beat progress. Everything’s better these days, everything from nuts to bolts, from cars to computers. And idols. Yes, idols are much improved, too.
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands,” the Psalmist declared derisively of the gods of the nations around Israel in his day. Perhaps a thousand years later, a prophet named Muhammad would come along and give the world a better idol.
This one would have no tangible form. It would be patterned on the God of the people of the book, Christians and Jews, among whom Muhammad lived. It would even have the same name. The Arabic word “Allah” simply means God.
Idols of wood and stone and precious metals were losing their mojo before Muhammad’s time. They had few followers remaining. So this prophet built a better one . . . but its invisibility makes it no less an idol.
The post-Christian West has an idol, too. The name of this one is “Diversity.” The worshipers of Diversity preach that the various ideologies and religions of the world bear equal validity. None can stake a claim to exclusive truth.
Theirs is a religion with an inherent contradiction. If objective truth is not attainable, what they say must not be true . . . and so perhaps there is an ultimate truth in the world. But they appear little troubled by this niggling problem.
We in the New World have not ventured as deeply into Diversity worship as those in the Old World – so far. Europe, shedding its Christian heritage even faster than America is doing, has thrown open the doors to all ideological comers.
And the worshipers of Muhammad’s idol have rushed in to fill the void left by Christ’s eviction. Thousands of mosques are sprinkled around Europe today, and their attendance far exceeds that of the remaining churches. The muezzin’s call to prayer wafts across the tulip beds of Amsterdam and the docks of Marseille.
In parts of Paris, women venture out without a head covering at their peril. In many cities, Muslims make up a majority of the 18-and-under population.
They’re happy to bow before the god named Diversity – until they get the upper hand. When will that be? One demographic study forecasts that by 2025, 25 percent of Europeans will be Muslims. Another predicts they will comprise half the population by the middle of this century.
I’m no demographer but I believe that, barring some unforeseeable reversal, they will take control of most of Europe well before 2050. That’s because they have flocked to the major cities, where political power is concentrated.
In England in 2012, the most popular name for baby boys was Harry. There were 29 more tykes given that name than the second-favorite, Muhammad. But in London, Muhammad topped the list. In 2013, Muhammad topped the list for the nation.
Another reason is that they will vote as a bloc while indigenous Europeans, growing increasingly desperate, will scatter their votes among candidates with competing solutions. And there will be no solution.
Muslims need not fire a shot to accomplish the conquest of Europe. They’re winning not on the battlefield but in the delivery room.
As their numbers grow, so does anti-Jewish zealotry. Indigenous Europeans are increasingly willing to abandon Israel in the hope of placating Islam. If their nations do so, they will produce the opposite effect. Muslims already see the West as decadent and weak.
Sacrificing Israel would vindicate that judgment, emboldening the aggressors and stimulating their blood lust. And when they take control, they will smash the god Diversity as surely as though it were named Dagon or Artemis, fashioned from stone or molded in silver.
Sharia law will smother Diversity as rapidly as darkness descends on Europe. It may be a blessing in disguise that home-grown Europeans are reproducing at a rate well below the replacement level. Children who are not born cannot come under persecution.
Are Europeans as deep in denial as Americans are today? Or are they casting an eye toward Iraq and Syria and other places with a Muslim majority and no restraints and trembling?
For the carnage is a cancer on mankind. I will not catalogue the atrocities now; we’ve all heard of them. Instead I will make the point that under sharia, under the code of the Quran, many of those ghastly acts are perfectly legal.
When the minions of Muhammad advance on “infidels,” these are their marching orders: First, offer the subjugated people the opportunity to convert to Islam. If they refuse, allow them to remain in place and pay an exorbitant tax and live as third-class citizens. If they decline that option, force them to abandon their homes and lands and flee.
And if they do not clear out quickly enough, regardless of age or disability, kill them. This is Islamic imperialism. This is jihad.
Europe, as Europeans are now admitting, snapped to the threat too late to reverse the process. They are staring into the long, dark night of the greatest civilization the world has known. What of America?
I should pose that question a bit differently. What of secular America?
Secular America is following Europe down its tragic path. It has decided to have no religion – no religion to which that term has been applied throughout history – and so remove itself from the religious geography of the world.
Voila! We simply won’t think about the subject. The difficulty is that much of the world is striving to make itself, and others, more religious, to advance its theology by jihad. The problem is theological and deciding theology is beneath us, the enlightened, makes it worse, not better.
In its zeal for the worship of Diversity, secular America has elevated the god of jihad to a pedestal even with that of the Prince of Peace. Atrocities? Don’t tell us Christian hands are clean. Ever heard of the Crusades? The Inquisition?
In this climate, secular America is abandoning the capacity to distinguish good from evil, to separate the bad acts of Christians done against the teachings of the Bible from those of Muslims done in accord with the commandments of the Quran.
Jihad is not the delusion of a lunatic fringe or even of a rotten core; it is Islamic doctrine and has been for almost 1,500 years. For fear of offending terrorists and their supporters whose beliefs and customs we must place equal to any other we are looking away from the growing menace to our lives, our liberty and our property.
Secular America squeezes shut its eyes to the reality that most Christians do not venture onto the mission field to disseminate their religion but many who stay at home support those who do go abroad to share the gospel of peace. And that most Muslims do not advance the jihadist agenda by blowing themselves up to eliminate some “infidels” from the planet but many support the families of those who do.
We erase from our memory banks the pictures of throngs spilling out into the streets of the Muslim world to celebrate 9/11 at our great peril.
In Psalm 115, the Psalmist smirks at the fiction that the idols of other nations have the might to smite Israel:
5 They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see;
6 They have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell;
7 They have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk . . .
8 Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.
St. Paul will make the same point. That prophet named Muhammad did not mold an idol from silver or gold but he did create an idol. It has no power apart from the faith of the deluded.
By demoting Jesus Christ to the rank of one god among many, by promoting Muhammad’s idol to parity with Christ, secular America is investing the idol with a degree of power it would otherwise not have. It is promoting the delusion and inviting catastrophe.
It is turning the fantasy that the problem is not theological into a scimitar to emasculate itself.
At a purely practical level, secular America gives every indication of following Europe in distancing itself from Israel. Hiding its face again, it refuses to know that Israel is absorbing the shock for the rest of the people of the book – or those the jihadists believe still to be.
As long as they are engaged with the Jews in their own neighborhood, they have fewer resources to expend against the Christian “infidels.” But they have cast their gaze far beyond the horizon. They would make Muhammad’s idol ruler of all creation.
First comes Israel, then Europe, then America. First they will deal with the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.
Secular America prefers not to think about standing alone – not only against a Muslim Middle East but also against a Muslim Europe armed with nuclear weapons. Historians, I think, will not be able to avoid the irony: Even as America cast off its Christian heritage it came under attack from those who would stamp out Christianity across the face of the earth.
And what of Christian America? What of the faithful remnant?
First, we must heed the words of the Psalmist. The author is not named and the date of the poem is impossible to fix to a certainty; most scholars believe it was composed following Judah’s return from exile in Babylon, a time of persecution.
9 O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.
12 The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron.
13 He will bless those who fear the LORD, both small and great.
Our faith is always in the one true God. We have tried his patience mightily, as Israel before us, but He will not abandon us.
It’s past time for us to take stock of our church and ourselves. American church-goers give on average less than 3 percent of their income to the church – and most of that they spend on themselves.
If the Western church had pursued the Great Commission vigorously for the past 100 years it would be completed by now.
Of every dollar given to a U. S. Protestant church, two cents goes to overseas missions. By contrast, of every dollar Antioch Presbyterian Church in Chonju, Korea, takes in, 70 cents goes to missions.
If church members in this country were to give 10 percent of their income, churches would reap an additional $156 billion. If 60 percent of that extra income were designated for overseas missions, that would come to $94 billion -- enough to feed, medicate and evangelize the entire underdeveloped world.
Of all Christian outreach, 91 percent targets other Christians. Of foreign mission funding, 87 percent goes for work among those already Christian, 12 percent for work among non-Christians who have been evangelized and one percent for work among the unevangelized and unreached.
One last statistic: Of all the people on earth, one in six is a Muslim.
Judah would not make God’s glory known to the nations. Her Lord sent her into exile. Upon her return she resumed her wanton ways of old and persecution came. America’s situation is not without precedent.
At home, we have frittered away the muscle to move our nation in a Godward direction. The secularists hold the political, if not the moral, high ground.
If we would only acknowledge that we ran away from the fight, that we trusted in our affluence more than our God, that we shied away from the hard work of evangelism and discipleship, that we forgot to pray, we would have a chance to reverse our nation’s course.
I do not know how long it will take for sufficient numbers to arrive at that admission or how much damage our church and our nation will suffer in the meantime. I do know that our God will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.
I do know that we can draw inspiration from our brothers and sisters in Iraq and elsewhere today. They could convert. They could keep their lives and their homes and their possessions. They could avoid paying the protection money. If only they would embrace the idol of Muhammad.
But that would be to deny Christ, and that they will not do. Instead, they flee, often with nothing but the clothes they wear. They hide, and some look on as their children die of exposure while others watch as terrorists cut their children in half. They die, claiming the promise that God will bless all those who fear Him.
The church father Tertullian knew persecution. He told his tormentors: "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow.”
Tacitus knew persecution. He said, regarding the atrocities of Nero, "in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition” – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Christianity – “broke out afresh, not only in Judaea . . . but even in Rome."
We can stretch our human sensibilities as far as possible to take the eternal view, which is our Lord’s view. Whatever suffering we endure in this life will evaporate in a flash when we join our God in glory.
We can pray. We can petition our Lord to show mercy on persecuted Christians. Even as we acknowledge that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the gospel, we can ask Him to intervene and protect those faithful ones who are suffering such monstrous physical and emotional pain, to say nothing of deprivation.
We can pray for our enemies, asking that God would show them the greatest mercy, knowledge of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray.
We can support the persecuted. Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, visited a place called Qaraqosh and reported:
“I have just returned from a secret visit to Qaraqosh – once the largest Christian town in Iraq, but no longer. Today, Qaraqosh stands 90 per cent empty, desecrated by the gunmen of the fanatical Islamic State terror group now in control.
“The majority of the town’s 50,000 people have fled, fearing that, like other Christians in this region, they will be massacred. The militants, in a further act of sacrilege, have established their administrative posts in the abandoned churches.”
He continued, “Since I went to St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad in 2003 . . . I have seen countless terrible things. Many of my congregation have been killed or mutilated in the years of violence. But I have never witnessed anything on the scale, or which has affected me quite so dreadfully as on this visit to the north of Iraq.”
Canon White went on to recount asking a refugee why her hand was bandaged. She dissolved in tears as she told of an attacker who, unable to slide her ring off her finger, cut off the finger and went on his way.
Before this horrific outbreak of violence, Canon White had established a foundation to help to fund his ministry in Iraq. He is now using contributions to aid his flock, what’s left of it, which is scattered and terrified, and others who are suffering.
I have given you the name and address of the U. S. arm of the foundation, to which you can make a tax-exempt donation, in the bulletin. Please give.
Archbishop Foley Beach has asked all of us in the Anglican Church in North America to intercede in these two ways and one other: to contact our members of Congress and urge them to do their utmost to move our government to action. Please pray. Please give. Please write.
The Psalmist wrote: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD'S; but the earth He has given to the children of men.”
We must be better stewards than we have been. Amen.