August 4, 2013 Tenth Sunday After Trinity
Joshua 24:14-24, Psalm 145, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, St. Luke 19:41-47a
Some would have you believe that ignorance is bliss. Mark Twain was not one of them, but he considered ignorance, if not blissful, at least useful. “Ignorance has something to be said for it,” quoth the sage. “It gives rise to about nine-tenths of the world’s conversational output.”
He was speaking, I think, of unpremeditated ignorance, which not all ignorance is. Some ignorance is willful. Samuel Johnson addressed this kind: “Ignorance, when voluntary, is criminal.”
And so we find ourselves in Jerusalem.
Our Lord Jesus has made his triumphal entry, the prelude to His passion. The adoring masses sing out, “Glory in the highest!” They call Him “King.” Their Messiah has come to claim His kingdom.
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” the Pharisees grumble. Jesus responds, “If these should keep silent, the very stones would cry out.”
But in the next scene, the mood flips like a flapjack. The crowds have deluded themselves regarding who this Messiah is. Etched against the backdrop of their delirium is the brooding figure of Jesus . . . weeping. He weeps for Jerusalem, the capital of His people Israel.
They have celebrated prematurely the peace the Lord brings because they have not heeded the voices of their own prophets. Jeremiah prophesied against this very city of the calamity to come, heaping special scorn upon those who proclaim, “peace, peace, where there is no peace.”
This is not the peace that breaks out when everybody stands around reloading. Peace – shalom – means reconciliation with God and man. The kingdom of God will not come clenched in an iron fist. It is not liberation from Rome but freedom from sin. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Isaiah told of the Suffering Servant who would reconcile God and man by His self-sacrifice. This Servant would institute the covenant of peace in which is salvation. “All your children shall be taught by the Lord,” God said through His prophet.
But like their ancestors, these citizens of Jerusalem have rebuffed their prophets. Now comes their final apostasy, their rejection of their deliverance.
The Lord accuses them: “. . . you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Their Messiah has indeed appeared in their midst, but it is their hearts that have remained clenched. They have refused to know Him for who He is. They had not only the prophets to inform them but the witness of His mighty deeds. Yet they squeezed shut the eyes of their hearts.
The things that make for peace, He tells them, “are hidden from your eyes.”
They have greeted the visitation of the final Prophet, God’s own Son, like the arrival of an amalgam of Mr. Wizard, Winston Churchill and General Patton. They will not throw off the Roman yoke under the command of General Jesus. In fact, Rome will obliterate their city, leveling them and their children to the ground, leaving not one stone upon another.
They cannot read reconciliation written in blood on the cross. They will have no peace.
This is why Jesus weeps for His people. He pours out His tears over the rancid fruit of their willful ignorance. Samuel Johnson had them pegged: Their willful ignorance was criminal. But it was worse still: It was suicidal.
And these were God’s chosen.
Two themes tango through our gospel lesson. One is God’s designation of a specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose. The other is the deliberate ignorance of those people: They chose not to know. Perhaps better, they resolved not to know. To take the first theme first . . .
Nothing could be plainer in Scripture than God’s anointing of Israel to achieve His end of making His glory known to all the nations. Like their prototype Jonah, they balked. Like him, they hid from their Lord. God goaded them like so many oxen with their feet stuck in the mud. Even then, they stiffened their necks.
Yet God did use them. From Israel came His church of the New Covenant, His engine for drawing all peoples, tribes, tongues and nations into worship of Him.
The Scriptures paint this picture for us in a million strokes from Genesis 12 to the end. History, I think, shows us that our Creator has set apart other nations for His service as well.
Rome came first. When the Emperor Constantine set his imprimatur on Christianity, the faith flew across the Western world on the wings of an eagle.
Britain was another. When the sun never set on the Union Jack, neither did it set on the Holy Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The United States of America has been the most recent. Born of an ache to worship in freedom, our nation unleashed an awe-inspiring witness across the continents and throughout the islands.
Yet all have fallen away like decaying husks from the precious fruit within. One by one, they have lost sight of the sweet core of truth: Those whom God uses owe Him a special debt.
Why not Egypt instead of the United States? Egypt had Christians 1,500 years and more before the pilgrims set sail from England’s shore, and there are Christians there today. Could God not have prospered Egypt and left America destitute? Yet we puff out our chests as though His plan could not have succeeded without us.
Our national delusion mimics the personal. We dazzle ourselves with the fiction that our service merits God’s favor. In fact, His use of us is His favor on us. Rather than rejoicing in what we have done for Him, we should fall to our knees in gratitude because He has seen fit to use unworthy servants like us. St. Luke has already reported this instruction of our Lord to His disciples:
“. . . when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, `We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"
Those God uses, He blesses – for His service. But like the Jerusalemites, we have leapt headlong into the bottomless fantasy that our nobility deserves His notice. We have earned favored-nation status, justifying ourselves by our righteousness. Like the Jerusalemites, we have forgotten Isaiah’s thunder: Our best works are as filthy rags in His sight.
When men and nations cease giving thanks to God, God weeps over them . . . and leaves them to the judgment they have draped around their heads like a noose. And moves on. He can achieve His sovereign purpose using others. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
For us, just as for the Israelites, this thread of the favored nation intertwines with the other. Like the Jerusalemites, we indulge a willful ignorance that robs us of peace, that cripples our witness of His glory. Those of us here today, clustered in our little corner of the Kingdom, are keen on railing against the Congress and the courts and the media.
No problem there. Many in all of those institutions have much to answer for. But God did not assign the job of instructing the culture in His truth to the Congress and the courts and the media. He gave it to His church. Until our Lord returns, we His people are the teachers of His truth.
And how long has the American church abstained from its duty of teaching this nation who God is and how we must relate to Him? How long have we looked away as the pagan culture has promoted a highly tutored ignorance of God?
How long have we shuffled our feet and coughed nervously as they have spooned out the toxic tonic that promises salvation through education? How will we answer the charge of premeditated ignorance?
In our place and time, education is not merely the vehicle of ignorance; it’s the parade float. A couple of days ago, I read a paragraph in “The Durango Herald” that sums up our national hallucination exquisitely:
“SAN DIEGO – The attorney for San Diego’s embattled mayor says the city failed to provide Bob Filner state-required sexual harassment training and therefore should pay to defend him against a lawsuit by his former communications director, who alleges he asked her to work without wearing panties.”
Surely we can all sympathize. If the mayor had thrown a child into the shark tank at the San Diego Zoo, he could hardly have known this was inappropriate behavior if the city had failed to provide training by a marine biologist.
But what if the education we need so desperately, when we do get it, poisons us? The pagans assure us that public education must leave God out. In this way, we respect the rights of everyone. Teach God’s truth to one and all? Are you crazy or merely drunk? Education must be neutral.
And they push the myth of neutrality like heroin as they corrode the minds of our children with a corrupt curriculum that denies God and exalts man. The rights of Christian parents dissolve in a baptism of atheist acid as their children lap up the humanist religion of a prophet named Darwin. In our time and place, public education exists not to reveal the truth . . . but to mask it.
Have we been blindsided? I think not. We will not get away with saying this cancer has crept up on us. The theologian A. A. Hodge wrote:
“It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics be.
“It is self-evident on this scheme . . . (that) the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.
“I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion . . . will prove the most appalling (engine) for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief . . . this sin-rent world has ever seen.”
Those words were published in 1890, after Hodge’s death. Eleven years earlier, R. L. Dabney wrote: “The Redeemer said, ‘He that is not with me is against me.’ There cannot be moral neutrality. Man is born with an evil and ungodly tendency. Hence a non-religious training must be an anti-religious training. The more of this, the larger the curse.”
And on the fiction of neutrality in education, I would quote one contemporary writer, Curtis I. Crenshaw, dean of Cranmer Theological House: “. . . education is inherently moral, as is all of life. There is nothing in the universe that is not moral; moral neutrality does not exist because God, who is infinitely moral, exists and has created all that exists.
“Thus He has indelibly stamped all creation with His morality . . . For one to put his children in public schools is to sacrifice them on the altar of immoral humanism . . .”
If we are ignorant, we are ignorant by choice. Dabney and Hodge sounded their warnings well over a century ago. Like the Jerusalemites, we cloak ourselves in the pretense that Christ came to bestow His favor on our land.
In fact, the purpose of our Lord’s visitation – His first coming – was not to glorify us for our righteousness but to glorify His Father by saving us from our sin. His means was to hold out salvation through our baptism into His death, burial and resurrection so that we might be fellow heirs with Him.
When we wrap our minds around the enormity of His sacrifice, we focus at last on what He has done for us and not on what we might do for Him. And then a life of service flows forth from a grateful heart.
We who commit our lives to Him make those lives witnesses of His glory in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and to the end of the earth – in our homes and in our workplaces and in our jails and beyond the mountains. We become our nation’s teachers.
This is the means by which – at some time, in some place – He will bring the eternal peace of His kingdom to earth. If not Israel, then Rome; if not Rome, then Britain; if not Britain, then America; if not America, then . . . Our disobedience will not stymie God’s purpose.
And our premeditated ignorance He will not overlook. Yet church-going parents send their children off to public schools as nonchalantly as to the pony rides. There they learn to worship the baal of our age, the one named Darwin. Like the baals of old, he is an angel of death because he turns men away from the Source of life.
His priests are clever devils. For decades, they have told us not to forsake God but to worship him along with Darwin. And their apostasy has impregnated God’s church and it has penetrated by way of public education.
All people educated in the public schools know – they know -- that Darwin’s theory unlocks the meaning of life. Legions in the church have closed their ears to the cry of the great apostle Paul, who said, I have chosen to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. They have chosen instead to worship both Christ and Darwin.
Here’s the rub: Either God created man – adam – from the dust of the earth or He did not. Man is not both created and evolved. Here is the gospel’s imperative for our age: Choose one, God or Darwin.
In Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the temple. He had no quarrel with commerce, but He would not abide the desecration of sacred space. The term “house of prayer” in our text means simply a place of worship, encompassing all that attaches to it – confession, absolution, praise, petition, hymn-singing, Scripture-reading, celebration of the sacraments . . . and one other thing. St. Luke tells us immediately after he recounts the cleansing that Jesus “was teaching daily in the temple.”
When men have consecrated a space, they must not invite the profane things into it. God’s people speak God’s truth into the world, they do not welcome man’s distortion into God’s church. Christians must teach God’s truth and guard the perimeter as zealously as Adam should have defended the Garden of Eden against the enemy and his lies. Satan taught that God is a liar.
Education matters. The content of education matters most. It is never neutral.
For six years, my wife and I worshipped in a church in inner-city Houston called City of Refuge. We members spoke of our mission using such terms as “intentionally integrated.” Not a bad idea, but as I look back on that time I have the sense that in the interest of merging black and white we made the gospel gray.
For the first four of those years we met in the chapel of a homeless shelter. For the last two we worshipped in a facility we built across the street. Even before construction began, some wealthy people from the suburbs who were not part of our church approached us with a vision to create a private Christian school for inner-city kids.
We agreed to lease them space in our new building and they launched their school. Soon, the school outgrew the space. The founders raised more money and bought an elementary school building the public system no longer wanted. And our church was without its tenant and a vital source of revenue.
But not for long. A charter school approached us about taking over the vacated space. A charter school is not a traditional public school but it relies on tax dollars and it teaches a curriculum infused with secular dogma.
I reminded the church that when we laid the foundation we wrote Scripture citations on the tongue depressors doctors use and submerged them in the wet cement to set this building apart for a holy purpose. I argued that it was a sacrilege to bring the wisdom of the world that makes God a liar into His temple.
I heard in rebuttal that God is spirit who goes wherever He wishes. A building is only a building.
In this congregation was a former high public official who had published a book on discipleship and taught classes using it. There was a woman who had been the sermon researcher and book writer for a nationally known megachurch pastor and who by this time was writing books on Christian topics in her own name.There was a member who held two master’s degrees from a well-respected seminary and was finishing work on a doctorate. And then there was Pastor Smith.
They joined their voices and led a chorus, proclaiming, “peace, peace, where there is no peace.”
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord,” God said through His prophet. Not here. Willful ignorance is the express lane to willful suicide.
Today, Jesus weeps over our Jerusalem. Amen.