Gospel for America

Mark 1:4-11

Eighteen years ago, if someone had shown me a photograph of what my last Sunday at Christ Church would look like I would have been puzzled. Why are we outside in a parking lot? And, whose parking lot is that? Why is everyone seated so far away from one another?

How could I have known that there would be a highly contagious virus let loose in the world? How could I have known that our government would bar us from our churches? The photograph I was looking at wouldn’t show the virus. It would only show the effects of the virus on my congregation 18 years down the road.

On Thursday morning, Jackie brought in a copy of the WSJ. And on the cover was another photograph. It was a photograph of a mob forcing their way into the Capitol. What I was looking at was disturbing. It did not look like America. It looked like something you might see in a third-world banana republic. President-elect Biden said that the actions of the mob did not reflect America. I wish he were correct. But he wasn’t.

This wasn’t the first riot we’ve seen within the past year. As you well remember, there were plenty of them last summer and they were a lot more destructive. I have no doubt that there will be more.

You see, America is not a moral nation.  We are lawless. America is not a nation that develops the kinds of families that are able to produce good citizens.  We can no longer trust our institutions to tell us the truth. We can no longer rely on them to advance the good. 

Our leaders act as though wrong means are justified by their preferred ends. Even our churches preach what their congregants want to hear, not what they need to know. And our schools don’t pursue education, but a political agenda. They fabricate frameworks of thinking that confuse and divide. They want to rewrite history and even erase some of it.

People were shocked to see what happened last Wednesday in America. Congressman Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said,  “We (Americans) are not what we are seeing today…” Others said that it was shocking to see here in America the kind of behavior that you often see in other countries.

Why do they say that? Do they think that Americans are exempt from  Adam’s fall from grace? Do they believe that America has some sort of Divine pass to last forever?  Is it because the rules that govern the rise and fall of nations somehow do not apply to us?

We boast a tri-part, constitutional government of checks and balances. A government of the people, by the people and for the people. Does that not of itself guarantee liberty for America? Not according to the men who wrote that constitution. It takes something more than a  constitution. James Madison said,  “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”

America once promoted Christian virtue. America was once a Christian nation. The French diplomat and political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, toured our country and is quoted to say, “America is great because America is good. If America ever stops being good, it will stop being great.” 

Has America stopped being good? Have we dropped virtue from our common language? The late Charles Colson once said, “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government … without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well.”

On Wednesday, the Speaker of the House described the Capitol building as a temple of Democracy. She charged that the rioters had desecrated that temple. So now we exalt government to a level of a god to be worshipped in a temple in Washington.

Does America look to government for its Savior? I’m afraid there are those who do. I’m afraid there are those who see the ills of society remedied not by bowing to an Almighty God in heaven, But by ceding more freedom to an ever growing government.

I raise these concerns today not to make us all feel more miserable. In this era of COVID and contention, we don’t need more misery. My purpose is just the opposite.

I want to encourage you this morning with Good News. If you’re feeling powerless following the election, I’ve got some Good News for you. If you’re feeling fearful following the rioting in America, I’ve got some Good News for you. The Good News is that God is still in charge. God still reigns over our country and has a plan.

The bible says that God has determined the times and places for every person in the world. That is to say, God has determined that each one of you should be in this mountain community and at this time. He has empowered you with his Holy Spirit to do his work, to be his people. He has a remedy to address the great divide we see in our country today. And that remedy involves you. It’s being the church right here in Oakhurst. And what an opportunity you have.

This past week, I sat in a seminar of pastors from all over California. They were talking about church growth. How to organize their church to bring more people into a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ.

One young pastor ministered in Paradise, CA. Now you remember the wildfire that destroyed so many homes and took so many lives in that town. He spoke of the devastation his church experienced from the fire. They went from a congregation of 5000 to 400. They lost everything.

But in the midst of that loss, they saw opportunity. The Lord had given them a fresh start. They could rebuild anew. They could restructure their church free of a lot of baggage from the old church.

They could reinvent their church organization equipped with the knowledge they had already gained from ministry in Paradise. And they could offer new hope to a large community that desperately needed to see a way forward.

That’s where you are today in Oakhurst. You don’t have a lot of influence in the Washington Temple of Democracy. But you have influence here in Oakhurst. And you have a window of opportunity to make a difference here in Oakhurst. In these difficult days, you can bring hope to people who don’t know Jesus. And when you do, you change a culture.

Am I engaging in wishful thinking? After all, you’ll see at our Annual Meeting today that our pledges are down this year. Our numbers have decreased. And, let’s face it no one is getting any younger.

Consider this. Apostle Paul knew something of pasturing churches. He saw the church as an army of soldiers ever advancing with the Gospel mission. That was their overarching goal. Even from his prison cell in Rome, he made plans to move that army forward.

There is a bible story about an Israeli general named Gideon. God charged Gideon to go up against the powerful Midianite army. But he was reluctant to take on that assignment. Yet, when he received God’s confirmation to go forth, he prepared for the attack.

But then God did a little tweeking. He told Gideon to pare down his army from 32,000 to just 300. And the only weapons they were to use were lanterns. You see, God wanted to impress upon Gideon that the Lord would go before him to fight the battle.

Gideon didn’t know how he would conquer a powerful nation with 300 men holding lanterns. But he did know that God was calling. So he stepped out in faith. And he defeated the Midianites with three hundred men holding lanterns. He just needed to be willing to go where God guided.

The Lord has pared down Christ Church. He’s got it at the right size, with the right people and the right leadership for the Gospel mission. He’s armed you not with lanterns, but with the light of Christ.

Look at what you see in America today. It doesn’t look like the America we once knew. And that’s because it’s infected with an even more virulent pathogen than we seen in past days. It’s not called COVID !9, it’s called sin.

But we know how to treat this kind of pandemic. We apply liberal does of the Good News of Jesus Christ. And you are the front line workers for the mission. That’s why you are out here today. And that’s why you will continue to be God’s hands and feet in this mountain community.

I want to share a posting that I read online last Wednesday.  It was written by Dr. Robert Munday, a retired professor from my seminary. It was probably the wisest observation that I’ve seen this week. He wrote this:

I have seen two mobs today: an in-person mob of disappointed Trump voters storming the Capitol,  and an online mob of those who are eager to appear virtuous while getting in one last kick on a President they don’t like and didn’t vote for. Neither of these mobs is going to contribute one thing toward healing our country.  The only thing that is going to heal our country is the Gospel

My brothers and sisters in Christ,  On this First Sunday after the Epiphany, we highlight a hinge point in history. It’s the day John baptized Jesus to begin his work on earth. It is a day to recall our own baptisms when we were made members if God’s family – to do his work, and to show his love. And it’s a hinge point in the life of this congregation to begin a new work.

We live in a divided and contentious nation that has gone astray from Christian mooring. And there really isn’t much you can do about it on the national level. But there is a lot that you can do right here in Oakhurst. God has appointed each one of you to be in this place at this time for his purpose.

The answer to our nation’s woes is not in the temples of Washington. The answer is in the person of Jesus Christ.

And here in Oakhurst, with your new leadership and a greater need for the Good News, I want to encourage you to recommit to the mission of Christ Church. 

Focus on Christ.

Make Disciples for him.

And keep reaching out the world.