Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cling

Cling
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
July 1, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:9c
Luke 6:43-49


Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.
Amen. 

This morning we continue our study of "The Marks of a Christian" from Paul's letter to the Romans chapter 12, and we finish out the third part of verse 9, which reads: "Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good." Two weeks ago we looked at how love is genuine, last week we looked deeper into the face of what evil is, and today we try to get at what is this thing called good to which we must cling. I chose a passage from Luke's gospel to help us get at this text. Luke 6:43-49. It is all about Fruits and Foundations. . .

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
[1] 
Last week while I was talking about evil I led us to a point where hating what is evil could be dangerous because in many ways hate, being the antithesis of love, can lead us down a very dark path, the path where we become the very thing we were hating. There seems to be a great human tendency to turn good things into bad ones, pure things into corrupt ones, great ventures into failures, ideals into stark realities, the list goes on. I will pose today that much of that is because we find it easy to hate what is evil because it is obvious to us, but we somehow do not know how to cling to the good, perhaps we do not know what is good, or perhaps we don't know how to cling, or maybe we just find that we feel that hating evil is enough, but Paul does not pair these two ideas together lightly. There seems to be a real strong connection between Love being genuine, hating what is evil, and forever clinging to what is good. Why is it so important to cling?
This week contains the 4th of July, Independence Day, a day where the world changed because an idea came into reality. The Declaration of Independence stated boldly that human beings are given certain natural rights by God, and that the role of the government is to protect those rights for the people. It was truly Revolutionary, major change occurred. The declaration concludes with the line, "And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." And then they sign. John Hancock, nice and big. And the war that had begun the year earlier continues, and then at the end a Constitution is established and the United States of America is born into the world. We call this the American Revolution, but it is very different from other major revolutions in the world.
Two of histories other major Revolutions are very different. In the French Revolution you have turmoil for many years. Power changes hands, mobs rule, heads roll, fear, revenge, divisive politics, lawlessness prevails, and finally the great hand of repression comes in the person of Napoleon, and order is established, but the freedom, the vision of equality, fraternity, and liberty is lost, the idealism is destroyed by the guillotine's blade, and the people who rose up to fight are once again under the foot of the powerful. The winds of change rise, but no real lasting change takes place. France goes through one hundred years of revolutions and changing governments. The Russian Revolution follows a very similar path. There is a real cry for change, and a legitimate uprising occurs, but those ideals quickly are lost when those who are fighting against injustice come to power and begin to commit atrocities to make sure that their side and their vision is safely, effectively, and completely established. You are left with the U.S.S.R., repressive, again political murder prevails, Totalitarian government, KGB, secret police, Siberian prisons and Gulags.
What is the difference? Why do these two revolutions take such different turns from the American one. You can't say time is the factor because the French Revolution begins only 22 years after the Declaration of Independence came to be and only 10 years after the Constitution was ratified. What is the difference? I believe a big difference is that the revolutionaries in France and Russian did start off by hating what is evil, but they did not cling to what is good, but let me illustrate again what I think happened in the French and Russian Revolutions, and truthfully has happened in many others. I wrote this poem a number of years ago, called Progress and Progressive. . . It gets into what can happen in the court of human revolutionary politics.


Progress is not as loathsome as progressive,
Just as active pales in comparison to activist.
When a movement organizes the mob,
Watch Out! Change is gonna come child.
The pendulum will swing the guillotine’s blade,
Removing all obstacles in the path,
But the momentum grows and loses direction
And discretion, then desecration and destruction
Follow, replacing oppression with oppression,
Power with power, corruption with corruption
Human authority with human authority,
And God, who inspired the first steps,
Justice, which pointed out the inherent evils,
Love, which catalyzed the necessity,
Are lost when the blade sweeps side to side
Again and again, throughout human history. 

This is what seems to always happen. We hate injustice, we hate inequality, we hate oppression, we hate the way the powerful are corrupt, we hate the way the world is unfair, we hate the way that people are marginalized, we hate how children across the world are starving, we hate the way our money is spent on wars, we hate how our educational systems are in decline, we hate how money is being wasted, we hate that taxes are going up, that inflation is going up, that the debt is going up, we hate, we hate, we hate. We hate these things but then these things turn into other people, the other side, our opponents, and then we hate them, and we are lost, and God forbid you give power to that hate because then we've all lost, hate goes into action and all of the good intentions of hating injustice are lost, and lost forever, and the guillotine sweeps side to side, again and again and again and again. Because it seems that all we do is hate what is evil, we don't also cling to what is good.
But in many ways the American Revolution is different because the Founding Fathers didn't just hate the injustices that they saw, but they also had ideals and they bound together based on those principles and relied on Divine Providence. In other words they held on to God, the author of all things good, and to each other as neighbors. If you look at the language of the Declaration of Independence you see it throughout, from "Laws of Nature and Nature's God", "all men are created equal," "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." These lines are familiar to us for sure, but look at the world view that they reflect. It is a worldview that very much relies and sees a world filled with truths, self evident truths as well, and a creator who has put these truths in place. There is Rootedness. There is foundation. There are seeds firmly planted. Very different from the French and the Russian Revolutions, which were secular. In France and Russia the Christian Church, be it Catholic or Orthodox was so deeply in bed with the government that their overthrow needed to coincide, so in both, France and Russia, Christian values, belief in God, Providence, Creation, were all thrown aside or forgotten, but along with those beliefs, was lost the very essence of humanity, the kindness, the love, the hope, the value of one single human life, all were lost as well. You can see it's true in the ways that killing undesirables became commonplace and systematic, even innovative.
The American Revolution is different. Sure there is war and fighting, but there aren't killing fields. There are heated debates, and vitriolic language fuel them, but not guillotines. There are changes of power, but no military coups. Hating what is evil is not enough, you must also cling, hold fast, grasp as if your life depended on it the good because as we've seen hating, even if it is hating evil, can suck us in. Honestly we see it around us even today. Last week I talked about how our War Against Terrorism is a challenge that tests our clinging to the good because it is so easy to hate terror that we face losing ourselves in the process, as we create and perfect drones, paired with "hitlists," paired with celebrations of kills. Somehow we must hold fast to the good. And at home we see noble pursuits, such as the providing of healthcare for all, paired with corruption, lies, misleading word games, and under the table behind closed doors deals, treating people as statistics and groups rather than individuals. It looks an awful lot like us versus them politics, and we've seen where that leads. . . Chop! There it swings again!
No we've got to cling to what is good! I worked with a Youth Director who always repeated the phrase, "God is Good" to which the Youth would rightly reply, "All the Time." Yes God is good. Can we cling to God, can we cling to Jesus through it all. We must or we are in trouble, because. . . Chop! There it goes again. Clinging to God, being on God's side means that we don't take sides because God made all of us. We realize that person standing on the other side of the fence, or the other side of the aisle, or the other side of the ocean, or the column on the ballot, or whatever, is also a child of God, cling to that, hold fast to that idea.
During our Lenten study we looked at the play Les Miserables in which there are these revolutionaries who are fighting, idealistically for their cause, but in the course of the events they lose focus on what it is all about, and they fail miserably, and nothing changes, but their end is foreshadowed in the words that they sing: "Who cares about your lonely soul, we strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all." Yes they do! Yes they absolutely do! And so do the lives of those you fight against! There they are hating what is evil, but have lost grip on what is good. It is not until after they are in the midst of the battle, they sing another song, "Drink With Me to Days Gone By" in which they remember the good times, their friendships, the wonders of what is life, the gifts of God that we need to hold on to with our very lives because they include yes our very lives. A suicide bomber by definition has lost sight of what is good, while he seeks to destroy what he sees as evil.
Of course we say, no I'd never be a suicide bomber, I'd never send someone to the guillotine, I'd never. . . but is that because you prefer what is good, or is it because you don't hate evil enough? It's a good question, I think. It is one of those delicate balancing acts that makes being a Christian so difficult, impossible really, without God that is, without Christ that is, without the workings of the Holy Spirit. Yes truly impossible. But let's look at the gospel passage anew: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit" There it is, cling to what is good, if you are a good tree you will bear good fruit. What makes a tree good, it is rooted. Likewise: "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil" the heart will be and produce that which it clings to. Next Jesus goes further talking about how important the foundation is.

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”  

The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rains came tumbling down. Clinging to the good is building on good foundation, with good soil, good nourishment, and good fruit is produced, likewise evil produces ruin, or as Coralee likes to sing, "the rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand went "Splat" or was it swing. . . Chop! The Psalms are filled with this same language, in Psalm 34, read this morning, verse 10: "The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing."[2] Seek the Lord, lack no good thing. Psalm 1 as well:

1     Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2     but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3     They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.[3]

If we cling to the good, cling to God there is good fruit within us, each of us, and we will prosper, and we will be able to hate evil without succumbing to evil. If we cling to good, cling to God, we can truly band together in a trusting community, as the founding fathers in declaration said we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.". If we cling to good, cling to God, the evil that we hate stands no chance. Only this clinging can stop the human pattern that we are caught up in only this can stop the swinging blade before it again swings and chops. Let us dull the blade, let us cut the rope, let us cling to the good, hate what is evil and love genuinely, both God and our neighbor,

"No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?"
 

We can't keep from singing, when clinging to the Rock, to the Good, to God, to Christ, and what better fruit is their than the beautiful harmonies of song? Please God may it be so! Amen.









[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 6:43-49). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 34:10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 1:1-3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.