The View From 1776
Sunday, July 20, 2008
We must reject comfortable ritual and live the Christian life.
Sunday’s sermon at Black Rock-Long Ridge Congregational Church (North Stamford, Connecticut) was preached by Captain Brian Thomas, leader of Stamford’s Salvation Army unit.
An effective Salvation Army leader who desires to lead souls to Jesus Christ can’t mindlessly and endlessly repeat old rituals. In Captain Thomas’s case, that meant dropping the old Salvation Army standard of the brass band playing on street corners to draw the unchurched into church services. Not enough people in today’s circumstances respond.
Instead he went into the low-income housing projects and began bussing children to church services and bussing them back to their homes. Just as did the liberal-progressive educators led by John Dewey early in the 20th century, aiming to destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage and replace it with a socialistic society, Captain Thomas recognized that the future belongs to those who educate our children. They must hear the truth of the gospel in some venue, because our secular public educational system is busily inculcating them with godless materialism.
Before Captain Thomas took up his post in Stamford, Salvation Army sunday services had been quiet, traditional affairs. Bringing large numbers of rambunctious kids into the services upset many of the regular adult attenders, who left in a huff.
Captain Thomas’s response was that Christianity doesn’t offer trial memberships to let you see if you will feel comfortable attending church. Christianity, if it is to be a way of life, must be demanding and uncomfortable for all of us. We must be challenged to climb out of our ruts and to reach out to help people in need. Mindlessly repeating old practices is not a formula for saving souls.
If people are not challenged to live the Christian life, ritualistic habit can turn even God’s past actions into false idols.
[After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites] traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
750 years later, the Israelites had again strayed from God and fallen into worshipping false idols, making the bronze snake into an object of worship. King Hezekiah acted to bring them back to God.
In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)
Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.” (2 Kings 18:1-8)
If we are to be true Christians, we have to cease worshipping the bronze snakes in our religious lives. We have to step out of our comfort zones and follow Jesus.
Jesus told the Pharisees that he came, not to destroy the Mosaic Law, but to fulfill it. That required making lots of comfortable religious practitioners very uncomfortable, and ultimately angry enough to crucify Him.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven