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St. John the Baptist Parish, 20 Pentecost C 10/13/13
Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, . . . Pray for Babylon’s well being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you. . . . He couldn’t thank him enough.
Well, this is the last sermon that talks about Caesar Augustus, and how he left the world on a path that leads directly to a whole package of disasters in which we – as Americans – find ourselves. Our present problems here in America find strong support from some – shall we say, “unusual,” – forms of religion, but we need to pick up from where we left off last week.
You remember, :-) of course, that last week we noted that the first Christians for more than 200 years became increasingly a powerful contradiction to Caesar Augustus. Just as the Nativity story says it IS. The Pax Romana Peace of Rome existed – the word “Peace”was defined as being equal to “law and order.” This Roman Peace was enforced with the vicious violence for which the Roman military was well known. The troops were well disciplined, and had been trained in many ways how to kill humans. But even when these disciplined troops were ordered by the Emperor himself to destroy the members of this new religion, they failed – abysmally! Why? Because the first Christians didn’t belong to a religion; they lived their lives by faith. And faith, as we learned last week – even if it’s only the size of a poppyseed – is more powerful than the vicious violence of highly disciplined troops.
When the last of these persecutions again failed – I think it was the Diocletian persecution – when it failed, the Imperial authorities were at a loss of what to do. Not only was failure perfectly clear to the Emperor, but the failure was crystal-clear to the military. Furthermore, the “inauthentic” Western half of the Empire – that is, the Latin part – was beginning to separate from the eastern half with its ancient Greek and Semitic origins. You may remember that I mentioned last week that the only major “contribution” Latin culture had added to human knowledge was the use of violence to maintain a superficial law and order – speciously called “Pax Romana” – Roman Peace. In fact, the young man who was due to become the Emperor Constantine began to worry that all the power that should be his inheritance might fail to come his way.
And the Christian movement was a major problem for Constantine. You see, his mother – her name was Helena – had become a Christian! A very devout Christian. So much so, that she has become a saint on the Christian lists. Constantine’s path to the throne therefore had to involve some way which would both guarantee that he got the throne and that the Christian practice of his saintly mother would not be destroyed.
His solution? Unite church and state!
What a genius of an idea!
When church and state are united, Constantine apparently thought, then both sides would be united for the “care of the people.” The government would provide security for the society, and the church could deal with questions and justice and law – and record-keeping. The word “diocese” is, to this very day, used by the “new” church re-created by Constantine, called the Catholic Church. And Romans, Greeks, Anglicans, and Russians – the continuing examples of that same Catholic church – use that title, “diocese,” to this very day.
You know, it really might have worked! But it couldn’t, because the church – for whatever reason – allowed itself to become the only expression of “faith” in the Empire. And by doing that, the church sullied the word “freedom.”
Because of this change: freedom was restricted: inequality replaced equality; injustice replaced justice; thought control replaced thinking; and caring, and sharing, and other expressions of communal love were weakend, and ultimately society was dehumanized as classes of people were created.
Now, you all know that this did not happen in just a few days. But, it should be noted, that very shortly after Constantine became Emperor he got the Church to call the Council of Nicaea – the first “Great Council” of the Catholic Church. And, when I’m finished here, we will all stand up, and proclaim our “faith” by reciting the Nicene Creed. (There were 17 – I believe – “canons”, or “statements” from the Council of Nicaea that were “to be accepted” by all, under penalty of being declared “anathema.” That word, although it is Greek, is a Latin-type thought: – it means “as if s/he had never existed.” Among the canons are these: “Let the Bishop who changes his Diocese be anathema;” “Let the person who kneels at the Liturgy be anathema;” “Let the person does not confess this symbol of faith be anathema.” The church has managed – somehow or other – to allow bishops to change their diocese; to permit people to kneel at the liturgy; and even, without a full Council, to add words to the Nicene Symbol.)
Now, this combination of church and state caused many things to happen– over many years/centuries. The friction between the East and West sections of the Empire increased sharply; Germanic invasions from the North and West nearly destroyed Rome. The Bishop of Rome – not yet called the Pope – acted as a mediator and as a stand-in for the Emperor. And there were more continuing things – the loss of learning because of the invasions; the dark ages – which weren’t so dark in the East; the black death; the Renaissance; the Protestant Reformation, which merely changed one Authority source for another Authority source. The re-establishment of the validity of physical science – called the Enlightenment by some – grew and developed primarily in what was the Western Empire. It existed in fact until the end of World War I and, I’m not sure, there may still be some small remnant of it somewhere! It should be noted that when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” the steel wall that surrounded Western Europe opened up slightly to devour North and South America.
When the steel wall tried to clamp down again, the monster of united church and state reared to control both the Americas. In South America,, it seemed to succeed , largely because of corruption, purchased with gold, and the slaughter and destruction of the Native population.
In North America things were different. We must never forget that the pilgrims wanted exactly the kind of church-state-controlled society that Constantine wanted. But the New England pilgrims came largely from South-east England, from the mission sent from Rome, by St. Gregory in 599. Gregory was a strong part of the Constantine concepts.
But most of what became the 13 colonies in fact came from the rest of Britain. They were not the pilgrims; they came from the places in England where the Roman Mission was more conformity than conviction. There, it seems, there were hold-overs from the pre-Roman mission days – perhaps even from christians in the Roman army. Ancient Freedom bubbled to the surface as early as Whitby in the 8th century. Freedom for nobility and Church is protected in the Magna Carta, in 1215. Because of these Magna Carta protections, freedom for all continued to ferment among the developing middle class that became so important for England.
The founders of our nation seem to have perceived this.
And it is sumed up in that spectacular phrase composed by Thomas Jefferson: “All men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We then fought the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, to protect those rights from the tyranny of George III. Included among the explanation for the war of freedom, by the way, was the complaint of the huge expense of maintaining a large standing army.
While this is very interesting, you might well be asking yourself, “What has this got to do with Sunday worship?”
Well, that depends how you understand God’s act of creation.
Most of the world’s communities, whether with one or more gods, had a kind of similar understanding. These gods have little or nothing to do with creating the creation: these gods are in charge of making it operate – in ways beneficial to the gods. Stories about these gods usually include ways in which humans are used in one way or another for the amusement of the gods. Without some sort of major effort, humans could only suffer, or be laughed at, or played with – all for the amusement of the gods.
When our Jewish ancestors were exiled to Babylon (582 BC), and when they ran into the Babylonian story of creation, they were absolutely horrified. This, they quickly saw, has nothing to do with the true meaning of the Great Creation God of the Hebrews. The God of the Hebrews is, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, is “without body, parts, or passions.” I suppose you could say that the Hebrew God is pure intellect. And, of course, that means we too are primarily intellect. You see, my friends, the Hebrew God, according to the Bible, made you and me and all other humans – ever – in the image/likeness of the Hebrew God. Our purpose in being created is to bring Creation itself to fulfillment, and completion – the creation originally produced by the Great Creator God. In our understanding of the world/universe in which we are placed, we are here with a very substantial part to play.
Our task is, simply, to enable the whole of Creation to function together with equality, justice, freedom, caring and peace. That is why throughout the course of every year we renew our Baptismal Covenant several times. This identifies both our task and our activity.
And our worship is set up to remind us that the only goal we have is to live – right now – as part of the process that the evolution that is the very nature of Creation – the fulfillment that it freely can develop – because of the way God created it.
The first part of our liturgy, the readings, tell about history, and how easy it is for people to get wrong ideas. We learn that there are somethings that only our faith can assist with:- and so we recite a statement of that faith.
Then, we join ourselves intimately with the Son of God, as we ask for for an understanding of how our actions and faith can lead us on the path that fulfills the meaning of the Creation. (The general confession that follows in the Book of Common Prayer, comes to us as part of the law and order concept of faith.)
And then, having claimed our unity individually with the Son of God, we then continue to evolve into our new relationship with the same Son of God.
Just as Jesus entered a new kind of human relationship with Creator-God by creating a new family for God while hanging on the cross, so we – with our carefully thought out offertory gift – pledge our lives, our works and our belongings to the service of the Creator by accepting the life of Jesus as our own.
When we do this, we bind ourselves to Jesus, and so are set free in the life blood of Jesus. Then, Jesus, Creator, and each other, all are wrapped together in the warm compulsion of the Holy Spirit.
We are each now committed to devote every aspect of our lives – the way in which we live, the way in which we relate, the way in which we work – every aspect of our lives to helping bring fruition and completion to Creation.
That’s why we come here.
That’s why we leave here – satisfied that we can do our part in fulfilling God’s plan
in evolving Creation.