Saturday, November 16, 2019

Loving People Right where They Are

    Christianity is a way for living life that says we are to love others just the way God loves us.  St. John in his Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:14)

    So, how does God love us?  The answer is unconditionally, just as we are, even while we are less than perfect according to the mind and will of God.  St. Paul expresses this in Romans 5:8 thusly, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the immense and unqualified love of God for each one of us.  

     There is, however, a phenomena very prevalent in some quarters today that equates not agreeing with someone with not loving them.   For instance, this is often the case in the ongoing homosexual debate in which Christians are stereotyped as homophobic.  There are surely Christians who are indeed homophobic, just as there are plenty of non-Christians who are homophobic, but the fact is that the Christian is commanded not to be!   It is simply un-Christian to hate anybody and not want the best for them.  Jesus gives us examples of this throughout the Gospels; two good ones are the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and the woman brought to Jesus who had been caught in adultery (John 8).

    One of the marks of the Kingdom of God is loving people right where they are, regardless their actions, beliefs, behaviors, sins and dysfunctions, and regardless of whether we agree with them of not.  This is the way, of course, that God loves us, but  if you know God, then you know He loves us too much to leave us where we are- This is what Jesus is all about.

     By the Spirit of God in us, we can love with this same Godly unconditional love.  This is part and parcel to the authentic Christian journey.  In our fallen humanity, however, this is a tough road to learn to walk.  Albeit imperfectly, I strive to love people right where they are, want the best for them, and be their friend in the truest sense of the word.  I think my homosexual friends will largely affirm this in me.  One of the great freedoms to be found in Christ is the power and wisdom to love people with whom one disagrees and to love them right where they are. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Surviving in Dark Places

An article originally published in the August 2018 newsletter of the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, North Augusta, SC:

Back in my electrical engineering days, I was the interim manager of a power generation and transmission system on the island of New Guinea.  As a Christian, I found the region a spiritually oppressive place.  Most of the people were either Muslim or indigenous animist.  

Looking back on it, I can list three things that helped spiritually sustain Nancy and me during that time:

·   First was our willingness to boldly and unreservedly be Christian in spite of the spiritual darkness, oppression and opposition around us.  We simply remembered who we are and whose we are.

·   Secondly was our staying in Scripture and continuing to seek the mind of Christ in all things and in all ways.

·   And last but not least, was finding other Christians with whom to fellowship, worship and continue to grow in Christ.  There were not many Christians where we were, but Jesus said that when two or three are gathered in His name, He will be in the midst of them (Matt 18:20).

But one does not have to travel 11 time zones away to find spiritual darkness.  Over the last half-century or so, our American Culture has entered into its own spiritual darkness.  For a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs, we have willingly moved into a secular-humanist wasteland in which Christianity is no longer welcome in the public square.  This has taken place with most Americans still claiming to be Christian and almost a thrid of Americans attending Church on Sundays.  
Nancy's and my three observations for sustaining ourselves in spiritual darkness are coming in pretty handy right here at home.  As Joshua says in Joshua 24:15-  "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Cross at the Center of History

Homily delivered by the Reverend Rob Hartley at the North Augusta Community Lenten Service, April 10, 2019

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

        On Good Friday, this church family will gather in this place, as many of you will do in your churches.  We will read the passion narrative from John’s Gospel, and we will also read this beautifully moving passage from Philippians.  It is called the Christ Hymn because it takes us the central act of Salvation History, which is the Cross of Christ.    
        Historians, sociologists, or anthropologists look at the broad sweep of human history and see it as events stitched together, often as a result of circumstances, human effort, or just chance, all contributing to bring humanity to where it is today.  But how about us Christians? How do we view history? From what perspective?  Hopefully, we view it from God’s perspective?
        Human history is wildly chaotic and messy for sure, but we know that God’s plan is being played out in spite of you and me.  We know that God’s providential and redemptive hand has been upon human history from the beginning.   He gives us one of His first hints to this in Genesis 3 after the couple falls into sin and rebellion. Gao says they will someday Crush Satan’s head; in other words, they will have victory over the powers of darkness that have now come to inhabit creation and the human heart.  God has overlaid human history with Salvation History. We know that this eventual and inevitable victory belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ for it says in Scripture, “In the fullness of time, Christ came to die for us… and as Paul puts it this morning in Philippians, “Christ being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
        So, as surely as Creation has a beginning and an end, it has a center, which is the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the climax of God’s great redemptive plan.  And this amazing cosmic event is what we are preparing for this Lent.  Jesus has redeemed us; we have been rescued from ourselves, which is why Paul writes this morning- “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!  Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

“Holy Trinity- A beacon drawing people to God and into the fellowship of God’s People.”

The Anglican Church of teh Holy Trinity uses this mission statement month-after-month in our newsletters and elsewhere.  This, statement suggests that we (the Body of Christ in this place) are a beacon (the light of Christ) shining into dark places (into the world around us steeped in sin and darkness), calling others to something better, which is a new life in Christ.  Our mission statement captures the Gospel Imperative of Matthew 28:19,20 (the Great Commission)-  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Through the “Good News” we bear and the Godly lives we live, we permeate our culture as a beacon of hope to a perishing world, for Christ is this world’s only hope.  This is the message we project with our mission statement, and the message has probably never been more needed than in these times of moral and spiritual disarray.  
       If we are going to be effective at being Christ to the world around us, we need to understand it.   Edwin Lutzer in his book, The Church in Babylon, outlines some of the sources of the moral and spiritual disarray we have inherited:

·   The bitter fruit of the sexual revolution- From a Christian perspective on sexuality, Western Civilization is in open rebellion.  Like many revolutions, there are consequences and causalities, such as stable biological families, the sacredness of life both born and pre-born, the divine beauty and integrity of life-long, monogamous marital relationships, the virtues of a life sacrificially lived for others rather than for instant self-gratification, and then finally, loss of God’s moral absolutes in the face of man-made relativism. 

·   The bitter fruit of the technology revolution- Television and instant media have proven to be allies the sexual revolution.  Technology has been a blessing in so many ways, but it requires the exercise of Godly virtues to counter its poisonous fruit. 

·   The bitter fruit of the anti-Christian revolution- Secularism has grown intolerant of the Christian worldview.  Alasdair MacIntyre, a moral philosopher who captured my attention back in my seminary days, writes in his book, After Virtue, that Western Civilization has lost its ethical and virtuous moorings.  It is up to the Church to carry the virtues of Godly living through these spiritually dark times and throw a lifeline to those who want to join us.                                                   
To God be the Glory, Father Rob