Sunday, June 14, 2009

Magnificent, Once Again

"The church has always been at its worse when it has destroyed the unique to make place for the commonplace.

Contemporary examples are abundant. In recent years, we have witnessed the strange and sad career of the American church in the public square. Too often, the church has drifted from its core mission. It has experienced an identity crisis, at times becoming little more than an instrument of the state or a political party or an economic system. The magnificent has been subverted by the mundane.

Or consider prayer: Pascal said that God has instituted prayer so as to confer upon man the dignity of being a cause. How often have we transformed prayer, the soul’s magnificent leap into the arms of God, into selfish bargaining for personal health, wealth, and success?

Or preaching: In the life of Jesus, preaching was a means of saving lives through mass communication. But in recent years, preaching has been downgraded into a shrill, sharp weapon used by petty men to promote arrogant piety, intolerance, and blind patriotism.

But not only has the church drifted from its mission; certain forces in the culture have seduced it with offers of power, money, and status. Political operatives have utilized church rolls to enlist Christians for unholy political agendas.

It is here that the culture needs to collide with Christ, here that we need to revisit Paul’s testimony from Corinthians. He declares “we preach not ourselves.” This faith, this holy drama which has given meaning to our lives is from God and not of our making. And as we preach and worship and sing and steward resources and make decisions, we do so as earthen vessels or jars of clay. God’s treasure exists in each of us imperfect vessels. We are not perfect, no matter how polished we appear. We are clay jars, we are fragile, and we break when we’re dropped.

In the words of one sage, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” But look again. In the middle of this passage Paul startles us with something that sounds like a preacher singing the blues: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

A contemporary bluesman might hear Paul and respond, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

But in the face of our own despair, and confronting the systems of this world that seek to rent or buy us, we must stand with the theologian Karl Barth who said that on every page of the Bible there is one word for this world’s power systems. That word is “no.” The good news is “no, you cannot have my soul.”

No, you cannot destroy the church of Jesus Christ. No, you may cause confusion but you cannot rend asunder that which God has joined together."

Excerpt from the sermon, 'Magnificent, Once Again'

Delivered by Dr. Robert Franklin,
Former President Interdenominational Theological Center
Atlanta, Georgia
at the Installation Service for Dr. Brad Braxton, pastor
Riverside Church, New York


Anonymous said...

It (The Church) has experienced an identity crisis, at times becoming little more than an instrument of the state or a political party or an economic system.

Sounds like Liberation Theology to me!

Gerald Britt said...

Sounds like someone who selectively read the excerpt from the sermon to make an unnecessary and totally irrelevant point...