Monday, August 15, 2011

The Enduring Remnant

Romans 11:1-12
Matthew 15:21-28

"Separation of Church and State" has become something of a battle cry for non-Christians and even some Christian groups. The phrase itself is not found in the US Constitution but is actually Thomas Jefferson's expression of how the establishment clause of the 1st amendment "builds a wall of separation between Church and state", as he wrote in a letter to a CT Baptist association, because the Constitution prohibits the federal government from promoting or prohibiting religion. In other words, the Church will rise or fall on her own merits and not by any exercise of or by the US Congress. Mr. Jefferson was telling the CT Baptist association he would not intervene nor ask the Congress to intervene in whatever issues they were having with their own state legislature. And judging by the content of the Baptist association letter to Jefferson, it appears they were demanding civil "laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ." The letter itself, however, does not specify exactly what they were seeking.

We can interpret Jefferson's words any number of ways, but the general understanding has usually been that there is no "official" American church or religion. It has historically been taken for granted that Christianity is, at the very least, the "dominant" religion of the United States because the majority of Americans were - and are - Christians, but we are Christians not because the Constitution or the Congress says we can be. We are Christians because our Holy God and Father "so loved the world that He gave His only Son". We are Christians because we believe this Eternal Truth and have chosen to respond in a positive way. We are Christians because we believe this Gospel is for ALL of humanity. I hope.

Recently the governor of Texas participated in a revival called "The Response". He not only helped to plan the event, he was arguably the star attraction though there were others. The whole point of the revival was to awaken our nation to the reality that we may be under judgment because of what we are surrounded by: wars, famine, poverty, injustice, unconscionable debt, fear, and uncertainty to name only some. For his part Gov. Perry read Scripture, shared a few words, and then led the gathering in prayer which included a prayer for the president. The event called the faithful to intense prayer and fasting, those means of grace so embraced by Methodism as necessary to a more intimate relationship with the Lord to discern His will. And people protested the gathering outside the stadium where this prayer service was being held.

The protests centered on the fact that a public official - Gov. Perry - had actively promoted the event. It is said the governor used the letterhead of his office to encourage the people of Texas to attend. Because the gathering was uniquely Christian, the protesters insisted a specific religion was being promoted by "the state" to the exclusion of non-Christians even though "all" were invited to attend. Additionally, the motive of the governor has been called into question because he was widely believed to be a potential presidential candidate who was only using this event as a springboard to his possible candidacy in an effort to appeal to a particular voting demographic.

That non-Christians protested the event is not surprising. It is rather the extraordinary number of Christians who chose to protest the event outside the arena rather than go inside and participate in the prayers. That a state official participated is not the problem because even state officials enjoy the same rights to (or from) religion as the rest of us - as afforded our president who sponsored and participated in the Islamic Iftar at the White House, the dinner celebrated to break the fast of Ramadan (been done since the days of President Clinton). Rather the problem is that a substantial number of Christians were near enough to participate with fellow Christians in prayer but chose to protest instead.

Are we so far gone as a secular society that we would disallow a state official from active participation in a public worship venue? Have we become so cynical that we would question the motives of any Christian who happens to hold public office and chooses to gather in a public place to worship - AND - actively participate? Are we so judgmental as to suggest that any public official who attends anything other than the "respectable" hour of Sunday worship to be suspect?

The answer to all the above is a resounding "yes". We are that "far gone", we are that "cynical", and we are that "judgmental" because we have become entirely too wrapped up in the affairs of "state" nearly to the exclusion of "church". The "state", you see, is where our "real life" is. The "state" takes money from our wages without our consent, the "state" tells us where we can or cannot go and how fast or slow we must go, the "state" issues us a license to participate in the holy sacrament (or ordinance) of matrimony (effectively giving us 'permission' to be wed), and the "state" is coming dangerously close to usurping parental authority as to what our children can or must do.

And we seem to be ok with all this. Oh, we let slip the occasional moan and groan about our tax liability or some other social issue as it particularly offends us personally, but we make deliberate choices each and every day to pay homage to the "state" while the "church" gets whatever is left over, including our time. We have learned, ironically through the "respectable" church", to give heed to our "real" master (the "state") who governs our daily living by its own rules and regulations. By the time we give this master our time and attention and money, we are just too spent to offer much else - especially when we are not "forced" to. After all, we believe ourselves to be "free".

Do you ever notice that the life of the typical Christian does not come close to the hunger and devotion and tenacity of the Canaanite woman of Matthew (15:21-28)? Even by Jesus' own words, He came "only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", the chosen. By Jesus' own words, there is an implied sense of "entitlement" that is reserved exclusively for the chosen of the Lord even though the Gospel accounts make it very clear that the faithful see Jesus as, at the very least, a point of curiosity; at most, highly suspect. Very few pursue Jesus so relentlessly as the Canaanite woman or the lepers or others who found themselves with a particular need at a particular time. Indeed the Canaanite woman is concerned primarily with her demon-possessed daughter.

Would she have come to Jesus otherwise? It is impossible to say except by what is implied. She was a Canaanite, possibly a pagan who worshipped many gods - that is, if she worshipped at all. It is reasonable to believe she would not have bothered with Jesus at all except that she had probably heard rumors about this "Messiah" who was miraculously healing people. So to get something only for herself and/or those whom she loved, she was willing to pursue this "Son of David", the lineage of which had once conquered that land and united the Kingdom. It was worth a shot anyway. For the sake of her beloved daughter, there was no price too high - even personal pride and humility in her expressed willingness to be content with divine "scraps" from the Table of Righteousness. She knew she was not among the "chosen", but she was nevertheless hoping for a little compassion and mercy.

Where is the "church" in all this? How does the "church" respond? By word of the disciples, devoted followers of Jesus who went to the Lord not on the needy woman's behalf but on their own behalf: 'Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us'. She is annoying us, she is bothering us, she is making us very uncomfortable ... she is putting at risk what is rightfully reserved for us. Reckon?

Here's the thing, though. The Canaanite woman IS the "enduring remnant". No, she is likely not a Jew and she is certainly not a Christian, but she is the epitome of what the Lord desires! She hungrily, relentlessly, tenaciously, and yet humbly, pursues the Lord. She does not "demand" nor expect a place at the Table; she will settle for the table scraps, blessings sufficient for the day. And it must not go without notice that the "church" (the disciples) found her at the very least annoying, and perhaps at most a potential threat to what they believed was theirs.

The faith and hunger of the Canaanite woman is the faith to which the Church is called. This is the confessing faith of St. Peter, the very foundation of the Holy Church. This is the "remnant" that will remain, the ones devoted to the Lord, the ones hungry for the Lord, the ones who relentlessly pursue the Lord AT ALL COST! This is the faith that will hope and settle for the table scraps but will be offered so much more on that glorious Day of the Lord when He returns for His faithful, the remnant that endured to the end. For you see, the Covenant of the Lord through Christ is that of faith, not of lineage, and certainly not of empty religious practices. It is one of tenacious endurance and not of denomination.

Let us be found worthy. Let us be found enduring. Let us be found wanting. And let us be found by Him ... waiting and watching. Amen.

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