July 29, 2018
“They understood not concerning the loaves, for their heart was blinded” Mark 6:52
There was an interesting story in the news this week about a boy who graduated from a college in Florida recently at age 11. His mother said he was doing advanced math at age one. Stories about child prodigies inevitably leave us feeling humbled and awestruck. Although we hear the story and see the picture of the boy in cap and gown receiving his diploma, we nevertheless shake our heads and say to ourselves, “This is totally incredible. I don’t believe it.” We live in a world full of wonders, many of which are hard to believe. But just because something is hard to believe, doesn’t mean it didn’t really happen. Saint Matthew said that when Jesus appeared to his disciples bodily resurrected on a mountain in Galilee they all fell down and worshipped him, “but some doubted.” In other words, the disciples had a natural human reaction to the miracle they witnessed. They were joyful to see Jesus alive after seeing him crucified and buried but they also shook their heads while rubbing their eyes and said to themselves, “I’m seeing this but I can’t believe it. This is incredible!” While it’s an event considerably more mundane then the resurrection of Christ, it’s nevertheless incredible that an eleven-year-old boy graduated from college. But he did: true story.
But the most amazing part of the story to me was what the boy said about his goal in life. When asked what he wanted to do next, he said that his goal in life was to become an astrophysicist and use science to prove the existence of God. He’s eleven mind you. His ambitions reminded me of the story of Jesus in the temple. At age twelve, Jesus disappeared for three days in Jerusalem. When his anxious and distraught parents found him debating with the rabbis in the Temple he said to them, “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” The point of that story is that Jesus had a unique relationship to God our heavenly Father. He didn’t become the Son of God at his baptism. He was always, from before his birth, one with God whom he alone had the divine right to call “my Father.” He was never at any time without the divine nature. He was God in the womb of Mary his mother, whom we call the Mother of God. Therefore, Christianity is not just one more religion among many. Christianity alone was established by God who become a man, and suffered at the hands of men, in order to establish true religion in this fallen world. That story also reminds us that just as Jesus was doing God’s work from birth, we must also follow him in doing God’s business every day. Neither you nor I is called to die on a cross and ascend into heaven. Christ has done that for us. But each one of us, baptized in his name and blessed with the Holy Spirit, is called by God to do something important for his kingdom. You may think you’re insignificant, but you’re not. God has given each of us a part to play in this great drama of salvation that he has created and this drama is not complete without you. If you’re alive on this earth, God has you here for a reason. Don’t let a sinful world bring you down or intimidate you. It takes courage to live. It takes courage to faithfully serve the Lord. Have courage, keep your baptismal vows, and always, always live for God.
This young boy who feels called to use science to prove the existence of God is going to need courage. Modern American academia, into which he’s headed, is dominated by hardened atheists who will resist his attempts to use science to prove the existence of God. Fortunately, his task is not as daunting as it sounds. Science already points convincingly to the Creator. (In fact, I’m going to give that sermon next week. Be here next Sunday, I’m going to prove the existence of God using science.) The bigger challenge lay in convincing a modern agnostic audience to listen to reason. Modern science is not the problem. The problem is that no matter what evidence you put before them, modern people hesitate to believe the Gospel because they have been taught and have come to believe almost without question that science has all the answers; that faith is just romantic fiction whereas science deals in cold hard facts. This is utter nonsense and yet it has become the common belief of the modern age, a kind of secular dogma that’s hard to break.
How did the modern world become so faithless? Today’s Gospel story in part explains it. Saint Mark tells us that Jesus’ apostles, even after seeing Him feed the five thousand, did not understand about the loaves; that is, they did not believe in his divine nature. Therefore, God blinded their hearts so that even as he came to them walking on water, they could not rejoice in the miracle they were witnessing. When they could have been jubilant they were fearful and confused. In other words, Jesus used the occasion of his walking on water to teach his church a valuable lesson about faith and where it comes from. Faith is needed for salvation; and not just any faith. No one is saved without faith in the divinity of Christ. As Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14.6). It’s not enough to recognize that Jesus was a great man and to admire him, speak well of him, and imitate him. He was a great man and we are called to imitate him and “to walk in love as Christ loved us” (Eph. 5.1-2). But Jesus was also fully God, something no other man has been or could be. And therefore we are called to worship him and him only. Anyone who is worshiping someone or something other than him is worshiping someone or something other than God. That’s not good enough for salvation. The faith that leads to salvation is convinced of the divinity of Christ.
That means that all of this talk about the “faith community,” putting every faith no matter what it teaches about God and Christ on the same level, is nonsense. Christ did not come into the world to bless every pagan cult in the Roman Empire and every faithless Buddhist sect in the Far East. He came to establish what he called “my church,” the one institution in the world with whom God has deposited the revelation of himself, the Gospel of our salvation. It’s good to get along with our neighbors and live in peace with everyone regardless of what they believe, but that does not mean that what they believe is true. Jesus’ parting words to his church before he left them to return to heaven was “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”(Mt. 28.20). In other words, no one will be saved who has not been baptized in the name of the one true and living God. Christianity is important in a way that no other religion is important, because Jesus Christ is important in a way that no other religious leader is, was, or ever will be. He’s not just important to us who know him. He is important to the whole human race because he is God. What I just said may be extremely offensive to a politically correct society that values religious pluralism and multiculturalism. But as unpopular as that teaching may be, it has the advantage of being true. “Blessed are you who take no offense at me “Jesus said. He wasn’t looking for acceptance from a diverse politically correct culture when he said that. He was making a point, however divisive, that If you don’t know Jesus Christ, crucified, died and risen, you don’t know God.
That’s one important lesson to take from this story of Jesus coming to his church walking on water and here’s another: faith is a gift we receive from God. If you have faith in Jesus Christ you have God to thank for it. God gives us faith when we’re ready to receive it and he gives only as much as we are able to receive. Once he opens your eyes and lets you see the truth of the gospel, it’s then up to you to keep the faith and to seek more of it. That is why the disciples asked Jesus at another time to “increase our faith.” He alone can do that. Faith comes to us from him who alone has the power to reveal the Father to us (Mt.11.27). But he only reveals the truth of the Gospel to those who hunger for it and whose heart is ready to serve him (Mt.5.6). If you feel your faith is weak and your understanding of the Gospel is confused and partial at best, then do this: confess your unbelief to God and ask God to increase your faith and remove your doubts. Ask for conviction, rock-solid conviction in the truth of the Gospel, and tell him how you will use that faith once he reveals it to you. Tell him what cross you will bear for him. Tell him the suffering you are willing to endure for him and thank him for the suffering he endured for you. This means that you have to pray, really pray. There is a detail in the story we read this morning about prayer. Did you catch it? After feeding the five-thousand, Jesus escaped from his disciples and from the crowds for a while and “went into the hills to pray.” Prayer doesn’t just casually happen. You have to be intentional about it. You have to go away into a quiet place to be alone with God. And then talk to God. Talk out loud, move your lips. Prayer is talking to God from the heart and being honest with God about your feelings. Jesus set the example. We saw him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with intense emotion. Follow his example in prayer and he will increase your faith.
The message from the pulpit today is this: Put your faith in Jesus Christ and pray that your faith in Him who has come down from heaven to accomplish our redemption will never waver. Pray for faith to know and to do God’s will and God will increase your faith. Keep praying and God will change your Sunday-school faith into an unshakeable conviction. Keep praying further and God will transform you from a person hiding in the pews into a saint, a faithful soul who bears witness to Christ everywhere she goes, everyday, by everything she says and does. After church today, when asked what the sermon was about, tell them it was about the importance of having faith in Jesus Christ and of praying for faith.
But as we all know modern men and women are reluctant to pray to a divine savior because we live in an age of radical unbelief, an age that believes that science has discredited the Gospel of God and has effectively proven that prayer to a Creator is just superstition. And to make matters worse, it’s not just non-Christians who are infected with this spirit of agnostic doubt but so are many of the clergy, Catholic and Protestant alike. Many people today even inside the church do not believe in the divinity of Christ or in prayer. Like the apostles to whom Jesus came walking on the water, they are in the boat, they belong to the church but they don’t understand about the loaves. They love Jesus but they don’t really understand who Jesus is, they don’t believe in his divine nature.
How did it happen that so many Christians lost their faith in the supernatural elements of the Gospel and have succumbed to the agnosticism of the modern age? It’s simple really. Somewhere around 1960, we let go of the traditional teaching of the church that seemed old and tired and we ran away with new teachers who promised exciting changes. Like the old man who leaves his wife of fifty years to run away with a twenty something, we made a mistake and today we’re paying for it with empty pews and a nation that no longer takes the voice of the church seriously. God wants us to believe in Him and when we do not, God disciplines those he loves by withholding his grace.
The Gospel story for today illustrates this point. After witnessing the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’ disciples still did not believe in his divine nature. Therefore, God let them go out in a boat rowing by their own strength into a wind at night. Without Jesus in the boat to help them, they accomplished nothing. And then he blinded their hearts so that when He came to them walking on the water that night, they did not celebrate in joy the advent of their Savior but they recoiled in fear of him as though he were a ghost. God would eventually give them faith but only after they had suffered the humiliation of deserting him when he went to the cross; only after they saw him bodily resurrected and finally believed in his divinity. That same thing is happening to the church today. Because of our unbelief, because we have caved under pressure from a modern secular state and accepted multiculturalism as the norm, denying Jesus Christ his divine right to rule over us as king, and virtually ceasing to evangelize, God has blinded our hearts. God is angry with his church and has left us with blind guides who are presiding over the decline of Christianity, people with no understanding of how to turn this slowly sinking ship around. God is punishing his church today for surrendering to secularism and for conceding an argument to atheistic science when the case for faith in the Creator and in Jesus Christ is really so easy to make.
Who knows? Maybe God will act through that precocious boy who wants to prove by science that God exists, and maybe he’ll lead us out of this. But one thing is sure; God will lift the veil from our eyes and give us understanding again only after we have suffered enough and when the time is right. Until then, the churches in America and Europe will continue to be on the defensive and to decline in influence because God doesn’t give a damn about secular society, political correctness, or multiculturalism. God cares about the Gospel. And he has little use for a church that won’t do evangelism because it is afraid to offend others.
There is only one thing to do: pray for faith. Ask God to increase your faith in direct proportion to the sincerity of your repentance, and ye shall receive. And make no mistake about it: the faith that saves begins with the full unconditional acceptance of the unique divinity of Christ. When we get that straight in our minds and in our hearts, in our public schools and universities and in our church seminaries blessings will follow. And ask God to raise up a new generation of priests and bishops who have unshakeable faith in the truth of the Gospel and who are not afraid to make the case for Christ to a secular society that is, like the disciples in that boat rowing into the wind in the dark but going nowhere, perishing without Him.
Here’s what I mean. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church caused quite a sensation with the feisty homily he served up at the royal wedding last month. It was a long discourse about romantic love, the power of love, and how wonderful and good it is to be in love, as though that is all marriage is about. But it was very well delivered which diverted attention away from its totally humanistic content. The most revealing part of this teaching about love and marriage came near the end, when he quoted Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and then expounded upon his teaching for another five minutes. There are two ways to make yourself seem smarter than you are. One is to affect a British accent. The other is to quote a French author. But it’s very alarming when a bishop quotes Teilhard to support his view because Teilhard, although he was a Jesuit and a scholar, was also an atheist and a communist. His works are on public display with those of Marx and Lenin in Moscow’s Hall of Atheism. So why would any preacher or priest bother with him? Many do because he became arguably the most influential theologian in the Catholic Church in the twentieth century. And all the churches are suffering today because of it. I’m not delving into Teilhard’s theology in detail but only to say that in his faithless view everything in the universe can be accounted for by evolution. He did not believe in the Creator nor did he believe that God had come down to us in Christ. He believed that human beings are naturally evolving into a higher spiritual community and that the goal of evolution is to make us all one, and when that perfect unity of humanity is achieved by evolution that will be our salvation. In other words, the Gospel is a hoax. There is no supernatural. There is no original sin, no heaven-sent redeemer, no atonement on the cross, no sacramental absolution of our sin. Nor is there need for it. The only thing in the universe that deserves our worship is nature itself. The only thing we have that is really sacred to us is love.
That I suspect is why the presiding bishop chose to quote him. Quoting a French theologian who speaks about love is very impressive to people who know next to nothing about theology and so are easily impressed by those who seem to know something. But when your bishops begin to quote atheists and communists, alarm bells ought to sound. The church has a problem. Teilhard died about fifty years ago, but his influence over the church is still enormous. Why is that? He was great writer with a big personality and a Jesuit pedigree but his writing was condemned by John XXIII. And yet the present Pope, a modern Jesuit, is clearly one of his disciples as is our presiding bishop. How did this happen?