Today's sermon at ECOOS was provided by Fr. Foss. He did a good job in speaking about 1 John 4:7-21, and John 15:1-8 (he did not bring in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)). He even told a couple of choice personal stories from his youth. One of these was the story of his time in Houston staying with a Christian couple who were visited by a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. The witnesses were treated with respect, and were not corrected, nor were they chastised as being heretics during their 30 minute stay. The message of loving your guests by not challenging them in their faith was not forgotten by the young Charlie Foss.
If he had chosen to bring in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, Charlie might have had to explain the work of the Spirit in Philip's evangelism. Philip started with the scripture and recited the good news of Jesus, converting and subsequently baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch at the nearest watering hole. In a way, Philip was the eunuch's guest, and the eunuch listened and did not argue.
The problem with today's sermon came when Fr. Foss said that "The word behind orthodoxy is unlove." By singling out this group in this way, we are presented with one of the perils of heterodoxy. That is, the inclination to belittle or to call names. This is a tactic we have also seen carried out in the political arena where liberals have used negative language to label conservatives or their views. That all began with "Hawks and Doves" in the Vietnam era and may have reached its zenith with the famous "vast right wing conspiracy" comment of Hillary Clinton.
This name calling has an amazing one way street aspect in that it is okay for Fr. Foss to pin the label of "unlove" on the orthodox, but it is another for the orthodox to ask out loud, "Now, who is being unloving?"
What Fr. Foss should have asked in his sermon was,
"What was the 'word' behind the orthodox friends in Houston?" You remember... the Jehovah's Witness story. What kept Charlie's friends from evangelizing back to their quests, and what kept Charlie's friends from being converted to Jehovah's Witnesses? Firm in their faith, Charlie's friends would not be swayed. The power of love that lies behind orthodoxy held them fast, and maybe helped them bite their tongues, and that love reduced the possibility of starting a small religious war in their kitchen.
If Charlie's friends had shown tough love and gotten into a lengthy argument with their guests, would it have done any good? How do you show love to those of different faiths? To those of us who are poorly practiced and poorly trained in evangelism, to get into a serious theological debate with someone who has the practice and training is a daunting prospect.
I am drawn back to Matthew 10:11-15,
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
And when ye come into an house, salute it.
And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
Tough love is scary stuff. Maybe there is more to this love business than meets the human eye.
Besides the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, Fr. Foss left out any discussion of John 15:6,
"Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."
Does Jesus' tough love for us go too far to be discussed on Sunday morning? I fear that in our quest to feel good about our religion that we don't talk about consequences. We would rather feel that "whoever fears has not reached perfection in love," (1 John 4:18) and we know that must be those unperfected, mean spirited orthodox.
In his article "Perfect Fear Casts Out All 'Luv'" , Peter Kreeft makes the following points,
"God is love. And love is not "luv." Luv is nice; love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the big bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.
The difference between love and "luv" is the difference between the prophetic model of religion and the therapeutic model. In the prophetic model, God commands us to be good. In the therapeutic model, people use religion to make themselves feel good.
Not only are we missing something when fear is absent from religion, but (far worse) we are sinning grievously. For the absence of the fear of God is arrogance and pride. How dare sinners sashay up to God as a chum without first falling down in repentance and fear and calling on the Blood of Christ to save us?
This is not a private opinion; it is the teaching of the Bible, the church, and the saints.
Perfect love casts out fear,
but unless we begin with fear, we cannot progress
to perfect love."
Does the Episcopal Church fear the orthodox? Some of those who will be gathering at the General Convention this summer do. Here is what one priest had to say recently (names redacted and spelling unedited),
"One last thought though. The important thing for us to realize is the conservative fundamentalist evangelicalism is dead. The body is still flopping about, but the coming of age American public has rejected it as mean spirited and homophobic. The largest growing denomination is 'no religious preference' and the proximate cause of that is not the liberal agenda. In fact that group is quite further to the progressive end than TEC. The growth of the unchurched is because Christianity is now represented by its loudest adherents: the Conservative-Fundamentalist-Evangelicals. The path to Christian growth is to better get the message across about a church which has the capacity for more generous reading of scripture and public positions. As a church TEC needs to stop fooling around with mollifying the C-F-Es and become visibly present and clear about its offering of the Good News. The conservatives that .... worries about do need to be part of the discourse and shaping of TEC, but not the C-F-Es. Time to say good bye to them and 'best of luck to you in all your undertakerings.'"
What a fine example of heterodox love. Perhaps after being ousted, a few Conservative-Fundamentalist-Evangelicals (C-F-Es) could knock on a certain church in San Diego's door and hand out some literature. The writer of the above quotation might not treat them as nicely as Fr. Foss's friends treated the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Lord, bestow your love upon us. Help us to keep the Faith you have given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and through Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. That Faith as shown by and taught to us by the apostles. When the world comes knocking, give us the words to speak for that Faith, and give us the strength to say the word again and again, every time the world knocks it down. Love. In Christ's name we pray.