St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, January 17, 2021
“HAVING then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness”
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is a fascinating realm where we are united in one Spirit, by one God, through baptism, in order for each of us to be given unique, differing, and complementary gifts to share with all its members. The more we are one, and the more God is the core truth of our days, the more we are uniquely ourselves. Serving God, as the old prayer says, is perfect freedom. We can’t know who we are until we find ourselves in Him.
This is why we are not a cult. One might view with suspicion all Christians’ uniformity of faith, trusting an invisible God under the banner of a man who lived and died 2,000 years ago, and having our own language of expression. If it were false, these would only be tokens of cultic thinking. But if it were false, Christianity would look and act a great deal differently than it does. While some nominal Christians on the fringes may indeed look and act oddly, even cult-like, yet the main body of believers have a long history of emancipating souls, building schools and hospitals, sacrificing to save lives, and calling up the best in their fellow humans. No wonder the Church is such a threat to the new world order.
I once belonged to a cult. In fact, two times I delved into such a worldview: the Unification Church and a psychic institute. Long ago. That cult experience made me curious about how cults get followers, turn their minds off, control their behaviors, and capture their resources. To know these is to know how to set people free.
Cults don’t need to use drugs or hypnotism in order to catch their prey. What a cult looks for is someone who has been cut off from their life by a recent loss, a circumstance that makes them lonely. The cult invites the loner to dinner, a party, and social gatherings where they are love-bombed by the group, appreciated and fed, given a much-needed social structure. Identifying with the group is attractive, fills a need, feels good and brings them back again. So far, it’s just a lot of nice people.
In the cult there is a sense of common cause and a distrust of the world outside, those who can’t accept us, who aren’t the initiated, who have small minds and hearts. Now the secret comes out. The initiates know the inner truth, and they are protected from that outer world by sharing this knowledge. This fear of others, of evil out there, helps to control the cultists and keep them attached. But why would the world attack your new friends in this loving society?
Here is the interesting piece of the cult phenomenon. A cult has, at the core, a narrative that is always inconsistent with common sense, with real life. The required belief system is incoherent, illogical, strange and, at face value, even ridiculous. This oddity is not a weakness, but a necessary pill for the new adherent to swallow, and the weirder it is, and the more challenging, baffling, and mind-numbing it gets, the more powerful its effect. This gap between reality and the cultic teaching, stretching the credulity of new members, requires trust and eventually a break with the real world. And the vehicle for that breach is through a ritual act, and the adoption of new language.
Each cult has its own lingo. To belong, you need to use the lingo, an act of faith in the new truth. Nonsensical gibberish that defies logic taps the power of words, words by which God created everything out of nothing, and which can both create and destroy. When we adopt the foolish phrases and meaningless words of the cult, we ask our minds to shut down their facility of reason. Trusting the cult leader more than our minds, we become disoriented followers. The brainwashing is complete. We might sell flowers at the airport now, wear saffron robes, live in the commune, and give all our money willingly to be ‘saved’.
The same techniques that call and capture poor loners in cults like the Moonies, Mormons, Branch Davidians, or the Manson gang are used in totalitarian societies as well. The same kinds of false facts and highly loaded, definitive sounding phrases, easily memorized and expressed, with high signs to identify one to another, that mark out a cult, also mark out controlling and tyrannous human governments.
The minds of whole societies under totalitarian regimes must be controlled by fear of others, using loaded language, authoritative statements of a science beyond your understanding, demands for compliance for the sake of safety, and other cultic techniques. And how vulnerable have we, you and I, become to such control and uniformity through those circumstances we face today? It doesn’t have to be a conspiracy, or even intentional. But we’ve been put in limbo and we need to recognize our danger and our need. It’s essential for us to maintain our individuality, our freedom of thinking and evaluating, and also for us to create our own community and healthy social interactions, lest we fall to a psychotic official narrative, no less delusional than that of the Nazis, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any cult.
I’m not going to critique the lockdown measures we’ve seen in reaction to COVID-19. We have all felt the need of various levels of self-protection, and as long as we’re free thinking enough to allow each other non-uniformity, it escapes the cultic power of control. We have witnessed the death of comedy, and may need a bit of irreverent laughter at the weirdness our governors have exemplified to us. Fear is the enemy, and people are afraid to even laugh, afraid to insult someone unawares. We can’t even use gender pronouns in polite speech. Now here I can point at the cult-control of our minds. The statement, “There is no fixed gender in a person: they choose their own,” is a mind-fracturing falsehood. Sorry. Science has determined that every cell in anyone’s body is either male or female, throughout. They can behave as they choose, but dysphoria is not health. And not truth. There are a hundred similar lies passing themselves as the new normal, and laws being passed to uphold them. Of this, beware. Speak your mind. Think. Remaining free will require both compassion for those lost in the maze and the command of reality you know and need to be reminded of.
But what about Christianity? Are we not a cult? We use our own language, believe impossible things, have signals denoting mutual membership and have a fear and distrust of the world around us, don’t we? Sure. That only shows the power of such icon-driven social constructs. But the difference is, you’re free to come and free to go. I don’t use coded language when I get up here and speak, but everyday English that appeals to your reasoning faculties. I don’t preach conformity, safety in sameness, mindless bliss, do I? And I always invite you to differ, call me out when something I say doesn’t make sense to you. Of course, Christ is impossible, that is, His life was full of miracles that do not occur around us on a regular basis. He was God and man, both natures in One Divine Person. Yes. And you don’t have to use that language in order to be accepted here. We stand and recite the Creed, but if you don’t stand, or speak, we’re okay with that. The power of those words strengthens our resolve and trains our minds by our willing submission to these long-held and tested truths.
St. Paul wrote that “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether we are Jewish or Greek, slave or free, God gave all of us one Spirit to drink.” 1 Corinthians 12:13 He was speaking of the commonality we share as members of Christ’s Body. That’s inner language, but it’s published worldwide, an open secret. We are people who see each other. And who feel a common bond. That’s the danger of 15 months to stop the spread with people afraid to venture out their doors. We need each other. I might thank God for Zoom, here. Were it not at least for that feature, you online would have had no church last year at all. Were we to comply with the most drastic regulations, no church service could be held anywhere. But this isn’t church, it’s a protest. Remember that.
Cults feed on fear and uniformity with the illogical use of words and ideas. The Church thrives on peace of mind and wonder at the goodness of God spoken in deep phrases expressing our faith in the One who made us all. “There is one body and one Spirit. In the same way you were called to share one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over everything, through everything, and in everything.” Eph 4
Paul says that if everyone was an eye, how could we walk? If we were all feet, how could we grasp anything? Once we’ve entered the Church, and God’s Spirit enters us, we find out what we’ve been created for, and for each of us, that job is different. God “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Eph 4
Our differing gifts bring many things to the table, for the benefit of us all. Our unity and love allow plentiful space for the uniqueness in each of us to be expressed for the good of all. That’s a healthy society. That’s why we need each other. No top-down uniformity, no mind-stopping code phrases, but real life in Christ, in the presence of one another. Don’t get shut behind closed doors and believing the engineered dogma that come from a plasma screen. As soon as you can, come in your Church doors and join us in real life again. We need your many and differing gifts and voices.