Nothing is Holy
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Trinity, July 5, 2020
“O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal…”
TODAY, A FALSE BUT PRETTY LESSON is given to most children in school. You can be anything you want to be. It’s meant to be a corrective for artificial limits we used to place on people of color, or on women, or certain social classes, telling them to stay in their place. Of course, that’s wrong and we have women and Black Americans working every kind of profession, living in luxury, and taking full part in the American dream. Almost anything is possible, and what is possible should be encouraged.
But there are some things you may want to be, something you wish to do, that aren’t your path by nature, by the physical limitations that reality places on us all. I am never going to be a mother, for evident reasons. A young male should not be running in a race for young women. And I should not insist on being a starter for the Golden State Warriors: I can’t run and I can’t jump, and I can’t slam-dunk a ball.
Likewise, an Anglican bishop ought to be a man who believes in and teaches Christ, the Saviour of all, and the Holy Trinity. I swear to hold those as truth and teach them as a condition of my calling. Disbelieving in God disqualifies a person from serving God in His Church.
America is a free country, meaning that you may believe what you will and build your life within the reasonable constraints of reality, including the possibility of being an atheist. But, this land was invented around the guiding light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a Protestant idea that each person is responsible before God for a personal life choice. We are saved by faith. The founders believed and clearly wrote that a self-governing people must be people of religion, preferably Christianity, for if they are not governed by God above, they will make poor rulers of themselves and of others.
The late 20th century ushered in an experimental age. This age suggests that “we can be good without God. God is not scientific. God is a construct of an era of oppression and superstition. God is an excuse for war and bigotry. God is pie in the sky. God was a nice story for our childhood, but now we are grown up. We live, we die and nothing remains of us, nor are we judged for how we have lived.”
The Collect today, not a scriptural quote but a summation of biblical truth, says to God that He is “the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy.” We think we are strong. We send men to the moon, wage wars that could destroy the planet, drill for oil five miles down, and capture the power of the sun. Great. Then come Hurricane Katrina or the Camp Fire. Go ahead, human race, flex your muscle against 2,000 degrees of heat, or a Tsunami. Nothing is strong when faced with just one perfect storm.
And without God nothing is holy. What is ‘holy?’ What does that mean? We take it to mean special and good, but it’s more specific than that. Webster’s has ‘holy’ to mean: “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness;” and “devoted entirely to God or the work of God.” Something holy is set aside from daily use and given to God. As such, you and I are brought out of the world, as in this church, to face God and devote our words, hearts, thoughts and devotions to the God of all worlds. That makes us holy. Without God, we cannot be holy.
And nothing without God is holy. The experiment of godlessness is just now playing itself out. TS Eliot, the great Anglican poet, wrote that: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.”
The experiment is failing. Remember: the experiment is attempting to be good without God. Having gotten quite close to a good society by the faith of people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Billy Graham, we abandoned their God to speed up the job. And now we have lost their vision and the power behind it. A new unholy people are rising up to build nothing, and to tear everything once high and noble apart. Hundreds of statues in city squares across America have fallen and been defaced. Not just Confederate generals. Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt, the Pioneer statue for the University of Oregon, and a bronze elk. Nothing is holy. Abraham Lincoln is being called evil things as this insanity rages its iconoclasm to senseless hatred of anything beautiful, anything high. This church is an outrage to certain minds, and why? Because it is beautiful. And because of God.
St. Paul wrote that we certainly suffer under godless powers, but he was “convinced that any suffering we endure is less than nothing compared to the magnitude of glory that is about to be unveiled within us.” Rom 8:18 Denying God does not kill Him, and His people remain and shall be vindicated on that Day. “We who have already experienced the firstfruits of the Spirit,” he continues, “also inwardly groan as we passionately long to experience our full status as God’s sons and daughters—including our physical bodies being transformed. For this is the hope of our salvation. But hope means that we must trust and wait for what is still unseen… because our hope is set on what is yet to be seen, we patiently keep on waiting for its fulfillment.”
It’s either true or it’s not. We await a great Day when our Lord rewards us, and all who want Him, with an eternal home and bliss. If we’re wrong, we’re happily wrong. Nevertheless, if we’re wrong, we ought to come to our senses and abandon this false hope. If we’re right, there are a lot of people who need this faith and don’t have it.
And what are we to do toward those who will have none of it? Jesus said, “Show mercy and compassion for others, just as your heavenly Father overflows with mercy and compassion for all… Forsake the habit of criticizing and judging others, and then you will not be criticized and judged in return. Don’t look at others and pronounce them guilty, and you will not experience guilty accusations yourself. Forgive over and over and you will be forgiven over and over.” Luke 6 That doesn’t sound intolerant. When did Jesus judge another? He, who had a divine right to judge, only spoke words of judgment over religious leaders who led people astray, away from God, by their authority and false teaching. That was what made Jesus shout, overturn tables, and break the cages of doves. So how should we be? Loving. Love where it makes no sense to love. Not stupidly, not with quaint non-sensical aphorisms, but in muscular, self-sacrificing love. Ask yourself, What would Jesus do? And then do it.
Christ in today’s Gospel then turns ophthalmologist. The blind are foolish to follow the blind. It’s a common saying, but He said it best. And I ask: does anyone today follow those who don’t know where they are going? Is there any real objective to many of today’s philosophies? Can burning half a city make a better city? Does it make us love each other? And even if you’re not blind, your vision will be only as good as your eyes are free of stuff that gets in the way. Don’t try to find the dust speck in another’s eye when you have a log in your eye. It sounds obvious, but the moral outrage of many, regardless of affiliation, often increases with the immorality of the lives of those who are outraged. We might see better without the veins in our eyes being so swollen and red.
God protects all of us if we trust in Him, the prayer says. Trusting in Him means to see what is there and not get fearful, angry, frustrated, or vengeful. Not everything is a conspiracy. It just seems that way. God is not mocked. We don’t give up on His power, His wisdom, His grace, His love: because only He can deliver us in the end. Without Him, nothing is strong. And nothing is holy. Without Him: that’s a sad place to be. Our prayer continues in asking Him to “increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” Spelled out, we are asking God to ramp up His mercy toward us, forgiving our sins, errors and misjudgments, and raise our faith, hope and charity levels to the full. We ask it so that He, as our ruler, king, master, leader, and guide, might show us the path through the things we see, but are temporary, and never lose our grasp on what is unseen, but will last for eternity.
When nothing is holy, there is no hope for humankind. America, 244 years old, was founded in a holy desire for the freedom of the human soul. That has its limits, as Abe Lincoln says, at least at the tip of another man’s nose. It has limits imposed by a divine design of things, male or female, tall or short, fast or slow. Asked that, if a tail could be called a leg, how many legs would a dog have? Abe Lincoln simply said, “Four. It doesn’t matter what you call it, a tail is a tail.”
Lincoln sadly saw a nation torn into two warring camps. “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.” 2nd inaugural address
America’s pain in this moment is an old injustice. We hate it. We are living to make that blot against our creed, our constitution, our declaration, a thing of no remaining effect. It doesn’t happen by denial of history, but by a special grace of love, holy love, God’s love. Without love, without God, nothing will endure or make anything holy again.