Homily for the Morning Office, January 17, 2009
Mere Anglicanism, Charleston SC
By the Chaplain, The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding
The Old Testament lesson this morning is from the beginning of Chapter 43 of Isaiah. Chapter 42 has been a chapter of God’s judgment upon the idols and upon Israel for following the idols. The purpose of judgment in the Bible is never simply condemnation. The purpose of judgment is that the people might turn and be saved. Eugene Peterson, the great spiritual writer and interpreter of the Bible, paraphrases the end of Chapter 42 thus; “Their whole world collapsed but they still did not get it, their life is in ruins but they didn’t take it to heart.”
So we come to the reading this morning, “But now thus says the Lord. . .Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.” There then comes a description of how God is gathering His people who have been divided and scattered. Peterson puts it, “Don’t be afraid. I will round up all your scattered children.”
God then sets up a tribunal. This is my paraphrase, “Bring the doubters and idolaters, the people who doubt that God lives and that He intervenes in the lives of His people. Let them assemble and let them explain both the judgment and the redemption, both the exile and the return. Let them give their witness. But you Israel whose world has collapsed because you have abandoned me and yet whom I have not abandoned, whom I rescue and whom I redeem, you are my witnesses. I am the Lord and beside me is no savior.”
The church is always in the process of retracing the history and experience of Israel. Certainly Peterson’s paraphrase of Isaiah seems an apt description of much of the church life in the old Christendom and apt to our corner of the Anglican world. “Their whole world collapsed and they didn’t take it to heart.” The story of a great deal of the church is the story of fracturing, division and scattering. Taken case by case, congregation by congregation, diocese by diocese, these divisions involve difficult and even agonizing decisions of witness and conscience. But from another perspective it is Israel divided and persecuted and exiled on account of her faithlessness. What is this except God’s doing? What is this except the hand of His judgment upon us?
What I said yesterday, I repeat again this morning. Hidden within the word of God’s judgment is a word of grace, mercy and salvation. The Lord casts down and He raises up that we might know and trust Him and witness that He alone saves.
The Church is broken and scattered. Even where there is unity in a congregation or a diocese it is a unity that is poignantly in the face of great loss. Yet we hear this morning that God gathers again those who have been scattered. He counts them as of great price and He seeks them out to bring them home. As we are knowing the breakup of the church, we are also seeing a new gathering of the church appear. God is bringing together His people in new ways. Something is happening of which this conference with its representation from all the pieces of divided Anglicanism in North America is perhaps a witness. Something is happening which moves in advance of institutional structures of the church and in advance of denominational frontiers, something fueled by the longing of a chastened people to turn back and to turn home.
God chastens His church and He restores it and the chastening no less than the restoration is the work of His love and part of the process whereby He makes us His witnesses and brings us to the point where we can confess that He alone is Holy, He alone is the Lord and that there is salvation in no other. So let this be. Amen.