There is a very old Puritan hymn we grew up singing; perhaps, you recall it as well:
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known.
In a famous essay just after WWII, George Orwell, in one of his great punch lines, suggested, “To bring this hymn up to date one would have to add a ‘Don’t’ at the beginning of each line." Let’s repeat it that way together. He was talking about the utter timidity of modern people, thinkers and doers alike, in relatively safe circumstances and of great material abundance, to be quiet about dishonesty. Doesn’t intelligence require truth telling? But then in the first sentence of 1984 Orwell himself wrote: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
The question I have for you on this beautiful sunny California morning is: Is it not time to pull ourselves from the swamp of political correctness and from the lies of advertising that have benighted so many secular pundits, in the pews and even the pulpits?
This week you and your congregants have likely shopped to you dropped; consumed a cow; perfectly multitasked, and paid homage to almighty cash. But have you and your churches adequately re-celebrated the greatest story ever told. It may be twenty-one centuries since that babe appeared in a manger; but it has been God’s most direct communion with us to date. In I John 5:20 we read that, "The Son of God has come." Do you; do they believe this? It is worth noting that Jesus, the Christ, was called the only Son of God and declared the "I am" of the Torah or Old Testament. Very God, of very God.
A Messiah had long been expected. People had sought for many saviors in whom to believe. Here we have what claims to be the most cataclysmic event of all of time and of interstellar space taking place in a backwater of the Roman Empire, in some provincial Podunk of a town, in a lowly manger, to a teenage, unwed Jewish girl of no status or wealth. God’s choice for entering history may seem peculiar. As the British historian Arnold Toynbee put it, it is His Story, and as such, it became the turning point for all other human events. It became the axis on which everything else turns. Do you/they believe and live this story? Is this the best that God could do? How could it possibly be true? What are the implications if it is?
Since that birthday, everywhere human beings stand and live, Coram Deo, directly before the face of the living God who summons them to serve Him and their neighbors by doing what they do: as farmers, craftsmen, kings, housewives or merchants. Daily work itself became a vocation; it needed no further spiritual dimension.
The issue I raise for you this lovely October morning in the year of our Lord 2006 AD, (even our calendars resolve around his descension) is this: has God’s sovereignty been slowly shoved to the margins of life and effectively privatized? The biblical phrase, "Christ is Lord of All" means more than lordship of narrow individual behavior or for one hour on Sunday morning in a church pew. The phrase rings a cultural mandate also impelling action in society and in the economy. The possibilities are manifold, all with an option to serve God or to bend to another manmade idol. Faithful stewardship is careful administration of what has been entrusted by someone else who is higher than yourself.
The flip side of this question is the ancient one: what is a calling? Are you asking your parishioners to listen … for the quiet voice of Him who made and sustains them. To pick up their nets and have the courage to follow Him wherever it takes them. If they need encouragement, I suggest you have them read N.T. Wright’s new book, Simply Christian. The Bishop of Durham supplies a focused view of the meaning of it all:
" With Jesus birth and later emergence from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty rose with him. Something happened in and through Jesus, as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined forever. God’s future has arrived in the present." Has it? For you? For them?
We are all of us, pastors and ministers in other domains, called to be prophets, priests and kings. Modern day Micah’s or Jeremiah’s are certainly shunned; giving solace and comfort in reverence is quite rare; and while nearly everyone seemingly wants to be king of their castle, lifestyles or some polity—the biblical notion of providing justice is frequently avoided altogether. Will you dare to be a Daniel? As pastors, shepherd your charges to fulfill their prophetic, priestly and kingly duties? Our salvation and society both await your answer.
Have a blessed day and extend it into the months and years ahead by reacquainting those in your flocks again with the God who made and sustains life and who makes possible all human flourishing.
FULLER PASTOR’S CONFERENCE
Pasadena, CA, October 2, 2006