These sermons are reproduced with permission of the speaker in the hope of spreading the message to members of the congregation and others who missed the delivery or want a copy of it. Commentary is anticipated and is welcomed. It may be sent to either the church via its web page
The Rev. Harold Comer Sermon of
Sunday, June 30, 2002
Relating the Gospel of Matthew 10:34-42 to our current times and events...
Once again Christians are under attack! At least that is how some religious leaders have interpreted last weeks ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is an unconstitutional ''endorsement of religion'' because of the phrase ''under God.''
I would imagine that the Circuit Court's decision has already created some discussion among you. But, just so you do not get caught uniformed. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. Interestingly, the phrase ''under God'' was not in his original version of the Pledge of Allegiance. ''Under God,'' was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by Congress in 1954 at the beginning of the cold war, and at the urging of Christian organizations, as a declaration against atheistic communism.
Some may say, ''Our country is going to hell in a hand basket''. On the one side are the Christians, and in this case also the Jews, and on the other are the atheist and civil liberty folks. The emotions run deep on both sides as we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this Thursday. Patriotism has been running high in our country since September 11th, and it seems that almost everyone has been using God's name in prayers for the victims and for our fight against terrorism. Many see the court's ruling as a slap in the face against all that America stands for.
Almost two thousand years ago there was a similar attitude when a man called Jesus was collecting a large following of men and women. We all know that the religious authorities were very outspoken against Jesus, but what goes virtually unmentioned is the turmoil that he caused within families.
Many Christians are shocked when they read or hear the Tenth Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. This does not sound like the Jesus they know. ''Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, '' and so on. This is not how most of us practice our religion. If going to church will create a big argument, then we are apt to give in and stay home.
Two thousand years ago Jesus taught and preached something very radical to the Jews. Those who chose to follow him were often ostracized by their family for leaving the Jewish faith. Jesus was being honest to those who chose to follow him, telling them that choosing to follow him would be interpreted as rebelling against their parents and their values. Why? Because they would be rejecting the family religion in favor of a new life in Jesus.
When I was a detective, a couple who were close friends of the family called me in great distress because their eighteen year old son had left them and joined a cult. They felt that they had raised their son to know better than to be enticed by some far out groupie cult. They were angry with the leader of the cult for stealing their son away from him. They wanted to know if there was any way that I could go and get their son and arrest the leader for kidnapping.
Perhaps that is the way that many of the Jewish families felt about Jesus. He was kidnapping their sons and daughters and turning them against their families and their religion.
Is the God we believe in so selfish and demanding that sometimes he calls only one member of the family and ignores the others? Would God intentionally destroy marital relationship or tear a family apart because of a decision to accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior?
I do not believe that that is God's plan. God's offer in Jesus Christ is an offer to all people - husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter. If God had his way, the entire family would respond to the offer of salvation and become disciples of Jesus Christ.
In a perfect world ? don?t we all wish that we lived in a perfect world - in a perfect world as one member of a family is converted to Christianity, a process begins whereby the entire family becomes followers of Jesus Christ, with the same degree of commitment and faith share equally by husband and wife and children. Yet we know from our own experiences that that does not always happen. We often have different levels of commitment to God and involvement in the church. The challenge is to be faithful to our family without compromising our faith in Jesus Christ.
We each have a choice, and no one can make that decision for us. It is a personal decision to follow Jesus or not. Yet even in that decision we know that some follow whole-heartedly, while others follow half-heartedly.
I believe that in a committed relationship to Jesus Christ there is room, and love, for family. But just like a lukewarm commitment between husband and wife leads to a weak, if not failing, marital relationship; so a lukewarm commitment to Jesus will lead to a weak and faltering relationship with him.
Jesus calls us to be committed to him above everything else. He wants to be above the best relationships we have in our lives ? above husband or wife, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. To be true to that calling will require different demands on us at different times in our lives. There will be times when we have to make great sacrifices because of what we believe. There are times when we take up our cross and follow Jesus. At other times we are called to simply offer genuine hospitality - to welcome a stranger, to offer a cup of water to someone in need.
The demands of being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ, are tremendous, but then, so is the reward.
Commentary by Richard Tryon
This week by a narrow 5-4 margin the U.S. Supreme Court gave Americans an important chance to cheer! It was their decision to show that public funds for education put into the hands of parents of school children are not restricted in terms of what schools may be supported with such funds. In other words, any private school, be it church related or not, can be allowed to compete with public schools that are built with public funds and operated by administrators and mostly union dues paying teachers. The freedom to choose the best school for each child belongs with the parent, not the government. This monumental change shows that the Supreme Court has finally recognized what most Americans knew all along and what legislators wanted but were afraid to legislate- a ruling that shows that those that want to interpret the First Amendment?s prohibition against the government should it want to support a specific church or religion, with taxpayer money.
This decision may well have generated an unexpected reversal of a California lower court judge who had decreed that the words ?under God? had to be removed from the national pledge of allegiance- at least as recited in seven western states. The judge reversed his ruling because of the national outpouring of protest from the public and from legislators who insist correctly that references to God have no connection to the first Amendment's insistence that the government of the U.S. shall not establish any religion. The founding fathers did not want any liaison between the secular government and any church group or organization. The word 'religion' was used not as a prohibition against public recognition of widespread faith in a God of the Universe, but as a restriction to keep the public secular government from promoting or requiring allegiance or support of any particular church organization. In short, they did not like the link between the Church of England and the State as represented by the King or Queen. That caused terrible civil wars in English history and nobody here wanted anything like it to interfere with the freedom for Americans to choose to be religiously faithful through any church or no church.
It is essential to God as well that all human beings choose to believe or not of their own free-will. In effect the Court?s decision said that expressions of belief in God do not put the government in any public place in the position of violating the restriction when its officials speak of our coins reference to "In God we Trust" or to the call to higher authority that may invoke such words as "God Bless America".
This decision reverses a fifty year trend that has tended to make the fear of a church connected state seem to be somehow an automatic result if it is so perceived in anyone's mind. On the contrary, we do not need any law to state the right of individuals to believe in God or to express it in public. All we need is to allow that those that want to not believe are free to be that way. They are still as fully qualified to be U.S. citizens as is any citizen who professes a belief in God, and shows an allegiance to any faith or church. Faith in God is not a requirement for citizenship; but those who have faith that there is no God, are not permitted to force those that do believe in God to keep reflections of such faith out of all public places.
The Fr. Comer sermon eloquently notes that in the best of all possible world?s it would be nice if all accepted not only God but his Son our Lord, Jesus Christ. Until further revelation helps all come to the same belief not only in God, but in the Christian discoveries about the relationship between the God and all of mankind, we must be patient and tolerant with even those that have a religion of nihilism-a faith in nothing.
But, this week at least established that we need not keep our faith or its light hidden from public view for fear of violating anyone?s civil rights. We do not need to ask non-believers to leave, we only ask that they allow us the same right to express faith in God that they have to state their current inability to believe.