Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sermon: The Present Christ

Jesse Halsey | 1944

“It is expedient that I go away. I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”

These words in the 16th chapter of St. John have their parallel for our purpose in the last verses of St. Matthew’s gospel, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.”

I know nothing of textual or high criticism, but I am going to date both texts very late; not A.D. 33 or 65, or 110, or 200, but 1944, or any other date you want to give! This is the Highest Criticism. In other words, we seek the contemporary value and equivalent and experience that these words used to convey!

Last Sunday night I walked from one station to another in Springfield, Illinois—

“. . . here at midnight, in that little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now,
He is among us: --as in times before! . . . .

The prairie-lawyer, master of us all . . .”
(Vachel Lindsay)

That you say is poetry. I understand. And in that poetic sense Jesus comes back.

Quentin Reynolds, in a book scarcely dry, tells of talking with a London bobby who believed that Sir Francis Drake took command of the English boys who went up with their old crates to meet the first onslaughts of the Luftwaffe.

The solid old admiral, under whom I served in the British Navy, believed that Francis Drake was present at the battle of Jutland:

“Take my drum to England—
Guard it by the shore
Call me when your powder’s running low.
When the Dons sight Devon
I will leave the court of heaven
And we’ll drum them from the Channel
As we drummed them long ago.”

That, you say, is mythology. I know. And all the truth that the great myths can carry gather round that Sacred head. The Catholics have a much more fitting word for the truth I have in mind, they call it “Tradition.”

Travelers in Russia tell us that many a Russian peasant and soldier believes tht e Lenin has come back to life. That, you say, is sheer superstition. I know it. But when we speak of the Resurrection and Living Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are not dealing with superstition.

The British soldiers who fought so desperately at Mons—some of them believe that they saw angels on the battlefield. I once asked Studdert-Kennedy, the great chaplain, if he thought there were angels at Mons, and he said, “Well, there were men at Mons and where there are men there can be angels!” It is the spiritual presence of our Lord and its contagion—of this we are thinking.

Look for a moment at that young Jerusalem deacon named Stephen. The apostles were too busy, or too proud, to “serve tables,” so they delivered that responsibility to a group called deacons. The irony of the situation develops in that Stephen, the table server, becomes the most popular preacher in Jerusalem! When he is stoned to death, they hear him say, “Lay not this sin to their charge.” It is the echo of our Lord’s word on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Then there was that other young man, named Saul. He never saw Jesus in the flesh; none-the-less, he saw Him and heard Him—“Saul, Saul, why . . . ?” He said of his companions, “They heard not the voice of Him that spake to me.” Take one example from his life: In the shipwreck—that hour of peril and imminent disaster, it is not the Roman Centurion and the soldiers who prove the heroes of the occasion, but this little man, Paul; not the captain (he and the sailors turned coward), but this little man named Paul. He takes command, “Sirs, be of good courage. Last night I saw the angel of God, whom I serve. He said to me, ‘Be of good cheer.’”

And so through the contagion of Christ’s courage, embodied in the little man Paul, the situation is saved and “all come safely to land.”

Augustine, in the garden, heard a voice and turned his back on the old way of life. So on across the succeeding years of the Christian centuries, “I am with you!”

I knew a boy some fifty years ago, he might have been 12 years old. In the midst of his play he was called to fill the kitchen wood box. Reluctantly, he snatched grandfather’s old wheelbarrow, ran it violently into the big woodpile, climbed to the top, picked up the biggest billet of wood and was about to hurl it down in vengeance on the old vehicle, when suddenly his arms froze in mid-air! Quietly and shamedly, he put the big stick down, clambered off the woodpile, loaded up the wheelbarrow, and with succeeding loads filled the big wood box (with the help of his playmates, for like Tom Sawyer, he knew how to make them work for him). He could say with Paul, “They heard not the voice of Him that spake to me.” But he heard it!

Christ still speaks—and in ways we can understand if we listen!

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