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September 11th, 2014
On an anniversary when for many the wound still stings, and for still more the war still rages, delving into matters of the heart may seem futile–even trivial–given the apparent intractability of geopolitical and ideological conflicts. Shall we not resign ourselves to a posture of mere survival rather than imagine–to say nothing of working for–a different world? If even the most formidable forces, elaborate technology, and battle-hardened strategy cannot foreclose maniacal, murderous intention, what point is there in addressing that intention’s far less manageable source?
To students matriculating at Oxford on the eve of what would come to be known as World War II, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon later entitled “Learning in a Time of War.” With Hitler accelerating his annexation of eastern Europe, those who would be scholars had to wonder whether their task was fit to the times. Lewis encapsulated their understandable unease with the rhetorical question at the beginning of his sermon, saying, “[with] the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe . . . in the balance. . . is [learning] not like fiddling while Rome burns?”
Lewis allayed their ambivalent consciences with an appeal to the larger context, to lessons from the past, and to the ultimate questions which war helps to crystallize. The devastation and darkness of war only amplifies, says Lewis, the glory of ultimate reality and beauty, to which learning gives its attention. In so doing it may then be thought of as a divine offering, and therefore certainly apposite even in a time of war.
In that spirit, we elaborate here on a few items raised by last week’s sermon.
Unless the church is unified by its trust in the irreducible graciousness of the Gospel, she will be bereft of the very resource essential to enduring peace within and authentic witness without. We said specifically how it will be a deep-seated sense of the graciousness of God that both attenuates our sensitivity to taking offense and enlarges our willingness to extend forgiveness.
We tend to be appalled by another’s sin (heightened further if we’re the one sinned against) to the extent that we cannot fathom the same propensity lurking within. Yet as this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains how the Cross undercuts that proclivity to escalate tensions in how it shows our common need for the same grace. (HT: Justin Taylor)
Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.
Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.
Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.
Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.
The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.
The attention given celebrity deaths continued unabated this week with the passing of Joan Rivers. Our friends over at Mockingbird scoured the archives of the enduring comic and found this little snippet from the Ed Sullivan Show in 1967. Her prowess for the punch line was in full bloom early in her career. But the laughs she provokes here confirm a truth just as sorrowful: the world is one big factory that churns out new laws by which one may seek to become acceptable. Those laws tend, as Rivers “laments,” to be applied asymmetrically, while their fulfillment proves practically impossible–almost Sisyphean.
You can’t say the search for acceptance is an antiquated notion. That’s why you also can’t blithely dismiss the notion of divine acceptance through divine sacrifice.
Finally, we took note of the church’s enduring mandate to care for the poor. The pillars of the Jerusalem church underscored that priority to Paul his ministry of gospel proclamation to Gentile regions notwithstanding. Paul couldn’t have been more in agreement. But with that mandate clearly established–and irrevocably grounded in how Jesus made Himself poor that we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)–how does a local church even begin to take that mandate seriously and concretely?
Brian Fikkert co-wrote with Steve Corbett a couple years ago When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. Fikkert is part of the Chalmers Center, an organization that helps local churches take those first steps to fulfilling the mandate in appreciable and fruitful ways.
Both those who may become deacons in time, and the other men and women appointed to join them in a mercy cohort, will help spearhead the church-wide effort to attend to the poor. But it’s all our task to be on the same page about what it means to be poor and how to address one’s struggle with poverty in a comprehensive fashion.
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” wrote Emerson. The transcendentalist philosopher elevated the, perhaps particularly American, sensibility of self-determination that so shaped the ethos of our nation’s soul. Immeasurable is the impact of the notion that we are limited only by how we conceive of ourselves. Emerson had a place for a providential force at work, but saw humanity’s destiny as tied mainly to individual men (and women) looking within to find that intrinsic but elusive strength. What lies beneath is where life would be found.
This Sunday we’ll continue our series in Galatians by taking a different tack, one more deferent to Providence and perhaps less confident in our inner light–though no less astounded by the glories within and without as derivative of the Divine Hand. We want to answer the question, “what must Christ be for us if we ever want to be for God–and thereby to find life?” We’re in Galatians 2:11-21. We’re calling it “He’ll be the death of you.”
The two women’s Community Groups we’ve mentioned of late are taking registrations through the end of September. Fill out a registration card available at the Information Desk on Sunday or just email Karla Pollock. Groups begin Tuesday, October 7th–morning (10-12p), evening (7-9p) Childcare will be available for the morning group.
If you haven’t been around CtK too long you may not know our community supports several home missionaries whom you sit next to and drink coffee with each Sunday. Together they represent a wide array of skills and regions in which they’ve applied them. They also have stories to tell of what they do and where. This Sunday (9/14) you’ll hear from Paul and Cathy McAndrew as they tell us about their work in world music and worship.
Make a point to regularly check Calendar page for what’s on deck in the coming weeks, including our time of corporate prayer we call “Counting to Eight” this Sunday night at the Kull’s (923 Zeb, Dallas).
Among the needs you might pray for, consider these, too:
- for justice, rescue, and new peace in Iraq and Syria
- for the wisdom of our government in its responses to terror and strife
- for our time of corporate prayer this Sunday evening
- for our new women’s groups forming this all
- for our prospective officer candidates recently beginning a new phase of training this fall
The sermon title reminded me of a song title, or more so one lyric from a song you’ll see printed on Sunday’s bulletin. We’ve showcased them before but Waterdeep’s “Completely Known” is worth a listen–perhaps poignantly so on the anniversary of such a dark day. When all crumbles to the ground can there be any confidence that when we’re lost to everyone else, we’re still not entirely lost?