The Rev. Steven C. Sterry, M.A./M.B.A.
As we listened to the lessons and psalm for today, we were provided a picture of God’s people both before and after Christ’s resurrection. Nehemiah, in our Old Testament reading, describes a stiff-necked people who failed miserably to obey even the simplest Commandments of God. These were a people who either ignored or forgot the miraculous works that God performed on their behalf, as He led them out of Egypt into the promised land. Psalm 78 describes those marvelous works, which included
- God dividing the Red Sea so that His people could cross over and be saved from a pursuing and well-armed Egyptian army with their chariots and cohorts.
- God leading them in the daytime by a cloud and throughout the night with the light of fire.
- In the barren wilderness God provided water in great abundance.
- When they demanded food, God gave them more quail than they could consume, as well as bread to satisfy their hunger.
- The needs of the Israelites were fully satisfied by God for forty years until they crossed over into the promised land. Even their clothing did not wear out, and their feet were protected, as well.
And yet, the people still complained and disobeyed His Commandments.
- First, by appointing themselves a leader who would return them back to slavery in Egypt, and then
- by making themselves a golden calf and worshiping it
And yet, despite all of their rancor and anger, God who is described by Nehemiah as a deity of “great mercies”, did not forsake the Israelites and, instead, kept His promise and allowed them to enter into that place which is described in the Bible as a “land of milk and honey.”
This description of God as one of “great mercies” carries over into the Gospel lesson, where the Son, Jesus Christ shows compassion on the five thousand gathered to see and hear Him by healing their sick and feeding them with yet another miracle, one generated from a meager supply of five loaves of bread accompanied by a mere two fish.
So, what does it mean to be “stiff-necked? Webster’s Dictionary provides us with the following:
Definition of stiff-necked
Sound familiar? Yes, even today, we are still that, and more. Just listen to the news, watch the unruly demonstrations and riots, and even go out and drive in traffic. We are combative, crude, rude, possessive, selfish, uncompassionate, unruly, untrusting, and we possess many other nasty traits that would take hours to enumerate. The problem is, like those people described in the Old Testament lesson, we have allowed ourselves to fall away from God. In doing so, like those who ordered Aaron to construct the Golden Calf, we have also lost our moral focus. Like Isaiah said in Chapter 53, verses 6 through 8, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. We are guided by our own faulty compasses, and without God we have lost our direction.
A difference, however, exists between those Jews described by both Nehemiah and the psalm for today and those Jews and Gentiles who, after Christ’s
resurrection, followed Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles. That difference is described in our reading from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer is “nobody”. If we rely on Jesus and focus our lives upon Him, we cannot and we will not go astray. In Christ, we have the Good Shepperd who will find us when we get lost and will bring us back to the flock.
Of course, I am preaching to the proverbial choir. But, remember, we are not alone in this world. We are always being challenged and tempted by forces of greed and evil. We may not be killed all the day long for Christ’s Sake, but in some parts of our world, even this can often be true. Governments and people everywhere, even here, as well, are attempting to separate us from our love of God in Christ Jesus, by restricting or prohibiting certain religious activities and assemblies. And, I am not just talking about the COVID-19 restrictions that apply to everybody. There are many places, including schools and government facilities where we are not allowed to pray or offer praise to God. Statues which, for us, have religious significance are being displaced or eliminated. While our secular history is being altered, we may eventually find that our religious history could also suffer at the hands of secular revisionists.
How can we prevent this? America needs a religious revival. Each of us, as Christians, must spread the news of the Gospel to others. It is only through bringing others to Christ that we may participate in the Great Commission that was given by Jesus to His disciples. And while, during this period of pandemic, it may be difficult to do so, we still have tools by which people can participate in the Eucharist each Sunday and meet for prayer during the week. We must discipline ourselves, as well as urge others to participate in corporate worship, even if that only occurs on Zoom.
But once this time of trial has ended, congregations of every one of the churches in our diocese need to focus on God’s love so that we may spread the light of Christ to those who have not yet seen and not yet understood. COVID-19 may have dampened our Easter in 2020, but for Anglicans, every Sunday is an Easter celebration and a time to spread the love of Christ to the rest of the world. And, what happens on Sunday should continue into each day of the week. Afterall, we are Christians who are saved forever.
I am truly amazed at the love that I have experienced from members of this parish, and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you while your Pastor, Linda, is taking much needed respite. The welcome that you have given to me and Montera has been wonderful, and I pray that my three weeks here will be a good experience for all. May this time serve to strengthen us all in both faith and resolve so that we can show the world the light of Christ and live God’s promise to us of everlasting life.