Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Isolation’? – May 31, 2017
In an article in The New York Times (May 23, 2017), entitled ‘Alienated’, David Brooks wrote: The campaign of 2016 was an education in the deep problems facing the country. Angry voters made a few things abundantly clear: that modern democratic capitalism is not working for them; that basic institutions like the family and communities are falling apart; that we have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.
Touching on the sociological and political reality of alienation, David Brooks concludes: Finally, it’ll be necessary to fight alienation with moral realism, with a mature mind-set that says that, yes, people are always flawed, the country always faces problems, but that is no reason for lazy cynicism or self-righteous despair. If you start with an awareness of human foibles, then you can proceed with what (Yuval) Levin calls pessimistic hopefulness — grateful for the institutions our ancestors left us, and filled with cheerful confidence that they can be reformed to solve present needs.
However, in the light of the Scriptures, we are seeing the outcomes of a society that has turned its back, not just on God, but on the need for God’s mercy or grace to be at work in our lives. In isolating ourselves from God we have isolated, or alienated ourselves from one another.
Paul the Apostle quotes Psalm 14:3 in Romans 3:10ff when he writes: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”. And he continues: For all all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Writing in 1525 in his Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther set out in clear, unequivocal terms his understanding of the biblical truth that lies at heart of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: namely, the necessary grace of a sovereign God towards men and women who are in bondage to self-worship or vainglory.
JI Packer and OR Johnston comment in the Introduction to their translation of Luther’s Bondage of the Will (1957: pp.47f): ‘That human choices are spontaneous and not forced he (Luther) knows and affirms;… It was man’s (humanity’s) total inability to save himself, and the sovereignty of Divine grace in his salvation, that Luther was affirming… Luther does not say that man through his sin has ceased to be man…, but that man through his sin has ceased to be good… The whole work of man’s salvation,… is God’s;…’
Luther, with other leaders in the 16th century Reformation understood Jesus’ teaching concerning the necessary work of God in our salvation. In John 16:8ff we read Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “And when he (the Advocate, the Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned”.
Jesus’ words seem cryptic, but when we consider them their meaning is clear. The Holy Spirit’s work is to awaken us to our isolation from God.
Convict is a technical word in the original language, meaning to cross-examine a hostile witness. Jesus was saying that the Spirit would also challenge and awaken our conscience.
Was this new? Wasn’t King David convicted of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba? When we consider Jesus’ words, we see there’s a significant change in the way the Spirit works. There is a new definition of sin. The Spirit convicts us of sin, not simply because we break the Ten Commandments, but because we choose to be isolated from Jesus Christ, our rightful ruler.
This is significant. We need to realize our dependence on God for his work in our lives and the lives of all men and women.
We may wonder sometimes whether God is still at work in the world. Yes, he is! As Jesus promised, his Spirit is still actively involved in God’s work of mercy – opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears and softening hard hearts.
In his article, “Official Tudor Homilies” in Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. Peter McCullough, et al. (2011: p.356) Ashley Null comments: ‘For Cranmer, the Lutheran assurance of salvation was the long-sought missing key to unlock societal transformation. In his mature view, only the promise of free salvation made possible by God’s love, could inspire grateful human love. . . . In short, grace produced gratitude. Gratitude birthed love. Love prompted repentance. Repentance issued forth in good works. Good works made for a better society’.
These are matters we will be addressing at the Anglican Connection conference. Here is the link: http://anglicanconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Effective_GospelCentered_Chuches_Invite.pdf
Getty Music are telling their story at a concert on Tuesday, June 14 at 7:15PM at theCrowne Plaza, Dallas Galleria-Addison, TX. Details can be found at: http://anglicanconnection.com/getty-music-story/
Prayer Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (BCP, Whit Sunday – adapted)