Summary: A sermon on the importance of truth, faith, and virtue for personal and national freedom.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2015
St. Andrew’s Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
As I began to think about today’s sermon, I was a bit perplexed. Some weeks, I get a clear sense of direction and I pray that God will guide my sermon preparation. Other weeks, like this week, I pray, “Lord, what is it that you want me to preach.”
When I get really stumped, I sometimes pull out this book, Preaching the Lectionary, by Reginald Fuller. Dr. Fuller was an Anglican priest and professor that I had the privilege of meeting a few years ago. Dr. Fuller’s assessment of our first lesson is this: “The Old Testament reading does not seem to yield very much appropriate material for a sermon…”
My hope is that at the end of this sermon you will disagree with Reginald Fuller. If not, you can tell me at the door that Dr. Fuller was right!
Our first lesson contains the final verse of 2 Chronicles. It tells us the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah, the southern kingdom of divided Israel. Josiah was the last good king of Judah and he was followed by four bad kings. The first verse of our reading summarizes that part of time:
v. 14 “All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem.”
Judah was no longer following God. The religious leadership was corrupt. No one listened to the prophets. They wouldn’t even listen to the great prophet Jeremiah. The king did evil. So, God brought Babylon to destroy the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.
Jeremiah predicted the fall of Judah and exile for the people of Judah in Babylon. The people refused to listen to him. They asked the political leaders to kill Jeremiah (Jer. 26). Jeremiah was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned because the people said he was pro-Babylon. Actually, he was pro-Judah, but the people would not listen to him.
In the summer of 586 BC, the magnificent Temple build by Solomon was destroyed. The people of Judah were taken captive and exiled in Babylon. All that Jeremiah prophesied came to pass.
Os Guinness is a prophet for our times. He is Irish, but he lives near Washington, D.C. and is a member of one of our churches, the Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia. He has a PhD from Oxford, he is the founder and director of the Trinity Forum, and he has written over 25 books.
In his book, A Free People’s Suicide, he sums up a portion of our national history:
We are nearly eight decades after the Great Depression,
seven decades after Pearl Harbor and World War II, four
decades after the tumultuous and influential 60s, two
decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the
bi-polar world, one decade after September 11, and in
the midst of two of the most revealing and fateful
presidencies in America history. [p. 15]
He is referring to George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. Guinness sees us at “just the beginning of a mounting sea of problems engulfing America from many sides” [p. 16].
According to Guinness and the Founding Fathers, what he calls “the special glory of America” [p.17] … “requires truth and virtue” [p. 151]. This was true for Judah and it’s true for us. Guinness says
Freedom requires a firm refusal of what is false, what is
bad, what is excessive, what is ugly, and, above all, what
a person is not and should never try to become. [p. 152]
In sum, there are things that each of us as free people
simply cannot and should not be, and should not do,
although we could. The promise that in a free society
we can be anything we want to be is a specious modern
delusion. [p. 153]
Guinness finds inspiration in what he calls “Two of the most progressive movements in Western history – the Renaissance and the Reformation. [p. 197]
Both movements in their own way looked back to the past to find a new way forward.
The Jews were graciously that same prospect when God worked in the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia. Persia has defeated Babylon as prophesied by Jeremiah. Afterwards, King Cyrus issued a proclamation:
v. 23 "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.'"