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GEORGIA: "Let the main thing be the main thing...the Gospel of the crucified, risen...Christ

GEORGIA: "Let the main thing be the main thing...being the Gospel of the crucified, risen...Christ

By Victor H. Morgan
October 15, 2017

The following sermon was delivered by the Rev. Victor H. Morgan at the Sixth Annual Georgia Anglican Men's Conference in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Some years ago, I learned a good line from a Roman Catholic priest.

He and I were at a meeting, and this woman looked at him and asked if he could take on some responsibility.

Without missing a beat, he said: "So sorry. I'm overextended" . . . and that was that.

A clergyman or layman for that matter strives to "spend and be spent" in the service of Christ. But, sometimes you just have to say no.

Or, as Nehemiah says in this evening's Old Testament lesson:

"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down."

The context, as you probably gathered as you heard the passage read, was that Nehemiah was building a wall -- not just any wall, mind you -- but the wall around Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the summer of 586 or 587 BC. During that period, the bulk of the Jews were exported to Babylon.

But, eventually, about 70 years later, after Babylon had been conquered by the Persians, they were allowed to return. A number did . . .

And the work of rebuilding Jerusalem began, but it didn't happen overnight. It was an arduous process.

More than that, the project drew considerable opposition from those now in possession of the land -- the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, the Arabians and the recently imported Samaritans.

These 'ites' and others were not at all happy that almost 50,000 people had shown up on their turf.

In response, they did everything they could to make life miserable for the new arrivals, especially by thwarting their efforts to rebuild Jerusalem.

In spite of their mischief-making, the Temple eventually got rebuilt . . . but now fast forward 100 years. The wall around the city still lay in ruins.

Enter Nehemiah.

It was his calling from the Lord to take on this project, and this is what we find him doing in this evening's reading.

I can just see him perched up on that wall working away when there came a message from Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem.

These were the very ones who were leading the opposition.

They had already done everything they could to stop or at least to slow the building of this wall, and here they were at it again.

Instead of physically attacking Nehemiah and his workers, as they had done in the past, this time they wanted to arrange a "friendly meeting".

"Come let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono," they said.

But, Nehemiah would not be taken in.

Like the "Shadow" in the old vintage radio show, he knew "what evil lurks in the heart of man" . . . in particular, in their heart.

Nehemiah discerned they were up to no good.

Discernment is the ability to judge matters according to God's view, and not according to their outward appearances. It is a quality we should seek after and pray for.

Using discernment, Nehemiah escaped the trap of his enemies and refused to let them distract him from his work.

And he kept refusing. Four times Sanballat and Geshem sent invitations for him to come and meet with them, and four times he refused.

What answer did he give them?

"I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down."

Isn't that a great line? I bring it to your attention because it is very easy for us to become distracted and, in so doing, to leave off doing the Lord's work.

I encourage you to memorize this line and use it often.

What are some of the things that distract us from God's work today? What are our Sanballats?

One, I want to suggest, is the discouragement that comes from a plethora of bad news.

When I was growing up, my mother had a friend who lived on the Sewanee Mountain. She began every letter with the words: "No good news here."
We called her "No good news Mary." No kidding.

Isn't it the same with the news that comes at us from all direction today?

I am thinking in particular about news about the Church.

Open up one of those online news services and what do you find? For the most part bad news.

This morning I glanced over the main page of Virtueonline: The Voice of Global Anglicanism. Here are some of the headlines that jumped out at me:

Nashotah House culture wars. Apparently, the powers that be have been inviting some pretty dodgy characters to preach in the seminary chapel.

Four markers reveal why the collapse of the Episcopal Church is inevitable. That may actually be good news inasmuch as sometimes old structures have to die for new ones to be born.

Satanic fashion show inside a Church. Now, that must have been a spectacle fit for Halloween.

And finally, a story about a sex scandal at a prestigious church prep school in New England.

Well these are just a sampling. To be fair there were some good thing in amongst the bad, but you had to look for them.

You see my point, I am sure: With such an overload of bad news. It is easy to get discouraged and distracted.

Nehemiah's example of unmovability in the worst of times points us in the way we should go.

By all means read Virtue Online. Stay informed. Send David Virtue money if you feel so led: he is a good man. But don't lay down your tools and stop working. As we have been reminded in the hymn we just sang, "We have a Gospel to proclaim". Don't forget it.

Many of you are familiar with the quote from Bishop Leslie Newbiggin . . . when asked if he was an optimist or pessimist, he responded:

"I am neither . . . Jesus Christ is risen from the dead."

That must be our confidence as well.

So, one distraction we face today . . . one of our Sanballats . . . is discouragement . . . discouragement that comes from the plethora of bad news with which are continually being bombarded.

Allow me to suggest one more. That is majoring on minors. The minors I am thinking of may be innocent in and of themselves, but they still distract us from the work of the Gospel.

Let me give you several examples.

The first concerns a lady who was the head of the altar guild at a church Birmingham, Alabama.

On Sunday mornings, instead of attending a Bible study which preceded the morning service, she would be off in the Sacristy cutting a half-inch off the stalks of the altar flowers.

For the uninitiated, one of the 'rules' found in the altar guild manual is that when flowers are placed directly on the Altar or Holy Table, their height should not exceed that of the arms of the cross.

A good rule. You want the cross to be the focal point. Nevertheless, I am not sure that she was not majoring in minors when she skipped Bible study (which she enjoyed) for this chopping exercise.

Another example would be what the American Church spent most of its time doing back in the 1960s and 70s -- and is still doing today -- investing an inordinate amount of time and money on coming up with new and more exotic liturgies.

If less time, energy and money had been spent on liturgical tinkering and more time, energy and money spent on getting the Gospel out . . . announcing Jesus to a culture mired in materialism and seduced by sensuality . . . at least some of the churches that are now being closed for a lack of people and money would be open and flourishing.

I am sure you can think of other examples of majoring on minors . . . things that cause Churchmen to lay down their tools . . . to come down from the wall . . . to cease from the great work they have been given by their Lord.

In closing let me share an insight I learned from the Very Rev. David Collins, a long-time friend of this church who entered into eternal rest at the end of last year. The principle is this:

Let the main thing be the main thing, the main thing being the Gospel of the crucified, risen, ascended, reigning and returning Jesus Christ.

Learn and practice this principle and many of the pesky problems in the Church will go away.

Many of the divisions we sustain in our own beloved Anglican tradition will be on the way of being mended.

And best of all, in the end, we shall hear these words:

"Well done thy good and faithful servant. Enter thou in the joy of the Lord.

The Rev. Victor H. Morgan is the Rector, St. Luke's Church, Blue Ridge, Georgia

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