Today is the Fifth Sunday after Trinity and we are well into the long green season of the Church Year in which we are nourished by Christ’s life and teachings. In a world of greed and self, these Scriptural passages come to us like water in the desert.
Much has been written of late about the unease and yearning in American culture, that we have become an increasingly coarse society, assaultive and sexualized.
I believe this is largely because folks don’t believe in God, and by God I mean the God of Abraham, the Jewish and the Christian God.
It is a disturbing world, a world which my generation – those born fifty to seventy years ago – finds alien. Perhaps we yearn for the simpler world of our childhood, but we also long for that which is truly disappearing: the Judeo-Christian moral code.
How can a religious code influence a people that no longer believe in the author of that code? Certainly American foundations are built upon the code – our democratic system, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the rule of law. But our founding fathers assumed the culture would reinforce those values. Today the culture does not. Can government do it all?
And what exactly are those Judeo-Christian values? The Ten Commandments – honoring God, honoring parents (and those in authority), not stealing, not killing, not lying, not committing adultery, not coveting another’s goods. Other parts of that tradition speak to loving one’s neighbor, caring for one’s family, not divorcing, not having sex outside of marriage, the giving of one’s self to others (to family, community, the poor). While some of these are appropriately enshrined in law (stealing, killing, some types of lying such as fraud and libel), the others must be bolstered by social pressure through media and institutions such as the family and the Church, those who teach these values.
It is easy to see in looking at the list that we are encouraged by our culture to do all of the opposite. In our cult of “self (esteem)” we are told to take what we can (stealing), to kill those who are burdensome (abortion, euthanasia), fudge a little on taxes and resumes and our own sins (lying), sleep with whomever we desire (sex outside of marriage), and hoard our own resources and time (selfishness). We are asking a great deal of the government to police what we do not support, what we, as a society, do not laud.
It is no surprise our culture has become assaultive and sexual. The institutions of family and Church, the transmitters of the Judeo-Christian ethic, are being attacked. We must support and encourage these institutions to ensure future public safety and civility.
There are many of us who feel alienated, who feel strange in this new society, I am told. We Baby Boomers are one third of the population and are increasingly lost in this brave new world. We plug our ears and shake our heads and worry about our grandchildren. In the sixties we thought we were so independent, so knowing, so spiritual. We rejected our parents’ materialism. We rejected their blind obedience to authority. We were our own gods, followed our own tune, dreamed our own dreams, created our own reality. We dodged the draft and we took drugs. We had a good time. Now, the inevitable extension of that rejection (i.e., the hangover after the party), has become our worst nightmare: anarchy, a nation of autonomous individuals living for themselves, for their own self esteem.
As a nation we still have some time. There is a little capital left from the account of Judeo-Christian ethos. But it is being spent quickly and will soon be gone. It is not being renewed, not being taught to our children. On the contrary, our children are being taught just the opposite. We are nearly morally bankrupt. We still hear the words “goodness” and “bravery” and “sacrifice” and “truth”. But this language is not a part of our art, literature, or theater, which largely reflect violence, sex, loneliness. We must encourage the heroic language that gives mankind hope. We must encourage love not lust, bravery not cowardice, respect not derision, honesty not deception, chastity not promiscuity, selflessness not selfishness, giving not grabbing, the list could go on… We still have some time.
I pray that the family and the Church redeem our culture. The tide is against them, and the currents are strong, the undertow powerful. I pray that those who do not believe in God might still see the vital importance of the Church and the traditional family in keeping our culture civil. I pray that those folks who are not religious may see the importance of sexual restraint and need for children to be raised by their parents and not the state.
As for the believers, they may be inspired by today’s Epistle in this green season of the Church Year: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (I Peter 3:8+) We do not hear the word “righteous” very often today, at least not to mean “good”. These are heroic words.
And then there is the Gospel for today, which tells of the great catch of fish and Christ’s calling of Peter, James, and John as disciples. It struck me forcibly that the account does not dwell on the fact that Jesus was teaching from the ship or even what he said. The story is about the miracle. It is about Christ’s giving these poor fishermen a great catch of fish, when they had fished all day and caught nothing. It is about Simon Peter trusting Jesus when he said to let down the nets again. The story is about Christ’s power (the act definitely got their attention), but it is also about his taking care of his own.
And the opening prayer, the Collect: “Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance…”
As Christians we are a hopeful happy people. We can leave our unease and yearning at the church steps. Our nets will always be full.