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Choose Your Tribe

“You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure” (Deut. 14:2).

Where do we move from here? This is the question on everyone’s heart. After the elections this week, our nation is torn between two camps. I do not mean two political camps. The real battle in America is a battle of faiths: faith in the god of secularism and faith in the God of Truth. There has always been a rift, but this rift has grown. It has stretched out and bulged. The differences between the two camps are more distinct than ever and we must anticipate that to continue — two worlds pulling apart.

King David watched as two camps gathered in his day. He was a young man when he looked over the valley. Two armies stretched out — like an ocean parted down the middle — the Jews and the Philistines. I was a teenager when I saw the place. 16 miles from Jerusalem is the Valley of Elah. It surprised me. Growing up hearing stories of the battle, when David slew Goliath, I pictured endless sands and dunes. Instead, it is lush and bucolic. It looks like a scene you might see in Oklahoma, around the Wichita Mountains.

David knew the lore. He had heard the scriptures. Young and tender, he looked up at the colossal giant, Goliath, he heard the cries of the Philistines, and he stood unmoved. What could they do? God had chosen the Jewish people. He had set them apart for His own. The victory was already made.

Our times are no different. The battle is no different. However daunting the odds, we know who has the final victory and we know what we have to do. We must be the Church.

Israel was one people set apart from a raging world. They were a light on a hill, constantly threatened by raging seas and tempestuous storms, always nearly swallowed up, but never extinguished. The New Jerusalem is no different. The tiny flame at the altar of Christian Churches has flickered steadily through every century, every tyranny, through the good times and the bad times. Where do we move from here? We must be the Church.

What does it mean to be a Christian today? Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, gave an address to a post-Christian nation. A Christian is “a man who knows what he is doing and where he is going in a world [that] no longer [knows] the difference between good and evil, yes and no. He is like a god standing out in a crowd of invalids.” This is not about boasting. This is a statement of the reality of the world, and our need to be the Church.

It was hard, last Monday morning, to sit down and write this sermon. What could I say? How could I know where America would be by this time? So many questions are up in the air; so much turmoil, division, anxiety, and anger. I was shocked when I turned to the Gospel of the Sunday. The Holy Spirit really does move constantly in the Church, and arranges our calendar and services precisely as we need.

Pharisees came to Jesus with a question. They were sneaky, hoping to trick him. “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’” The Jewish society was split in two. One fraction identified with the State. The other resisted. Their society was fractured by ideological tribalism, much as is ours. Where would Christ cast his lot?

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What is your tribe? Republican? Democrat? Capitalist? Communist? There are real differences; substantial differences. Through the twentieth century, America watched Europe pull itself apart by godless political camps. A country that does not stand firmly on Christian values and Christian common-sense will unravel like a rag torn by dogs. We have an obligation to defend the Christian worldview once cemented in the foundation of America. But this is not enough. No president is going to make or break America. No political party will cure the problems in our culture. There is only one solution: we are. We must be the Church.

St. Peter wrote to the Christians: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9).

God gave the same words to the Israelites as he does to the 21st century Church: “You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure” (Deut. 14:2). This is our tribe. First and foremost, we are citizens of the Kingdom.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What belongs to God? Your life: your loves, your affections, your time, your very culture. We are getting ready for the 2021 parish calendar. It lists all main services of the year, the days of obligation, the days of devotion, with the seasons of fasting and feasting. How will we prepare for 2021? Will we plan our vacations first? Will family reunions take the precedent? Or will we arrange our lives first to the heartbeat of Jesus Christ incarnate and the life of His Church? How will we worship through the day? Will our God be the God of Abraham or the God of consumerism? Will we listen to the same music, go to the same schools, shop at the same grocery markets? I do not know. But we will be forced to make decisions that may undermine our reputations and relationships.

Our Christianity must be rooted in its own expressions and culture, or else, we will blow away along with the times and lose our souls. History professor, Robert Louis Wilken, wrote an article called: “The Church as Culture.” He insists:

“Christ entered history as a community, a society, not simply as a message, and the form taken by the community’s life is Christ within society. The Church is a culture in its own right. Christ does not simply infiltrate a culture; Christ creates culture by forming another city, another sovereignty with its own social and political life…If Christ is culture, let the sidewalks be lit with fire on Easter Eve, let traffic stop for a column of Christians waving palm branches on a spring morning, let streets be blocked off as the faithful gather for a Corpus Christi procession. Then will others know that there is another city in their midst, another commonwealth, one that has its face, like the faces of angels, turned toward the face of God.”

I am going to say something that may sound a little peculiar, maybe even disturbing. We Christians are going to have to start thinking of ourselves as something like the Amish, or the Orthodox Jews. We will be the counterculture, the radicals, maybe even the outcasts. We can no longer flirt with the world. We must be the Church.

Where do we move from here? Nothing has really changed since David stared out at the battle field. There are still the Philistines. There is still the Church. It simply remains for us to choose: which will be our tribe? It is actually exciting. How can we lose? We have God.

“Fret not thyself because of the ungodly; neither be thou envious against the evil doers. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and be withered even as the green herb. Put thou thy trust in the LORD, and be doing good; dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thou in the LORD and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire” (Psalm 37:1-4).



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