Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dangerous Obedience

This morning I heard another one of those sermons that stopped me in my tracks.  I listen to sermons on the radio as I drive to church on Sundays.  I listen especially to George Mason, Sr. Pastor at Wiltshire Baptist in Dallas.  He doesn't preach like most 'Babtist' preachers I know.  But he does preach like someone who knows God and doesn't shilly-shally around about it.

I have always wished that Episcopalians titled their sermons--but I know that there are too many of us who Dangerous Obedience. Using the story of Peter's continued preaching in the Temple after he had been imprisoned   he talked about those times when being obedient to the will of God put yourself in harms way.  I have known that experience on several occasional   Those of us who participated in the Civil Rights struggle in the '60's knew what it meant to be disobedient for a greater good--to hear the law of God speaking louder than the civil law that kept people imprisoned in customs and majority-held subjugation. 
don't even really think about their sermons until the Sequence Hymn.  But catchy little titles are sometimes harder to come up with than a sermon. But my brother George had a title of

As a Roman Catholic I had come to understand obedience.  It is the primary virtue for Roman Catholics, I think--at least it is the one that is spoken of the most.  Before I had my eyes opened to the abuse of Jim Crow in the South, I think I was a pretty law abiding citizen.  I still am.  I obey traffic signs and the laws of the land mostly.  As an ordained person I have vowed to obey my bishop.  But I have also known when that obedience contradicted the law of Love that is at the center of my relationship with Christ

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that he had to disobey the laws of the oppressive South for the good of the nation, for the good of humankind.  He worked for the liberation of all persons who were subjugated by others who had power.   Our obedience in Faith is not to human authority.  It is to Christ that is represented by that person: bishop, superior, canons, laws.

At one of our gatherings of clergy women I met a newly ordained 'young thing' who was meeting this vow of obedience as a great badge of courage.  She could not even imagine that she would ever disobey her bishop.    I must admit I smiled at her.  There are those with authority who do not deserve to be in the positions that they are in.  Obedience to them contradicts the vows that we make.  It is our obedience to the Christ and the love that he witnessed to that speaks louder than the superficial obedience that makes us acceptable at some level in society or in the Church.  I suggested that she stop and think of what could tempt her to disobey her bishop and what she would do.  Because at some time it will come.  It is painful and demoralizing.  But it will come.  Our authorities in this life are always imperfect.  The Law of Love is not.

I know that in my career I have grappled with this obedience over and over.  I do not disobey the authorities
in my life lightly.  But ultimately I must always balance the 'good order' with the integrity of the Gospel and my relationship with the Holy One.  I know that in one instance I not only had to disobey my bishop, but I had to work for his removal because he had lost his center in Christ.  It is a horrible feeling.  But it was right.  If I had merely obeyed my superior without balancing it with what Christ calls us to, I would have been betraying not only my relationship with Christ but also my relationship with the Church that had ordained me.  It cost me a lot.  The Church does not forgive this kind of 'dangerous obedience' easily.

In Brother Mason's sermon he reported the death of Elwin Williams, one of the white racists who beat up the likes of Congressman John Lewis back in those very heady 'civil disobedient' days.  I have met Congressman Lewis on several occasions around the Jonathan Daniels memorials.  I wept when I heard the
story that George told of the forgiveness that came after all that anger and hatred.  It is now almost a half a century since those days.  Many of the feelings of those days have faded but the power of forgiveness has not.  Obedience to Christ always leads to healing; it always leads to freedom.  It always liberates us from the moments of our lives when either in our pride or in our determination to be right we fail to see the Christ in one another for whatever reason.  But those hurts are still with us.  And until we are willing to open ourselves to that radical, dangerous obedience to Christ we can never know the grace that comes with forgiveness.

If anything that 'dangerous obedience' leads to is the kind of freedom that says that God comes first.  It says that God's desire for us to know deeply that incredible openness that allows us to let go of  fear.  It allows us to step out with a graciousness that is not determined by other's authority, but of God's.  It allowed us to break the law in the 60's because the law was wrong.  It has allowed me to live the integrity of God's law in the face of manipulative people in authority.  It has also allowed me to let go of those who cannot heed my advice when I know they are going in a way that is destructive, knowing that God will chose another to guide them.  These kinds of freedoms are the manifestations of Dangerous Obedience.

But Dangerous Obedience is not just a personal event or orientation.  It must be communal.  Dangerous Obedience must be the work of us all otherwise the abyss of antinomianism would threaten to consume us as Martin Luther found out in 16th century Germany.  The liberation of God allows us to obey with conscience and without anxiety the Law of Love.


Malcolm+ said...

Muthah+, the order of sentences in para 2 is messed up. I think a clause from one sentence accidentally got shifted to the end of the para.

Muthah+ said...

Thanks, Malcolm. I re-wrote it this morning. I wrote that too late last night.