Friends: It is most satisfying to see a full house today. I would like to welcome the members of the Lady’s Auxiliary back to the fold. We all offer our prayers for Mrs. Carrington Bertram’s timely recovery. Also, I would like to welcome the class of visiting interns from the Lonborg-Tillman Psychiatric Institute. While I believe that some of my remarks last week were misreported, if the ultimate result of the error is bringing more people into these Holy Precincts -- well, if filling the pews is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!
This leads me to the question that I have recently been pondering. Can one be right, if it fails to be righteous? It is a matter of common knowledge that one can be Dutch without being a Duchess. But, while suggestive, this parallel doesn’t completely answer the question. I think we all know people who seem to be “right.” Our neighbor Dr. Fred Wallenstein, who naturally does not attend our church, has spent many of the last 37 years in the Biafra region of southeastern Nigeria, ministering to the sick and needy. He is “right,” as judged by the community. And yet, when we think about the disposition of his eternal soul, we ask if in God’s eyes, he should be considered “righteous”?
Today’s reading is from Jim Bakker’s The Refuge. Now, many people know that Jim Bakker was not right. Indeed, he spent time in jail, and right-thinking Christians may be sincere in their belief that he cheated them out of their money. Yet it would be wrong to conclude on that basis that he is not righteous! For in the pages of this book we find a message of Christian hope and salvation that could never be called wrongteous!
The Refuge begins with a description of our country after a catastrophe, making it a work of “Creation Science Fiction.” Indeed, Bakker has studied Biblical prophecy and is “convinced a monstrous asteroid will collide with the Earth,” and tells us how we can escape from the social breakdown that will ensue. The point is that one cannot survive on the basis of good works alone. We already know this, of course, from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, which was a real page turner in the year 63, but Jim has really punched it up for a modern audience.
In the book, a woman named Mary recounts her mistaken understanding of Christianity before the calamity: “Oh, sure, we always had our benevolent funds to help people whose homes had burned down or had been damaged in a storm. We helped lots of people who suffered with some debilitating disease that had hospitalized them or impaired their ability to take care of themselves.” This is exactly the mentality that believes that throwing money at hurricane victims is the best thing for them! Mary goes on: “But most of us considered ourselves to be self-sufficient. We didn’t need each other. We didn’t need anybody. . . or so we thought.” The important thing is to be there for the members of your own Church. Because whatever you accomplish, it is useless unless you realize that you haven’t done it through your own power.
This reminds me of a time when I was a boy and mother and I were staying with my uncle Kenneth who was a missionary in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. At the time, despite the forced relocation of millions of Chinese and the imprisonment of soldiers from across the British Commonwealth in hideous camps, Uncle Kenneth did very well by helping Japanese soldiers meet eligible Chinese ladies. He told me that it was his contribution to the community, and indeed the community seemed to reward him for it handsomely. One day I asked him for some money to help some members of the congregation who needed urgent medical care. I’ll never forget what Uncle Kenneth said to my mother, for it was an excellent use of scripture. He said: “‘For by grace are ye saved through faith,’ and you better have faith that they only way to save that asinine Prurience is to put him back in the cangue!” But as he reattached the ancient cangue I realized that he was using “tough love” to teach me that money for doctors is inferior to faith in God.
This is also something of which Jim Bakker is aware, as his character Mary confirms:
“Well, in our church, God has been performing wonderful miracles of healing,” the saintly woman continued.
“Do you mean that people actually feel better after somebody prays for them?” Stan probed.
“Oh, they don’t just feel better. They are better! We’ve had folks who have been healed of cancer, heart disease, kidney failure; one fellow was even healed of AIDS.”
This is something Mrs. Carrington Bertram might also take to heart. Again, faith is the one thing that Dr. Wallenstein appears to be lacking. It is no wonder he has to go back to Africa year after year. If he had faith he wouldn’t have to keep curing the same natives over and over again!
Labels: Sunday Sermon