From today's sermon
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We heard [Ezekiel] in today’s reading with his advice and warning to Egypt based on the example of Assyria, which the prophet compares to a cedar of Lebanon — a great tree with its branches reaching up into the clouds, which nonetheless ends up being chopped down. Empires, be they never so mighty, come to an end. The line of dominoes tumbles along: Assyria was felled by Babylon, Babylon by Persia, Persia by the Greeks (who also took down Egypt while they were at it.) But then the Greek empire built by Alexander the Great was divided at his death, and eventually fell to the power of Rome. Rome too divided, and was battled by barbarians at one end, and after it became Christianized, by the rise of Islam at the other end. And Christianity itself? Well, that brings us up to the present day — and more importantly — us!
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Because ultimately the question isn’t, “Will the church survive?” but rather, “In what form will it survive?” I think it will survive — we have God’s promise on that; but I don’t think it will do so by being a great empire. Great empires don’t seem to be too successful in maintaining themselves, perhaps due to the sin of pride that causes them to lose sight of the words on that ring: “This too shall pass.” It seems the more empires try to resist change, the sooner they fall — intolerance and clamping down on people brings about even greater resistance, division, and internal weakness. Empires may be big, but they are brittle. The great tyrannies of the last century, and those that have survived into this one, do not seem long for this world: the higher they seek to rise, the bigger they strive to get, the more viciously they suppress those who dissent, the sooner their fall seems secure.
Just as the little mammals were somehow able to survive while the giant dinosaurs were collapsing all around them, so too the church managed to survive, the church managed to make it through the collapses of Greek and Roman and European civilizations, not by being big and powerful, but by slipping through the cracks of history — squirreled away in the catacombs underground, or out in the monasteries or out in the deserts. And when the medieval church tried to seize secular power, and insist on central control of all of Christendom, it only served to hasten the Reformation. So it seems to me likely that the church will survive in this our time, and as time passes, not because it is big and powerful, or centrally controlled, but because it remains true to its faith in Christ; by placing its hope not in an everlasting earthly empire, but an eternal heavenly dwelling. It will, in the meantime, do its best work here and now in its own small way, not as a giant agribusiness, but more as a cooperative of small family farms — as the church in each place is a family.
For it isn’t about how big the tree is, or how expansive the fields — but about the fruit and the grain that comes at gathering and harvest-time. When the bough breaks and the tree falls, when the crop is harvested with a sickle, what do we have to show for it?. . . . . . .
Listen to it all:
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG