Let us pretend it is the year 1754.
Let us pretend that we are not sitting in St. James’s in Richmond, Virginia, but rather in the Temple Church in London. The ancient church which was built by the Knights Templar in 1185 A.D. – the warriors who pretended to be monks.
Let us pretend that the organ we are listening to was built in 1688 – the same year King George’s ancestors claimed the throne of England – the Germans who pretended to be English.
Let us pretend that the man playing the organ is John Stanley, and that the two organ voluntaries we will hear tonight are his own original compositions. Dr. Stanley is now forty, and he’s been blind for 38 years. Yet he still composes and performs complex baroque music at the highest level. He is a blind man who pretends that he can see.
The Book of Common Prayer is the edition of 1662, the one that King Charles the Second put back in the pews after a nearly twenty-year absence. The Book of Common Prayer which Oliver Cromwell and his Puritanical armies destroyed. The Puritans who pretended to be pure.
Yes, let us pretend that we are listening to Dr. Stanley play the organ that was finally rebuilt in 1688. Rebuilt, because Cromwell destroyed the old one — the one built in the 14th century.
O.K., now let’s stop pretending, and let’s look at where we are now.
We are in St. James’s, Richmond, Virginia. In the year 2002. We are not listening to John Stanley, but rather Virginia Whitmire. We are us, you are you, I am me, and we are really here, right now.
And even though it might seem like we are pretending, by using this funny 331 year old Prayer Book, and this 391 year old translation of the Bible, we are not. And if we are pretending, we shouldn’t be. Because you and I are here for real, and so is God. And in God’s presence pretense becomes as nothing.
There can be only one religion for us who are Christians – and that is a real, true and authentic one, rooted only in the love and knowledge of the living God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, there have been prophets in every age. Some true and some false. There have been priests in every age – some true and some false. And there have been people called to the higher purpose of loving and knowing God – and some do and some don’t.
There are always going to be hearers who do nothing, and there are always going to be doers who hear nothing.
Only by the Grace of God can we hope to both hear and do the mind of God.
In the time of the prophet Hosea, eight centuries before Jesus, the kingdom of Israel had gotten pretty corrupt.
In politics, business, and the general level of morality, things were pretty bad. And worst of all, the people of the Jewish faith had become corrupt in their worship of God.
Well Hosea had enough of this, and God spoke through him.
His message was pretty tough – he accused the priests and the people of Israel of spiritual carelessness, of ignoring the call to holiness, and for practicing a brand of religion that had little of the stuff of true faith, but had become little more than organized idolatry.
Hosea’s theology was this: Try to love God the way God loves you, and you will come to know the mind of God. Hosea taught that religion which is not built upon a knowledge and love of God is at best a lovely pretension – and at worst a terrifying nightmare.
In the time of Paul – the first half of the first century A.D. – life in Israel was still pretty tough. There had been efforts to reform the religion of the Jews, and there were many different competing groups of Jews.
Some Jews were committed to humility, piety and the real love and worship of God. Other Jews were committed to the power and pretense of the Temple Priesthood and all the wealth that centuries of priestly corruption could acquire.
Paul would become a powerful member of two Jewish groups in his life. The first group, lest we forget, was the Pharisees, the learned rabbis who — while often at odds with Jesus — were self-consciously trying to be religious reformers; and many were pious and thoughtful men.
Paul’s second group was the church. The followers of Jesus. The people who believed beyond all doubt that God had entered into the human realm, lived a life of humility and worldly powerlessness, and proved once and for all that steadfast love in the knowledge of God is the only thing that can wipe out the plague and the grave of death.
In our time, let us not be ashamed to worship God in the beauty of holiness, which is so much a part of our Anglican heritage of architecture, music and literary prayer.
But, we who also live in a world wracked by power, corruption, immorality and shameful unholiness, let us not forget that we can ONLY truly follow God with a spirit of a steadfast love and in our humble attempts to learn from the mind of Christ.
No, in church, and in life, let us not pretend.
But let us seek to let the Holy Spirit of God lead us to the place that the prophets of light would have us find.
“Blessed are they to whom the Lord as God and guide is known.”