THE LONG MARCH INTO THE DESERT
(A Sermon delivered on the last day of the Congress of
St. Louis by the Most Rev. Robert Sherwood Morse)
16 September, AD 1977
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We begin today the first step of a long march! Our Church has yielded to the temptations that Our Lord denied in the wilderness. As the Church is the mystical Body of Christ in what is left of human history, we face those same temptations until time is no more.
The three temptations are power, power, and power! "And he shewed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him, all these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
We have come to St. Louis because in Minneapolis last year the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States fell down and openly worshipped the dark Spirit of the Age! Whatever is mod, trendy, whatever works, feels good, is promoted in the media - that do and believe!
The major thrust of the Spirit of the Age is against the essential mysteries of Christ - the family and sacramental marriage! The demonic in history are those blind forces which would impersonalize life - eroding those interpersonal commitments that make civilization possible!
Without the priority of family - no nation, church, or society can survive. The crisis of our Western culture is theological. For the primary problem of our time is the attack on the family. The Protestant Episcopal Church, in a long litany of sorrow, has abandoned the family and given its people stones and scorpions instead of bread to strengthen men's hearts! Our Church has been stripped over the years, in general convention following general convention, of any and all moral standards with which we can deal with the gamut of modern and moral issues running from divorce to demonology!
Dostoyevsky says that Hell is to be unable to love! The zeal of the Church has always been up until now to save man from this Hell - by giving man, via grace, a conscience. For without a conscience we cannot love! God does not change despite what our seminaries teach today - Christian love does not exist apart from morality. To experience the love of God is to suffer God. Perhaps this is the most intense form of suffering, to suffer God. For we are forced, if we love Him, to choose the greater good, which is to will His will - to be obedient to His commandments. The other terrible suffering is that once you love God you can find no substitute for Him. Nothing else can satisfy - nothing else can make you complete. To love God is to make a choice. Thus the Judgment comes to every man's door! This is the judgment here before us today. The most vivid agony reserved in Dante's Inferno is for the neutrals - who have no need to die for they were never alive!
One of the great saints of the Anglican Communion, and I believe him to be a saint, is the late Fr. Raymond Raynes, Father Superior of the Community of the Resurrection. Many of us in this room knew him personally. Once on the B.B.C. he was asked who is most in danger of going to Hell and he answered immediately, "The indifferent" and then he thought and added "and priests" - and I would also like to add "and bishops."
There is no neutrality or indifference in God or in these issues facing us in the Church. God grant us the grace to love and suffer His will - to know Him as He is and not as we want Him to be! To save us in this difficult hour from indifference or neutrality and lead us not into the temptation of the Spirit of the Age.
In this city of St. Louis is the birth place of perhaps the greatest metaphysical poet of this century, T. S. Eliot, who was also an Episcopalian. He wrote in his great Christian poem, Four Quartets,
Who then devised the Torment? Love,
Love is the unfamiliar name
Behind the hands that wove
the intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove
We only live on, suspire,
Consumed by either fire or fire.
(Which means: to burn with or be burned up or consumed by the Love of
Christian man is living in an age that eclipses the early persecutions of the early Church - Christians are caged and silenced in the Soviet Union, murdered by the millions in China and Cambodia, tortured and martyred in Africa. Solzhenitsyn, that 20th century prophet, sees the worst for us in the West - the decline and decay of Western man is accelerating at a far more rapid pace than that of the Marxist police states whose new gnostic value system of materialism and power is based on the denial of God.
We begin today a long march through the deserts of our time - but our movement is of the spirit of God, for He is calling us successful, seldom rich, usually lukewarm Episcopalians to return Christ to the center of our lives and through us to our countrymen - to restore them and us to the things of God.
We will be guided like the Hebrew children by a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night - a description of our smog-bound cities. What vision do we hold out to the world?
There is a true story told about the great 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, who once, while prior or a rural Spanish Carmelite monastery, had an old brother in his community. He was a pocked-marked peasant - illiterate, untutored - bent in the service of the Lord - opening doors, cleaning floors, and dragging baggage; unseen and almost unknown. Suddenly one night he was struck with his death agony. The brothers all gathered around him to support him in prayer as he began to slip into eternity. St. John of the Cross was also there. Suddenly the old peasant, his face radiant, rose up on his cot and stretched out his arms and began to cry out over and over "I see it - I see it!" St. John said, "Brother, what do you see out there?" And he replied, "I see Love. I see Love!"
What vision sustains us on this long journey - this pilgrimage of hardship? Only the love of God and our desire to share it - that our children's children until time is no more might receive the gift of faith - the experience of that incredible Love of God that has touched our lives. But that love calls for personal sacrifice!
I call upon you to exercise your apostolic commission - save yourselves, your children, your families, your friends and fellows - leave this modern Egypt - the fleshpots of the Minneapolis Church - whose bishops act like Pharaohs building pyramids of personal power and privilege. Leave this kingdom of death, this House of Pharaoh, and march with us into the desert. We must all wait in the desert, for through this experience we as penitents will be cleansed.
God give us the strength that some day our movement might be as that of the early Christian desert Fathers who were more concerned with what God thought of them than what the world thought of them. Come with us, join us, march with us into the desert - for God calls us to Himself!
++The Most Rev. Robert Sherwood Morse
16 September, AD 1977
(At the time of this sermon, Fr. Robert S. Morse was Rector of St. Peter's Church in Oakland, California.)