Inside – Outside
Pentecost Sunday, Whitsunday
May 31, 2020
“God be merciful to us and bless us…that Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health to all nations.”
Psalms have been called “the seed-bed of a personal religion.” Written over centuries of time, they contain every emotion and aspiration known to the human heart. They are all based on a personal relationship between God and the individual and between God and His people. What the psalmists sought for themselves was only incidental to a far higher end – making God’s way known to all men. They thought of themselves as agents of the living God.
Throughout the Old Testament and some parts of the New Testament as well, we find two attitudes. One is called “particular,” and the other, the “Universal” outlook. Entire books have been devoted to one or the other at different times, but seldom do you find such a happy combination of both as in this text.
Let us examine them individually. Generally, particularism is selfish. It is parochial, narrow, and local. It places emphasis on “me” and “mine” – my church, my family, my nation, and my race. It is inward looking.
Universalism, on the other hand, is outward looking and “other”-regarding. It is a view that sees “one world” over which one God reigns; a God who is concerned with all. Universalism accepts responsibility for the whole. It knows that religion must begin as a personal matter between the individual and his God, but, if it ends there, it ends there in spiritual death.
In dealing with these two attitudes, I don’t want to give the impression that I am selling the particular attitude as being bad or undesirable. There is nothing wrong with the particular, individualistic outlook as such. There is such a thing as “enlightened self-interest.” “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” carries with it a love of self also, if only we do not stop there, if only it is not “God bless me and my wife; my son and his wife; we four and no more. Amen”
The legitimate prayer for blessings upon one’s family lies in what that family does. We pray for and nurture something precious – a Christian home, so that out of it may come sons and daughters who, reared in an atmosphere of love and security, may go forth from a “haven of blessings and peace,” as stated in the marriage office, to bless the whole nation through their individual and particular contributions to the general welfare.
No one lives a more isolated, excluded, particularistic life than the scientist. He or She, shuts themselves off in their research lab and prays, as did George Washington Carver, “God, please bless me with Thy enlightenment.” But, see the end result of this prayer. It has enriched millions and advanced the economy of our entire nation. Dedicated scientists literally bring “saving health into all nations” when the secrets of this Universe, that have been revealed to them by God, are shared with others. It all stems from the lone scientists’ prayer, “God bless me.” One particular person praying that through him or her, acting as God’s agent, saving health may become universally known. There is no doubt about it. Religion begins as an individual, particular matter between man and God.
With nations, both the particular and the universal outlook must be combined. To keep them apart spells moral disaster. “God bless America” – my nation – is a legitimate prayer. It can be viewed as high patriotism. Every nation should protect itself with tariff walls to foster its industry, and in turn, promote employment, but if the motive is solely to maintain a standard of living far above that of our neighbors, then this particular inward-looking attitude of the universal, outward-looking concern is morally bankrupt. To stop with “God bless us” is to forget the only legitimate reason why He implores that blessing – that all nations may ultimately share the blessings which God has bestowed upon us. In our Book of Common Prayer, and in the prayer, “for all sorts and conditions of man,” we find ourselves praying “that Thou wouldest be pleased to make Thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations.” God’s blessings are not for hoarding. When we share them, they multiply. Our own motto here at Good Shepherd is a good example when we say “to know Christ and to make Him known.”
There is a spiritual law that almost seems contradictory when it says: the only way to keep a blessing is to share it with others. In Matthew’s gospel, the author writes “freely ye have received, freely give.” There is nothing in life that is entirely free. Free will places upon us the hard necessity of making difficult choices. Free air obliges us to keep it unpolluted by atomic fallout and to protect against any poisoning of God’s fair earth. A selfish hoarding of particularism is death; an other-regarding mindset of Universalism is life, the more abundant life that our, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to bestow upon us all.
What begins with an individual continues through his family, his community, and his nation, increasing its effectiveness a hundredfold. An individual can take no credit for the national endowment of any talent. Credit lies in how we develop and use that talent. No nation has a claim to fame because of its natural resources. Its glory lies in the use of those resources as a blessing to others.
In one of our colleges on the eve of graduation, a graduating senior began this conversation with the Dean; “Now that I have paid for my education…” The Dean stopped him short. “Son,” he said, “the only way that you can pay for your education, will be determined by what you do with it.” This holds true, not only in the field of education, but in every realm of life, particularly in the realm of religion. Here we are clearly debtors to the faith of our fathers. “Others before us have labored; we have but entered into their labors.” (John 4:38) Those who come after us will demand of us the debt that we owe to those who came before us. To repay that debt and to repay it with interest is our solemn obligation.
God’s “saving health with all nations” must surely mean that what we so freely call “our religion” cannot stop in any parish or diocese or even at our nation’s edge. We are a people with a commission; a people sent on a mission. Obviously, we cannot all go “Unto all nations,” but we can let someone go; we can help someone go. A past pastoral letter to the House of Bishops reminds us: “the Christian church is the only organization in the world which exists primarily for those who do not belong to it” – those, wherever they may be, who are still unaware of God’s saving health.”
How are we sharing the blessings with which the Lord has blessed us? I believe the motto of the Church of the Good Shepherd says it all: “To know Christ and to make Him known”.
Offered by: Bobby Swineford