The Gospel St. Matthew ch 6 v. 24.
But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness ; and all these things shall be added unto you.
In a previous sermon, I warned about the dangers of what I referred to as the “Modernist” doctrine. As I described it, the modernist doctrine is a corruption of Christianity; indeed it is heresy, because it proclaims a false Gospel based on the notion that Jesus was just a good guy and that his real message is that we can do whatever we want as long as we’re nice to one another.
But this is not the only example of an attempt to corrupt the true message of Christianity. There are other entities out there in the world who likewise twist the Gospels to mean that they want them to. And the adherents to these other corruptions are just as dangerous; indeed, they may be even more so, because they have been very successful. Here is one example.
Some time ago, I read an article in Time magazine that described a relatively recent phenomena going about in some of the “mega” Protestant churches. The article described what some are calling the Prosperity gospel, or Prosperity Lite. What the proponents of this doctrine would have you believe is that God wants you to be wealthy and successful here on earth. In other words, these folks are using the Gospel to say that if you believe in God, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you will receive material riches during your time in this mortal existence.
These people make little to no mention of Christ’s humility. They make no mention of Jesus Death on the Cross, his Resurrection and Ascension; they make absolutely no mention of our sinful nature or of the need for our Atonement. Just say you believe in “Jeeeezus!”, and a world of riches is yours!
What a crock. Further, what a statement on our society, our faith. That anyone who calls themselves a Christian could honestly believe that they are entitled to earthly riches, IN JESUS NAME! Well, to say it’s blasphemy would be putting it too mildly. Heresy might be a better word.
But this sort of belief is a danger that we all face. When we do pray, it’s very easy to pray for all sorts of things that, when we analyze them, miss the mark. We pray for others to regain their health. Nothing wrong with that, is there? We pray for ourselves to gain strength. Again, what’s wrong with that?
But how many of us really pray that God will be the focus of our lives? How many of us pray and just say “thank you” for what we already have; or for what we have received during our lives? How many of us pray just in wonderment that God loved us so much that he sent his only Son so that we could be saved?
That’s the point that I think that all these “Prosperity” advocates miss. That’s the point that I think that most all modern or liberal “theologians” miss or reject. And as a result, we are subjected to any number of heresies or distortions that take us away from the real message; that God should be at the center of our lives just because we love Him.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of what I call “distortions”. First, this whole “Prosperity” gospel and its cousin, “Prosperity Lite”. The thinking here goes that God doesn’t want you to suffer. He doesn’t want you to be poor. And so he provided us the means, through belief in His Son, to be successful. Just believe in Jesus, and the world will be yours.
Well, my counter would be the example of St. Paul himself. St. Paul tells us about all he suffered; shipwreck, beatings, stoning, imprisonment. Think about that for a second. Was there ever anyone who believed in Jesus Christ more than St. Paul? Why then did he suffer so much? If we believe in the “Prosperity” gospel, then shouldn’t Paul have been the emperor of the world?
As for “Prosperity Lite”, well it too falls short. This philosophy says that you will be successful so that you can do good works here on earth. Believe in Jesus, and you’ll get wealthy so that you can build housing for low-income folks, etc. Again, where’s the Crucifixion? Where’s the Resurrection? Where’s the Ascension? Where’s the idea that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son? No, just a message of wealth, promised if you likewise promise to help others.
This particular doctrine has a distant cousin in the other “distortion” that rankles me these days. The “social gospel” of Jesus. This thinking goes that the main message of Jesus life is that we should help others; help the poor, cloth the naked, feed the hungry. All very worthy actions, and certainly ones that Our Lord commanded us to do.
But this too falls short. And it falls short for two reasons; first, because the people who believe this think that Jesus was only about social justice and equality. And second, because once again, the focus is on us and not on God.
If we focus on God, we keep His commandments in word and in spirit. If we focus on God, then we realize that our riches, our true riches, are not here on earth, but in Heaven. If we focus on God, we realize that “prosperity”, and “social justice”, are not earthly concepts at all, but rather heavenly concepts for us to use here on earth.
“Prosperity” means that God gives us what we need. To do what, is up to us to figure out, of course. But think about it in this way, “Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself”. If we give our lives to God, God will provide us with what we need; not to gain prosperity, but to truly prosper! To do what is His Will! To accomplish what is in His plan! You ever hear the old joke, “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”? We are all put here, right here, right now, right at this time, for a reason. God wants us to prosper, so that we, and those around us, can return to Him and be in the presence of His Eternal Love.
As for the “social gospel”, well, social justice can take many forms, depending on who you talk to. My parents used to engage in something they called “tough love”. This means that when I got out of line, they took action. And sometimes, I didn’t particularly like or agree with those actions; Spent entire months being grounded. But at all times, they took their actions not because they were trying to exercise or demonstrate their control over me, but because they loved me and they wanted me to see that there was a right way to act in a given situation.
That’s the difference between the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the “social gospel” theory. Jesus was not just saying that we have to be nice to one another. He was saying that there are ways to love God, to follow God, to return to God. The “social justice” concept was just one part of this process. Without recognizing God, without believing in God, without obeying God, without loving God with all your heart, mind and soul, “social justice” is empty. St. Paul said that faith without works is dead. He also said that we are not saved by works alone.
So, what is the message in the Gospel today? Let’s keep it simple. God wants us to prosper. And to that end, He gives us what we need. He’s given us His church. He’s given us each other. He has given us a community populated with people who need us. But most of all, He’s given us that Faith once delivered by Jesus Christ to his apostles; as described by the fathers of the Church; as interpreted by the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church.
If you are in poor health, you still have what you need. If you don’t have financial or material wealth, you still have what you need. If you are distressed or having problems at work, you still have what you need. You have everything you need to witness to your faith, to work for the Church, to preach the Gospel, to make God the center of your life, to bring others to Him; you have been given everything you need, because God wants you to prosper.