We have just finished one of the most exciting and rewarding weeks in the entire history of Antioch Baptist Church. We have experienced the most energetic and renewing summer revival our church has held in decades. Everyone who was present for those five nights spent under the tent and beneath the stars is still reeling from the spiritual growth that occurred in their lives. However, as exciting as last week was it begs another question, which is what happens next? What will we do in response to our week of revival and renewal? Will we simply look back on those seven days and remind ourselves for months into the future what a wonderful time we had, or will our individual and congregational future be different because of the time we spent together? As I reflect back on our weeklong experience and I am forced this question of myself and of all of us who shared those days; where do we go from here? When the tent comes down and the banners are removed and the future begins to crowd in upon us will anything have happened to us, will anything have changed as a result of our weeklong experience?
For some members of Antioch this question is moot because you did not share in any aspect of this week of fellowship. Like the apostle Thomas who was not present when Jesus paid a visit to the other disciples in the upper room, many members of this congregation were not present for the revival. It speaks volume of the nature of our spiritual lives that church members are more likely to attend church business meetings than they are to attend the church revival. All I can say is, if you were not there throughout that entire week you missed one of the most significant weeks in the entire 111-year history of Antioch Baptist Church.
You missed seeing people from all over this neighborhood come pouring onto these church grounds both for worship and for fellowship in a way that eventually made it impossible to determine who belonged to our church and who did not, because we were one in the spirit of God. I truly believe that since last Sunday morning we have been involved in everything that makes up our church purpose statement. We have had great teaching, a powerful outreach to the community, exciting worship in word, dance and song, the delivery of a solid evangelism effort, and a week of activities that have allowed us to build stronger relationships among ourselves and with our community.
But now comes the question of consequence and follow-up. Was last week simply a series of experiences to be enjoyed and remembered, or does that week that we went through together now call upon us to live and act differently into the future? As I reflect upon our revival I am forced to raise this question; what do we do now, what do we do next?
There is a word from Acts 2 that may help us to answer that question. The text takes us to the end of the very first revival in the history of the Christian community. As exciting and renewing as our revival was last week, there was another revival that was far better than anything we experienced. It happened in the city of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost about two thousand years ago. Peter preached a sermon that set an entire city on fire. That transformation in the life of Peter is a sermon in and of itself. The last time anybody heard anything from Peter was on the night before Jesus was crucified, and three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Now on the Day of Pentecost, under the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, Peter has preached a tremendous sermon that ends with words that redeem him from his earlier failure. Peter’s sermon ends with him saying openly and boldly, “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
What a transformation. Peter has gone from saying, “I never knew him”, to saying “Jesus is both Lord and Christ.” What makes this turn around all the more remarkable is that Peter is preaching in the same city where Jesus had been crucified, and scattered in the audience that day were many of the same people who had called for and participated in the crucifixion of Jesus. Something dramatic had happened to Peter, and now he was about to tell the people who had heard his sermon that something dramatic needed to happen to them as well.
At the end of the sermon the people said to Peter, “what must we do?” The first thing he says is fairly standard church procedure; “repent and be baptized.” Every Sunday in churches across America and around the world people are challenged by these same words; “repent and be baptized.” Many people gathered in this church today have gone through that process of confessing your sins and being baptized into the fellowship of the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. But later in his comments Peter adds something else to his list of instruction about what people should do in response to his revival sermon. Peter says, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Peter seems to understand that it is possible to repent of your sins and be baptized, but if you do not disconnect your life from the value system of the larger secular world in which you live every day you just might fall right back into the same beliefs and behaviors from which you had just repented. Here is the appropriate response to any revival, whether in the streets of Jerusalem or under a tent in Cleveland; “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
The word that Peter uses is translated as corrupt in the NIV. However, other translations render that word in different ways and all of them help make the point about the influence the outside world can have on our lives. The Greek word is “skolops” and it can mean warped – perverse – crooked – vicious – winding – or untoward which means not turned toward God. Our challenge is to live out our Christian faith in a world that is crooked, vicious, warped, winding, twisted and perverse. Our challenge is to let our light shine and let our faith be on display in a society that is defined by racism, sexism, materialism, classism, ageism and terrorism. Our challenge is to remain faithful to our Christian convictions in a world where drugs and alcohol are prevalent in every corner of society and where twisted and ungodly sexual behaviors are not just practiced in private settings, but worse, where they are praised and performed on TV screens and in movie theatres.
How can we remain faithful to God is a world where all of that is going on around us? Peter’s answer is clear; “save yourselves from this crooked – perverse – wicked – winding – vicious – untoward generation.” We need to disconnect some of the things that link us to the wider world so that we can be more intimately connected to Jesus Christ. There are some things we should not do as Christians, no matter how many people in this corrupt generation are doing them. There are some things we should not believe in no matter how many people in this perverse generation profess to believe in those things. There are some with which we should never accept either by consent or by that silence that breeds consent, and we should hold to our values and views no matter what people I this crooked and wicked world may choose to do.
Do you doubt that we are living in a wicked and a corrupt generation? Let me remind you of just a few of the headlines that greeted us just this past week. In nearby Olmsted Falls a man is arrested for multiple counts of forcing children into sexual acts with him while he caught the whole thing on video, and that kind of thing seems to be reported all the time. States all across the country are gearing up to resist the idea of same-sex marriage. The New York Times reported last week that HIV/AIDS continues to run through our communities like a devouring plague, and it is fueled by IV drug use. A new term has worked its way into our national vocabulary and that is “down-low brothers” which means men who marry women but secretly sleep and have sex with other men. That term not only applies to men in economically depressed areas of our society, but also apparently includes the Governor of New Jersey who has announced that he will resign from office as a result of his “down low” activities. There are hundreds of thousands of men who end up in prisons across America where they have sex with each other and then spread HIV/AIDS to their wives and girl friends when they are released. What else can you say except that we live in a corrupt and wicked generation?
A football player named Kellen Winslow, Jr. refused to report to training camp until he was awarded a $40 million contract to play a game here in Cleveland; a city and a county where teachers are being laid off, school levies are failing, small businesses are going into bankruptcy and where the average family income is less that $40,000 per year. In this age of twenty-something athletes and entertainers who live wasteful and exorbitant lifestyles while the people who they expect to pay for the tickets to watch them perform are sinking deeper and deeper into financial trouble, we live in a wicked and a perverse generation.
Our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, by a group called Al Qaeda, and they are threatening to attack us again. Meanwhile, our nation has become bogged down in a war in Iraq. U.S. soldiers in a prison called Abu Grahb forced prisoners to strip naked, and then they put dog collars around their necks and make them simulate sexual acts while vicious dogs are held only inches from their faces and genitals. Even now, one of those soldiers assigned to that prison is being tried for her role in that horrible abuse of power, and she is herself pregnant with the child she conceived out of wedlock with another soldier assigned to that prison.
Whether you considered the moral climate of our society, the dangerous and deadly conflict in Iraq or the inverted economic priorities we have established in America where people who “play” for a living earn millions while people who “pay” their salaries are not sure from day to day if they will even have a job, we are living in a corrupt generation.
Our challenge as Christians is to be in the world but not of the world. Our challenge as Christians is to be salt in the earth and light in the world, and not to blend in with the values of this generation and do what everybody else is doing. I am challenging everyone who experienced our revival to hear the words of Peter at the end of his revival sermon’ “save yourself from this corrupt generation.” Step away from some aspect of this culture that you know is immoral. Stop accepting some practice in our society that you know is ungodly. Stop associating with people that you know are going to hell and who would like nothing more than to take you and me along for the ride. Save yourself from this corrupt generation!
Let me offer two illustrations about people who did or did not distance themselves from the values and practices of their wicked generation. Joseph Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago tells the story of a man named Dan who worked as an executive for one of the major Cable TV companies. He made a great living, but he was bothered by the pornography that was prevalent on the stations carried by his company. It was not the fact that he watched pornography himself, it was the fact that he was participating in establishing the program schedule for that Cable TV Company and pornography was what the viewers wanted.
His question to Joseph Stowell, who at that time was still serving as a local pastor, was what he, as a Christian should do? Is it all right to earn your living in an industry that so regularly dishonors the values of your faith? What do you do when how you earn your money conflicts with what Christ has taught? Some people may need to change careers because their lifestyle is being supported by a job that is a reflection of this crooked generation. The man in the story by Joseph Stowell did exactly that; he left his job as way of saving his conscience from a corrupt generation.
Now consider U.S. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia who recently authored a book that focused on all of the problems in the Bush administration. But in a radio interview on the Diane Rheem Show he was asked about his own background as a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. He confessed that he had belonged to that group, and he also confessed that while under its influence he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and also against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He explained his behavior by saying that in the world where he lived and grew into manhood those were the prevailing values of the society. He became a racist, because so many of the men around him were also racists. He became a Klansman because so many of the men around him were Klansman. He blended in and did what everybody else was doing, even though he now confesses that such groups and such views should never have existed in America.
Here is life as we observe it every day; some people have the moral courage to save themselves from the things in society that lead to ungodliness while others just blend in and do what everybody else in society, including the non-believers are doing every day. Here is what happens to so many people in churches across this city and across this country; they just blend in with their society. They do what they see everybody else doing. They do not turn away from evil, they turn to it and they get involved with it, and before you know it their lives are as corrupted as the society in which they live.
Other folks are committing adultery, so some Christians start committing as well. Other folks are smoking crack and sniffing cocaine, so some Christians just join in on the action. Other people in your school are joining street gangs, so young Christians get drawn into that same behavior as well. Our job is not to blend in; our job is to stand out. Our mission is not to copy what a sinful world is doing, but to be so strong in our witness that a sinful world will turn to us like they turned to Peter in this text in Acts 2 and inquire; what must we do? Then we can tell our generation what Peter said to his generation; save yourself from this corrupt and perverse generation!
David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times wrote last week that people in any kind of leadership role must wrestle with the question of when do they serve their constituents and when do they serve their conscience?” That same question applies to every one of us as Christians. When do we do what those around us are doing, and when do we break ranks with the people around us, no matter how much we might admire or envy them, because our conscience is pointing us in another direction? As a result of this week of revival you and I should be separating from some of our former constituents and colleagues as we listen to and follow the dictates of our conscience. Save yourself from this corrupt generation.
Let me take another look at what it means to save yourself from this crooked – twisted – perverse and untoward generation. A few weeks ago as I was walking out of a post office and heading to my car, a man I did not know but who recognized me rushed up to me in a great hurry to ask me what he said was an urgent question. I thought it might have been about prostate cancer, in light of my recent experience, or about marriage in light of my book from last year. In fact, he did want to ask me about a book, but it was not one of mine. He wanted to ask me if I had read The DaVinci Code. He told me that The DaVinci Code had undermined his faith. He told me that he was no longer sure if he could trust in or believe in the Bible after having read The DaVinci Code. He wanted my opinion, because the book by Dan Brown entitled The DaVinci Code had caused him to question his faith in Jesus Christ.
Newsweek and Time magazines have done front-page stories on The DaVinci Code. Last week on ABC there was an hour-long special on whether or not the claims in that book are true. Ricky Williams, the All-Pro running back from the Miami Dolphins announced that after he had read The DaVinci Code he was retiring from football so he devote himself to the search for truth about the issues raised in that book. This man gave up a multi-million dollar contract because of a book. Our generation has become obsessed with this one book.
In case you have not read that book, I have read it for you and this is what it is about. The DaVinci Code is about long hidden evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a child together. The Holy Grail for which people have been searching since the time of Christ was not the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, instead the Holy Grail is the womb of Mary from which their son was born. The proof that Mary and Jesus were married, says this book, is that upon a close inspection of the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci one of the persons standing close to Jesus is actually a woman and that woman is Mary Magdalene.
If the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene were to get out, says The DaVinci Code, it would undermine much of the theology upon which the Roman Catholic Church was established. Therefore, a secret society had been protecting this information for these last 2000 years, and the Roman Catholic Church was having the last surviving members of this secret society killed in order to prevent them from releasing this information to the public. The book takes the reader from the Louvre Museum in Paris, to Westminster Abbey in London, to a small parish church in Scotland and then back to Paris again.
According to The DaVinci Code, the Bible is a lie because it does not accurately report the relationship between Mary and Jesus, and worse, Jesus cannot be the sinless savior of the world because he has engaged in the same carnal acts as the rest of the world. Moreover, how can the Roman Catholic Church require celibacy of its priests if Jesus was married and had a child with Mary Magdalene? That, in essence, is the story-line of The DaVinci Code, and as a result of that novel an entire society has been thrown into a frenzy over whether or not their faith is authentic, whether the Bible can be trusted, and whether or not Jesus is really the Son of God and the savior of the world.
I asked that man in the parking lot if he had seen the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film with Sean Connery and Harrison Ford that was also about the quest for the Holy Grail. He said he had, so I asked him if that film had undermined his faith, and he said that it had not. So why, I asked him, did a novel do what a film could not? He promised to think about that question and get back with me.
Let me tell you what I told him that day in the parking lot. I am not prepared to hand in my Bible with its truths that are thousands of years old in exchange for a book that was written last year. I am not trading in Jesus Christ for Leonardo DaVinci. I am not going to abandon my faith because a storyteller named Dan Brown has weaved a wonderful novel. I am saving myself from this corrupt and perverse generation. Others can put their faith in the pages of The DaVinci Code if they want to, but as for me I have just two things to say. First of all, I say with Isaiah 40:8, “the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Second, I say with the hymn writer, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
This time next year copies of The DaVinci Code will be gathering dust on bookshelves all over the world. At the same time, men and women will still be saying, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and they will still be saying “Thy word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path”, and they will still be saying “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against God.”
Never mind what this world may do and never mind what some people in this world may believe. Hear the words of our slave ancestors who taught us how to sing, “You may have all this world, just give me Jesus. On a sick bed, I want Jesus and not DaVinci. When I am approaching my grave I want Jesus and not DaVinci. When my money is short, and my mind is confused, and my heart is heavy and the way before me seems dark and drear, please do not hand me a copy of The DaVinci Code. Somebody just call the name of Jesus. Just remind me to lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. Save yourself from this corrupt generation and cast your life, your hope and your faith on Christ.
Marvin A. McMickle is Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.