Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Feast of Blessed Paul Jones

The Feast of Blessed Paul JonesSept. 4, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, N.D.

John 8.31-32.
Today, we commemorate the feast of Paul Jones on the sixty-sixth anniversary of his death. Paul Jones was elected Bishop of Utah in 1914, just as World War I was breaking out. He did much as Bishop of Utah. He established preaching stations, he made others aware of what was then known as a missionary district.

But what he is best known for now, is not what he did as Bishop of Utah, but what he protested and spoke out against—namely war. In a speech in 1917, Bishop Jones did something few other people were doing at that time: he called war “unchristian.”

He went on to say, “Christians are not justified in treating the Sermon on the Mount as a scrap of paper."

Most of us no doubt shrug our shoulders when we hear that Bishop Jones protested the war. After all, we live in this post-Vietnam War era in which protesting war is just a part of out culture, whether we agree with it or not. But in 1918, protesting America’s involvement in war was considered unpatriotic and calling war unchristian was considered unbecoming of an Episcopal bishop. If fact, it was so scandalous, that Bishop Jones that, because of his statement, he was asked by the House of Bishops to resign, which he did, in the spring of 1918.

On resigning, he wrote, “I believe that the methods of modern international war are quite incompatible with the Christian principles of reconciliation and brotherhood, and that it is the duty of a Bishop of the Church, from his study of the word of God, to express himself on questions of righteousness, no matter what opinion may stand in the way."

Bishop Jones, whether you agree with his position on war or not, is still a great example for all of us Christians. He stood up for his convictions and lived by them no matter what anyone else thought. He truly lived out the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading this evening—

“If you hold to my teaching, you are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
He lived out to those words and that conviction to be a disciple of Christ, even to the point of stepping down from a position to which he felt called.

Occasionally, in our lives, we must live out the words of Jesus from tonight’s Gospel much as Bishop Jones did. We, as Christians, are called to know the truth and in knowing the truth, we know that the truth is truly freeing.

For Paul Jones, he knew the truth. For him, he could not reconcile the fact that one can still fight in a war and be a Christian. He did not feel that one can truly love God and love one’s neighbor as one’s self and still condone war. For Bishop Jones, this was the ultimate truth. And although he had to give up everything, he lived his life in truth to himself.

Paul Jones is ultimately an example to all of us for two reasons. On one hand, he represents in a powerful way that Christians who are pacifists should be respected for their views. It is easy to see war as unchristian. There is nothing beautiful about war. And for those people who have been through war, they know how horrible unchristian it can be. The fact is, whenever war breaks out in the world, we as Christians need to examine ourselves and our convictions deeply before we either condone or condemn the actions of that war. We need to return to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers, and we need to return to the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I’m not saying we should all be pacifists. I think there is such thing as a justified war. But I do believe any decisions we as Christians make about war need to be made with prayerfulness, deliberation and keeping intact our faith in Christ who calls to love not hate, to peace not violence, to life not death.

Paul Jones is an example for a second reason: He lived out his Christian convictions deeply and thoroughly, against great odds. And just because society at that time condemned him for his views, in the long run, he has prevailed. When we look at the Bishops who were seated in the House of Bishops in 1918, we probably don’t remember many of them now. We certainly don’t commemorate them as saints. But here we have Paul Jones. 66 years after his death, we are commemorating him and discussing him still. In this time of war, many Christians look to him as one of the many pacifists who paved the way for them to be able to speak out against war. And for all of us, Paul Jones helps instill in us the courage to stand up for our convictions, no matter how unpopular they may seem by society as a whole.

And even there, we find a lesson for all of us: God can take a perceived defeat, like being forced to resign as Bishop, and can use that defeat as an ultimate triumph. That is a wonderful lesson for us as well. Even our failures can be turned to God’s ultimate glory in the end.

So, let us remember Bishop Paul Jones and let us do him honor by standing up for the Truth. Like Bishop Jones, hold to the teachings of Christ as you see them and as you live them out in your life. And know that the Truth of those convictions in Christ will, without doubt, set you free.

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