So You Wanna be a Wiseguy, Eh?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 17B, September 23, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a; Mark 9.30-37.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Since it is Father Bowser’s birthday today, he felt compelled to offer me some advice about my preaching now that he is an official geezer and since I’ve been out of the saddle for awhile. “Preaching,” he told me, “is like drilling for oil. If you haven’t struck it after 10 minutes, stop boring.” 

In our psalm lesson this morning we are given a stark choice. We can live our lives wisely or foolishly. The former will result in us enjoying God’s blessings while the latter will result in our ultimate destruction. Of course life is not as clear-cut as the psalmist might imply. Real life is much messier because human beings are a mess. This doesn’t negate the psalm’s exhortation for us to live wisely, however, because the love, grace, and power of God are far greater than our messiness and this notion of living wisely is what I want us to look at this morning.  

Before we look at what wise living looks like, we had better understand how the Bible defines wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Wisdom as Scripture uses it starts with a healthy fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9.10). But what does that mean? Fearing the Lord does not mean we are to be terrified of God. To be sure, there is an element of judgment to fearing the Lord. After all, our Lord Jesus told us to fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10.28). But fear of the Lord is much more than our dread of God’s judgment on us because we have seen the cross of Jesus Christ and we therefore know the great love and grace that flows from the Father’s heart for us. God’s desire for us is life and health, not death and destruction. What truly loving father would not want good things for his own children? So we have a healthy respect for God’s power combined with a grateful heart for God’s love for us and his gracious and generous heart that causes him to shower upon us his undeserved blessings. We therefore live wisely when we order our lives in ways that are consistent with God’s created order and God’s will for us as his image-bearing creatures. After all, God created us in his image so that we could run God’s world on his behalf. To do that, of course, means we have to reflect God’s generous heart, love, and passion for justice for all his creation and creatures. This is why God gave Israel his law, so that they could learn how to live as God’s image-bearers and reflect God’s goodness and blessings to the world as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 12.3). So at its very core, biblical wisdom is always manifested primarily in what we do. We see the advantages of living wisely that Psalm 1 promises in our OT lesson this morning. Rather than seeing the wife as the gold standard for which we must strive (an impossible task even for the best of us), we see the blessings that result from wise living. As a result of this woman’s noble character, her wise living brings God’s blessings to many others. Her family and community are blessed and while the writer never states this explicitly, we can safely presume she finds blessing and self-satisfaction in serving as a conduit for helping others experience God’s blessings through her noble character and work. This is how biblical wisdom is supposed to work and manifest itself.

This all sounds simple enough and it was before the Fall when our human ancestors lived in paradise and enjoyed perfect communion with God. But unfortunately we live in a post-Fall world where we are expelled from paradise and are thoroughly infected by the twin powers of Sin and Evil that make it impossible for us on our own to follow God’s laws. We all know, for example, that such a wife as we read about in Proverbs (or a husband for that matter) does not exist—well, except for my own wife; just sayin’. Does that mean we are free to ignore the biblical exhortation to live wisely? No at all! Help is available to us as we shall see shortly. Our job is to use our will (or to use the language of Scripture, to follow our heart) to choose to live wisely. This is not easy and we should be prepared for a lengthy battle to attain godly wisdom because of our corrupted nature and because as St. Paul reminds us, our real battle is not against flesh and blood but against the dark powers that hate us and have enslaved us with the sole purpose of destroying us (Ephesians 6.12; cp. Colossians 2.13-15).

In our epistle lesson this morning, St. James addresses this struggle to live wisely because of our thoroughly corrupted hearts, the center of our will. Like the psalmist in our psalm lesson, St. James is encouraging us to choose the path of godly wisdom and not worldly wisdom, in part by warning us of the dire consequences of following the latter path and holding before us the blessings of following the former path. Keep in mind that St. James was not a head-in-the-cloud idealist. He was a tough realist who knew well the human condition with all its corruption. He knew life was messy and sometimes ugly. After all, he was martyred for his faith. But St. James also knew the reality of God’s love, grace, and power in our lives, and we would be wise to take some time and reflect regularly on the wisdom he imparts to us.

He starts with a probing question. St. James asks us if we really want to seek godly wisdom, which by necessity is based on humility, or do we seek God’s wisdom just to feed our pride and ambition? Seeking godly wisdom means we seek to follow God’s order, not our own chaos-producing sin. This means we must humble ourselves before the word of God and submit to it, something none of us is particularly eager to do. We must listen and seek to understand so that we can follow God’s order faithfully. It means we embrace our role as God’s image-bearers and seek to order or lives in ways that reflect the goodness, love, mercy, and justice of God to his corrupt and hurting world and its people. Of course, human nature being what it is, there are some who seek to appear godly so that folks will look up to them when in reality they are pursuing their own selfish ambition. The scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church of late or the other horror stories that involve fallen theology and church leaders in our own Anglican Communion and elsewhere remind us that St. James knew what he was talking about, and anyone who is a leader in a church, myself included, had better take this warning to heart and examine prayerfully and consistently his or her own heart and motives in the light of God’s law. Do our actions reflect our profession of desiring God’s wisdom? There is nothing more catastrophic to our duty to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world than to act proudly and hypocritically or to pervert God’s word by making it submit to our own warped agendas and corrupted desires rather than having the needed God-given humility to learn God’s ways and laws. Scripture calls this kind of living “foolish.”

And how are we to distinguish between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom? Simple, says St. James. Earthly wisdom has its roots in rebellion and Sin and Evil. It is devilish because there are unseen and wicked powers behind wicked and evil human behavior. The result? Warfare and chaos, the defining characteristic of sin—think of God ordering the chaos of nothingness in the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2. We all know how this works because we all have engaged in it. We don’t get what we want so we go on the attack. We slander our enemies to discredit them. We see this happening in the Kavanaugh hearings right now. The enemies of Judge Kavanaugh are trying to paint him as a sexual abuser/predator to discredit him. The enemies of his accuser, Dr. Ford, are pointing out examples that call her motives and character into question to discredit her and her accusations. Both sides will be relentless until their enemy is destroyed and victory (in their eyes) is achieved. This is the evil of PC in our culture because this is how PC works. Not surprisingly we also see what St. James is talking about in Jesus’ disciples in our gospel lesson. They were arguing about who would be the greatest when Jesus came to power as Messiah. Do you think that argument was going to produce peace? And the silence that ensued when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about is quite telling. They knew the evil they had committed in their desire to lord it over others. Shame often results in silence.

And it’s not only politics. It’s money (lying, cheating, stealing, drug dealing, embezzling to get it), fame (we all desperately want our minute of fame), power (we oppress others in various ways to impose our will over them), security (gated communities, stealing and embezzling to secure our future retirement, carrying weapons), sex (body shaming to make us feel better, adultery, any kind of sex outside marriage), you name it. We do what we have to do to satisfy our lesser, base, and sin-corrupted desires, harming or destroying others along the way, and the result is chaos. As this nation continues to lose its Judeo-Christian moorings we can expect this phenomenon to accelerate and intensify. This is the wisdom of the world at work and sadly every one of us is intimately familiar with it because we are all thoroughly sin-infected.

By contrast, St. James tells us that godly wisdom is pure, meaning it comes from God. “It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” To produce this kind of fruit of course requires humility, which is not a natural human trait. It has to be given to us by God and then cultivated by our hard work and willingness and desire to be true image-bearers. A moment’s thought will confirm the truth of how this works. If we are determined to have our way at all costs as earthly wisdom dictates (look out for yourself because no one else will), we will not yield to another person because we subordinate that person and his desires to us and our own. This is human pride at work. But when we understand we are all made in God’s image and that we and our needs are not more important to God than other folks and their needs, we are willing to yield on certain things. I am not talking about appeasement. I am talking about a willingness to help others have their needs and desires met, especially when we see that those desires reflect God and God’s laws. Or we see someone in need and seek to help them. We shovel an elderly person’s walk or buy some food for a hungry person. We help Fr. Madanu buy a ticket to see his family when he cannot afford to buy one. You get the idea. When that happens, peace almost always breaks out. Think about it this way. You see two people walking toward you. One is cynical, quarrelsome, and always has to be right: a worldly-wise person. The other is gentle, humble, willing to help, ready to forgive: a godly-wise person. Which one will you try to avoid? 

As we consider all this, it is critical for us to remember that St. James was offering wisdom in the context of community, not just to individuals. We can’t very well make peace if another family member is unwilling to do likewise or is unwilling to forgive us or have mercy on us or is proud and haughty. This community dimension is critical for us as Christians because the kind of wisdom we choose to follow will result in the kind of witness we give to a watching world. When we follow our own devilish and evil desires, what are we proclaiming to the world about our faith in Christ? People will see us arguing and forming into factions and seeking our own interests over the needs and interests of others. Why would they think that the gospel of Jesus Christ has any kind of transformative power? Why would they want to be part of a family like that? So St. James is speaking to all of us here in the St. Augustine’s family, not just the leaders. 

But if we are so thoroughly corrupted that we cannot acquire godly wisdom on our own, what are we to do? It is here that the good folks who put together the Lectionary let us down once again because they omit the following verses from our lesson:

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4.4-6).

Well, it appears that the folks who choose the readings don’t have a taste for, um, “hard passages.” Adulterers? Life or death choices? Stern warnings? How very preachy and judgmental, no?! Well no, actually. There is nothing judgmental in these verses. St. James is following the biblical definition of love, which has very little to do with sentimentality and emotion and almost everything to do with the good of the beloved, which means getting it right about being human as we have seen. Here he warns us that when we follow the wisdom of the world we commit spiritual adultery against God by giving our heart to the ways of the world rather than to the ways of God in the manner God intended for us when God created us as his image-bearers. That will result in God’s awful judgment on us. So to help us stay loyal to him, God willingly and generously gives us his Spirit and the grace to be humble so that we can learn how to practice humility. St. James says the same thing later in our lesson. He asks how we can stop our incessant warfare and chaos? His answer is by self-discipline and prayer. Chaos results from pride and wicked selfishness. We think we have to provide for ourselves. But no! God provides for us if we have the good sense and humility to ask him, and to ask him for the things that bring glory to God’s name rather than to us. Jesus said much the same when he told us to ask for whatever we want in his Name and it will be given to us. As a young man I thought that was strange. Was Jesus giving me license to ask for money or a new car or sex or anything else that was important to me at the time? No, because those things would not bring God glory through the Son (John 14.13). A heart set on Jesus, i.e., God, desires the things Jesus (God) desires and is more concerned about bringing honor and glory to his Name than our own.

This then is the challenge for those of us who seek to follow Christ. It is a call to examine ourselves, especially in terms of how consistently we live out our profession of faith. It is a challenge because living wisely in the light of God’s law is not natural to us. But as with everything else involving the Christian faith, we are not called to attempt the impossible. The God who calls us to live godly lives that will reflect the glory and goodness of his Name also equips us in the power of the Spirit to give us a humble spirit and the freedom to develop it. Our challenge is not whether we can live godly lives, it’s whether we really want to at all. Examine yourselves, therefore, and ask the Father through the Son to help you develop his gift of humility so that you are empowered to live as you are called to live so that you will enjoy the great blessings God wants to give you. The Father has done the hardest work. He has sent the Son to die for you to break the power of Sin and Evil and free you from its wicked enslavement. Trust that God to help you live as he calls you to live. Doing so will make you real wise guys, my beloved. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Fr. Terry Gatwood: The Lord’s Power

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14B, Sunday, September 9, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

To the end, Father Gatwood’s ability to write sermons failed him. We wish him well and godspeed in his new endeavors at St. Nicholas Anglican Church. Click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2.1-17; Mark 7.24-37.

Fr. Philip Sang: The Old and the New

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14B, Sunday, September 2, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2.8-13; Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10; James 1.17-27; Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

We all have certain core traditions and beliefs that are important to us. They make us who we are, they define our own behaviours and the way we think other people should behave. That is what lies behind the Gospel passage we read today.

As usual, the Pharisees and Jesus were having a difference of opinion. The Pharisees were upset because Jesus and his disciples did not take part in the Jewish hand-washing ritual before they ate. To the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples committed a “sin”.

The Pharisees were not the only people who get upset when traditions are not followed. We get upset when people do not follow our “traditions”. We sometimes have to part with our traditions, and that is not always easy for us to accept. I know how hard it can be to depart from tradition or the old way of doing things.

We must not think that the Pharisees are completely bad. They were dedicated to obeying and pleasing God, and that desire led to distinctive practices such as kosher food and circumcision. These practices helped them to keep their identity as God’s chosen people in a pagan world. Their traditions grew out of a need to keep their identity.

Even though the Jewish law was quite detailed, it left room for interpretation in many cases. The Pharisees used their desire to obey God to create rules to clarify the law in these situations. Over time these rules became so hard and fast that they became a surrogate law that the Jewish leaders regarded as being equal to Scripture. They lost sight of the difference between God’s law and their opinion. Jesus said that this was their sin. Jesus did not condemn all tradition. He only condemned those traditions that were elevated to sacred status. The church is responsible for preserving tradition, but it must make a clear distinction between essential scriptural teachings and non-essential traditions.

When he responded to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus went right to the heart of the issue. The Pharisees wanted to hold on to human tradition at all costs when they should have been more concerned with teaching God’s deeper requirements of love, compassion and justice. God is more concerned with a spiritual cleansing and purifying. If our hearts have been purified, our prayer and behaviour will be in line with what God wants. If we act out of good hearts we will know how to behave even if we don’t know the exact rule for a particular situation.

While a sense of tradition is desirable and necessary at times, a problem occurs when tradition is substituted for true worship or true faith. When the actions associated with our traditions become more important than the meaning of the traditions, we can get sidetracked. The Pharisees were more concerned with strict observance of Jewish laws than they were about true faith in God. The Pharisees were concerned about keeping God’s people distinct and keeping them from becoming assimilated with the larger culture. This effort to be distinct included rigid observance of rules, but the observance of rules covered up their lack of inward love and devotion. They were concerned about not letting germs and pollution go into their bodies, but Jesus said that they and we should be more concerned about the filth that comes out of our mouths-lying, cheating, etc. The Pharisees were concerned about the letter of the law including their rules and regulations, but Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law. We must beware of those who appear to be very religious by their actions, but who are really glorifying themselves instead of glorifying God. We should never honour anyone above God. Only he is truly worthy of our praise.

Each and every one of us has a heart problem, and not just a physical one. The heart is a fountain out of which much that affects our lives flows. If the heart is affected by sin, it becomes deceitful and wicked. Therefore, the heart is a source of most of the evil that defiles man. The world is enticing, but for its pull to work, we have to want what it is offering. We do the stupid stuff that we do because it is our human nature. We have to be aware of our sinful nature. When we give in to temptation, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

What we eat and drink can’t hurt and defile us. Only what comes out of us-ungodly words and actions-can defile us. Jesus wants us and his disciples to see that the core issue always comes down to what is in the heart. Ritual external purity is not necessarily the same as genuine interior piety. We are being hypocrites if we vainly honour God with our lips while our hearts are estranged from him. The source of defilement is more internal than external. It is more about who we are than foods or filth we avoid. Jesus defined true piety as a commitment from the heart totally dedicated to loving service of God and for others. Listening and doing are two different things.

Some people who attend church are like that. They carry their Bibles, they bring their offering, they sing every hymn and they listen to every word the preacher says, but it doesn’t change anything in their hearts. They look good on the outside, but their goodness is only skin deep. Their worship is for appearance only and is not from the heart.

That does mean that we cannot be hurt by what comes into our bodies. The obvious sources are smoke, pollution and poor diet, but we can also be defiled from the outside by the environment that we live in. I’m reminded of a discussion we had with our teacher in my High school days about how the choices we make can affect our lives. He said, “You are who you associate with” and that is true. For example, if you live in an area with a high rate of crime, chances are that you will either be seen as criminal or become a criminal if you are not careful.

When God looks at us, the first thing he sees is the state of our heart. God doesn’t care about what we look like on the outside. He’s more concerned about what’s on the inside. He has more sympathy and compassion for a poor beggar in rags who has true faith than he does for rich rulers who wear fine clothes but have rotten hearts and souls. If we don’t take time to have our hearts purified by God every time, we won’t be able to receive his blessings.

Jesus argued that the observance of outside purity is not as importantly needed as the inside because the kingdom of God is for everyone-Jews, Gentiles, those who would observe the purity laws and those who could not keep them. Everyone is equal before God.

Those who are ‘holier than thou’ often have the belief that they can judge others. When that attitude is observed from afar, it is not pretty. It reeks of a superficial, survivalistic and hateful attitude. These people are often the same people who on the surface observe sacred rituals. They have no inward disposition towards God-hence Jesus’ reference to the filth that comes from the inside.

Jesus sets us free to look at ourselves and see our internal, sinful nature. We are free to accept the grace to choose God’s mercy, but we can’t admit that we need outside help. We need outside help to take in goodness and bear good fruit. If our hearts belong to God, nothing else matters.

When people equate tradition with the Law, problems come up. The Pharisees have made the Law more important than God’s rules, just like many of us have made our traditions more important than true faith in God. The Protestant reformation was fuelled in part by the desire to break free from corrupt Roman Catholic traditions and rules and get back to true worship of God. Jesus argued that not all of the Pharisees’ rules had to be obeyed. All we have to do is love God with our hearts, not our heads.

We have to ask ourselves what are the interests of God, and what does God think about the way we live our lives. Does the way we live our lives reflect a way of life that is in line with God and his plan for our lives? While our Christianity should shape our behaviour, it runs deeper than our behaviour. It has implications for how we live our lives, but it is also mysticism before it is morality, faith before it is action, the seed of a new life before it is the fruit of that new life.

Those who would serve the interests of God can do so by giving expression to joy in their lives. Those who feel God’s love have much to offer the hurting and disconnected in our world. It is my prayer that we may feel the love of God and share it out.

In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.

August 27, 2018: A Prayer for the Feast Day of Monica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo (387AD)

Monica Mother of Augustine of HippoFaithful God,
who strengthened Monica, the mother of Augustine,
with wisdom,
and through her patient endurance encouraged him
to seek after you:
give us the will to persist in prayer
that those who stray from you may be brought to faith
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bishop Roger Ames: It Takes a Community

Sermon delivered at the parish dedication festival for St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Sunday, August 26, 2018 in Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; 1 Peter 2.1-10; John 10.22-29.

There is no written text to today’s sermon. Bishop Ames has been afflicted by the can’t-write bug that he caught from Fathers Bowser and Gatwood. Click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Life is in the Flesh and Blood

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12B, Sunday, August 19, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has no text for his sermon because he makes it up on the fly. Listen to the sermon podcast here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 2.10-12; 3.3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58.

V-J Day 2018: Honolulu HI Celebrates V-J Day

From Vimeo.

[On V-J Day 1945] my Dad shot this film along Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki capturing spontaneous celebrations that broke out upon first hearing news of the Japanese surrender. Kodachrome 16mm film: God Bless Kodachrome, right? I was able to find an outfit (mymovietransfer.com) to do a much superior scan of this footage to what I had previously posted, so I re-did this film and replaced the older version There are more still images from this amazing day, in color, at discoveringhawaii.com

On this, the 73rd anniversary of V-J Day (Victory Over Japan Day), a wonderful snippet from time. Watch it all and remember. Give thanks as you do for the greatest generation who have largely passed from our view.

Remember V-J Day 2018

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). vj-day pictStop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.

Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.

From the History Channel.

On this day in 1945, an official announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies is made public to the Japanese people.

Read it all.

Also read the text of President Truman’s radio message broadcast to the American people on September 1, 1945.

From here:

My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:

The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.

Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.

Read it all as well.

Out of the Depths

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11B, Sunday, August 12, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4.25-5.2; John 6.35, 41-51.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

“Out of the depths, O Lord, I cry to you.” How many of us have prayed this prayer in one form or another in our lives? Like King David in our OT lesson, we are often afflicted by tragedy and other darkness. As Christians, what should be our response? Does the Bible have anything to say about the despair we all feel from time to time? This is what I want us to look at today.

So what can we learn from our psalm lesson this morning, with its cry of despair along with its embedded hope? As we read in our OT lesson, if David didn’t actually pray this prayer, he surely felt its emotion as he grieved the death of his beloved son. Likewise with us. While we may not have lost children to violent death, we have suffered betrayal and loss and hurt and sickness. We have been afflicted by fear over our health, our financial security, the uncertainty of living in a world going increasingly mad by the day, and by the unknowns in our life that afflict and oppress us. We may not have prayed Psalm 130 explicitly, but we understand the despair contained in it all too well. So what can this psalm teach us?

First, it reminds us that our cries of despair are not signs of faithlessness. Some of us believe that to have feelings of fear and anger and despair over the darkness and evil in our lives are signs that we don’t trust God. But that belief would surprise the psalmists who wrote prayers like the one in our lesson this morning. Rather, our cries of despair indicate a much-needed humility that recognizes we do not have the power to overcome everything that life throws our way and that we do need to cry out to the One who has the power to make all things right. Just as Jesus rebuked the crowds in our gospel lesson for their hard-hearted rejection of how God operated in their lives, the psalmist acknowledges that we are incapable of solving all our problems and must turn to God with a humble trust to rescue us when life overwhelms us. That is the essence of real faith. This is not easy for us to do because we much prefer our own delusional narratives that make us equal or superior to God. 

Second, the psalmist reminds us that Sin and the evil it has unleashed in God’s good world are at the root of all that afflicts us and here we must be very careful. The psalmist is not saying that all that afflicts and oppresses us is our fault. As we saw last week, while God forgives our sins, sometimes God allows the consequences of our sin to remain like he did with David, and we saw that tragically played out in our OT lesson this morning. So sometimes the darkness in our lives that causes us to despair is caused by our own sin and folly. But as the book of Job powerfully reminds us, sometimes the affliction we suffer is not our fault. Mysteriously and enigmatically, sometimes really bad things happen to innocent people. For example, innocents are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrible accidents happen that cause permanent wounds and alter lives forever. Innocent babies are born with horrible defects and deadly diseases. Whether we are responsible for that which afflicts us or not, the fact remains that we live in a sin-sick and evil-infested world and we are all afflicted by that, directly or otherwise. The psalmist recognizes correctly that only when Sin and Evil are properly dealt with by God can we expect to be truly healed and liberated from all that makes us despair. That is why we cry out to God from the depths, i.e., when we are overwhelmed, because we realize that only God has the power to deal with the darkness of Sin and the evil it unleashes. More about that in a moment.

Third, we need to be careful that we don’t misunderstand the key terms of hope and waiting on God contained in our psalm. As we have seen before, hope as it is used in both the OT and NT is more than an attitude. It’s much more than keeping good thoughts. Hope as the psalmists and NT writers use it is better translated as a confident expectation. Both terms require an object: We expect something or wait for someone. And so just as a guard waits for the morning to come, and with it an end to the dangers and threats of the night, so does the psalmist wait for the Lord to act on his behalf. 

And while there is an attitude of patience in our psalm, we must not be misled by its implications. While we might think that waiting patiently suggests a calmness or having a mellow attitude, this is not the attitude of the OT and NT writers. For them, waiting is impatient and urgent. Listen to them now (all translations from the NLT).

I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me? (Ps 6.3); O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?/How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (Ps 13.1-2); How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions! (Ps 35.17);  How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? (Ps 74.10); O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? (Ps 79.5); O Lord, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your anger burn like fire? (Ps 89.46); O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! (Ps 90.13); How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? (Ps 94.3); How long must I wait? When will you punish those who persecute me? (Ps 119.84). 

Do you hear and feel the sense of urgency and impatience for God to act on behalf of his people who cry out to him from the depths? Now listen to these final two verses of the NT. 

The one who testifies to these things [Jesus] says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! [And until you do, t]he grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen (Rev 22.20-21, NRSV). 

St. John has just finished recounting the vision given him in Revelation regarding how God will finally defeat Satan and his minions, i.e., the forces of evil, both spiritual and human, so we are meant to read these closing words with impatient longing and expectation. Of course there would be no impatient expectation if God were not faithful to his promises and/or lacked the power to deliver. Thus when we are overwhelmed by the darkness in our lives that afflicts or oppresses us, we too are called to have the same impatient longing for God to act on our behalf. This is part of living out our faith.

I can hear some of you grumbling right now. That’s all well and good, Father Maney, but here’s a newsflash for you. God doesn’t always answer our desperate prayers. We or our loved ones don’t always get healed. Injustice still runs rampant in our lives and society. The wicked seem to be having a field day mocking God and his word. I prayed for a job and didn’t get it. There’s much more but you get the point.

All of this is true, my snarky ones. Sometimes God seemingly doesn’t answer our prayers, at least in the immediate way we ask him, and all this remains an impenetrable mystery for us. I do not know why that is because God has chosen not to reveal why he sometimes acts while at other times he apparently doesn’t. But in acknowledging there is the mystery of unanswered prayer, as faithful Christians, we must also acknowledge that God answers far more prayers than he apparently doesn’t, and we must be thankful for that. Whatever the reasons for unanswered prayer, they remain above our pay grade and we must therefore have enough humility and wisdom to trust God’s promises to heal and redeem us, believing that God can, does, and will act on our behalf to answer our prayers uttered from the depths of despair. To be able to do this, the biblical writers exhort us to remember God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and love for us, as well as God’s ability to act on behalf of God’s people (cf. Psalm 77).

And now we are ready to turn to our gospel and epistle lessons because they provide us with the hope needed to deal with the darkness that afflicts us. They remind us of what God is doing about it all, regardless of whether we get the hoped-for response to our prayers. As Jesus reminded the crowds, God was not at their beck and call, nor is he at ours. God did not call them (or us) because we are special or somehow deserving of God’s love and mercy. We’re not, much as we love to think we are. Nobody is. And because all are hopelessly sin-sick and incapable of self-healing, we are utterly dependent on God to act on our behalf to heal and restore us to health. And how has God chosen to do that? By becoming human to die for our sins, to execute his justice on himself. It is God who calls us, not the other way around. And only God has the power to heal us from our internal sickness and external afflictions. This is why the Father sent the Son, because only in and through the Son do we find God and the resulting healing and redemption we so desperately seek. And while the claim of Jesus is exclusive (only he can save because only he has seen the Father and knows the Father’s will), the invitation to be healed (saved) is open to everyone. God calls us, pulls us, and cajoles us to him. God invites us to know Jesus because only then can we have eternal life. In turn, Jesus promises to raise up those who believe in him—those who believe that Jesus is the only way to God and that only in his Name is there salvation and forgiveness of sins—on the last day. That is why Jesus is the true bread of life who came down from heaven (who came from God). He has given his body and blood for the life of the world. In other words, in his death, Jesus has broken the power of Evil over us and redeemed us from our slavery to Sin and the death that results. Amen?

Our Lord said something similar to Martha and Mary when he came to raise Lazarus from the dead and give us a foretaste of his own resurrection. He didn’t answer their why questions (why didn’t you come earlier to heal our brother, Lord?). Instead, Jesus gave them an answer that, while demanding patient (and sometimes impatient) waiting and expectation, was ultimately more satisfying. Jesus told them he is the resurrection and the life, that those who live and believe in him will live forever, even though they suffer mortal death (John 11.27-27, 32).

And what is this eternal life about which Jesus speaks? It doesn’t mean dying and going to heaven as many Christians have been incorrectly taught (shame on the church and its leaders who have done that). Eternal life as Jesus used it meant two things. First, it refers to quality of life when we share in the inner life of Jesus. It means we choose, with the help of the Spirit who lives in us and who is given to us by the Father and the Son, to live like Christ. This is where our epistle lesson is helpful. In it, St. Paul lays out what Christlike living looks like. It means, for example, that we look out for the other, especially our fellow Christians, like Christ looks out for us. How did Christ do that? He gave himself for us and bore our punishment so we could be forgiven and healed of our sin-sickness. So St. Paul tells us to stop lying to each other, because lying causes hurt, heartache, bitterness, and distrust. We belong to each other in Christ so why would we want to act evilly toward the other? St. Paul tells us to not let our anger control us so that it does not open the door for us to eventually hate the other. Out of mutual love, we are to work hard so that we can support those amongst us who cannot legitimately do so, and we are never to abuse others’ generosity. We are to stop our evil speaking, where we criticize each other and speak wickedly about them. We are to put away wrath, anger, and abusive language and behavior toward each other, especially toward those we dislike. We are to build each other up and be kind to each other. We do this because this is exactly what Christ has done for us. We dare not judge those whom Christ has already redeemed by his body and blood. 

Wise Christians will immediately see that St. Paul is not laying out a bunch of rules for us to follow slavishly to get our tickets punched. Instead, they will recognize that he is urging us to put away our sins and wickedness because they lead to death and will not be allowed to exist in God’s new world when Christ returns. When we realize this, we realize that by choosing to live right now as Christ lived, always with the help of the Spirit, we align ourselves with God and find life as God intends us to live it. This is what Jesus had in mind when he talked about having eternal life in him. And second, this eternal life that we enter now will extend beyond our mortal death and last forever, imperfect and flawed as we are. The life we live in God’s new world will be a perfect version of the imperfect life we live now as new creations in Christ.

This is the answer to our concerns about unanswered prayer and the problem of Evil. As Christians we remember that God has acted decisively in Christ to defeat the dark powers that afflict us and cause us to cry out from the depths. We are healed and forgiven completely by the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. How that works, I couldn’t tell you completely. I just know that is does. This is the Father calling us to himself. This is why only Jesus, the true bread of life, can satisfy completely. When we give our lives to him and trust his promise that he has healed and redeemed us by his death, our fears about sin and punishment dissipate. On the cross, God has defeated the twin powers of Sin and Evil and in Jesus’ resurrection we have the promise that it’s all true, even if the promise remains partially unfulfilled. So when we cry out from the depths and wait expectantly and impatiently for God to act, we do so because as Christians we know Jesus has a job to finish and he will do so one day when he returns to consummate his saving work begun in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In the meantime we are his right now, warts and all, even in our affliction, and will be forever. We know this because we believe the story in Scripture and see God’s work in our lives and the lives of others, despite the darkness that descends on us from time to time. This is the only hope that can truly sustain us.

When we find ourselves threatened to be overwhelmed by the depths, we are called to remember God’s plan of salvation revealed ultimately in Christ. God will use our remembering to help strengthen our belief that God has acted decisively on our behalf and is present with us in the power of the Spirit to walk with us so we won’t be overwhelmed by the darkness. Knowing this gives us patience and the confident expectation that victory is ours, even as we cry out impatiently for God to consummate his great and saving work. When we believe this, really believe this, it won’t save us from moments of darkness and sometimes despair. But it will have the power to sustain us, even in death, because we know that we are God’s beloved children, despite who we are, and that we have the Good News of Jesus Christ who holds the key to not only our own healing but the restoration of all creation, now and for all eternity. Take hope and be renewed in this knowledge, my beloved, as you come to the Table to feed on the bread of heaven and drink the cup of salvation, the Lord Jesus himself. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

You are the Man (and Woman)!

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, Sunday, August 5, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 51.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

What are we to make of our OT lesson with its story of God’s judgment on David’s sins? How did God “put away” David’s sins? Why would God’s anointed king resort to committing the twin evils of adultery and murder after being so richly blessed by God? What are we as Christians with our own impressive baggage of sins to learn from this sad episode? And where’s the Good News to be found? If God pronounced this kind of judgment on David, “the man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13.22), what hope do we poor schleps have when we stand before God’s judgment seat? These are some of the things I want us to look at this morning.

If ever there were a compelling reason for us to believe the old proverb that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9.10), our OT lesson provides it. After hearing God pronounce judgment on King David through the prophet Nathan, we almost instinctively wonder how we will escape God’s judgment on our sins, and it makes us afraid. The story itself raises as many questions as it answers. Yes, there is God’s judgment on David’s sins of adultery and murder. But God also tells David through Nathan that God has put away David’s sins after he confessed them. But how? And why didn’t God remove David as king the way God did with David’s predecessor, Saul? Adultery and murder are about as serious as you can get, yet David remained God’s chosen king. What’s that all about? Like all sin and God’s reaction to it, it’s complicated and there are surely some questions that will remain unanswered this side of the grave. But that should never stop us from learning what we can from God’s word.

We start with David. Why would this man, so blessed by God, resort to committing two evils? Had Father Gatwood preached one of his tepid sermons on the OT lesson from last Sunday, the ostensible answer would have been that David wasn’t where he should have been—leading his men in battle against Israel’s enemies. But this is only a superficial answer. One of the things the writer surely wants us to see is that this episode is another tragic example of how the human heart—the biblical term for the core of our very being—is desperately wicked and beyond our understanding as the Lord himself reminded his prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17.9). In other words, we humans are terminally sin-sick, even the best of us, even the man after God’s own heart. Even though David wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he could have looked away and resisted his lustful urge to take the beautiful Bathsheba. But he didn’t. He chose to commit adultery and then tried to cover his sin by ultimately having her husband murdered. We can relate to this, even if we have never committed adultery or murder. How many times have we refused to take the high road and indulged our sinful desires instead? More than most of us care to admit. If our hearts are that thoroughly corrupted, who among us can hope to escape God’s judgment on the chaos our sins produce? We are truly the man in Nathan’s story. 

To make matters worse, as Nathan pointed out to David, David’s sins were like spitting in God’s face. David knew they were wrong but chose to sin anyway, despite the fact that God had been so graciously generous to David, blessing him by making him king, but also granting David success at every turn up until David chose to transgress against the Lord. We understand this dynamic as well. How often do we tend to turn our back on God when things are going swimmingly well for us? How often do we give ourselves credit for our successes and want to blame God when things go south for us? In other words, how often does success and God’s blessing actually harden our hearts toward God as it did David’s? We are the man! 

Last, but certainly not least, as God pointed out to David, his sins gave the enemies of God even more reason not to put their loyalty and trust in God. If God’s chosen one acted this way, what kind of God was he actually be worshiping? In this age of instantaneous communication, the consequences of our sin are even more vital for us to consider. As people watch how we behave and treat others in our lives, what are we proclaiming about the character of our Lord Jesus whom we profess to worship and follow? Are we accurately portraying the character of Jesus or are we projecting the image of the false idols we worship, thus causing harm to the Name? None of us likes to have our name or character besmirched by others. How much more for the perfect and holy triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? As we look at how many times we have failed our Lord publicly, we are forced to acknowledge once again that we are the man.

But God’s reaction in this tragic story is just as breathtakingly mysterious. By Law, David’s offenses were clearly punishable by death. So why did God spare him? Is this part of what Nathan meant when he told David God had put away his sins? We aren’t told. And why did not God remove David from office the way God removed Saul? David’s sins were as bad if not worse than Saul’s, but God did not remove David. Why? Again, we aren’t told, but I am persuaded that we see a glimpse of God’s love and grace here that might help explain why David remained king after sinning so grievously against God. You recall that two weeks ago we read the Lord’s promise to David. David had wanted to build God a house in which to dwell (i.e., the Temple at Jerusalem), but God refused. Instead, God promised to build David a house (a dynasty) that would one day include God’s anointed one, the Messiah (2 Samuel 7.1-17). It is here that we see the love, grace, and faithfulness of God shine through the darkness of human sin. God would punish his wayward king but God could never abandon him by reneging on his promise to David. As St. Paul reminded Timothy right before Paul’s death, God remains faithful even when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2.13). God cannot be untrue to himself or revoke his promises, even in the face of our flagrant sins. Here then is surely the main reason God did not remove David as king. God had to remain faithful to his promise to David that there would always be an ancestor sitting on his throne. That would be hard to do if God removed David as king! So even in the midst of judgment, we find God’s faithful love and grace piercing the darkness of our sin.

What then are we to make of God’s judgment on David? Didn’t God put away David’s sins after he confessed them to God? Well yes God did, even if we are not told exactly what that entailed. What we do know is this. God’s judgment on David matched David’s sins. David had flagrantly dishonored the marriage bed and took another man’s wife because he could. In return, God’s judgment matched the crime. David’s own wives would be taken by his own son, Absalom, and David would be publicly humiliated. David had committed murder to cover his adulterous tracks. God’s judgment also matched that crime. David’s sons would rise up in rebellion against David and two of them would die violent deaths. Violence and political intrigue would haunt David’s family until the day he died. Hard as it is for us to watch, especially considering the fact that we too are the man (and woman), we see God’s perfect justice being executed on his king.

All this makes us wonder how this represents God’s forgiveness. It is here we must remember that when God forgives our sins, this does not mean that God automatically removes the consequences of our sins. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are spared many of the consequences of our sins, both those we anticipate and those we don’t. But God doesn’t always spare us from the folly of our sin. For reasons known only to God, we often must deal with consequences of sins long since repented of. It’s part and parcel of living in a sin-sick and evil infested world. This doesn’t mean God refuses to forgive us. After all, God spared David’s life when God’s own law demanded it be taken. Instead, God simply let God’s justice be done and we all get that. We look around at all the wrongs of our world and we know that something has to be done about it. Without justice there can be no mercy. If God is truly just and good, God must do something about the evil in God’s world and those who commit it. Unfortunately, because we are the man (and woman), we can all expect to come under God’s fierce judgment. 

Uh, Father Maney, I hear some of you muttering right now. We know you’ve haven’t been in the pulpit since like Moby Dick was a minnow, but aren’t you supposed to be a preacher of Good News? Helpful hint. Good News does not focus on beating us up and reminding us that we all fall short of the glory of God without hope of fixing all that is wrong with us, n-kay? We know all too well that we are the man!

Patience, my grumpy and judgmental ones. I have been laying out for you the basis of the Good News of Jesus Christ and it is never a bad thing for God’s people to consider regularly the consequences and destructive power of our sins, which we have just done. Doing so reminds us God is already at work on us. Yes, we are the man. Yes, our hearts are desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair them. Yes, there are often lasting consequences to our sin and folly. Yes, we all can expect to fall under God’s fierce and terrible judgment if left to our own devices. But here’s the thing, my beloved. We are not left to our own devices. Thankfully we worship and serve a God who hates evil and who has promised to rid his good creation of all traces of it. If God did not hate evil and promise to pronounce judgment on it, we would have no hope of ever living in a new creation that is devoid of all evil and brokenness and hurt. In our heart of hearts, we all know that justice is necessary to address the wrongs and transgressions we all commit, even if we don’t want God’s judgment on us. To not believe in justice means that we could not support any kind of criminal justice system, that it would be OK for us and our loved ones to suffer all kinds of injustices and crimes because none of it really mattered in the end. Nobody in his or her right mind believes that for a minute, broken as we are. We all know wrongs must be put to right and that is exactly what God promises to do. 

But God also knows we are the man (and the woman) who deserve God’s just wrath for our sins. God knows we are thoroughly infected by the power of Sin and incapable of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Self-help is a farce and a lie. And because God made us in his image and loves us more than we can comprehend, God has moved to save us from destruction. Despite the fact of our ongoing sin and rebellion against God, which will produce permanent alienation and death if left unchecked, God’s great love and faithfulness are made known to us in Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us that while we were still active enemies of God, God sent his Son to die a shameful and godforsaken death on our behalf so that we would not have to suffer God’s just condemnation of our sins and the evil that resides in us. Like David, we are spared from death by the mercy of God. To be sure, barring the Lord’s return in our lifetime, we will all suffer mortal death. But we will not die because of Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that when we are baptized, we share in a death like Jesus’. And because we share in his death, we also share in a resurrection like his because our baptism unites us with our crucified and risen Lord. God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so destroyed death forever. So we too will be raised when the Lord returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. As Jesus told Martha, those who believe in him will live, even though they die, and anyone who lives and believes in him will never die (John 11.25-26). So here is God’s response to our sin and the evil it unleashes. God promises to condemn evil and evildoers but sent his own dear Son to bear that condemnation himself so as to spare us from having to suffer it. God did this for us while we were still his enemies because God loves us and is faithful to his good creation. God wants us to live and God has overcome death in the resurrection of Christ, promising those of us who believe the same destiny, the promise of eternal life in God’s new world that is devoid of evil and sin of any kind. None of us deserve it because we are too broken to live as God’s people. But God gives us his Holy Spirit to heal and transform us, one inch at a time, backsliding and all, to free us from our disobedience and slavery to Sin. God can do this impossible thing because he is the God who calls things into existence that don’t exist and who raises the dead. The extent we are able to live faithful lives in accordance with God’s created order and revealed is the extent we will enjoy real peace and true happiness. Jesus promises as much in our gospel lesson today. He is the true manna, the bread of life, that we are to consume regularly on our journey to the new creation, the new promised land. That’s why we feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving each week. We literally consume Jesus and are healed and reminded of God’s wondrous promise to heal and deliver us from our sin-sickness, thanks be to God!

If you are not overwhelmed by this Good News, then there’s a good chance that you either have not fully considered the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes and/or you don’t believe that God can be that good and loving. Believe it, my beloved. It’s true. Here is the nature of the heart of God whom we worship. God used our disobedience to imprison us so that God could show mercy on us! Amazing grace! God’s perfect justice has been executed in Christ but not yet fully implemented. One day it will be and we will be astonished at God’s love and mercy in ways we cannot now comprehend. Yes, we will all stand before God’s judgment throne. But because we belong to Christ, we will hear the verdict of “not guilty,” despite our mountain of sins.

And if you are overwhelmed by the Good News of God’s love made known to you in Christ, thank God, because it must change you. God did not die on a cross for you to continue to act like an ungrateful twit. God did not die for you so that you could keep on in your sinful and death-dealing ways. God is not a cosmic Enabler. God is the Supreme Lover. God gave himself for you and promises you eternal life so that you can start enjoying it right now in the power of the Spirit. None of us gets it right all the time, but if you want to know what being a new man (or woman) in Christ looks like, start by rereading our epistle lesson this morning. Christian unity will give you a good starting place to think about what Christlike living, real living, is all about. 

And so, my beloved, remember this. The bad news is that we are all prisoners to our sin and rebellion. The Good News is that God’s love and mercy are stronger than our sinful folly, and God has acted decisively on our behalf to give us life. Accept the gracious invitation and give your life to the One who is the source of your life. Then you will know that you are the beloved and that you have Good News, now and for all eternity, despite your sins and the times when you walk through the darkest valleys of life. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.