SPD 2018: St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

SPD 2018: Myth-busting: What You Need to Know About St. Patrick

From Christian Today.

st-patricks-dayToday is St Patrick’s Day, when all around the world people with Irish roots – and plenty of others who just like to party – celebrate the life of the fifth-century saint. There are parades with floats and banners, Guinness consumption doubles, and there is even the odd church service.

Ah, St Patrick – who could be more Irish than that? 

Pretty much anyone, actually. Whisper this, but Patrick was actually a Brit, captured by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. After six years he escaped and went home.

There must be more to it than that. 

Oh, all right. During his enslavement he became a Christian. After his escape he saw a vision in which he was called to return to Ireland as a missionary. He probably landed at Wicklow, at the same port from which he had earlier escaped, but the natives were unfriendly and he was forced further north. He was energetic, innovative and fearless, becoming the first bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.

Read it all.

St. Patrick’s Day 2018: Some Reflections on Maney Family History

Speaking of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Augustine’s mentor, Augustine writes:

But I had no notion nor any experience to know what were his hopes, what struggles he had against the temptations of his distinguished position, what consolation in adversities, and the hidden aspect of his life—what was in his heart, what delicious joys came as he fed on and digested your [God’s] bread. He for his part did not know of my emotional crisis nor the abyss of danger threatening me. I could not put the questions I wanted to put to him as I wished to do.

—Confessions, 6.3.3

John F. ManeySeventy five years ago on March 10, 1943, my dad was inducted into the U.S. Army in Van Wert, OH. He was 20 years old at the time. A week later on St. Patrick’s Day, he left on a train for Camp Perry up by Lake Erie to begin his basic training. I never asked him what he felt like the day he was inducted (or at least I do not recall asking him because I do not know how he felt). Neither did I ask him about his thoughts and feelings as he left for basic training a week later (or at least I do not remember us ever talking about that). As I reflected on this, I wondered why I didn’t ask him about these things when he was alive? I wondered what it is about me that stayed my hand so that I didn’t ask him the questions I would love to ask him about today but can no longer do so.

Then I read the above passage from Augustine and realized that perhaps my experience is not all that uncommon. To be sure, maturity helped me take a much deeper interest in my parents’ lives as I began to realize that they too were human, just like me, and had similar hopes, fears, dreams, and worries that I have. But even now, I think of a million questions I would like to ask them but never did. Why did I not think to ask them about these things when they were alive? It is both baffling to me and frustrating.

Why is it that often we do not realize what we have until it is gone or taken from us? I suspect one answer to this perplexing question is that it is a product of alienation that our sin and self-centeredness has caused, an alienation that often exists between God and us and between humans. I know that when I was a young man, I thought I had better things to do and think about other than my parents and their experiences. I simply didn’t realize how impoverishing that was.

So on this day, I am thankful for my dad’s service to his country. I am proud of what he did in Europe during World War II. I am thankful that God kept him safe during the war and gave him to me as a father. I am also thankful for the men and women of my dad’s generation. They truly did save the world from the unspeakable evil of Nazism and militarism.

Take time today and do two things. First, stop and give thanks to God for blessing us with the “Greatest Generation,” and for the sacrifices they made for this country. Second, if you have parents, grandparents, or other family members still living, take time to talk with them and get to know them better. Ask God to help you learn about their hopes and dreams, their fears and worries, and share yours with them. Doing so will help you appreciate God’s great gift of family and friends.

Thank you, young soldiers, and thank you, God, for blessing us with them.

March 17, 2018: This Day in Maney Family History

Picture of John Fox Maney in a foxhole somewhere in Europe during WWIIOn this day, March 17, 1943, one week after he was inducted into the army, my dad, John Fox Maney, departed on a train from Van Wert, OH for basic training, first at Camp Perry on Lake Erie and then at Ft. Leonard Wood. He was 20 years old at the time. What a way to spend St. Patrick’s Day!

THE Reason to Rejoice

Sermon delivered on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent B, March 11, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and you should because it’s a lot better than the written text), click here.

Lectionary texts: Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 107.1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21.

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

Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent (thus our fashionable pink/rose colored vestments). Laetare is the Latin word meaning to rejoice. But what is there to rejoice in during this penitential season of Lent with its emphasis on confession, repentance, and self-denial? Aren’t we supposed to be feeling bad about ourselves and stuff? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Our gospel lesson for today contains one of the most famous and oft-quoted verses in all Scripture: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16, NLT). But then we read passages like the ones from our OT lesson, where the Lord sends serpents among his rebellious people to bite and kill them, and we wonder how a loving God does this. If we are going to begin to appreciate the basis for our rejoicing in the Lord, it is essential that we understand what is going on in our OT lesson, as well as our other lessons from today, so that we can get a more complete picture of what God’s love looks like on the ground and in our lives. Looking at the overarching story of Scripture will also prevent us from parroting ignorant beliefs that the God of the OT is an angry, vengeful God while the God of the NT is a nice God, you know, a God of love who really doesn’t care that much about our sins. As the German poet Heine observed, “I like to sin, God likes to forgive. Really, the world is admirably arranged.”

So the first thing we must say before we look at our lessons is that the wrath of God— God’s unremitting, implacable opposition to any form of evil and those who commit it (not to mention the dark powers behind those human agents)—is a dimension of God’s love for us and for all of God’s creation. If God does not hate racism or adultery, if God’s wrath isn’t relentless against those who peddle drugs or porn so that those who use them are enslaved by their power, if God does not hate when the rich exploit the poor or turn a blind eye to their plight, then God is not a loving God. End of story. What loving parent says to her child, go get addicted to heroin or go try to break up another marriage by having an affair, or go sell people into slavery to make yourself rich? By definition, love wants the best for the beloved and none of these things is good for us as God’s image-bearers. So let us understand that when we talk about the wrath of God, we are also talking about the love of God. They are two sides of the same coin.

But here’s the difference between God’s wrath and human wrath. While God hates the things that dehumanize, enslave, and destroy us (which all sin ultimately does), we must remember what God has ultimately done about the problem of Evil, which is really what we are talking about in this context. God in his great love for us has determined to deal with all the nasty, insidious, vicious, soul-destroying evil that plagues us, and that we sadly commit, by sending his only begotten Son to die for us. More about that in a minute. But before we look at God’s love revealed on the cross, I want us to look at our OT lesson to help us gain a deeper and fuller understanding of how God’s love revealed itself before Jesus’ crucifixion.

So what are we to make of that strange story in our OT lesson? What’s with all the snakes and stuff? Where do we see the love of God in this story? To understand what’s going on, we must remember the context for this story. God had rescued his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt by a mighty act of deliverance. God had brought his people through the Red Sea and destroyed an overwhelming force of Egyptians who were pursuing them to re-enslave them. If that weren’t enough, God had been graciously present to his people in the pillars of cloud by day and fire by night. God had also fed his people with manna, the bread of angels. God did all this because the Israelites were the descendants of Abraham, the people God had sworn to bring God’s healing love and blessing to a sin-sick world.

And what was the people’s response? They had forgotten all about God’s mighty act of deliverance. They had forgotten that God had called them to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests who mediated God’s presence to the world. They had either forgotten or apparently took for granted God’s night and day presence with them and now here they were, in the middle of a desert with all its discomfort and suffering, and they started to grumble once more against God and Moses. They didn’t want to be in the desert anymore. They didn’t want any more manna (you serving the same slop for dinner again, God??). Things were so bad that they wanted to go back to their slavery to end their current suffering! And we can relate. Think of our own lives, which the wilderness wanderings symbolize, with its attendant suffering and discomfort: health problems, financial woes or uncertainty, alienation, loneliness, addiction, frustrated dreams, and all the rest. We pray for healing and none comes. We ask for stability and healthy relationships but find only chaos instead. And what do we do? The atheist uses these things to remind us there is no God. How could a loving God, if he existed, allow these things? For those of us who believe in God, we too start to grumble against God and seek to take matters into our own hands, which always makes things worse because we are so thoroughly infected by the power of Sin. To be God’s real people who could embody God’s love and presence in the world, the Israelites had to trust God to get them to the promised land, despite the difficulties and hardships along the way. Likewise for us as God’s people today. In other words, life’s journeys require humility and obedience to God’s commands. But here’s the thing. Ever since the Fall, we humans have had an allergic reaction to being told what to do—by anyone, even God, and our capacity to obey and to trust God’s good providence over us is almost non-existent! And so God wrath against his people’s rebellion broke out in the form of an invasion of deadly snakes.

Now if we stopped right there, we would truly have a schizophrenic God, i.e., the angry God of the OT vs. the loving God of the NT. But that isn’t the end of the story. God heard his people’s confession of their proud rebellion against him and their desire to repent. And so in one of the strangest stories in all Scripture, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that if a person were bitten, (s)he could look at the bronze serpent and live. What is going on here? First, let’s be clear about what the story isn’t telling us. We are not intended to see this serpent as a representation of God, in flagrant violation of the second commandment. Neither was the bronze serpent to be looked at as some form of magic, whereby God’s people would be automatically healed if they looked at it. No, the bronze serpent got its power to heal from God and healing would take place only if the Israelites who looked at it believed that God would heal them when they did. In other words, for God’s people to be healed they had to have faith in God and his power to heal. And for that to happen, God’s people needed humility if they really were going to function as and be God’s people. The same conditions exist for us today as well. In the story of the bronze serpent we are being told clearly that while God has punished his people’s disobedience (as he still punishes ours), God has also lovingly and graciously provided the means of healing because it is never God’s intention to destroy us. Sometimes, however, the darkness we love results in our own destruction, whether willingly or otherwise, but that is not God’s will for us (cf., Ezekiel 18.23, 33.11). No, in this strange story we see God punishing his people’s rebellion, precisely so they could be the people God called them to be, and giving them a means to be healed. To be sure, there is much we do not understand about this story. We all feel God’s absence from time to time. We all feel God’s judgment on our sin. We all wonder if God really will forgive our sins. And just as distressingly for us, we aren’t told how God’s efforts work on our behalf. How did the bronze serpent work to heal the Israelites? We aren’t told. We are just given the story and expected to understand that it is enough to know that when we are at death’s door God provides a remedy. This kind of faith in God’s love and power can only come through a humble spirit and a knowledge of the heart of God. If we believe God really is an angry ogre bent on punishing us every time we misbehave, we have no hope of ever really beginning to grasp the love of God made known supremely to us in the cross of Christ.

We also see this call for humble trust and obedience in God in our psalm lesson. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t read all 43 verses of this psalm because only then can we see what the psalmist is up to. Whatever the reason the whole psalm wasn’t assigned for today, here’s the point. In the psalm things are going badly wrong: wandering in the desert, prisoners sitting in darkness, people who are sick and dying, those being tossed about on stormy seas. But then comes the refrain: they cried out to the Lord in their distress and he rescued them. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love. Do you see the implicit demand for humble trust in the Lord’s goodness and love for us, a trust that is formed in the power of the Spirit and in the remarkable and consistent track record of our Creator who is also our Rescuer, even when our prayers are not always answered in the way we’d like? Never mind that in some cases we look at the mess of our own lives and realize we have brought that mess on ourselves by our selfishness or greed or pride or lust or myopic behavior. Never mind there are others who, like us, have brought their own misery on themselves (although not always). No, the refrain of the psalmist is this. God is our ultimate Rescuer who takes special delight in rescuing the totally undeserving. When God does that, especially when God does that, God’s love and grace are on display all the more powerfully. Paul says something similar in Rom 5.8 where he startles us by saying that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Who are we then as God’s people to refuse to extend that same mercy and grace to the underserving, ourselves included?

And now we are ready to look at our gospel lesson because it is not only a remedy to our suffering and sin-sickness, it is the only remedy, and therefore our only basis to rejoice in the Lord. As we saw with the story of the bronze snake, St. John does not tell us how God’s sending of the Son to be crucified deals with the problem of Evil, both our own and the world’s. We aren’t given an answer to our “why” questions. We are simply invited to see that in the death of Jesus, the Son of God, God’s wrath is poured out on our sins so that we can escape God’s just condemnation and experience God’s love for us. We are therefore invited to enter into a trusting and faithful relationship with God that sees the love and power of God in action so that we are healed by God’s chosen solution to the real and urgent problem of Evil.

To be certain, like the strange story of the bronze serpent, there is a great mystery here. Our Lord Jesus does not tell us, for example, that when he is lifted up on the cross, all persons everywhere are automatically and magically forgiven their sins and granted eternal life. Rather, our Lord says that whoever believes in him and his saving act on the cross to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death will be given everlasting life. This is no easy thing, given that the cross is an instrument designed to humiliate and degrade. It is the perfect symbol that represents the human race’s great hatred and disdain for the Lord, but it is also the very symbol of God’s greater love poured out for us. Perhaps this is the ultimate meaning for us during our Lenten journey, that the meaning of the cross will come upon us like a great shadow into which we must walk in the days to come. For right now, however, it is enough to know that we are traveling to the place where we see our Lord Jesus being lifted up so that we may be spared God’s condemnation of our sins, a condemnation many of us already impose on ourselves and which we fear we will hear from the Lord on the day of judgment.

But in the midst of our fear we hear the Son of God’s voice whispering to us in the power of the Spirit. Don’t be afraid, my beloved! I have rescued you from that condemnation. You will never hear it from my Father so stop pronouncing it on yourself! I know you find this hard to believe. You are so unlovable and unlovely in your proud rebellion and idolatrous self-help practices. But you are lovely in my sight because of my own blood shed for you to break the power of Evil over you and to free you from your slavery to the greatest enemies of all: Sin and Death. Yes, I know you still love the darkness, and frankly some of you love it more than others. But because I have been lifted up for you, you no longer have to fear my Father’s condemnation if you only believe, because I have taken that condemnation on myself. My apostle Paul told you the same thing in your epistle lesson today. Listen to him (and that brilliant preacher who is preaching to you right now)! Before you knew me, you were dead in your sins and helpless to give yourself life because you could do nothing to free yourself from your slavery to the power of Sin. What mortician expects a corpse to help with its embalming? We all know the dead are utterly helpless to do anything for themselves and so were you helpless to give yourself life before you knew me, even as imperfect as your knowledge of me currently is. But you are helpless no more. Like you heard last Sunday, you have been condemned into redemption with me. You have shared in my death so that you can share in my eternal life. You don’t deserve this gift and you never will because you love the darkness. It’s in your spiritual DNA. But I have been lifted up for your sake because my Father and I love you greatly. So look upon my cross and find your life, real life that not even your mortal death can interrupt. It is only in me that you can have life because my cross is the only way God has ordained to rescue you from your slavery to Sin. Therefore I invite you to give up your love of darkness and come to my light. I will be present to help you in the power of the Spirit. Trust me. My presence and power won’t be straightforward or always apparent to you. But I remain with you nevertheless. So believe and persevere. I’ll help you in that as well. Just come to me. Look at the Son of God being lifted up for you and dare to think the unthinkable: this is how much God loved the world. This is how much God loves you. Don’t make it a cliche like so many do. Make it the utter reality in your life so that it transforms you into a new creation one bit at a time. And then rejoice, because this, my beloved, is the Good News of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

March 10, 2018: This Day in Maney Family History

John F. Maney under a tree at Ufculme, EnglandOn this day in 1943 my dad, John F. Maney, was inducted into the army at the age of 20 (the tree in this picture under which dad sat is outside a house in Uffculme England that was used as battalion HQ. I have a picture of that tree 40 years later when dad and I visited in June 1984). A week later he left on a train from Van Wert, OH for Camp Perry on Lake Erie. What a way to start the decade of your 20s.

Learning the Wisdom of God: How to Become a Real Wise-Guy

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, March 4, 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: Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; John 2.13-22.

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

During this season of Lent it is appropriate for those of us who call ourselves Christians to use this time for self-examination, repentance, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. But why do all that fun stuff that none of us really likes or wants to do? The short answer is that these Lenten disciplines are means of grace given us by God to help us learn God’s wisdom so that we can become real wise-guys (guys being used here in the generic sense of the word). On one hand this is breathtakingly simple. On the other, it is maddeningly impossible to learn on our own. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start by affirming that there is fundamentally something wrong with the world in which we live and with ourselves. Only those who live with their head buried in the sand or who are utterly delusional would deny this. The overarching story contained in Scripture is very clear about this. Our first human ancestors decided they weren’t content with being God’s image-bearing creatures who were given the task of running God’s world wisely and reflecting God’s goodness out into the world. No, they wanted to usurp the role of God so that they could run God’s world in the manner they saw fit, and things haven’t changed very much from then to now. We’ve just gotten more sophisticated in our role as usurpers. The result of our first ancestors’ rebellion against God was our expulsion from paradise, God’s curse on his good creation and creatures, and the unleashing of an alien and hostile power better known as Sin that has enslaved the human race and kept us alienated and hostile toward God our Creator. And as long as we are alienated from our very Source of life, we are dead people walking. It is a grim picture indeed.

Not only that, our slavery to the power of Sin leads to all kinds of havoc, injustices, and chaos (the very essence of sin) in God’s world. We don’t have to look very far to see this. There is chaos in our families. Look at the high divorce rate or the push by some to impose gender identity as the basis for doing family. We see chaos in our society that gives every impression of becoming increasingly unhinged: mass murders, sexual abuse, public shaming of those with whom we disagree, alarmingly high rates of drug and pornography addiction, increasing isolation and alienation that results from the breakdown of our families and communities. The list goes on but you get the point.

All is not bad, of course. We have made great advances in medicine, science, and technology that have enabled many in the West to enjoy an unprecedented standard of living. But even in the midst of our wealth and prosperity there is still plenty of chaos to be found, both in our life together and in our individual lives: poverty, racism, homelessness, mental illness, loneliness, et al. Again, much of this chaos is fundamentally the result of our desire to be our own boss and our refusal to submit to God’s good and wise rule over us. We are broken to the core and do not have the means to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and Evil. And a logical result of our rebellion is that we have created our own wisdom that is often not consistent with the wisdom of God. When that happens, we become people whom the Scriptures call “fools.” We rely on human wisdom rather than the wisdom of God, and of course for Scripture, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all true wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1.7, 9.10). The extent that human wisdom aligns with the wisdom of God is the extent that human wisdom is truly wise.

Of course the chaos caused by our enslavement to Sin is intolerable to God and so God in his great love and mercy set out to put things back to rights with his good creation gone bad. That’s what the story of the OT and NT is all about. God in God’s wisdom chose to rescue us and God’s creation through Abraham and his ultimate descendant, Jesus, and God has given us signposts along the way to help us to live wisely instead of foolishly. Consider, for example, the 10 Words or Commandments in our OT lesson today. As the psalmist tells us in our psalm lesson, God’s law is perfect, reviving the soul. God’s statutes are right and rejoice the heart. We are to desire them more than the greatest earthly riches. Why? Because God’s law helps us to live wisely (and therefore happily) as God’s image-bearing creatures. If God is our Creator, who knows better what is good (and bad) for the creature than the One who made them? That is why the first commandment affirms God is the only God and prohibits the worship of idols. Why is that first? Among other things, God prohibits that we worship false gods because God knows that we become what we worship. When we worship the one true and living God made known supremely in Jesus Christ, we reflect God’s goodness and light in our lives, however imperfectly that reflection might be. We understand that God gives us laws to help us live wisely and happily in the manner God created us to live. But consider what happens to those who worship false gods like money, sex, or power. Look at the attendant misery that comes when we make these things our idols. Note carefully I am not saying that money, sex, and power are bad things in themselves. I am talking about what happens when we make them gods and worship them. When that happens we do all kinds of dehumanizing and unjust things to get them. We commit adultery, we get addicted to porn, we steal, we cheat, we lie, we are willing to destroy lives in all kinds of ways as we pursue these idols. In other words, chaos reigns and lives get corrupted or destroyed because we are pursuing false gods and the wisdom that accompanies them. By contrast, when we see God’s wisdom reflected in God’s laws we learn to develop meekness, i.e., when through our obedience to God’s laws we learn to develop an attitude of humble, submissive, and expectant trust in God, accompanied by a loving, patient, and gentle attitude toward others, we learn to become truly wise and happy. Notice carefully that the emphasis here is on obedience. God gives us God’s laws and expects us to obey them for our own good.

All well and good, you say. But what about our old enemy of Sin, that alien, hostile, and wicked power that has enslaved us and made us rebellious and disobedient by nature? How’s that working out for us in terms of our ability to keep the commandments? God, we have a problem. Enter our epistle lesson where St. Paul talks about the ultimate manifestation of the wisdom and power of God: the cross of Jesus Christ. The apostle does not really lay out a theology of the cross for us here, but rather sets up a series of contrasts between the wisdom of the world, i.e., people and institutions who remain hostile toward God, and the wisdom of God found supremely in the cross, the vehicle by which those who believe in its power are saved from destruction. Before we say anything else about this, observe carefully the dramatic shift in dynamics. The emphasis is on what God does for us, and only on what God does for us, not on our ability to obey God’s commands.

The world, says St. Paul, sees the cross as foolishness because we have an innate pride, selfishness, and will to power that drives our “wisdom,” which is foolishness in God’s eyes because it is contrary to God’s ways. We pride ourselves in self-help, self-achievement, status-building, and acquiring power, among others. Might makes right and helps us achieve our goals. So, for example, outside the Church we hear Vladimir Putin announce a new generation of nuclear weapons that he described as invincible. “Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world, but nobody listened to us,” Putin said. They will “listen now.” The U.S. will undoubtedly respond by accelerating our weapons programs because having an enemy stronger than us makes us afraid and we all know that might makes right. And let’s be honest, most of us prefer our God to operate in this manner. That’s why most of us prefer the Exodus over the crucifixion. The former was a lot more straightforward and unambiguous than the latter.

Or consider what happens when folks encounter people or opinions with which they disagree. They don’t engage the opinion or idea. They set out to destroy the person’s character and credibility. For example, one of the lines of attacks on Christians today is to describe us as mentally ill or as haters. This is how the world’s wisdom advocates achieving goals and it leaves us feeling abused and angry. Do what it takes, baby, because truth is in the eyes of the beholder and our truth is better than yours. So worldly wisdom dictates that we shame our opponents into silence because it almost always works.

The Church is not immune to this wisdom of self-help and self-sufficiency. We read the Bible more than others, we pray more than others, we miss worship less than others, we strive to get on church leadership councils, usually to correct the things we see that are wrong and need to be fixed because everyone knows what a fool that rector is (I resemble that statement). Will to power, anyone? We do all the “right” things to gain the approval of God and our fellow humans and to show our superior ability to obey all the rules. We don’t really want to take any chances with that cross thing. Now I am not suggesting that those who do these things always do them for the wrong reason. Only God knows our hearts. Neither am I suggesting that we not engage in prayer, worship, Bible study and the like. What I am suggesting is that the human heart has the tendency to distort and pervert even the good and God-given means of grace for our own benefit. We do this either consciously or subconsciously, but we do it nevertheless. This is the foolishness of human wisdom St. Paul is talking about and like any human wisdom that is not aligned to God’s wisdom, things will not turn out well in the end, either for us or for others.

Enter the wisdom of God, the cross of Jesus Christ. Those who are opposed to God see it as foolishness because of its very godforsaken nature. Elsewhere, St. Paul talks about what happened on the cross. He tells us in Romans that on the cross, God condemned sin in the flesh to spare us from having to suffer God’s perfect and just condemnation for our rebellion, a condemnation that would result in our eternal destruction. But no. God loves us too much to want that for us, and God also knows we are unable to break the power of Sin over us. So God sent his Son to bear God’s own just punishment for our sins and to break the power of Sin over us. There is a profound mystery in all this that is frankly above our pay grade. We know Evil is still prevalent, both inside and outside us. St. Paul wrote about Evil being defeated on the cross while he languished in prison for Christ’s sake so he knew first-hand that its power had not been vanquished fully! But from the very beginning this has been the message of the NT and the Church: On the cross, God broke the power of evil over us and instead of debating us, God points us to the transformative power of the gospel in the lives of hundreds of millions of people over time and across cultures. Not perfectly, of course. Nothing is perfect this side of the grave. But lives are being changed, including your lives and mine, an inch at a time, however imperfectly and messy it looks. The wisdom of God, then, tells us that we change God’s world by imitating the suffering love of our Savior because this is how God chose to rescue us from the twin powers of Sin and Death. This isn’t the will to power, might makes right wisdom of the world. It is the godforsaken and suffering love of the Son of God, Jesus our Lord, the very embodiment of God, that saves us. We are not saved by anything or anyone else. Only God has the power to break our slavery to Sin and Evil. Only God in Christ has the power to rescue us from death, and God chose to do this in a terrible display of humiliation and weakness according to the world’s standards.

Once by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit we understand and believe that we are only saved by the cross and not anything we do, however rudimentary or incomplete our understanding of this truth is, it makes all the difference in the world to us and is a sure sign that we have the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us because that is the only way we come to understand and believe in the power of the cross to save. We realize God has dealt with our sins without condemning us so that when we confess our sins, we are astonished to realize forgiveness has already been granted to us. We see the true nature of God revealed in the cross, a God who loves his creatures so much that he endured unspeakable horror and humiliation to rescue us from ourselves and the powers that hate us. This knowledge takes the heat off us and exposes our own proud and futile attempts to earn God’s favor by what we do. But we realize even then that we are forgiven our folly because of the cross and God’s merciful love and justice poured out for us! In calling God’s wisdom foolishness, St. Paul’s point is that God did all this for us in the most astonishing and unexpected way possible.

So we still read our Bible, pray, worship, partake in the eucharist and all the rest. But we do it for a different reason. We partake in these means of grace because we realize they are God’s gift to help free us from our slavery to self-help and other forms of sin, and to help us better grapple with God’s astonishing love for us. As this happens we will become more content to live within the mystery of the faith. For example, we will look at our baptism and rejoice in it as we grapple with the truth that we are condemned into redemption, i.e., that we share in the death of Christ (his condemnation on our behalf) as well as his risen life (our redemption). We will better understand that Christ died for the ungodly, for you and for me, because as St. Paul reminds us, there is no one who does good; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and therefore all deserve God’s just condemnation (Romans 3.10, 22-23). But for those who believe in the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross of Christ, there is redemption and life and hope because of the love God has for each of us, undeserving and unlovely as we are. Our proud nature will want to scoff at this, of course, but we know this is just the old man in us dying off and we fall to our knees in humble and grateful thanksgiving for the love of God made known to us in the scandal and foolishness of the cross. And like St. Paul, we will strive in matters of our salvation to forget everything but Christ, the one who was crucified for us, because only in his death and resurrection are we saved. When we start orienting ourselves in this manner we can finally claim that we are becoming real wise-guys because we are starting to grapple with the wisdom of God made known in humiliation, weakness, and self-giving love on the cross.

This knowledge will spill out into our dealings with the world, both collectively and individually. Let me give you two examples to jumpstart your thinking about how this applies to our life together and to our own lives. What should be our response to the Joy Behars of the world who claim that listening to Jesus’ voice in prayer is a mental illness? This is an affront to anyone who has heard Jesus’ voice, and the world’s wisdom, spurred on by our fallen human nature, tells us to lash back at her and those like her. But what does the cruciform (cross-shaped) wisdom of God say? One thing might be to consider that anyone who makes a statement like that about Jesus is to be pitied because (s)he doesn’t know the One who died for him/her (something that would bring us further derision by the world’s wisdom) and is headed for destruction if that doesn’t change. That person is therefore worthy of our compassion and earnest prayer that (s)he does come to know the crucified Son of God because none of us should desire the destruction of another. God certainly doesn’t (cf. Ezekiel 18.23).

Or consider the gun control debate. Surely there needs to be political action, but in the final analysis that is only window dressing and on one level is a manifestation of our desire to be in control of things because we cannot discern God’s movement and presence in all the violence. A cruciform response will also seek to address the much more difficult root causes of the issue: the disintegration of the family and our communities, the failure of parents to instill Judeo-Christian values in their children with all the attendant virtues that go with it (civility, good manners, respect for others, for starters.), the attack from some quarters on fatherhood and males in general, all related in part to this country’s increasing rejection of God made known supremely in Jesus Christ, to name just a few. How do we advocate for and help rebuild families and communities? How do we advocate Christian values and show love for those who hate us? These are massive problems so perhaps we start by engaging them one person at a time. Whatever that looks like, it will surely require self-giving and suffering love from us. But don’t be afraid. This is how God changes God’s world and its people this side of the Second Coming. This is the challenge of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. But follow him we must because only in him do we find health and life, real happiness and purpose for living. This is why we engage in our Lenten disciplines, both during Lent and throughout the year, because these disciplines are recognized means to help us obey our Lord’s command to be cruciform people. It’s too big a challenge for us if we try to do follow him in our own power. But we are not alone. We have the power of the Spirit who equips us to be imitators of our Lord in the best way possible, despite our profound brokenness and imperfect responses. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised to life, to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death and turn us into God’s true children, thanks be to God. May we all become real wise-guys, my beloved. To him be honor, praise, and glory now and for all eternity!

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

George Herbert on his Feast Day 2018: Good Sermons

The country parson preaches constantly, the pulpit is his joy and his throne. The character of his sermons is holiness; he is not witty, or learned, or eloquent, but holy. [Holiness] is gained first, by choosing texts of devotion, not controversy, moving and ravishing texts, of which the scriptures are full. Secondly, by dipping, and seasoning all our words and sentences in our hearts, before they come into our mouths, truly affecting, and cordially expressing all that we say; so that the audience may plainly perceive that every word is heart deep. Thirdly, by turning often, and making many direct addresses to God, as, “O Lord, bless my people, and teach them at this point.”

The Country Parson 1652

George Herbert on his Feast Day 2018: The Priest at Communion

Especially at communion times [the priest] is in a great confusion, as being not only to receive God, but to break, and administer him. Neither finds he any issue in this, but to throw himself down at the throne of grace, saying, “Lord, you know what you did, when you appointed [communion] to be done this way; therefore fulfill what you appointed; for you are not only the feast, but the way to it.

The Country Parson 1652

Herbert was an exemplary Anglican priest, one of my heroes whom I seek to emulate. Notice here the humility in his writing and the continuing emphasis on holiness, in this context Christ’s holiness, not the priest’s. If you are seeking to better understand Anglican eucharistic theology, you can see some glimpses of it here: Christ’s Real Presence in the elements that are not diminished by the sinful nature of the human who is presiding at the Eucharist.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of George Herbert 2018, Anglican Priest Extraordinaire

Our God and King,
who called your servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls,
a poet, and a priest in your temple:
Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do,
knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.