Eastertide 2017: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Fr. Philip Sang: We’ve Got Work to Do

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 6A, May 21, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: Acts 17.22-31; Psalm 66.7-18; 1 Peter 3.13-22; John 14.15-21.

There is no written text for today’s sermon because Fr. Sang has not yet learned to write. Click here to listen to the sermon podcast.

Changed by God to Make a Difference for God

Sermon delivered on Easter 5A, Sunday, May 14, 2017, 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: Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10; John 14.1-14.

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

Today is the 5th Sunday of Easter, day 29 to be precise. We are a little past the halfway point of the 50 day season of Eastertide. In our gospel lesson this morning our Lord makes some mind-boggling promises to us about troubled hearts, our present, and our future. They are promises filled with power, the power of God. But are we taking advantage of those promises? In other words, is Easter making any difference in our lives and the lives of others at this point in Eastertide or any other time?? The title of today’s sermon is our mission statement and if we are to be true to its intent, we must believe the astonishing promises of Jesus in our gospel lesson and appropriate the power underlying them. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start with the comforting words of Jesus in our gospel lesson. Do not let your hearts be troubled, he tells us. The context for this command, of course (the Greek construction indicates these words are imperative), is the Last Supper and come from Jesus’ so-called farewell discourse found in John 13-17. There’s plenty of reason for Jesus’ disciples to have troubled hearts. He will be crucified dead in less than 24 hours and their world will be shattered, just like ours is whenever we lose someone we love to death, especially an unexpected death.

And like Jesus’ disciples, our hearts are often troubled. The Greek word for troubled has the sense of us being thrown into a state of confusion or being terribly distressed. We know all about that, don’t we? We know about the confusion of lawlessness in its various forms and the fear it produces. We know about health and/or family issues that can cause us to be distressed, or economic difficulties or uncertainties that can cause us to be altogether shaken. The list goes on and on and none of us is immune to troubled hearts. Jesus himself experienced a troubled heart in Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood (Luke 22.39-44) when confronted with the terrifying prospect of having the forces of evil gather together to do their worst to him and having to bear the sins of the entire world. And so our Lord speaks comfort to us. Don’t let your hearts be troubled.

But how, we want to ask? Jesus tells us. Believe in God. Believe also in me because I am the very embodiment of God. More about that in a moment. Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking how glad you are it is me preaching today and not one of the other loser priests. Well of course you are. Who wouldn’t be? But I digress. You are also wondering how belief in God can help remedy a troubled heart. Jesus tells us. The Greek word for believe means to have a strong confidence or reliance on something or someone. For most of us most of the time, that strong confidence or reliance is on ourselves, and we all know how well that has worked out for us. We are finite, mortal, prone to mistakes, and enslaved to the power of Sin. The result is a troubled heart because deep down we all know we do not have the means or the power to overcome all that afflicts us. But Jesus does because Jesus is God become human, the only Son of the Father, and nothing is more powerful than God.

There’s more. Jesus tells the disciples that in his Father’s house there are many permanent dwelling places and that he goes to prepare a place for them to be with his Father and him forever. Of course in about 24 hours, their world will be turned upside down. They will see him crucified dead and buried. Before then they will all abandon him and afterwards hide in fear for their lives. In other words, their hearts will be troubled, and desperately so. After he’s dead, they will be tempted to think he was lying to them to make them feel better, that it was all just a sham and a farce. But they (and we) would be very wrong in thinking this because he is not lying to us and will return to us one day to take us to himself so that we can enjoy God’s new heavens and earth and live with the Father and the Son forever in their direct presence.

St. Thomas, bless his pointy little head, is wonderfully humble and honest with Jesus. Lord, he tells him. We don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way? This, of course, is how we are to approach Jesus with our doubts and fears and lack of knowledge. We don’t make demands on Jesus, telling him how and why he is wrong because what he tells us doesn’t fit our own preconceptions and/or worldview. We ask him to help us understand what we are able, and when we approach Jesus like this we will never, ever be disappointed. Ever.

In response to St. Thomas’ question, Jesus makes a truly startling claim. You do know the way, Thomas. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. In response, many of us today want to ask Jesus how that is possible. It’s possible, Jesus replies patiently, because the Father and I are one. In other words, I am the very embodiment of the Father. And if you know your Scripture, you know that no one can see God and live because we are all sin-sick individuals and God cannot countenance any form of sin or corruption in his direct presence. Great, we reply. How does that help our troubled heart? If anything, we are even more afraid when confronted with the dangerous truth of God’s holy perfection and our sin-sick state.

And when we have the good sense and humility to understand this terrible reality of our standing before God without God’s help, we are ready to understand why Jesus is the only way to the Father. Jesus is the Way because of his death, resurrection, and ascension. On the cross,  God condemned sin in the flesh to spare us from God’s right condemnation of us for our sins. That is why Paul makes the bold proclamation that there is now no condemnation for those of us who have a real and living relationship with Jesus (Romans 8.1-4). On the cross, God broke the power of Evil, Sin, and Death over us and freed us to be like Jesus our Lord so that we can live forever in God’s direct presence again. The resurrection is our guarantee of this. Like we recite in our Easter Anthems each Sunday during Eastertide, our baptism testifies that we share in Jesus’ death so that we can share in his resurrection. And when God brings about the new heavens and earth at the right time and our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and transformed into resurrected, immortal bodies, death will finally be destroyed forever, thanks be to God! Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have no hope of living in God’s house because only Jesus can take away the sins and Sin of the world so that we can live in God’s direct presence forever. This is primarily why Jesus is the only way to the Father.

And we can be confident that Jesus speaks the Truth because Jesus is God become human and God never lies. As our Lord tells us, only he is the resurrection and the life so that those who believe in him will live, even though their mortal body dies, barring his return before that happens (John 11.24-26). All this makes Jesus’ claim that those who see him have seen the Father even more balm for our troubled hearts because we no longer have to be terrified of God’s goodness and right judgment on us. We see the heart of the Father being nailed to the cross for our sake. We see him ransoming us from our slavery to Evil, Sin, and Death so that our future is life, not death. We begin to understand that God’s justice is a good thing because only then will all the things that are wrong with God’s world be put right, us included. This is the love of God that can give peace to our troubled hearts. Do you have that knowledge and peace?

In sum, Jesus has given these three antidotes for our troubled hearts. First, he reminds us that he is going to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house for us to live forever with him. He does that by going to the cross for us to break the power of Sin and Death over us and to bear the punishment for our sins so as to spare us from God’s good but terrible wrath. Second, Jesus promises us that he will return one day to fulfill completely this breathtaking promise to us to be able to live directly in God’s presence forever. Third, Jesus tells us to look to him to see the very heart and love that the Father has for us, a love so deep and wide and broad that the Father became human to die for us so that we can live.

But there is also a fourth promise Jesus makes that is balm for our troubled hearts. Jesus isn’t some dead guy who is out of sight and out of mind. No, Jesus promises to be with us in ways that weren’t possible when he lived a mortal life on earth. Now that Jesus has ascended to the Father, he promises to be with us in the power of the Spirit so that we have the power to live as the new creations he has made us in his death and resurrection. Whatever Jesus had in mind when he told the disciples that they would do greater works than he did after he ascended to the Father and gave them the Holy Spirit so that he could be with him, Jesus surely didn’t mean we would do lesser things than he did. Ask for anything in my name and I will grant it, he promises us. Now I am pretty sure many of us here don’t really believe that. We may pay occasional lip service to it, but in our heart of hearts, we simply don’t buy it. And when we don’t buy it, we let the darkness that still dwells in us make us fearful, timid, and ineffectual Christians.

This is what St. Peter is getting at in our epistle lesson when he tells us to long for the pure spiritual milk that is the word of God in Scripture and the Word of God personified in Jesus our Lord. Without mother’s milk, babies will die and without God’s word, without Jesus, we will die too. We will die from our egoic mind, as Fr. Bowser calls it, that tells us to be afraid and to trust ourselves, not Jesus. It tells us not to risk great things for God because, well, that’s just not in our power and everybody knows we’re in this by ourselves. In traditional terms, this is the world, the flesh, and the devil exerting power over us and we are ripe for the picking if we do not trust and believe in the power of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But when we dare believe and trust in the God made known to us in Jesus and available to us in the power of the Spirit, we have a power at our disposal to literally change the world because it is the power of Christ working in us through word, prayer, and sacrament. Here’s how it works in real life. The next time your heart is troubled, learn from the psalmist how to focus your attention on God instead of yourself and the chaos/evil in your life. Hear him now:

I cried out to God for help;/ I cried out to God to hear me./ When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;/ at night I stretched out untiring hands/ and I would not be comforted./ I remembered you, God, and I groaned;/ I meditated, and my spirit grew faint./ You kept my eyes from closing;/ I was too troubled to speak./ I thought about the former days/ the years of long ago;/ I remembered my songs in the night./ My heart meditated and my spirit asked:/ “Will the Lord reject forever Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever?/ Has his promise failed for all time?/ Has God forgotten to be merciful?/ Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”/ Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:/ the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand./ I will remember the deeds of the Lord;/ yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago./ I will consider all your works/ and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”/Your ways, God, are holy./  What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles;/ you display your power among the peoples./ With your mighty arm you redeemed your people. (Psalm 77.1-15a, NIV).

Note carefully the psalmist’s utter despair. He is inconsolable to the point where it is possible for his troubles to overwhelm him completely and destroy him and his faith in God. So what does he do? He goes to the word of God in Scripture to help him remember the mighty works of God, in this case the Exodus, the go-to event for God’s people Israel, so that he is reminded not to let his troubles overwhelm him because God still loves him and is still in charge, even in the midst of the darkest valley.

This is what we are to do as Christians when our hearts are troubled. We are to focus on Jesus the Word in Scripture, especially his death and resurrection, and on the promise of Jesus to be with us in the power of the Spirit during our mortal life and directly in God’s new creation in the world to come. When we do this, and when we consume Jesus every week at the eucharist, the Truth is reinforced in us, our desire to be with and like Jesus is strengthened, and our hearts will no longer be troubled. Of course we don’t do this solely as individuals. Like Jesus, St. Peter reminds us we are new creations, living stones that constitute the Temple of the living God, the place where God dwells with his people. God saves us to be his people who will embody his great love and healing for the world so that all may know God’s Name and be healed and saved as well. No temple is built with just one stone, living or otherwise. It takes multiple stones to build a temple and so we are reminded that we must become God’s new people together. So we feed on the pure spiritual milk of God’s word together so that our desire for Jesus and to be like him is reinforced and strengthened. This is what it means to be changed by God. When our troubled hearts find peace in Christ, so too will we be changed because we really know Jesus. Of course, until our Lord returns, our hearts will always be troubled to some extent and we will never be fully healed. So we must continue to return to Jesus the Word to be nourished and find peace. If you are not doing this, you are robbing yourself of a power that is life-giving and transformative, and I encourage you to do some serious soul-searching about what your relationship with Christ is really all about and then to repent of that which is holding you back.

As we just saw, God does not do save us so we can sit around and act snotty, thumbing our noses at the unsaved. We are saved, St. Peter reminds us, to be God’s holy people, to make the love and goodness and righteousness of God made known to the world. In other words, we are saved to be God’s people and presence in God’s world. We won’t do this perfectly or anywhere close to it. But as Jesus reminds us, he is alive and available to us each day in the power of the Spirit so that we can accomplish greater things than he did in his earthly ministry. As we have seen, the first obstacle that we must overcome is our fears and doubts about this promise to have God’s power available to us. That will always be an ongoing struggle but we’ve just seen how to overcome that by feeding on God’s word and sacrament.

So empowered by Jesus’ presence, we are equipped to do great things in his name. I don’t know what all God is calling us to do, but I can tell you this. God is not calling us to be a Sunday morning people where we come and give an hour or so of our time and then forget about it all till the next Sunday. I have seen signs of this kind of complacency in us lately and it troubles me (I include myself in this exhortation). When we are content to give Jesus only an hour of our time one day a week we effectively announce to ourselves and the world that we really don’t think Jesus is Lord who has conquered the dark powers or who is available to us to empower us to do his work. Or even if he is all this, we really don’t care because we’ve got other things/people to worship and give our time, energy, and attention to. When our faith does not produce kingdom fruit, but instead produces consistent lethargy, fear, timidity, and/or idolatry, we simply cannot say we have a meaningful relationship with the Lord. When, for example, we only have two people show up for a food drive or to visit Worthington Christian nursing home, or when we refuse to read and study Scripture individually and together or invite new people to come and meet Jesus in our midst, we are really saying we do not have time for Jesus or that we believe we can do great things in his name. I am not talking about missing out on ministry opportunities on occasion because of prior commitments that cannot be broken. I am talking about not showing up at all because we are too tired or not interested or think there are more important things in the world that require our attention or loyalty. At best, this kind of non-involvement is indicative of a tepid relationship with Jesus our Lord, and if we care at all about having life here and hereafter, we need to repent of these kinds of behaviors.

So we all have some very serious soul-searching to do, my beloved. Simply put, if Jesus isn’t the most precious thing in our lives—more so than family, friends, or whatever else may own us—we have a lot of growing up to do spiritually. Let us not tire of running the race and living out our faith. We have the promise of our Lord himself that he is with us and will answer our prayers in his name. This includes finding a true home for ourselves, reaching out to invite others to join us in our work, and doing the work itself. Anything less simply will not do. We are changed by God to make a difference for God and this is what we must do always in the power of the Spirit. Our Lord Jesus is alive and present to us and gives us the power and strength and stamina and desire to do great things for his name’s sake and the sake of God, his Father and ours. Far from being an odious burden, this is balm for our troubled hearts and peace and wholeness for our broken and fractured lives. Let us therefore not grow faint or weary in doing good and proclaiming the Lord’s name in word and deed and by how we love each other. Doing so is living the Good News that is ours, now and for all eternity. Let us do so with joy and thanksgiving. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

A Prayer for Mothers’ Day 2017 (2)

Mothers’ Day Prayer
Leader: On this Mothers’ Day we give thanks to God for the divine gift of motherhood.

Let us pray for and honor all the mothers among us today.

For our own mothers, those living and those who have died.
Lord of life and creation, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

For the mothers who loved us and for those who fell short of loving us fully.
Lord of life and creation, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

For all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hopes to have children have been frustrated.
Lord of life and creation, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

For all mothers who have lost children.
Lord of life and creation, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

For those who have been our substitute mothers and for those among us who have done so for others in need.
Lord of life and creation, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We give you our thanks and ask this all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
All Amen.

A Prayer for Mothers’ Day 2017

Mothers’ Day Prayer
Almighty God our heavenly Father,
of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
whose beloved Son did share and enjoy
the blessings of an earthly home in Nazareth:
Bless, we beseech you, the homes of our nation
and especially this day hear our prayers for mothers everywhere,
that they may grow in Christian love and understanding;
pour down on them all the riches of your grace
that they may reflect and share the true and pure love of God
to their children and families;
to the honor and glory of your Holy Name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

V-E Day 2017

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945, in which the Allies celebrated the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany the day before. Take a moment today and thank God for bringing us victory over evil. Remember the brave men and women who fought against Nazism. If you know a veteran who is still alive, take time today and thank him (or her) for his service to our country. Ask that person to tell you his story and remember it so that you can pass it on to your children and others. Nazi Germany may be a thing of the past, but unspeakable evil certainly is not. #VEDay72

May 7, 2017: Happy Birthday, Mom

Today would have been my mama’s 95th birthday, something she would have no doubt hated if she were alive today (it’s hard to grow old for one so young at heart). My mother was an exquisite role-model of motherhood. She loved me, spent time with me, loved me enough to instill what it meant to be a Maney, and disciplined me when I did not live up to that standard. I hated it at the time, but am grateful for it today. She allowed me to have a childhood that was second to none because she insisted that I be a kid and worked sacrificially to make that happen. In that regard, I miss her presence. But I cannot be sad because I would rather her be where she is than to be here with me and struggling with illness and infirmity (check out this reflection on grief and consolation over parents who have died).

Thank you mama, for being the mother you were. Thank you for all your sacrifice for me and for our family. Thank you for allowing me to grow up in a timely manner and not before it was my time to do so. Thank you for personifying sacrificial love for me. And thank you, dear God, for blessing me with the best parents a person could ever want or dream of having.

Happy birthday, mama. I love you. Enjoy your rest with the Lord who loves you and has claimed you from all eternity.

Rest eternal grant unto Margaret, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

And for those of you whose mother is still living, make sure you remember your mama on Mothers’ Day next Sunday. Better yet, treat her like every day is Mothers’ Day. I know my mama would surely approve.

FN: Battle of the Coral Sea and Corregidor: When America’s Worst Defeat Gave Way to Victory

A monumental day for the United States during World War II, 75 years ago today.

As MacArthur hunkered down in Australia and mourned the fall of Corregidor, two aircraft carriers of the US Navy sailed into the Coral Sea to counter an invasion aimed at Port Moresby on New Guinea that threatened Australia itself.

Confusion reined on both sides. Japanese aircraft mistook an oiler and accompanying destroyer for a carrier and a cruiser and pummeled them. American pilots searching for Japanese carriers stumbled onto the invasion force instead. The opposing carriers finally engaged each other directly with their aircraft—the first major battle fought without surface ships seeing one another.

Read it all.

Justin Martyr Talks About Early Christian Worship

Justin was martyred around 167 AD so his testimony represents one of the earliest descriptions of Christian worship. As Anglicans, we share in a similar pattern of worship—word and sacrament. Pretty cool, IMO.

No one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of ?esh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our ?esh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the ?esh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: “Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: “This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has ?nished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

—First Apology 66-67

Fr. Philip Sang: Disappointment to Delight

Sermon delivered on Easter 3A, Sunday, April 30, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the lesson from Acts, Peter speaks of the resurrection of Jesus with such power that some 3,000 people are numbered among the first Christians. Forgiveness of sins and the presence of the Holy Spirit are amazing gifts offered to all who hear the Lord’s call. In Luke’s Gospel, we find the risen Jesus unfolding scripture to two disciples as they journey to the village of Emmaus. Only when “their eyes were opened” did they truly understand who he was and what he had said.

Have you ever had the experience of not being able to see something for looking at it? You go into a room for something, you spend ages looking for it, you can’t find it; yet it’s right in front of you. It’s normally the case that someone else will be able to spot it immediately… You’re looking at it, but you just can’t see it.

What maybe worse, though, is when you’re looking at someone. You know you should know them, you chat away, but all the time you’re thinking ‘who are you?…’ I’ll confess that this has happened to me several times, this past week at the synod i met somebody i knew I should know him, but it took ten full minutes of conversation and stumbling questions before I worked out who he was.

This morning in our reading, the two disciples have a series of experiences just like this. They’re walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and they’re talking about what had happened in recent days. As they walk along, they’re joined by someone they should recognise, but they don’t know him. They see him, but they don’t recognise him.

When he asks what they’re talking about, they’re amazed he even asked the question. ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?’

Cleopas and his friend had been followers of Jesus. They knew he was a prophet mighty in deed and word – but he had been crucified. Listen to the disappointment in their words: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ They had high hopes, but they had been dashed. Their expectations had been exhausted. Their dreams are deflated.

Now as if that disappointment wasn’t enough – they’re confused by the strange events of the morning. All this talk of visions of angels and word of Jesus being alive. Yet Cleopas and friend haven’t stayed around. No one has seen Jesus yet; It all seems so strange. They just can’t make sense of it all.

They’ve been expecting Jesus to redeem Israel – by kicking out the Roman oppressors and winning the victory. They thought things would work out in a particular way, but they haven’t. I wonder if you’ve ever found that as well? You have your life all planned out, but things don’t turn out that way. You expect a life of ease and comfort, but then sorrow surrounds you – what should have been victory turned into defeat. You’re left wondering if God is really in control. Where is God when these things happen?

It might be hard to see where Jesus fits into it all; it might appear as if Jesus isn’t with you in the middle of the trouble. You’re confused, disappointed, sad. They just can’t see Jesus; can’t understand what he’s doing – even when he’s right beside them; even as he’s speaking to them.

Yet Jesus enables them to see. Now notice that he doesn’t immediately say: ‘There’s nothing to worry about, sure, did you not recognise me? It’s me, Jesus, alive and kicking…’ Rather he helps them to see his death and resurrection as laid out in the Old Testament.

Jesus says that these two were ‘foolish… and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.’

Jesus is saying that they should have expected his death and resurrection, precisely because it had been written about in advance in the Old Testament. They didn’t see Jesus in the scriptures, which was why they were finding it hard to understand what was happening that very day. He goes on: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ He then shows what is written in the Bible explaining from Moses and all the prophets the things about himself ‘in all the scriptures.’

The Old Testament isn’t irrelevant for us; because it’s all about Jesus. Over 300 specific details of his life, death and resurrection are given, hundreds of years before he was born – all of which gives us confidence that God knows what he is doing; how he is in control of history; how his purposes do not fail.

Cleopas and his friend talk later about how their hearts ‘burned within us’ while he was opening the scriptures. That excitement of knowing and understanding the Bible, seeing it all click together; seeing the Lord Jesus in the Scriptures – what a thrill to be able to open the Bible together and hear God speaking to us. Do you take time to hear him speak? Their hearts were open to see Jesus in the scripture; yet they still didn’t know who the man walking with them was. They come to the end of their seven mile walk (as if they’d walked from downtown columbus to westerville), but the stranger appears to be heading on further. They urge him to stay with them. He is the guest, yet he takes the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

It’s the same set of words used of the time Jesus fed the five thousand; the same words from the Last Supper just a few days before. And it’s at that moment that their eyes are open; they recognise Jesus; they see him for who he is; and he suddenly disappears from their sight.

Though they didn’t realise it; though they couldn’t see him; Jesus was alive – Jesus had been with them the whole time. The knowledge that Jesus is alive is enough to transform these sad, disappointed, weary disciples into joyful resurrection people. Despite the hour; despite having walked seven miles, they get their coats on and go back the same road; back to Jerusalem and the eleven and the others. They have good news to share!

The good news is shared – Jesus is risen, he’s alive; he has even appeared to Simon (Peter – the one who had denied Jesus). These disciples share how they recognised him in the breaking of the bread.

Perhaps today you’re weary, sad and disappointed. You’re wondering why things are the way they are. You just can’t see God’s purpose in the events of your life. Jesus invites us to meet with him at his table – as we break bread together, we’re reminded of God’s love for us; of how God could use the darkest of days to bring about the brightest of days; how violence and shame and hatred were transformed in the cross of Christ to offer hope and forgiveness and victory.

As we hear his word and share at his table, so he meets with us. He invites us to see him, to know his presence with us – not just here, but everywhere we go, in whatever situation we find ourselves. The good news of Easter isn’t just for one day in the year; we live each day in the light of the resurrection – the knowledge that Jesus is alive; that Jesus is with us; that God is fulfilling his promises, and will continue to do so. Just as Jesus met his disciples on the Emmaus road, so he’ll meet us on the sunbury road, the Main Street, or East wind or wherever he has prepared for us.

With the miracle of Easter still fresh in our memory, let us be filled with passion and conviction like Peter, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior with the hope of meeting him at every place and in every situation we find ourselves in.

In the name of God the Father the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Living Our Easter Hope

Sermon delivered on Easter 2A, Sunday, April 23, 2017, 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: Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9; John 20.19-31.

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

Last week we looked at the nature of Jesus’ resurrection and all that God has done in and through it. We saw that not only has death been abolished (albeit not completely until the Lord returns), but also that God’s new world was launched in which God’s current good but corrupted creation, along with us, will be fully healed, redeemed, and restored. Today our texts focus on our response to the Resurrection. What’s in it for us and what does God expect from us as resurrection peeps? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our gospel lesson, St. John continues to echo the original creation accounts found in Genesis 1-2 as he did when he began chapter 20. As if to rub our noses in it, John again reminds us that this is the evening of the first day of the week, the beginning of God’s new world. Jesus appears suddenly to his frightened and cloistered disciples, even though the doors are locked. He greets them and offers them his peace as if to reassure them that he has forgiven them for abandoning him at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Like his first disciples, Jesus continues to offer us his peace and assurance that we too are forgiven despite our unfaithfulness and cowardly behavior toward him, and we should take great hope and comfort in that, even as we repent of all such behavior. As St. Peter reminds us in our epistle lesson, God is gracious and merciful!

Then St. John tells us that our Lord showed his disciples his wounds that he bore into eternity, wounds by which we are healed. Let us therefore note a couple things about Jesus’ resurrected body. First and foremost Jesus had a physical body. Not only did he show his disciples his wounds from the cross, but the following week he invited St. Thomas to touch his wounds. You don’t do that with a ghost (cf. Luke 24.36-43). Second, in appearing to his disciples behind locked doors, St. John wants us to see that Jesus’ body is at home in both this world and the one we cannot currently see, heaven. Our mortal bodies simply cannot appear and disappear like that. But again, the point is that we are talking about a body, not a disembodied existence.

Jesus then breathed on his disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit, just as he had promised them in the Upper Room the night before he died (John 14.25-27, 15.26-27). In reporting this, St. John again echoes the Genesis narrative. The word John uses for breathe on is the same word used in Genesis when the writer reports that God breathed life into the first humans (Genesis 2.7). Without the breath of God in us, we have no life, even if we are biologic-ally alive. And surely within the context of new creation that St. John is stressing in these pass-ages, one of the things he wants us to see is that this act not only echoes the original creation of humans in God’s image, but also serves as a signpost for our future resurrection, when the Lord raises our mortal bodies from the dead and animates them with his Holy Spirit (think St. Paul’s description of “spiritual bodies” in 1 Corinthians 15.44) so that we will live forever in his presence.

This is the living hope about which St. Peter speaks in our epistle lesson. What God in his great love and mercy for us has done for Jesus in raising him from the dead that first Easter Sunday, God will do for us on the last day when the Lord Jesus returns to consummate his great victory won for us in his death and resurrection. Because we are given new birth, traditionally understood as baptism, we too will share in Jesus’ new life and God’s new world. Until that time, Peter reminds us, our inheritance and promise of new life, resurrected life in God’s new world, is kept safe for us in heaven by God himself where it is immune to corruption and defilement. We cannot currently see God’s new world in full. We only see bits of it breaking in on God’s old world. More about that in a moment. This of course echoes Jesus’ own admonition to us to store up for ourselves heavenly treasures (think resurrected life with all of its ramifications) that do not and cannot wear out or be corrupted instead of storing up earthly treasures that are temporary and fleeting, e.g., wealth, power, etc. (Matthew 6.19-21). And let’s be clear about what St. Peter is saying when he tells us our living hope—our future life in God’s new world when it comes in full—is stored for us in heaven. Peter is not telling us our future is in heaven, only that it is being kept in heaven until the time God chooses to reveal it in full. If I tell you I have a bottle of beer waiting for you in the fridge, it doesn’t mean you have to get in the fridge to drink the beer! St. Peter is talking about inheriting God’s new world, not an eternity of disembodied existence in heaven!

This living hope is based on faith because none of us have seen the risen Christ the way the first apostles and St. Paul saw him. St. Peter tells us we love Jesus even though we have not seen him, and none of us can prove without a shadow of doubt that Jesus actually rose from the dead. This doesn’t mean there isn’t convincing evidence that Jesus really was raised from the dead. It just means that it cannot be proven in a scientific manner that would satisfy all doubters. As St. John reports, St. Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was alive until he touched and saw him, and the Lord accommodated him. But the message is for those of us who have not seen the risen Lord. Believe the testimony of the first apostles and billions of Christians ever since. Jesus is alive, even though we haven’t laid eyes on him. God raised him from the dead and we will share in his risen life at the right time because God is merciful and kind and wants us to live, not die. So our faith in the living hope stored for us in heaven is not based on wishful thinking. It is based on historical fact. God has acted on our behalf in Jesus and will one day act again in a manner that will leave no room for doubt by anyone, not even God’s enemies.

So what’s that mean for us? We’ve already seen what’s in it for us—new life with new bodies in God’s new world, all gifts from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave himself for us in a terrible and costly act, thanks be to God! But our living hope also  demands that we live in the here and now as well as the future. We are to live in the manner that God created us, reflecting God’s goodness, justice, mercy, and love out into the world. We are to live for the world because God loves the world and is for it. This will result in our suffering because as Scripture makes very clear, the world is generally hostile to God and hates those of us who give our lives to Christ. But as St. Peter makes clear, our suffering will bring Jesus additional honor, praise, and glory, and we are to take joy in that. How so, you ask? That sounds cray-cray. Well, thanks for asking and consider as one of many examples the remarkable impact the forgiveness Egyptian Coptic Christians offered their murderers had on Muslims who witnessed it:

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt (Christianity Today Online, April 20, 2017).

This is the power of crucified love we are called to embody in our suffering. We do so because we have a living hope. Who knows how God will use this to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven? Our faith, however, knows God will use the Copts’ suffering (and ours) for good, precisely because God used Jesus’ suffering for good and we are united with him in baptism.

Not only that, because we live in a fallen world with mortal bodies, we will suffer from other things as well: health issues, broken relationships, loneliness, and depression to name just a few. Here St. Peter reminds us our suffering is temporary and we have a real future ahead of us, giving us reason to rejoice, despite our suffering. This isn’t always easy to believe when we are suffering. If you have ever been in serious pain, it is anything but fleeting and we have to train our minds and emotions to remind ourselves of our living hope that is in the crucified and risen Jesus. This takes work and intentionality and mutual support. We must comfort each other. We must remind each other in the midst of our suffering that it isn’t the end game, that God’s new world, which will be free of suffering and sorrow and death, will last a lot longer than our mortal days. We must remind ourselves and each other that on the cross of Jesus, God has won the victory over the world (the people and systems hostile to Jesus), the flesh (our own fallen nature that left to itself will lead us to ruin), and the devil (the ruler of this world who has usurped it from God, its rightful owner), and our future is guaranteed because Jesus’ future was guaranteed when God raised him from the dead.

And as Jesus commanded his disciples when he breathed the Holy Spirit into them, we are to live as his people, offering God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness to others, as well as retaining their sins, i.e., we are to warn others that there are deadly and mortal consequences in rejecting Jesus as God’s Messiah and Son. We tend to shrink from this latter command in today’s culture because doing so is interpreted by many as being “unloving.” What exactly is unloving in telling others that their only hope and future is in Jesus and that they risk permanent death in rejecting him hasn’t been fully explained (at least to me) in a way that is comprehensible.

We do none of this on our own power, of course, because left to our own devices we are as hostile to God and his Christ as the next person. Jesus commands us to do this in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and heals us to become real human beings. Even then things are not always straightforward as St. John reminds us. Jesus came to his disciples that evening on the first day of the week and offered them peace and forgiveness. So why were they huddled behind locked doors the following week? Why were they out fishing a few weeks later instead of out making disciples and forgiving and retaining sins as our Lord commanded them to do? All this suggests that things weren’t (and aren’t) always so straightforward when it comes to living out our living hope and embodying our Lord’s love and mercy and forgiveness to others.

But just because things aren’t always neat and tidy in our relationship with the Lord and our understanding of how God works doesn’t mean we tuck tail and run and hide. This is where our faith comes into play. We have the testimony of Scripture. We have the testimony of the apostles and of Christ’s Church throughout time and across cultures. We have the testimony of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We have the testimony of our own lives when we are faithful to the Lord and the lives of others when they are faithful to the Lord. St. Augustine’s is a living testimony to the truth of our risen Christ and of St. Peter in today’s epistle lesson! It doesn’t mean our hurts and heartaches and sorrows and suffering magically disappear. It means we persevere as people with hope. (You all know what this looks like because you’ve listened to Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Gatwood preach. You persevere and hope their sermons will end quickly.) It means that our faithfulness in the face of these trials demonstrates that we do love the Lord. Not perfectly to be sure, but then flawless perfection never has been a demand placed on us. God knows our weaknesses and has done something about it in the death and resurrection of Jesus and in sending us the Holy Spirit to make the risen Lord available to us. The work and our lives aren’t always easy. Sometimes it is downright chaotic. But we have a future and a real hope. We live and breathe and struggle and suffer and grieve as people who have this hope because we don’t worship some dead guy who cannot help us. We worship the crucified and risen Lord who is faithful to us and who will never abandon us. Ever. And when we doubt this, we must always return to our story and its witnesses, both known and unknown to us, confident that our story is true, and because it is true we have Good News to offer not only to others but to ourselves, now and for all eternity. This is how we are to live out our Easter hope, my beloved. Let us do so with joy and thanksgiving. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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