Fr. Philip Sang: Receiving What is Not Deserved

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10A, Sunday, August 20, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. Westerville, OH. What a splendid day to listen to this fine sermon! Praise God that Father Sang has even learned how to write!

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 45.1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15.10-28.

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

In our readings today, the theme that i see running across is receiving what is not deserved. In the story of Joseph and his brothers, the guilty brothers were “so dismayed at [Joseph’s] presence,” they were failing to hear his words and believe them. I imagine their minds were caught between, “Is this Egyptian prince going to kill us, or will dad kill us for selling his favorite son and lying to him that the lions ate Joseph?” They heard words, but that could not have faith in them. They could not believe that they were receiving such treatment from their brother whom they sold. They did not deserve.

In the first part of the gospel, we have entered into a setting that keeps us from realizing that the Pharisees had just complained to Jesus about his disciples eating food without washing their hands first. They complained that the tradition of the elders was not being maintained. Jesus then “called the crowd to him and said, “It is not what goes in the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

The disciples then whisper to Jesus that the Pharisees took offense at what Jesus just told the crowd. The Pharisees had missed the point of God’s Law and had forgotten the warning of Isaiah. The words of the Torah had been read, but the Pharisees had a failure to understand and communicate the intended meaning properly.

Jesus then used a parable about the blind leading the blind, when he told the disciples why the Pharisees were offended. Peter stood up and said to Jesus, “Explain this parable to us.” Obviously, there was a failure to understand the precise reason how Pharisees with working eyesight and a crowd without any blind people could be called “blind.”

In the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans, there was doubt about how the Jews could still call themselves “the chosen ones of God,” when they had screamed out that Jesus should be killed. They sold Jesus into the slavery of a punished prophet. Paul explained how disobedience today does not mean disobedience tomorrow; so even though the Jews killed Jesus, they are still called God’s children. Though they don’t deserve Jesus had explained to Peter and the disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” That statement reflected verbally and vocally that one’s inner level of defilement – or righteousness – presence of or lack of either and both – comes out through the words you use. We speak from the heart – good or bad as Jesus spoke; but his words did not sink into the disciples’ hearts.

As they walked into Canaan, some crazy Canaanite woman began shouting at them. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” The disciples urged Jesus to ask her to go away, causing him to say, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus was a Jew, with only Jews following him. He was, in essence, a Jewish ram leading twelve mindlessly lost sheep, who were now frightened by a woman that was not one of them. Before anyone could tell the woman to shut up, she ran before them and knelt down before Jesus. She said, “Lord, help me.” She prayed for mercy. Her words spoke the truth of her heart. Jesus told her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.” At that moment, Jesus had just come up with another parable. Peter had asked Jesus to explain the “blind leading the blind” analogy. Now, Jesus was talking about children, and food, and dogs, none of which were a part of that present reality.

But, the Canaanite woman understood what Jesus was saying. Her immediate response was, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” She understood she was like a dog, begging for help, completely dependent on the master. Yes she did not deserve but was pleading for mercy. She understood that she was not invited (yet) to sit at the table with the master, able to have a full bowl of food, meaning she was not allowed (yet) to follow Jesus as a disciple and be fed by his words so they filled her heart with understanding. She understood that she would be happy if only one crumb would fall her way, a crumb that would save her daughter from demonic possession. Jesus exclaimed, “Woman, great is your faith!” Finally, finally someone is getting it! Jesus said (in essence), “You understand because my words have missed your mind and hit your heart.

Back to the Old Testament lesson, we see how the outpouring of emotion, between Joseph and Benjamin, where there was hugging and weeping and kissing taking place in front of the other brothers, that was when the brothers could begin to talk to Joseph once again. When they processed his words in their minds, they were speechless. They could not communicate.

But, when their minds were triggered by their hearts, they cried, realizing their level of defilement, while FEELING how amazing it was to be forgiven for their sins. Though they did not deserve The brothers wept before the words could come from their mouths. Their heart would then be the source of their confessions and repentance, they realized they had been dogs, blessed by a crumb of forgiveness from the master’s table. They did not deserve the mercy and the love they are receiving.

The focus that needs to come from today’s readings is we are all in one or more states of being that the words of Scripture highlight. We are blind, until our eyes are opened to see the truth. We are headed to a fall in the pit, until we see the right path that must be taken. We lead others to do as we do, when we have no clue about what it is we should do. We are led by evil intentions more often than by righteous emotions. We take offense at those who understand things we misinterpret. We like to feel special as lost sheep, crying out for our leaders to run off outsiders. We ask Jesus to explain everything for us, rather than becoming emotionally one with God, so that our mind speaks as Jesus, knowing in our hearts what God’s plan is.

In the Gospel reading, it was a stranger that readily recognized Jesus as “Lord” and as a “Son of David.” She knelt before His presence and prayed, not for herself directly, but for her daughter, whom she loved with her heart. Her prayer was answered because of her faith. I am sure we all have experiences where our prayers have been answered. Not because we deserve. When we pray we pour out words from the heart. Still … Many times, we do not realize how well our prayers have been answered, until years after the fact. It is in hindsight that our eyes can be opened so we can see. The length of time between prayer and realization of a crumb being within our grasp, depends on our persistence and dependance on God as emulated by the canaanite woman. Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible Paul wrote, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” There “may be mercy” granted, once our understanding with our brain is replaced by a faithful heart. You effect the outcome.

Let me conclude by sharing a testimony, I once prayed earnestly to God for a sign that I was doing the right thing, making radical changes in my life, while trembling that everything I was embarking upon had no clear future. This is when i had to leave my family in Kenya to come to the united states to study not knowing how things were going to be, Philarice in Kenya and i here in the states. With the college I was attending, I was only approved to received Tuition assistance but not living expense. It was hard life but this foreigner kept going through the Grace, mercy and love of God send through his people. Once i was done with schooling i was caught in between taking the job i had been offered back in kenya and moving to the states for the unknown. I chose the latter trusting that God will provide, and truly he has provided. On our arrival we decided to settle in OH, columbus to be specific, where we knew only one person, Christopher. God led us to st. Augustine’s where we have found mercy and love not that we deserved it, but it is because of the love of God, especially being outsiders or dog as Jesus calls. We prayed with the support of the church that God lead me to find a job that would provide for our needs and enable me to serve his people. In 2014 I took another turn into chaplaincy which this church has been part of my support and encouragement. You have shown us Grace, mercy and love of God. to cut the long story short, as I speak I am happy to announce that I graduated from my residency as a chaplain on Tuesday from OSU and God has Graciously answered the prayers that Father Kevin asked you to pray for me to get a job. I have accepted offer of a job as a chaplain staff with OSU wexner medical center as a chaplain effective today. Join me in giving thanks to God for his Grace, Love and mercy.

As I said earlier the prayer of the canaanite woman was answered because of her faith. When we pray we pour out words from the heart. Still … Many times, we do not realize how well our prayers have been answered, until years after the fact. It is in hindsight that our eyes can be opened so we can see. The length of time between prayer and realization of a crumb being within our grasp, depends on our persistence and dependance on God. How I pray this morning that God will grant us his Grace, mercy and love as we surrender our lives to Him.

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

Where’s God?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 9A, Sunday, August 13, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. What a perfectly good day to listen to a brilliant sermon!

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14:22-33.

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

Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams, doesn’t it? In this country alone people are angrier than ever at each other, and more intolerant of behavior and thoughts they do not share or support. Charlottesville, VA is the most recent example of this sad reality. We seem to revel in dissing each other on social media and elsewhere, and the bedrock values we once shared as a nation, most notably the Judeo-Christian tradition, seem to be crumbling away before our very eyes. Worldwide, the threat of terrorism isn’t going away and who can not be concerned about the bombast that we hear coming out of the governments of N. Korea and the United States? Nuclear war anyone? Some of us here struggle with debilitating health issues or pressing financial worries or alienated relationships with family members and/or folks we once considered trusted friends. Things are not all bad, of course, but they are bad enough, and for those of us who profess to be Christians, the steady streams of bad news that continue to bombard us inevitably start to beat us down and wear us out. We wonder where God is in it all. If God is all powerful and all present, why are things so chaotic? This is what I want us to look at this morning because frankly we as Christians have allowed a massive lie to be foisted on us and we must develop clear-headed and biblical thinking about this issue to combat the lie.

That lie, of course, is that God is not active or present in God’s world, leaving us to solve our own problems. It goes by many names: Epicureanism, Deism, et al., but they all posit the same lie. God is absent and essentially uncaring. Where’s God in the world? Well, he’s checked out and we’re on our own, baby. Given the human condition, that ought to scare us to death because if true, it means we are in a hopeless situation with no way out. Human self-help is a lie and a delusion and those who espouse it are whistling through the graveyard.

And while we might be tempted to think that this belief system of an absentee God is a relatively modern one, it is not as our OT lesson attests. Today’s story begins the final saga of the book of Genesis with its story of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have seen how God promised to bring his blessing and healing to God’s sin-sick world through Abraham and his descendants, and we have also seen that all the patriarchs were not always shining examples of blessed and virtuous behavior. Old Jacob, whose name means deceiver, is deceived one more time in this story—itself a story of human wickedness and folly—this time by his own sons. We are introduced to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son by virtue of having been birthed by his beloved wife Rachel, who was now dead. Jacob just couldn’t help himself and showed egregious favoritism to young Joseph, something that caused resentment leading to hatred in his older brothers. Not only that, but the writer tells us Joseph had ratted out his brothers for behaving badly, surely not a good recipe for fostering brotherly love and affection. To add insult to injury, Joseph had also told his brothers of a dream he had where his brothers and father would one day bow down in homage him, an integral part of today’s story that the lectionary inexplicably leaves out. We are not told if this dream came from God, although given the OT treatment of dreams in general it probably did. We are simply told that this dream was perceived by both Joseph’s brothers and Jacob to be an indication of Joseph’s arrogance. We can understand his brothers’ anger and jealousy, even if we cannot excuse their murderous desires. Keep in mind this is the family through whom God promised to bring God’s blessing to the world.

Now in today’s story Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are off tending sheep. When Joseph finally finds his brothers, they realize that they are presented with a golden opportunity to kill their hated little brother. Reuben, the eldest brother, pleads against killing Joseph but the brothers nevertheless strip Joseph of his robe—the hated symbol and ongoing poke in their eye of their father’s favoritism—and throw him into an empty cistern to die. Shockingly, the brothers display a callous disregard of their own wickedness by sitting down to eat, apparently oblivious to the evil of their plot! Again, remember this is the family who will bring God’s blessing to God’s sin-sick world. Are you scratching your head in bewilderment yet or do you get what’s really going on here?

And then more opportunity presents itself. A band of traveling Midianite traders “just happen” to be passing by (yeah, right—ain’t no such thing as coincidence in God’s world) and Judah forms a plan to spare Joseph’s life. Let’s sell him into slavery, he says! Oh Judah. How kind and considerate of you. And so Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and devise a plan to lie to their father about his fate. They dip Joseph’s robe in animal blood and tell Jacob that his beloved son has met a deadly fate at the paws of wild beasts. Hear again Jacob’s reaction:

Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep. Meanwhile, the Midianite traders arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard. (Genesis 37.34-36, NLT).

We can all relate to Jacob’s great grief over his son. But do you see the evil involved here?

Jacob’s sons, the heirs to God’s promised blessing of the world, were perfectly content to kill their brother and ultimately sell him into slavery. They were perfectly content to deceive their own father to cover their tracks, all because of their hatred and jealousy of Joseph. It’s not a pretty picture, folks. It not only describes their life but ours. We may not have sold anyone into slavery or plotted murder, but we all have our fair share of evildoing toward our enemies, not to mention our friends, neighbors, and especially God. That’s the human condition the Bible addresses. And the obvious question in all this mess is where is God in it all? Why did (and does) God let this kind of evil continue? It’s an invitation to believe in an absentee and uncaring God, right?

Well no it isn’t. For the ancient Hebrews who heard and read this story, even in exile, the answer to that question is that God is actively at work, both in Joseph’s dreams and in the “chance happening” of the Midianite traders passing by. God’s redemption is being achieved, even when it is not apparent to us, by those we reject, the weak and powerless, Joseph in this case, and ultimately in and through Jesus Christ. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, God chose the weak and foolish in the world to shame the strong and the wise, and to bring about our redemption (cf. Isaiah 53.3-6; Romans 5.1-11). God used the evil intentions and behaviors of Joseph’s brothers, as well as our own, to accomplish God’s purposes. As Joseph would eventually tell his brothers after he became second in command in Egypt and was reunited with them there, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Genesis 50.20). God would deliver his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt at the Passover and ultimately rescue his people—those who put their hope and trust in his Son, Jesus Christ—from our slavery to Sin and Death.

And here is the challenge for God’s people then and now. Do we believe that God really is active, even in the midst of the chaos that appears to be ruling God’s world? Can we, despite the apparent evidence that confronts our senses and our sense of order, really put our hope and trust in this sovereign God of ours? The biblical answer, not to mention the answer of God’s people over time and culture, is an emphatic yes. But as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, it takes faith, not superhuman effort on our part. We don’t need to go up to heaven to find God. God has descended to us in the person of Jesus the Messiah! We don’t need to go down to the abyss to find Christ. He has already been raised from the dead to conquer on our behalf Sin and Death forever, and we who are his people need to fear Death and Hell no longer.

My point is this. When we talk about faith, we are not talking about ascribing to a set of rules or doctrines. We are talking about establishing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Only when we know this God made known to us in Jesus, only when we put our ultimate hope and trust in this God do we need to no longer fear as Jesus commands us. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just ask St. Peter in our gospel lesson this morning. Initially he had faith in our Lord because he got out of the boat and started to walk toward Jesus. But then he shifted his attention from Jesus to the waves and voila! St. Peter began to sink. Surprise, surprise. One of the things St. Matthew wants us to learn from this story is that when we keep our eyes on Christ, the eternal Son of the Father who broke the power of Sin and Death for us in his death and resurrection, we don’t need to be afraid of the waves of life that threaten to overwhelm us. But we in our pride and stupidity want to be in charge and we look to ourselves and our own clever devices to rescue ourselves from the stormy seas of life. Until… Until… Until we are told we have terminal cancer or our best friend or beloved family member dies or our finances collapse suddenly or we are struck with a debilitating illness. Only when we are confronted by evil and hatred and wickedness, both within ourselves and outside beyond our control, do we realize how utterly foolish and futile this thinking is, and in the interim we continue to try to live our lives based on the lie that we actually are in control of things. But there is no one who has the power of life other than Jesus. No one. And those who stubbornly refuse to see this have little reason to hope for a bright future of any kind, both in this life and hereafter. It is a sorrowful spectacle of human folly indeed that is well documented in Scripture.

So Scripture encourages us to know this sovereign God, the God who shows himself to us in Jesus Christ, who rules the waves and brings good out of evil as our gospel and OT lessons attest. And what kind of God is this that we are encouraged to get to know? God is not an absentee landlord who doesn’t care about us or our situations. God is not an angry or vindictive God who waits eagerly to whack us up side the head the first time we misbehave. No, this is the God who humbled himself and became human for our sake. This is the God who sent his own dear Son to die for us while we were still God’s enemies (have you really considered how breathtaking that claim of St. Paul’s is??) so that we might become aware of our desperate lot and future without God and put our trust in this God of the cross and thus be rescued from the ultimate evil of Sin and Death. This is the God we are invited to get to know and love. Most of us don’t have a clue as to the seriousness of our Sin and rebellion against this sovereign God of ours who loves us and gave himself for us. So we have apostles like St. Paul who vigorously write to tell us about this God and invite us to know and love God the Father through God the Son.

We get to know our sovereign and triune God by remembering. We read stories like the ones in our lessons today and remember what God has done for us. We remember the times God has acted in our lives in great and small ways, through God’s people and through the chances and changes of life. We remember that nothing has changed, that the world has been chaotic since our first ancestors rebelled against God in the garden of paradise. We read these stories to remember that God has the power to overcome the chaos of our lives and world, but often in ways that are not readily apparent to us so that we learn to have the humility of a creature, not the Creator (cf. Isaiah 55.6-11). We dare read the story of Christ’s death in astonished hope, that the God in which we are invited to have faith is the God who died for us while we were still God’s enemies to rescue us from our ultimate exile which is death and eternal separation from our Creator who wants us to live, not die. That’s why we must read Scripture—to learn God’s character and to learn how to flourish as God’s creatures by following God’s ways and commands as demonstrated supremely in Jesus our Lord. That is why we come together to worship God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood each week. That is why we are called to pray continually to this God who loves us, who is active in our lives, and who has the power to overcome all the chaos around and within us.

To be sure, this promise to overcome will not be fully consummated until our Lord’s return. But it is a true and valid promise nevertheless and it is being partially fulfilled right now in the context of our lives. Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life we have. Will you listen to this God? Will you do the things you need to do, do the required remembering, to trust this God’s sovereignty and love for you and respond accordingly? The challenges are great, just like the waves St. Peter encountered. That’s why we must remember to be reminded that our Lord’s love for us and power over the dark forces are greater than their power. God has conquered them in the most unexpected way—on the cross of a naked, bloodied, pierced, and utterly humiliated man who also happened to be the very Son of God. This is how our God works much of the time—through weakness. And God calls us to trust in God’s goodness, ways, and power, a power made manifest supremely in weakness. We aren’t called to believe this in our own strength. That would be impossible. We are called to believe this in the power of the Spirit, who mediates our Lord and Savior’s presence to us and who helps transform us into his people. This is where God is, my beloved, in the power of the Spirit and in God’s cruciform people. Stake your life on it. Please. Don’t settle for other, lesser gods that cannot give you life. Stake your life on the One who has given you the Good News of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, now and for all eternity. You won’t be disappointed. You have God’s very word on it. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

The Stream (Joshua Charles): What’s Wrong With Millennials? Partly, Their Parents’ Divorces

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Don’t ever let anyone tell you, even your kids, that divorce doesn’t matter or that there are not consequences to sin. They are dead wrong and if you believe them, you are in denial.

But what is certain is that my generation has seen more of divorce than any other. The family — the God-made bedrock of our lives, our education, our moral formation, and for many of us our faith — has been shattered.

It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. You have to ask, “If this happens so much to good people, after decades of marriage, what hope do I have for a successful marriage?”

The question many Millennials invariably ask is “For what?” Many of our parents have been horrible teachers of marriage and family life, for invariably even a good family life that ends in divorce cannot avoid a peculiar sense of vanity. Precious things that seem wasted always will.

You cannot look askance at the generation so ill-taught and judge them for undervaluing what you taught them to esteem cheap. As the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote, “It is not young people who degenerate. They are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted.”

By all means edify, encourage and lovingly correct my generation on marriage. But before judging it, make sure you are being honest about the world you gave them.

Read the whole heartbreaking thing.

Father Terry Gatwood: Having Enough

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8A, Sunday, August 6, 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: Genesis 32.22-31; Psalm 17.1-7, 16; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21.

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

Sometimes, when we read through a passage of Scripture, we find that it is the text that is reading us, showing us the things God has revealed to his people throughout the ages that also stand to be true of ourselves. This morning’s Old Testament lesson is one such passage, that if wrestled with for any length of time, does just that.

Jacob is an interesting man. By interesting, I mean we can see a reflection of humanity in general in his story. Always cooking up some scheme to promote himself, to secure his own destiny, to take care of good ol’ number one. We can recall, even from his birth, his mother in great pain with both him and his brother Esau wrestling within her womb, that he had some quality of character that is being emphasized in the text that is not quite on the level. In fact, his name, Jacob, means “heel grabber” or “supplanter,” remembering the prophecy from the angel of the Lord who said “the older shall serve the younger,” and the fact that as they were birthed into this world Jacob was grabbing onto the heel of his older brother, Esau. Jacob’s story includes his swindling his brother out of his birthright for food and drink, and the taking of a blessing from his ailing, blind father by following his mother’s instructions to to wear the skins of the goats that had been slaughtered for Isaac’s food. Jacob had successfully cheated his brother twice in a short time. It wasn’t long before he received in return the sort of unscrupulousness he had been dealing out when he was given Leah in marriage instead of Rachel, whom he was forced to wait longer to marry.

But Jacob had a few moments of clarity where his eyes were opened wide by the Lord himself, revealing to Jacob his providence and love toward him, a love that will ultimately work to transform Jacob into the man God was seeking to use to bless all the people of the earth. The first of these happens shortly before the marriage debacle in Laban’s house when Jacob saw the ladder reaching into heaven, the Lord’s angels ascending and descending it, and God himself standing above the ladder, repeating the same promise to him that was made to Abraham concerning the land, his abiding presence, and the blessings to be poured out to all through him and his offspring.

The second is that which we have heard this morning, and it comes in the context of Jacob’s fear of his older brother Esau, whom he supposes is coming to take him out for his past swindling. Jacob has much to fear here, since much of his success has been built on quite a bit of self-centered, egotistical scheming. Jacob is fleeing from Laban and Naman, headed back to his homeland with his family and all of his possessions, but the direction he is headed in is where Esau still resides. And when he hears that Esau is coming toward him with four hundred men he splits his party into two camps, hoping that if Esau sacks one he’ll still come out with the other. He also instructs all those who will go ahead of him to try to cut a deal with Esau so that he can continue to live. After sending his wives, female servants, and his children across the river ahead of him, he makes camp. This is where the truly interesting bit happens.

A man (who this man is we are unsure…is he just a man, an angel, the Lord himself? The Scripture does not tell us) wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the next day. Jacob, the man who was in immediate fear for his life, refused to let go of the man until he would give him a blessing. All night long, through exhaustion and pain, Jacob wrestled with this unnamed person, giving the fight all he had, just barely hanging on. The man touched Jacob on his hip, causing it to come painfully out of place. But Jacob still hung on, waiting for the man to give him a blessing, possibly the last one he would ever receive. And as the morning sun began to break upon them from the east, starting to spread those pink and yellow streaks through the darkness upon its arrival, the man finally relented and gave to the unrelenting Jacob a blessing. But with this blessing Jacob received something else: a new name. No longer is he called supplanter or heel grabber, but now he is called Israel, striven with God, struggler. Saint Ambrose comments: “The new name was presented to him for the new people,” as though this name is not only given here to Jacob, but to the whole people of God as a sign of their spiritual strife.

This all night wrestling match was not merely a test of physical strength for Jacob now Israel, but rather was the physical manifestation of that which was happening in his soul. His struggle in life wasn’t merely one of making himself secure, of having enough, but of realizing God’s faithfulness to him even in those times when Jacob was less than faithful in all of his scheming and self promoting. God isn’t actively trying to withold this blessing from Jacob, but human lives are lived in a pressure cooker that prepares hearts to receive it. To have the blessing of God is most important, even if his life is about to soon end and he has to endure through some terrible event to receive it. The worry about having enough is beginning to pass, and all because Jacob just continued to hang on. That limp that was given him as he journeyed forward would serve as a reminder of this, and to remind all of God’s people when the time would come that the first Israel was wounded as a sign to them just as the perfect Israel, Christ, will be someday.

What is it to have enough? What is it to have God’s blessing? This question is also seen, and I think answered, in the Gospel appointed for today. Surely, most of us have heard of Christ’s miracle of the loaves and fish. This is on every basic Sunday School curriculum for children all around the globe, and finds its way into our appointed texts for Sunday’s and the Daily Offices quite often. Jesus did a miraculous thing there. But what was the point?

In the passage we read that it was getting to be late in the day, and there was an enormous crowd of five thousand men, not counting the women and children who had accompanied them to see Jesus. Jesus had just healed many of their sick, and they were hungry for more from him. But as night was beginning to fall, their hunger for whatever they wanted from him was being overcome with a hunger for food. So, the disciples, thinking like many of us would, said to Jesus, “we should send all these folks away into town so they can get something to eat.” That makes sense, right? The place where they were was desolate, and folks hadn’t really prepared to be out there all day I suppose, so they didn’t have enough for all these people to eat.

“But Jesus,” says the Gospel writer…I love when a sentence starts like this in the Gospel, because we know we’re about to get the meat and potatoes type stuff straight from our Lord’s mouth. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
“But Lord! We don’t have enough! There’s only five loaves and two fish.” Goodness, do I hear myself in that that.

Jesus turns to his disciples and instructs them to bring the food to him. Showing the perfect faith always envisioned for Israel, the one who perfectly represented Israel as their true King, turns toward heaven, and says a blessing. Breaking the loaves, he gives them to his bewildered disciples, and tells them to give them to the people in the crowd.
“How in the world are we ever going to have enough to feed all these people? This is crazy!”

But as they continued to serve the bread and the fish the food continued to remain plentiful. It remained so much so that when everyone had eaten their fill there remained twelve baskets full of leftovers, much more than that with which they had begun.

Under God’s care, and according to his provision, when he decides to call his people to something that to us may seem impossible for lack of resources, there will always be enough. God doesn’t put his people to the task of moving his Kingdom in this world forward without providing. Yet, like Jacob in his scheming during those times when God was silent, it is a human tendency to worry about the provisions that one has on hand. God’s silence in the meantime doesn’t erase the promises he has made in his call of his beloved, nor does it mean the call has changed. Rather, what he has set his people to do is what they should continue to do until clearly told otherwise. And all the while, God’s people will inevitably struggle with the Lord, sometimes coming out with a limp, for the struggle we have as mortals attempting to understand the mind of the Immortal One is a task that can be frustrating, especially during those times when we really want a clear voice to be sounded right now. For to be sure, it isn’t easy, and we may come out of it beat up, but we still must strive to hang on. God wants to bless his people, to see them accomplish the mission to which he has called them, but his people need to be prepared for it. And this is no more true than when we worry about having enough.

God has blessed us already, St. Augustine’s. Absolutely, without a doubt, the Lord has blessed us. But I also notice a lot of us walking around with some limping. This is a good thing. Keep striving with the Lord, holding fast to the promises, and set your hearts to serve him faithfully. There will always be enough when we are following the command of our Lord, for he has already given to us himself, his body and his blood, and has awakened our hearts to the reality of the resurrection, his and ours. So with joyful, thankful, and faithful hearts approach his table of grace today, and be sanctified by him, knowing that in him we always have enough.

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

More Than Conquerors

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7A, Sunday, July 30, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. It’s a splendid day to listen to a sermon, don’t you think?

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105.1-11; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52.

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

We have been working through the climax of this section (chapters 5-8) of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Two weeks ago we saw that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of his saving death and resurrection. Last week we saw that to be in Christ requires our suffering for his sake because the powers, while broken, are not yet fully vanquished. Today, St. Paul offers us much-needed encouragement as we live in God’s fallen world as redeemed followers of our Lord, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

“All things work together for good for those who love God.” That probably wasn’t the first thought that occurred to Jacob when he woke up the morning after his wedding. Jacob, the master deceiver, found himself deceived and forced to work another seven years to secure his beloved Rachel as his wife. Assuming Charlie Gard’s parents love God, I’m pretty sure they are struggling to believe this promise in the aftermath of their infant son’s illness and death (may God have mercy on the sin-sick souls of those who prevented them from bringing Charlie to the U.S. and then home to die). Likewise for the families of the young man killed and those who were critically injured at the state fair this past week. Likewise for Bishop Grant LeMarquand, one of my old professors at Trinity, and his wife, Dr. Wendy, who must suspend their ministry in Africa because of life-threatening health issues confronting Wendy, thus leaving a medical and spiritual void in the lives of those they have served so well. Likewise for many of you whose lives have been disrupted by all kinds of affliction, and who continue to struggle to make sense of it all.

To add insult to injury, we hear the mocking voices of those who are hostile to the faith and who see our struggles and failures to live as Christians. Where is God in all this? Why doesn’t God act? You are a fool to believe such nonsense as St. Paul writes in Romans 8. If God were real, God would do something about all the suffering and injustice in the world. How is God possibly working for good in all things for you who profess to love God in Christ? Then there are the troubling voices from within, from time to time asking the same taunting questions.

And yet… And yet… These questions all presume to know how God can and should work in God’s world, bless our pointy little arrogant heads. They presume that because God is all-powerful, God will just wave God’s hand and destroy all the forces of evil in one fell swoop. Doing so, of course, would mean that God would have to destroy the entire creation and all of us because we are all hopelessly infected by the power of Sin and Evil. But we know Scripture consistently testifies that God in his faithfulness has promised to ultimately redeem his creation, rather than destroy it and every living creature in it. You do know that, don’t you? No, the long perspective of Genesis, not to mention the whole of Scripture, tells us quite a different story about how God is at work to bring about God’s promise to heal and restore God’s good creation gone wild.

We see God working in the life of Jacob and his forebears Abraham and Isaac with all their duplicity and half-faith, to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham to make a family from his loins that would be so large it could not be counted (mustard seed, anyone?), and through that family God would heal, bless, and restore God’s world (Genesis 12.1-3; 17.1-7). This is our first clue as to how God chooses to work to heal and restore God’s good creation: through human beings and through ways that are both mundane and spectacular. And what was Abraham’s response? Twenty-five years went by and no promised offspring. So he and Sarah took matters into their, um, own hands and voila! A son was born to Abraham’s slave Hagar whose offspring would be at war with Abraham’s offspring to this day. Not only that, but twice Abraham lied about his relationship with his wife Sarah to save his own skin. These aren’t exactly paradigms of faithful and virtuous behavior, but God worked through them and Abraham’s line eventually produced Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the world, just as God promised. But for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God’s hand wasn’t always readily apparent and so they sometimes (often?) resorted to taking matters into their own hands, especially Jacob the deceiver, just like you and I do today when God’s hand isn’t readily apparent in the midst of the chaos and suffering in our lives.

Notice that the writer of Genesis never tries to explain why God operates in this way. Neither does the psalmist in today’s psalm. Instead, he simply proclaims the faithfulness of God. So does St. Paul in our epistle lesson. As we saw last week, St. Paul assumes we will suffer on behalf of the Messiah because it was in suffering that Jesus broke the power of Sin over us and took on our just condemnation so that we would no longer stand condemned in God’s eyes. This is the essence of justification about which St. Paul speaks today.

No, instead of trying to explain why God apparently doesn’t act in the ways we want or expect God to act, the apostle assures us that God is indeed active and involved in God’s world. How does St. Paul know this? First and foremost because he had met the risen Christ face-to-face and knew that the resurrection was an historical reality that made Christ’s death on the cross all that it was, at least as far as we can plumb the depths of its meaning. As St. Paul would write to the Colossians, on the cross the dark powers and principalities had been defeated. Hear him now:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15, NLT).

Now in today’s lesson St. Paul makes the astonishing claim that we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us. If we assess the truth of St. Paul’s statement—not to mention the rest of the NT writers—based on evidence from this world, we are likely to conclude that they are delusional (and so are we who believe their claims of God’s victory over the powers of Sin, Evil, and Death). But St. Paul would tell us that his claims of Christ’s victory over the dark powers is not based on deductions from our daily experiences. After all, he wrote his letter to the Colossians while he was imprisoned for Christ’s sake and would soon be facing more imprisonments, persecution, and ultimately death because of Jesus. Rather, St. Paul would tell us that his claims are based on the faithfulness of God first revealed to the patriarchs and manifested supremely in the cross of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, St. Paul’s claims were based on faith, a gift from God the Father himself, and available to all who want it.

This is how it goes. We know that in all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, even when we cannot see it in the life of the world and in our own lives. In addition to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle assures us we know this to be true because of three other reasons: 1) the groaning of all creation to be liberated; 2) our own groaning in our suffering as we await the redemption of our bodies, i.e., our resurrection; and 3) the inarticulate groaning of God’s Holy Spirit who lives in us. All these are signs that God’s promises to heal and redeem God’s creation and us are true. If we are old enough, everyone here has been in a situation where we have reached our wits’ end. We don’t know what to do or say, let alone pray. And so we groan in our misery. It is precisely at this moment that St. Paul tells us that God’s very Spirit is also groaning in us on our behalf and for our good. So in the desperate times of our lives we have God’s assurance that both the Son and the Spirit are interceding for us on our behalf, and they are doing so because it is the will of God the Father. And in doing so, somehow we find the strength to endure and to press on as we walk through life’s dark valleys. I suspect that if I were to ask you to give me an example of this from your life, every one of you here could give me at least one example of this phenomenon occurring. We find unexpected strength, or a friend or a stranger suddenly appears in our life to say and/or do just what we needed to hear or see at that moment. And the funny thing is, we didn’t even know we needed what we got till it happened. For Christians, in light of what St. Paul tells us here, there should be no such thing as coincidences or chance happenings. Nothing happens by chance. Nothing. We can have confidence that in the smallest things, the hand of God is at work on our behalf for our good. Amen? Be mindful of this and work to cultivate this mindset as you live out your days with their various trials. You’ll never regret it.

Our Lord Jesus says much the same thing in our gospel lesson. He too was besieged by the “why” questions. If you are Messiah, why aren’t you kicking butt and taking prisoners? Why have you assembled a ragtag group of followers and go about espousing peace and doing all kinds of healing? God’s people won’t get free by doing that stuff! To which our Lord offered, in part, the parables we read in our gospel lesson today. The kingdom of heaven (or God’s kingdom, not God’s space) is like a mustard seed or like yeast. You don’t see either actively at work in their normal operation. But at the end of the day, you see massive results. And so God is at work in me, God’s Son and Messiah, to bring in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. And guess what? God is calling you to follow me and give yourselves to me utterly. Yes, you are losers and ragamuffins just like my original followers. Like them and like Jacob and the patriarchs, your faith will waiver and you will conform your lives to mine in very uneven ways. In fact, you’ll get things wrong as much as you get them right. But if you resolve to understand what the kingdom is about and how God works through me and what I must do for you, and then through you as you give your lives to me, you will know that the kingdom does come on earth as in heaven. Don’t waste time asking and trying to answer questions you aren’t capable of answering. Focus on me. Give your lives to me. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love and forgive your enemies. Don’t judge others in a self-righteous manner. Develop a generous heart because your Father has a generous heart and gives to you far beyond anything you deserve. Work for the good of others, even if it costs you a great deal. Suffer for my sake. Don’t lose heart or hope. Why? Because eternal life in God’s new world is worth more than anything else in all the world. Your worldly aspirations of power, security, and wealth cannot save you. Neither can any identity other than being in me save you. I know. It’s enigmatic and perplexing this side of the grave. But take heart and believe because I have overcome both the world and the grave, the latter which you will see when I raise you from the dead upon my return to finish the work I started.

This is why we are more than conquerors, my beloved, the only reason why we are more than conquerors. We live in the power of God, a power nothing or no one can defeat, strange and inexplicable as that can be for us at times. We have given our lives to Jesus, the Son of God, who has conquered all by his saving love on the cross and who has been raised from the dead as a tangible sign of the fulfillment of God’s promise to heal and redeem us forever. We have God’s very Spirit who witnesses to us and who groans on our behalf when we are afflicted. Please. May none of us ever throw away this pearl of greatest price because it is the only pearl that really has any eternal value to it. It is the pearl of the Good News of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, 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.

No Condemnation. Now What?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6A, Sunday, July 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: Genesis 28.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-12, 23-24; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43.

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

This is the first time I have preached on my birthday. It doubtless will be an even more spectacular sermon than usual, precisely because it is my birthday and unlike the Beatles, I know you still need me now that I’m sixty-four. I know you still need me because of my brilliant sermons, rugged good looks, and award-winning personality™, not to mention my great humility. That and one other small thing. Like you, I no longer stand under God’s just and right condemnation because of the cross of Christ as we saw last week. Good News, that. Have you pondered it this week? I hope so. So what happens now? What should be our expectations as recipients of God’s astonishing love and mercy? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

St. Paul wastes no time in telling us in our epistle lesson. We are God’s children and are therefore heirs of God! Think about that for a moment. We are going to inherit God’s kingdom with all of its attendant good! We are heirs, of course, because of what God has done for us on the cross of Jesus. If we tried to lay claim to any of God’s kingdom on our own, we would find ourselves bereft and without a family, exiled to the streets as desperate beggars because as we also saw last week, left to our own devices we are all enslaved to the power of Sin and as the apostle warned us in Romans 6.23, the wages of sin is death, and death certainly isn’t part of God’s kingdom. That’s why we must always recognize that our inheritance depends solely on Christ. We are joint heirs with him because in our baptism we know we have died with him and look forward to being raised with him. This is our glorious inheritance!

So if we are heirs of God, what can possibly go wrong? This no condemnation stuff is awesome, baby. Smooth sailing from now on, right? Not so fast, says St. Paul. As God’s heirs you can expect two things from your inheritance: suffering and redemption. Well, Paul, we like that redemption thingy. But suffering? What’s that all about? What the apostle is urging us to do is to think clearly about living in a world that has been corrupted by human sin and rebellion and the attendant evil so that it labors under God’s curse. More about that in a moment. Like other biblical writers, most notably the author of Job, St. Paul here assumes the presence of evil in God’s world but does not try to explain it. Rather he tells us what we can expect as Christians who now no longer live under God’s condemnation as the rest of the world does.

First, the apostle talks about our own fallen nature. If God has condemned our sin in the flesh by sending his own dear Son to bear our just condemnation, why would we want to go back to our old rebellious ways of living? Why would we choose to live life without God? That kind of living, where we pander to our own selfish and disordered desires, i.e., where we live according to the desires of our flesh as St. Paul puts it, leads only to death. There’s no future in it—literally—and its source is the Satan himself who hates us and wants to see us utterly destroyed. Who in their right mind would go back to a life of slavery when they could have real freedom instead?

But here’s the problem. As we saw last week, although evil, Sin, and death have been defeated on the cross, there’s still quite a fight left in them, not to mention the dark powers behind them, so that we have to work each day to kill those disordered and death-producing desires in us. This is no small or easy task and we can expect to suffer as we work to kill off our hostility and rebellion toward God. Who wants to stop doing things that feel so good, even if they are so wrong? The good news is that we don’t engage in this struggle on our own as St. Paul reminds us. We do it with the help of the Spirit, who testifies to us through our doubts and fears and darkness that we are God’s beloved and adopted children, heirs to his eternal kingdom, in and through Christ, and that we can stop doing those things which keep us hostile toward God.

Putting to death our fallen nature is not the same as self-help or pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We already are free from God’s just condemnation because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is nothing we can do bootstrap-wise to earn that pardon. God gives it to us because he loves us and wants us to live, not die. Yes, we struggle to kill off our disordered desires in the power of the Spirit and sometimes we fail because we are that infected by Sin’s power. But God’s power is greater than Sin’s and even in our failures, we no longer stand condemned because of what Christ has done for us. Moreover, we are to take heart because we know we do not struggle alone. We have our Lord Jesus present with us in the power of the Spirit to help us overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and who will always forgive us when we miss the mark. As St. Paul will tell us next week, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen?

However, there is another dimension of our suffering that St. Paul talks about. It is suffering that results from living in a sin-sick and evil-infested world, and we all know what that looks like: desperate poverty, cruelty, racism, addiction, alienation, war, injustice, all kinds of deviancy, greed, hatred, idolatrous self-worship, adultery, abuse, sickness of all kinds. The list goes on and on and it is enough to overwhelm us. When that happens, we need to return to this chapter in Romans to be refreshed and encouraged by it because it is precisely at this point that Paul makes the bold and audacious claim that God is going to heal his world from top to bottom. St. Paul tells us that the whole creation groans in eager anticipation for the redemption of our bodies, i.e., for the coming of our Lord Jesus and the resurrection/transformation of our bodies, so that we will once again be the wise and just stewards God created us to be. Our sin and the evil it unleashed has made a mess out of God’s good world. But St. Paul makes the astonishing claim that it is God’s intention to restore his good creation through the agency of his Church, through losers and ragamuffins like you and me, as we suffer on behalf of creation. Far from withdrawing from the world, God calls us to bear its pains (and our own) by taking on its wounds and scars and afflictions. We do this in and through prayer and humble, loving, and selfless service to others. We give our time, our effort, and our money to help alleviate suffering wherever we encounter it. We don’t turn our backs on the world’s worst and neediest. We embody the love of Christ to them in the power of the Spirit. And when we trust God enough to start doing this, guess what? We will suffer because we will be abused and exploited and scammed and mocked and everything in between. But the kingdom comes through our suffering.

For you see, suffering is the way God redeemed the world. Think it through. Christ suffered for us and so we suffer for the world on his behalf because he has given us the precious gift of life. Impossible! we want to snort back at St. Paul. You are out of your mind. I’m not finished yet, says Paul. There’s more. As Christians you are going to be confronted with the additional challenge of dealing with your afflictions and the world’s, even when you can make no sense of those afflictions or see any hope of them being successfully resolved. We all know what that looks like. I’m thinking, e.g., of Len and Sharon, who are dealing with Len’s chronic and debilitating back pain. Despite several rounds of surgery, despite our persistent prayers, nothing seems to be getting better. I’m thinking of those of you who are under- or unemployed with little hope of sustainable income in the foreseeable future. Each one of us here bears the pain of unresolved and/or unjust pain and suffering. It’s enough to crush us and make us think we are Godforsaken.

It is here that the apostle speaks of hope, the sure and certain expectation that comes from having an unshakable faith in the God of the Bible, despite our circumstances, because we know that God never reneges on God’s promises and God has promised to one day heal and redeem us so that our suffering ends forever. Listen again to St. Paul as he speaks of this hope.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8.22-25).

This is why Paul tells us that our current sufferings, terrible as they are, are not to be compared with what awaits us. God has promised to heal and restore us fully when God brings in his promised new world at our Lord’s return to complete the redemptive work he started in his death and resurrection. This God can be trusted because this God has overcome all that opposes him: the world, the flesh, and the devil, but in a most unexpected way—the way of the cross. And this is the path God expects us to take so that in our faithful suffering, God will use us to help bring about the world’s healing and ours. Creation knows this and eagerly anticipates it. Do you?

Let us be clear about what Paul is saying here, my beloved. He is not telling us to minimize our suffering or discount it. Anyone who has really suffered knows what a bunch of pious caca that is. There are times when we have all felt Godforsaken in our suffering and where we can make no sense of it. It is precisely then that Paul tells us to remember our hope, to remember that we are God’s heirs. Think about this with me carefully for a minute. When we feel Godforsaken, we must head back to the foot of the cross and remember the supreme example of Godforsakenness. As our Lord Jesus was bearing the full brunt of God’s just condemnation of our collective sins and the full power of evil unleashed on him, he too experienced being abandoned in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend or imagine: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27.46)? Cry out those desperate words with your Savior as he was being crushed and condemned for your sake and then remember that God used his suffering to bring about your redemption. Take comfort and hope in that. This is not a God who abandons you.

Or go and read great stories like our OT lesson today where we find Jacob, the deceiver, the one who lied, cheated, and connived to steal his inheritance, the one who took pride in depending on his own cleverness to get what he wanted, just like you and I do. And what was God’s response to him as he fled for his life in today’s story? Don’t be afraid. I am with you and I will fulfill the promises I made to your grandfather Abraham through you. I am close by. That’s why I allowed you to see my ladder so that you know heaven and earth are not far apart nor am I far from you, even in your smug and sinful foolishness and folly. I am God and am always good to my promise. The God who made that promise to Jacob makes that same promise to you in and through Jesus. He’s with you right now in the power of the Spirit and when things get so bad in your life that you can only cry out Abba Father! because you don’t know what else to say or do, remember that it is the Spirit himself, not you, crying out to God on your behalf, the God who knows you intimately and loves you thoroughly as our psalmist proclaims, the God who wants all to be saved and thus is patient in executing his final justice as Jesus reminds us in our gospel lesson today (cf. 2 Peter 3.3-9).

This is our hope as Christians, a hope not based on the chances and changes of life, but a hope based on the faithfulness and love of God the Father made known supremely to us in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot as yet see this hope. It has not been made fully known to us yet. That’s why we call it hope. But it’s a done deal and it frees us to act as God’s heirs, to be bold in our proclamation and good spirit. There is no place for moping and feeling sorry for ourselves as Christians. We are no longer under God’s condemnation and we have a real future and a hope! As we have just discussed, when we see our suffering for what it is and that God actually uses it to help bring about his kingdom, we will have hope even in the darkest night. This in no way diminishes the seriousness of our suffering or our struggles with it. It simply reminds us that suffering can be redemptive, even when we cannot see how. That takes great faith and a humble acknowledgement that there are some things in this life that are simply above our pay grade, even as we put our hope in God to fulfill his redemptive promises one day.

But if we really do not know this God about whom we have been talking—the God of the Bible, not the one of our own imagination or the world’s—we will never have this hope in our suffering and we will be defeated. To be agents of God’s redemptive plan for us and his creation, we must steep ourselves in Scripture to know this God and this God’s promises to us. We must be focused in our prayers, both for ourselves and for the world, and persist in them even when no answer is apparently forthcoming. We must come to table each week to feed on our Lord and be refreshed and reminded that he really is present with us in the power of the Spirit. And we must accept the gift of fellowship with which God has blessed us to strengthen and encourage each other in the midst of our trials and sufferings. This is our inheritance, my beloved. Suffering and redemption. When we know we are heirs to the best inheritance in the world, it frees us to endure our suffering and to act boldly in the present on Christ’s behalf because we know our future is secure. We know our future is secure because the Spirit testifies to us that we have been claimed by the suffering love of Jesus Christ our Lord and so we await our final glorious redemption at his Second Coming. And that, my beloved, is Good News, strange and vexing as it sometimes sounds to us, 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. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen. And until you do, equip us to fight the good fight on your behalf. Amen.

No Condemnation: Are You Despising Your Christian Birthright?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5A, Sunday, July 16, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Because the preacher has to be smarter than the recording device, there is no audio podcast to today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23.

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

What are we to make of our OT lesson with Esau giving up or despising his inheritance of God’s promise to his grandfather Abraham to bless the world through Abraham and his descendants? It’s a strange story to our ears and we wonder what would lead someone like Esau to despise such an awesome gift from God, especially over something as trivial as being hungry in a non-life threatening way? It’s easy for us to shake our heads wisely and scold Esau because of his foolishness. But what about us as Christians, who inherit an even greater promise in and through Jesus Christ? Do we despise our inheritance or birthright? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

So what is our inheritance as Christians? I suspect many of us, if pressed, couldn’t answer the question and that’s a problem, folks, because it is indicative of the problem Jesus highlighted in the parable of the sower. Many of us don’t have ears to hear. But that’s not one of Paul’s problems because he tells us right out of the gate in our epistle lesson what the prize is: No condemnation. To the glory and praise of God, Paul and the rest of the NT writers didn’t partake in unreality like we do. They recognized the deadly problem of the power of Sin in our lives and spoke clearly about it. As Father Bowser preached last week in his tepid sermon (I hate when he’s not here so as to miss a perfectly good insult), left to our own devices, we humans are enslaved by Sin’s power and have been since our first ancestors rebelled against God in the garden to unleash its deadly power in God’s world to corrupt and destroy it and us.

In Romans, Paul has been relentless in talking about our slavery to Sin. In chapter 3 he talked about the fact that there is no one who is good in God’s eyes, no one who is able to live out fully God’s righteousness and justice. If this weren’t true, if we could live out God’s righteousness and justice, there would be no racism, no greed, no cruelty. We wouldn’t be backbiting each other and murdering each other or blowing each other up. People wouldn’t be starving or homeless or pushing drugs. There wouldn’t be talk of inequality and favoritism. The list is endless but you get the point. None of us is able to live fully as God’s image-bearing people and that’s a massive problem, both for ourselves because our sins dehumanize us, and for God’s world because there are always going to be people who suffer and people who inflict suffering. And of course as Paul reminds us in Romans 6.23 and elsewhere, the wages of sin is death and we can fully expect to experience God’s terrible wrath on our sinfulness and unrighteousness because both represent our open and ongoing hostility toward God and God’s goodness manifested, in part, in God’s world. No, there is no unreal thinking on Paul’s part when it comes to the dark and terrible subjects of Evil, Sin, and Death. We are all under God’s just and terrible condemnation and there’s not a thing we can do about it on our own.

Oh, but how we try to do something about it! All this frank and straightforward talk makes us feel uncomfortable and we hate that. So we try to do everything in our power to manage our anxiety about it and to justify ourselves. We want to focus on feelings, on making ourselves feel good, and any talk of the terrible reality of Sin’s enslavement of us certainly doesn’t accomplish that. So we tell ourselves that we’re not that bad. Sure, we may want our way most of the time, but at least we are not terrorists or murderers. We’re not the ones who cause the kinds of suffering I just described. Right. What we are doing is being the seed that was sown on the path and in the thorns in Jesus’ parable this morning. And the Satan, the Father of Lies and Evil, encourages us in our delusional thinking. He is perfectly happy to let us be that kind of seed because it ends in our death. We may try to wish away God’s just condemnation of us, but that isn’t going to change the reality of our situation one iota. We all stand condemned in God’s holy presence.

I see Carl back there squirming in his seat and muttering something about this sermon being a buzzkill. What’s that you are saying? Glad to have you back in the pulpit, Father Maney! Don’t you want to take some more vacation time? Why, thank you, Carl. Yes I do! But I digress. Of course, if that were the end of the story, this sermon would be a total buzzkill. However it is to the glory of God that the Good News of the gospel is actually tied to the bad news about which we’ve just been talking. If all this talk about the power of Sin and its deadly consequences has you squirming in your seat and feeling hopeless and terrified, take heart! This means that you are beginning to experience God’s grace in your life afresh. God is being gracious to you and helping you to really consider the deadly seriousness of Sin and its twin brother Death so that you know clearly what is at stake regarding your faith. Once we actually start talking about Sin in ways that the NT writers do, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become those seeds that bear fruit and produce a hundredfold yield by God’s power.

How so, you ask? Patience Weedhopper. Let me explain. Because Sin is an outside and invasive power that has the ability to enslave us, we have no hope of defeating it ourselves. Try as we might, we set ourselves up for failure. Conquering the power of Sin takes far more than self-help, by trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But as Paul reminds us this morning, we do not have to try to defeat the power of Sin because God has already done that for us on the cross of Jesus Christ. All the NT writers are clear that God became human in Jesus to rescue us from the power of Sin and free us so that we are able to actually live righteous lives in God’s sight. Only God has the power to break Sin’s enslavement of us and only God loves us enough to actually do so. On the cross, God the Son, in agreement with God the Father’s will, broke Sin’s power over us. Not completely in this life to be sure as we all are painfully aware. But Sin’s power over us has been broken and God the Son endured our just condemnation for us so that we would not have to bear it. As Paul tells us, in Jesus, God condemned our sin in the flesh as a loving and just God must do to bring about his perfect justice. But God did so in a way that spared us his wrath, thanks be to God. As we saw last week, Paul asked the agonized question, Who will rescue us from this body of death (Romans 7.24)? This morning, Paul answers his question. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In his body, God has dealt with the death-dealing problem of Sin and so spared us from experiencing God’s justice pronounced on us. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus, i.e., who have his Spirit living in us to unite us to him by faith. This is God’s free gift to us, given to us because Jesus loves us that much to give himself willingly for us.

Whatever we might think of ourselves, whatever we see in ourselves that we despise or that is unwholesome or unlovely, when our Lord Jesus looks at us from the cross, he sees us as forgiven. There is nothing we have done, there is nothing we are, that is beyond the healing love and merciful forgiveness of God the Father poured out in God the Son as he died a godforsaken death for us on the cross. And now we are back to the parable of the seeds. If we see all this as clearly as we can—realizing of course, we are never going to plumb the depths this side of the grave of what God in Christ did for us and suffered for us on Calvary—we will be those fruitful seeds. Our hearts will be full of astonished, humbled, and grateful love for this God who saved us from a sure and certain death because of his astonishing love for us. Amen?

So we no longer have to fear God’s condemnation because we put our whole hope and trust in Christ and are open to the power and working of the Holy Spirit to heal and transform us. This doesn’t mean that all our problems and struggles disappear. What God the Son has done for us on the cross does not constitute some kind of magical power that we suddenly get. Sin is still real and it still has a fight in it. But it has been given a death blow and its end is certain, thanks be to God. When we realize we are now no longer under God’s just condemnation, that God has taken care of that for us, we are free to love and serve this God who loves us and gave himself for us. We’ll not do that perfectly this side of the grave, but do it we must. Many, of course, will see God’s power in us and hate us for it because sadly, many want to continue in their sins and enjoy being enslaved by Sin’s power. And when they see us struggling to live as God’s true image-bearing creatures so that we flourish even in the midst of our suffering, it will infuriate many and they will hate us and want to silence us. As our Lord warned us, if they hate him, they will certainly hate us who are his followers. But take heart. He’s overcome the world.

This is our birthright, our inheritance as Christians, my beloved: No condemnation. And we deserve none of it, just as Abraham and his descendants didn’t deserve God’s call to them to be a blessing to the world. Yes, we continue to struggle against the world, the flesh with its fallen and corrupted desires, and the devil. But we do not fear God’s condemnation because in Christ, God has overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, thanks be to God. As God’s healed and forgiven children, we look forward to living in God’s new world with our resurrection bodies patterned after our Lord’s. And we know this hope of eternal life is true because we know God raised Jesus from the dead and promises to do likewise for us.

So how might we despise our birthright as Christians? There are several ways, but I will only mention a few to stimulate your thinking and prayerful consideration about this. Perhaps the most common way we Christians despise our birthright is to not believe God’s salvation story in Christ. We may think it’s too good to be true or refuse to believe the NT’s insistence that in Christ God has defeated the power of Sin and Death because there is still so much chaos in the world and our lives. To be sure this is where faith comes into play and we must have a strong belief that God really did enter human history in Jesus to die for our sins and be raised from the dead. If we don’t believe that, or if it really didn’t happen as the NT writers proclaim, everything becomes dark again. But God did intervene on our behalf to save us and if we essentially do not believe this or what we recite in the Creed each Sunday, we despise our birthright and become seeds ripe for the plunder.

A second way we despise our birthright is to not accept God’s forgiveness of us in Christ. This is closely related to not believing the Good News, of course, but this can also involve us loathing ourselves and projecting our own unloving spirit onto God so as to convince ourselves that God couldn’t possible forgive our sins because, well, we’re just too rotten. This  means that we really do believe we are under God’s condemnation and elevates us to a special status where the Cross just can’t cover our sins. If you are one of these folks, I encourage you to talk to one of your priests and other faithful Christians so that we can start praying that you get over yourself and that Satan’s power to delude you might be broken so that the scales fall from your eyes and you can see yourself as Jesus sees you: As one of God’s beloved and forgiven children.

Another way we can despise our birthright is to develop a proud and haughty spirit that leads us to do good things so that we can obligate God to us. We all know folks like this. They’re usually proud, arrogant, and self-righteous like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who prays opposite the tax collector (Luke 18.9-14). When we realize we are no longer under God’s condemnation, it will lead us to desire likewise for others, even our enemies, and we realize how utterly foolish it is to think we can make God feel obligated toward us by how we behave. To believe this indicates we really are clueless as to the seriousness of Sin and living in a state of death-dealing unreality.

All these attitudes, and a host more, can also lead to us despise our birthright in another and devastating way by causing us to refuse to live and proclaim the gospel to others because we are embarrassed and/or worry about offending them. We tell ourselves that maybe salvation is possible outside of Jesus, that trying to do our best is all that it really takes to get right with God. But of course that is a delusion and a lie, and our reluctance to warn others about the deadly consequences of Sin and to embody and proclaim God’s love in Christ to others is a damning testimony to the shallowness of our faith, if faith is what we have.

Think on these things, my beloved. Not just once. Not just occasionally. Think on these things constantly. Consider the astonishing and life-changing love and mercy of God the Father made known to us in Jesus his Son. Dare trust Christ’s love for you enough to really believe you are no longer under condemnation and therefore have nothing to fear in that regard. And then get to work in ways God calls you, both individually and together with the rest of the folks here at St. Augustine’s and beyond, to proclaim this life- and world-changing news to others. Be prepared to suffer the condemnation of others, but give it no thought. They do not hold the power of life and death over you. The one who does has declared that you are no longer under his condemnation so that you know you really do have Good News, 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.

Fr. Ric Bowser: Know What You Believe

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4A, Sunday, July 9, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Psalm 45.10-17; Romans 7.15-25a; Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30.

There is no written text for today’s sermon because Father Bowser has not yet learned how to write. We’re working on that.

Click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Another Prayer for Independence Day 2017

Lord God Almighty,
you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory,
to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice
and the strength of forbearance,
that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Independence Day 2017

Lord God Almighty,
in whose Name the founders of this country
won liberty for themselves and for us,
and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:
Grant that we and all the people of this land
may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today in History

From here:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims imagesthe independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

Read it all and give thanks to God for this country of ours.