Fr. Terry Gatwood: To Be

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday A, February 26, 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: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2.1-12; 2 Peter 1.16-21; Matthew 17.1-9.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This morning St. Matthew tells of one of the most amazing things to occur during the time of the public ministry of Jesus. The transfiguration is one of the stories in Scripture that has long gripped many people. Six days after Jesus tells his disciples that to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This would have been a troubling moment in the disciples time with Jesus, for they must have wondered why Jesus would be talking about them lugging along a heavy, splintery, wooden, Roman torture device. What is Jesus talking about? Why would he be talking about being killed? Jesus is promising that he is going to die and rise again, but at the same time talking about some who were standing there that day not tasting death before the Son of Man comes in his kingdom. How are these oppressive Romans going to be sacked by the coming of the Kingdom of God if they kill Jesus, whom we believe to be the one sent from God?

Now on this sixth day after rebuking Peter for taking Jesus aside and rebuking him of foretelling of his own death, he takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. And something so utterly amazing, something more beautiful and glorious than when the sun breaks through the dark clouds of the sky after a terrible storm happens, occurs. Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. The Scripture tells us that Jesus’ face shone like the brightness of the sun, so radiant and so warming like when, in the dark and cold we face into the east and the rising sun hits our face after a long, difficult, freezing night. It’s so welcome, and so comforting to the person who has been surrounded by the dark cold. Jesus’ clothing became whiter than the most brilliant of whites that could ever exist. It was as if they were the bright light.

And there, along with Jesus fully illuminated and shining before these three disciples, were Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. There the two of them were, long after their departure from the earth, talking with this Jesus, whom had less than a week ago foretold of his coming death and resurrection.

And then Peter speaks out quickly. Peter is known to sometimes put the old cart before the horse. He’s the one who says to Jesus he’ll die for him, that he won’t deny him, then he denies Jesus the night before his crucifixion. He’s the guy who grabbed a sword and lopped off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Malchus, when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And now, in this place where he sees Jesus being transfigured so beautifully and brilliantly, Peter blurts out, “Lord, if you want we’ll build three booths for the three of you.” He wants to put up a monument to this amazing moment in the history of God’s people, not yet fully understanding what is going on.

And then a great cloud, gleaming with brilliance, envelops them as they stand on this mountain with the one representing the law, the one representing the prophets, and the one to whom they were always pointing, Jesus. And from the midst of this bright cloud boomed that same voice that had once proclaimed the sonship and pleasure of God at Jesus’ baptism, now saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They had known all their lives that they must listen to the words of Moses, who delivered the law of God to his people that they might do the righteous will of God, and listen to the words of the prophet Elijah, that they might understand so directly their need to know that the Lord is God, who is the one who turns hearts back toward him. And now, the voice of this same God who called Moses and Elijah, confirms their need to listen to the voice of Jesus.

And this shook these three men to their very core. Terrified, completely awestruck, they hit the ground, prostrating themselves before this voice coming from the cloud which had overshadowed them. Jesus, this teacher and master whom they have been following, by the voice of God himself, has been declared not only on equal standing with Moses and Elijah, but acknowledged as the one whom they were pointing: God’s own Son.

In the presence of the appearing of the glory of God Jesus comes to them, reaching down with outstretched hand, touching Peter, James, and John, saying to them the thing they most needed to hear in the moment, and that thing which we so often to need to hear from the voice of our Lord: “Rise, and have no fear.”

And just as Moses did so many years before, Jesus comes down from the mountain to his people, this time not bringing a new law, but in himself the fulfillment of it. Jesus is God, and only by him do we see what the law and the prophets were pointing to. Here is he, the one. What God has started he will finish in and through Christ. Thanks be to God.

The glory of God has appeared again in Israel, right in the sight of those whom God has called. There is no denying it; upon Jesus was the favor of the Lord, and the law and the prophets stood there testifying to the completeness of Christ. No longer would the creation, and humanity especially, be asking “when will the promised Messiah come.” Here he is, blazing in brilliant light before our eyes. Listen to the law; listen to the prophets; and hear them saying, along with the voice of God himself, “This is my Son…listen to him.” He has shown us the path to eternal life, and it comes through Jesus and the cross.

But what about here, and how about the present? How shall we live in the meanwhile? We can live in the blessed hope of the return of Jesus Christ, knowing that in Christ and through Christ we have been born anew into a kingdom that overlaps our presently earthly kingdoms, and that we can live, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in that newness of life being able to begin to do that which we were always intended to do: live in peace and fellowship with our God.

This is a game changer. Being accounted as righteous, being filled with God’s Spirit empowers us to truly take up our vocations in holiness and righteousness. That we have been blessed to be a blessing through our prayerful involvement in God’s creation, caring for it all, bearing witness to God’s perfect and holy love for that which he has made. This is glorifying to God, showing forth his power and his might. And, although, we might still not be able to follow God’s law in the same perfection that Jesus did, by the Christ who was able to we can live in peace even in the most troubling of times and situations.

From Moses we could have understood God’s law as “do.” From the mountain he pronounced the Ten Commandments to the people of God; this law is good and holy, and works to convince of sin, and moves us toward the one who fulfills its demands. From Elijah we take heart that God is moving to turn our hearts toward him, bringing us to repentance and a life of faith. And now, through Jesus, we understand how all of this fits together, as we are now empowered through the Holy Spirit who is in our hearts, who has been given us by God, to follow Christ in holiness, not just in the doing, but in the being. We can rise, and not fear, as we are empowered by him, the promised Messiah, to be, as we hear him sum up the law for us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind,” with the fullness of our created being, our purpose, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Upon these things hang all the law and the prophets, Moses, and Elijah, and all the rest of those who testified to the coming of the Christ. Let us rise, and not fear, knowing our salvation and empowerment to be, to exist and live in perfect loving relationship with God and our fellow human beings as has always been intended, is something that is not just for when Christ returns, but is now in this kingdom that Christ has already begun on earth. Let us be. Let us worship and serve him with every fiber of our being. Let us not fear, but rise.

To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fasting as a Lenten Discipline

The season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter is quickly approaching. One of the Lenten disciplines I commend to you this year is fasting. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about fasting and so I offer you some great insights from Dr. Scot McKnight’s excellent book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices. Hear him now:

Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments (p. xii).

St. Athanasius, one of the architects of Christian orthodoxy, knew the formative powers of the sacred rhythms of the church calendar. That calendar weaved in and out of mourning over sin (fasting) and celebrating the good grace of God (feasting). “Sometimes,” he says of the church calendar, “the call is made to fasting, and sometimes to a feast [like every Sunday when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection].”

…St. Augustine took fasting into a another area of formation. One way for Christians to find victory over temptation, St. Augustine reminded his readers, was to fast. Why? Because it is sometimes necessary to check the delight of the flesh in respect to licit [not forbidden or lawful] pleasures in order to keep it from yielding to illicit pleasures.

These two themes—fasting as a sacred rhythm in the church calendar and fasting as a discipline against sinful desires—are perhaps the most important themes of fasting in the history of Christian thinking (p. xv).

Dr. McKnight offers his own excellent definition of fasting:

Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). Does it bring results? Yes, but that’s not the point of fasting. Those who fasted in response to grievous sacred moments frequently—but not always!—received results, like answered prayer. But focusing on the results causes us to misunderstand fasting entirely.

Which leads us now to see fasting in an A —> B —> C framework. If one wants to see the full Christian understanding of fasting, one must begin with A, the grievous sacred moment (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). That sacred moment generates a response (B), in this case fasting. Only then, only when the sacred moment is given its full power, does the response of fasting generate the results (C)—and then not always, if truth be told. [So, e.g., in response to sin we fast and can receive forgiveness.]

What we are getting at here is very important: fasting isn’t a manipulative tool that guarantees results. The focus in our deepest Christian tradition is not moving from column B to column C but the A —> B movement. Fasting is a response to a sacred moment, not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not “if you fast you will get,” but “when this happens, God’s people fast [emphasis added] (pp. xviii-xix).

Dr. McKnight develops these ideas in the subsequent chapters of his book and I wholeheartedly commend it to you for your edification. As always, it is critically important for us as Christians to know why we do what we do. This pertains to worship and the various spiritual disciplines, fasting included. Therefore, this Lent I encourage you to fast regularly as a means to help you become a more Christ-oriented person and to live a cruciform (cross-shaped) life.

To purchase Dr. McKnight’s book on fasting, click this link.

February 22, 2017: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Today is George Washington’s birthday. To our great detriment, Americans are forgetting about our first president. This is sad, in part, because without him, there would not likely be the USA that we know today. Do yourself a favor and learn about this extraordinary man with whom God blessed this country.

To the world’s amazement, Washington had prevailed over the more numerous, better supplied, and fully trained British army, mainly because he was more flexible than his opponents. He learned that it was more important to keep his army intact and to win an occasional victory to rally public support than it was to hold American cities or defeat the British army in an open field. Over the last 200 years revolutionary leaders in every part of the world have employed this insight, but never with a result as startling as Washington’s victory over the British.

On December 23, 1783, Washington presented himself before Congress in Annapolis, Maryland, and resigned his commission. Like Cincinnatus, the hero of Classical antiquity whose conduct he most admired, Washington had the wisdom to give up power when he could have been easily become dictator. He left Annapolis and went home to Mount Vernon with the fixed intention of never again serving in public life. This one act, without precedent in modern history, made him an international hero.

In the years after the Revolutionary War, Washington devoted most of his time to rebuilding Mount Vernon, which had suffered in his absence. He experimented with new crops and fertilizers and bred some of the finest mules in the nation. He also served as president of the Potomac Company, which worked to improve the navigation of the river in order to make it easier for upstream farmers to get their produce to market.

Read it all or pick up this book and really get to know the Father of our Country.

Fr. Terry Gatwood’s Chapel Homily

Preached at morning chapel, Trinity School for Ministry, February 20th, 2017. Fr. Terry Gatwood is a priest at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you wish to hear the audio podcast of the homily, click here.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

These men and women, children walking beside on their little legs, sometimes struggling to keep up with the rest of the crowd, have been following Jesus for a good distance. Their feet ache and they need a rest. They have been following after Jesus, having seen and heard of the teaching and proclamation of the kingdom, his healing of various diseases and pains, and the casting out of demons from those who were suffering under the thumb of evil forces. They were bringing to Jesus people without use of their legs, or who were epileptic, or had sundry other health problems. And Jesus healed them. Some of those people are still in this crowd following Jesus around. And as happy as they are to have been set free from the painful bondage they had been kept in, they are getting worn from this journey.

Jesus turns his eyes toward them, and looks upon these people. Sitting on the mountain above them, his closest disciples come to him in a place where he can be clearly seen and heard by those worn and weary followers now taking their places on the ground. Their moment to stretch out and rest has come. As they begin their rest Jesus begins speaking down the mountain to them, adding something to their respite they may not have known they were yet seeking:

“Blessed is the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

So on and so forth Jesus continues through his list of what life in God’s kingdom looks like now for these people who have seen and heard the great and glorious power of God in Jesus. The Lord God speaks to them with promises that may only be partially experienced in the dangerous and difficult place and time in which these sojourners are, but these are yet ultimate promises of what the final reality shall be for those who have followed after Jesus. And it is within the context of their being together as his disciples that these things can and are realized now. These promises might have fallen upon their ears strangely, though with a heartfully thankful welcome. For those who are meek and mild, those who mourn, those who are persecuted and reviled are not typically going to be those whom the world would describe as blessed or happy. These are the people that oppressors, tyrants, and legalists tend to steamroll right over in their quest for ever increasing glory and honor, according to their own standards. For poor souls like these followers of Jesus, they aren’t winners but losers; their so-called kingdom cannot stop the present political and social kingdom from busting them down and casting them aside like rubbish ripe for the bin. They are weak, and strongmen despise weakness.

Yet Jesus keeps on saying “shall.” These people shall inherit, they shall be satisfied, they shall be called sons of God and see God. These are the people who will reap the ultimate reward when God’s kingdom, the kingdom Jesus has begun telling them about with its attached true, pure, and radiant happiness, comes in its fullness. Then the kingdoms of men who have subjugated the Lord’s children, those who have sat at his feet to listen to the soft words of beautiful and bright promises, will be made nothing.

The pure in heart, the peacemaker, the merciful, those who had been treated quite badly and cast aside will now be the norm in Christ’s kingdom. It will gleam with the bright light of holiness, blinding only the eyes of the evil that they come to no more. And all of this will be so because of the one who exemplified all these qualities of God’s kingdom, Jesus the Christ. Through his death, although he was the Son of God who was hated and despised by all for living a life of holiness in the way he has described, and by his glorious and vindicating resurrection three days later, Jesus inaugurates this coming kingdom in his people, the Church. The present order of things, where the supposedly powerful, with all their self-proclaimed and unjustly attributed glory, fight, divide, and destroy for their vision of how things should be will soon dissolve because of their inherent weakness, as if they are nothing but a rope of sand. Those who have been called to sit at the Lord’s feet and who hear the voice of the Lord declaring the “shall’s” will move from last to first.

This morning we have heard the words of Jesus read aloud in this gathered assembly. Today we have sat before him resting our sore feet, hearing our Lord speak to us this vision of what the kingdom of God looks like in its fullness. And we rejoice, knowing that as we continue to live together in community as his body, as we live and move and breathe as his body here on earth, empowered by him to live according to his word by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And in the face of sin, which so easily entangles, and its author who would seek to devour us, Christ has us take our rest in him in his real presence. It is only with him in the Church that we can live truly counter-culturally.

And in the Church may it ever be our prayer that we might live the way Jesus has described, asking the Lord to keep us from all evil, to keep our life, to guard our going out and our coming in from this time forth forevermore. May we cling to the hope of Christ that someday, in full, we shall live in such a completed and happy kingdom with all those who would follow after Jesus our Lord.

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

Timely Reminders from the Old Preacher

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

—Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

George Herbert: Love

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here.”
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it deserves.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I must serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

The Temple

NT Wright: Why the Cross Matters More than We Think

Yes indeed.

The famous John 3:16 doesn’t say ‘God so hated the world that he killed his son’, but ‘God so loved the world that he gave his son’. But that easily gets twisted the wrong way round. Perhaps that’s because many angry despots, in public or domestic life, have beaten up innocent victims. Sometimes they even claim that they do it out of love. We have learned to shudder at such claims.

But isn’t that what the Bible says? ‘He was bruised for our transgressions . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’? Yes, but what matters is getting the story right.

Many Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, liberal or conservative, have imagined a story like this. (1) We messed up badly; (2) God had to punish us; (3) fortunately, his innocent son got in the way and took the rap. But the Bible tells a bigger, more subtle story.

Paul’s summary of the Christian message begins, ‘The Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’. That doesn’t mean “in accordance with the story we have in our heads, with a few biblical footnotes.” Paul is referring to the entire story of Israel’s ancient scriptures.

That story is not about ‘sin and what God does with it.’ It’s about creation andcovenant.

Read it all.

The Christian Case for Creation

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Lent A, February 19, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.3; Psalm 136.1-26; Romans 8.18-25; Matthew 6.25-34.

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

What can we learn from our lessons this morning with their emphases on creation and new creation? For starters, our lessons provide us with a healthy antidote to the gnostic beliefs we all carry around with us. You know, the idea that things spiritual are good and things material are bad. As we shall see, we need to lose those beliefs as quickly as possible. The creation narratives also set the stage for our understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image and how we should interact with God, God’s world, and each other. And as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, many of us need to broaden our understanding of salvation so that it matches the rich view contained in the NT. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

I am not going to offer you a day-by-day interpretation of the creation narrative in our OT lesson (and I see many of you breathing a deep sigh of relief about that). The narrative is pretty straightforward. What I want to do with Genesis 1 is to use it to remind us of who we are and why creation matters. Before we begin, however, I want to make this appeal. Please read the text for what it is instead of for what it isn’t. The writer of Genesis never intended the creation narratives to be a science lesson or to answer all our questions about God’s creative activity. How, for example, was there light before God created the sun and the moon and the stars (Genesis 1.3, 1.16)? The writer of Genesis is not interested in trying to answer these kinds of questions. He is only interested in telling us that God is the author of, and Lord over, all that is.

If you understand this simple appeal, you will stop feeling the need, for example, to enter into pointless and irrelevant debates about “creation vs. evolution.” The writer of Genesis and his ancient audience, along with audiences up to ca. the 18th century, would have been astonished that some of us feel the need to have these kinds of pointless arguments because the text was never written to be a book of science (cf. 2 Timothy 2.23, e.g.,). It was written, quite simply (or complexly), to tell us that God is the Creator of our world and all that lives in it, not to mention the vast universe in which our world exists. We are meant to read the texts with wonder and awe, and to see the goodness and importance of creation itself. Why would God create a physical world with its creatures and pronounce it all good if creation weren’t important to God? Does not compute! If you insist on bringing science into the creation narrative, then consign it to its proper place in seeking to investigate how God’s magnificent creation works so that we can better align our activities to be in harmony with it! When we can relax and start reading the texts for all they’re worth, without feeling the need or pressure to defend their veracity, we will be astonished at what we can learn from them and have our faith deepened in the process.

So what are some things we can learn from the creation narratives? I want to focus on three things. First, we learn that creation matters to God. How do we know this? Because God created it in the first place and God doesn’t create for no reason! Duh. Second, we learn that precisely because creation matters to God, that God is actively involved in his world and our lives. We see no less than our Lord Jesus himself affirm this truth in our gospel lesson. Why are you anxious about food and clothing he asks? Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. They are not anxious, despite being quite vulnerable to a variety of forces, humans included. They reflect God’s glorious goodness and beauty and God takes care of them because God created them (like you) and God provides for their needs because he cares for them, just as he provides and cares for you. Notice our Lord, contrary to some religious thinkers of his day, did not condemn food and drink. He simply acknowledges that God knows our needs and will provide for them. This does not suggest an absentee or uncaring Creator!

We need a healthy dose of reminders like this because we are constantly bombarded with the old heresy and lie of gnosticism. This worldview goes something like this. Things spiritual are good because they pertain to the realm of God (did you notice in that statement the inherent hostility toward things physical and the subtle denial that God really created things good as the creation narratives testify?). And if you want to know God you need a special gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge, hence the term gnosticism. The deeper the knowledge, the higher the plane of consciousness one can achieve. There are a million varieties of gnosticism, but all make the same basic claim. The world of the spirit is good; the physical world is bad. Of course, to hold this belief is to completely ignore Genesis 1-2, not to mention the rest of the biblical testimony. Perhaps that is why so many in our world today try to discredit those narratives!

So why should we care about gnosticism? Well, for starters, it means that if we drink the gnostic Kool-aid we no longer have to care about God’s world and the things in it, our bodies included, because material things are evil and will ultimately pass away. It’s all about things spiritual and knowledge of God. So who cares how we treat each other and God’s world, or what we do with our bodies? It’s all going to be destroyed one day because all things physical are inherently evil! As we will see in a moment, the NT writers, especially Paul, have something to say about that!

The third thing we learn from the creation narratives has to do with human beings as God’s image-bearers. What does it mean to bear God’s image and why should we care? To answer these questions, think for a moment about the nature and function of a temple. Temples are temples because followers believe they house the deity they worship. Thus, for example, God’s people Israel believed that the Temple at Jerusalem housed their Creator God. In other words, the dimensions of heaven (God’s space), and earth (human space) intersected and God lived with his people there. To be sure, as Solomon acknowledged, the Temple could not contain God, but God dwelt there with God’s people nevertheless. So it therefore wasn’t uncommon for temples to house the image of the deity worshiped there (the Jerusalem Temple excepted).

Now imagine for a moment that the creation narratives in Genesis are telling us that this whole world is God’s temple and that God created us in his image to run his world, so that human beings reflected God’s goodness and beauty and love and truth out into the world as we assumed our role as stewards and rulers over God’s world on God’s behalf. (Why all image-bearers are not beautiful like me and could use a facelift like Fr. Gatwood or Carl or Dr. SAC Collins is a result of the Fall, but I digress.) Notice then in our role as stewards over God’s good world, we assume both royal and priestly functions. We function as royalty because God appointed us to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1.28). We function as priests as intermediaries between God and his good world. This is why both the OT and NT make the claim that God’s people function in these two roles. Before the Fall, when Adam and Eve functioned as God created them to function, God’s world and everything in it was very good (Genesis 1.31) because we were fulfilling our God-given responsibilities as God’s image-bearing creatures.

Notice too that Genesis tells us about the nature of our image-bearing. God created humans, we are told, male and female. The sentence construction indicates an equality and the need for there to be both male and female for God’s image to be complete. There is no suggestion that males are superior to females (much as I hate to admit it, being the good chauvinist I am). No, God created them male and female to be rulers over God’s world on God’s behalf. If we understand this, two things follow. First, since all humans bear God’s image, there is no excuse for slavery or caste systems or exploitation or murder or anything else that damages or destroys God’s image-bearers. In fact, Genesis 9.5-6 makes clear that because every person bears God’s image, every person is therefore inviolate, making murder a heinous crime that demands the life of the murderer (love your enemies, anyone?). Yet how often do we discriminate and want to subordinate others out of some sinful sense of pride and/or superiority?

Second, when God made humans in his image, male and female, we see the reason for marriage, although the Genesis texts do not use that word. God’s first command to humans was to procreate and God created males and females with complementary sexual organs for that purpose. In our highly sexualized and polarized world today, where sensual pleasure and political rights are king, this critical function has gotten completely lost in the shouting. Marriage—the life-long union between male and female—exists so that humans can procreate and live in an orderly fashion as communities with the family being the essential unit of those communities. In other words, marriage and the family provide the needed structure and stability for our relational needs to be met and for humans to carry out God’s creative commands to reproduce and rule over God’s world. And as Fr. Bowser reminds us with annoying regularity, when we ignore or live contrary to God’s good and original creative purposes for us as God’s image-bearers, we bring trouble and dysfunction on ourselves and our lives. Marriage exists because God created humans male and female, and gave us essential functions commensurate with our human dignity as God’s image-bearers. It is simply not a political or social right, much as some would like it to be.

So if God created everything good and is actively involved in his world and our lives, what happened? What about all the darkness and evil and pain and ugliness in this world and our lives? Two words: The Fall (Genesis 3.1-17). The first humans decided they didn’t want to be God’s stewards. They wanted to be God and this got us kicked out of paradise and brought evil and corruption into God’s good world, along with God’s curse on his creation. To be sure there is much beauty and goodness still in God’s world and our lives. But there is also much pain and sorrow and ugliness. Human sin and the evil it unleashed at the Fall is the reason for things like birth defects and diseases, and puts to rest the lie that God makes people a certain way.

But of course the Good News is that God has acted on our behalf to rescue his good world and its creatures from the destructive effects of the Fall. God’s rescue plan that includes Israel and ultimately Jesus, along with us as part of the reconstituted Israel in the form of the Church, is what Scripture is all about, and here is where many of us need to up our game in terms of our view of salvation. Contrary to what many of us have been taught, salvation isn’t about being right with Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die. That’s a Greek and gnostic view of salvation. No, as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, the NT view of salvation is much more comprehensive than dying and going to heaven. The NT view of salvation proclaims that in the death of Jesus, God has forgiven our sins so that we can once again have a real and life-giving relationship with him and begin to act as God’s true image-bearers. Not only do we have forgiveness of sins, God has broken the power of Sin over us, freeing us to worship the one true and living God again instead of the false idols we love to worship, like money, sex, power, and security. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, God inaugurated his plan to bring about healing not only to us, but to all creation, and this is what Paul is getting at in our lesson today.

God’s plan of salvation means that we are rescued to live in God’s new heavens and earth about which Revelation 21.1-7 speaks. Contrary to what gnosticism teaches, God is going to rescue and restore his good but fallen world and its creatures, and the resurrection of Jesus gives us a preview of what that looks like. When our Lord returns in great power and glory to finish his work of redemption and healing, God’s old, broken and cursed creation will be replaced by new creation. We will be given new resurrection bodies that are compatible with God’s new world. Whatever that looks like, make no mistake about it—there will be new creation, not no creation. We are talking a new physical existence that is no longer sin-marred and evil-infested. Our eternal future is not a disembodied state as the gnostics want us to believe. It is a reembodied state patterned after the nature of our Lord Jesus’ resurrected body. New heavens. New earth. Devoid of sin, sorrow, suffering, and dying. No wonder creation is groaning for the day when God’s image-bearers will rule it in the manner God always intended!

This puts to rest the lie that our bodies are ours to do with as we please because ultimately they are unimportant to God. Don’t you know, Paul asks the Corinthians incredulously, that your bodies are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit who lives in you (1 Corinthians 6.19)? Don’t you know, asks Paul in our lesson today, that your bodies are supremely important to God because God intends to raise our mortal bodies and give us new ones when Christ returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.35-57)? Therefore treat your bodies accordingly, along with the bodies of others, because they matter to God and you will be called to account for your stewardship of them. This has all kinds of implications for us in terms of sex, marriage, what we put into our bodies, how we treat each other, and how we treat God’s world around us. God created us to be God’s image-bearers and honors us with these creative tasks. Will we not seek to imitate the one true human who ever lived, Jesus, the very embodiment of God (talk about the ultimate image-bearer!!)?

In sum, God wants us to be truly human because being so means that God will be able to reestablish his creation to its original goodness. God has acted on our behalf to restore us to our right mind and God’s creative purposes for us so that we can begin to live them out right now and fully in the new creation. This is the essence of the Good News we are to live and proclaim, my beloved, now and for all eternity. What an awesome privilege. 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. Philip Sang: Ministry of Reconciliation

Sermon delivered on the 3rd Sunday before Lent A, February 12, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to hear the audio podcast of todays sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5. 21-37.

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

Immediately after His Baptism and following the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, presents a discourse of moral teachings we have come to know as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It is a portion of these instructions that we experience in today’s Gospel. Jesus eloquently presents a series of specific and shared understandings or interpretations of the law of Moses and contrasts them with a renewed way of looking at these matters. He begins these statements with, “You have heard that it was said” and by concluding, saying, “but I say to you”; thus, presenting the true intent of the law through the lens of Jesus’s message.

St. Augustine of Hippo stated in his book “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount” that “if anyone, will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian Life”

One of those standards highlighted in today’s Gospel that I want to share with us today is reconciliation. Jesus, through specific examples, shares with His disciples the negative impact of unresolved and conflictive human interactions, offering at the same time a mechanism for accountability and a path towards mending broken relationships.

For real reconciliation to occur, we must not only meditate and identify the offense, but also value the relationship that may be jeopardized by such offense. It requires openness of heart to engage in dialogue and to seek the restoration of that particular relationship. God desires for us to live in relationship with one another. When our relationships are broken, other areas of our lives may become off-balance to the extent that, at times, it may impact our ability to function.

Broken relationships separate us from one another and, in some ways, from God. At times, we are oblivious to the impact of our actions in the life of others. Our intent may be genuine or without malice, and the impact in others may be devastating. Pride may also play a significant role, impeding us from reconciling with those whom we love and those who love us, and from those who differ from us. As Christians, we are called love the Lord our God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are called to build bridges, not walls.

In the current state of affairs in our nation, a difference of opinions at the political and ethical level has caused a visible divide among families, friends, and communities. It is practically a common occurrence to hear friends “defriending” each other’s pages in social media as a result of political debates or opposing points of views about relevant and challenging topics.

How may we find common ground in the midst of our differences? How may we, even during challenging and uncertain times, create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation? Jesus came to this world to reconcile us with God. It is that ministry of reconciliation that encourages us to create spaces for healthy and productive dialogue. It is that ministry of reconciliation that urges us to remain faithful to our vocation of love where we reject sin while embracing the sinner.

As a chaplain student one of the things I learn is Empathy. Author and researcher, Brene Brown, shared a cartoon about “Empathy versus Sympathy”. Brown shares that “Empathy feels connection while sympathy drives disconnection”. She describes empathy as the ability to take on the perspective of another person while staying out of judgment, recognizing the emotions in other people and communicating that. Brene accurately states that “Empathy is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice.”

Having empathy for those with whom we differ may provide us an opportunity to listen attentively to their perspectives, creating spaces for holy conversations that may lead to reconciliation or even positive changes in the midst of profound and basic disagreement of ideology.

We can choose to nurture our divides and remain in a state of tension and dissension, or, we may decide to be open to the movement of the Spirit and focus on that which unite us, God’s love for humanity, and work together through our disagreements.

There is a story of a married couple who argue frequently. They have been married for 38 years. Both of them were known to have strong characteristics and were quick to temper. One evening they engaged in yet another heated and emotionally charged conversation. The wife, reaching a point of no return, decided to pack a few things and walk away. While packing, she noticed that her husband placed another suitcase next to her and started packing as well. With a huff, she asked him, “Where in the world are you going?” Her husband responded, in an angry tone, “I don’t know. I am going wherever it is that you are going!”.

Similar to the case of this married couple, our disagreements, political or not, are not sufficient ground to separate us. We are bonded by something greater. Avoidance of contact is a defense mechanism we may use to evade our responsibility to foster reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation is hard work. It is holy work.

Preaching in Guatemala in August of 2011, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in his sermon, he shared that, “The gift of the church to the world is reconciliation. We have been given it as a gift for ourselves so that we may know God, and we have been given it to learn.”

As a church, we have a unique opportunity to become bridge-builders during this historic time in America. We have a chance to exercise our vocation and prophetic voices in powerful and unique ways, at the same time that we spread and teach the gift of reconciliation in our nation.

Jesus, our model, faced confrontations with determination and compassion. It is a healthy and necessary balance to mend and maintain challenging relationships. Jesus’ determination ensured that the dignity of every human being was respected. His compassion showed God’s love to those who were difficult to love. May we find holy balance in these challenging times to maintain a reconciliatory tone while challenging the injustices against God’s children in a way that foster dialogue and build bridges. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.

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

February 12, 2017: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Abraham Lincoln pictureToday is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He would be 208 years old! The president is one of my heroes, primarily because of the role he played in saving this country. Mr. Lincoln had a wonderful spirit about him and his humility, compassion, and willingness to forgive his enemies arguably saved this country from a terrible aftermath following our Civil War. Reconstruction was hard enough as it was, but at least we did not have guerrilla warfare to contend with, something that would have probably done us in as a country forever.

We healed as well as any country could following a civil war. If you don’t believe me, check out other countries who have suffered through a civil war. Most of the time it didn’t turn out well. The reason our country’s reconstruction went relatively well is because of President Lincoln. He set the tone for U.S. Grant and the other Union commanders by insisting that they treat the vanquished with dignity and respect. Lincoln insisted that the rebels would not be treated harshly or punitively and as a result, everyone else followed suit, including the Confederate commanders.

Of course, this wasn’t all Lincoln’s doing, but as president he set the tone for others to follow as great leaders always do. It would have been just as easy to hang all the rebel commanders and make life miserable for the vanquished. But Lincoln knew better. He knew how that would turn out. It would have been interesting to see how much more quickly we would have healed as a nation had Lincoln lived to serve a full second term. Instead, the zealots and self-righteous decided to “fix” Lincoln’s initial proposals for reconstruction and nearly managed to destroy all that President Lincoln had sought to establish in the process.

I am convinced God put Abraham Lincoln in our history for a reason. His presidency is more evidence that God has blessed this country. Whether that blessing continues today is debatable.  But that’s a different story for a different day. Today, it is fitting that all Americans honor our 16th president and give thanks to God for placing the right man in the right situation at the right time. Happy birthday, Mr. President, and thank you for your service to our country.

True Worship = Liturgy + Lifestyle

Sermon delivered on the 4th Sunday before Lent A, February 5, 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: Isaiah 58.1-12; Psalm 112.1-10; 1 Corinthians 2.1-16; Matthew 5.13-20.

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

What are we to make of the Lord’s stern rebuke of his people’s worship in our OT lesson today? Is there anything we can learn from this smackdown? Indeed there is and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What constitutes real worship?

In our OT lesson, we see the Lord, through his prophet, taking his people to task for their worship behavior. The Lord tells Isaiah to announce to his people that they are rebels. And how are they rebellious? They have the audacity to worship the Lord, to seek after the Lord and his ways. They delight in drawing near to him. They seek God’s righteous judgments and do all the right things like humbling themselves before God. And God’s response? God calls them sinners and rebels for doing so. We listen to the prophetic announcement and we want to say to God, “Say what? What are you talking about God? We thought you want us to worship you and humble ourselves before you and do other pious things like fast and pray! I mean, look at us! We’re good Anglicans. We use proper liturgy in our worship. We listen to your Word each week and hear excellent preaching on it (well, at least when Fr. Maney is preaching). We come to your table each week and feed on our Lord Jesus’ body and blood. We pray the Prayers of the Peeps and act all holy and stuff. Are you telling us that this doesn’t please you? Are you suggesting that we too are rebels and sinners, just like your people Israel? Surely you jest!” To which the Lord replies, “No I don’t and don’t call me Shirley [rimshot in the background]!” So what’s going on here (besides bad standup comedy)?

The answer lies in a careful reading of the entire text. Of course God wants us to worship him because we inevitably become what we worship. That is why regular corporate worship of the one true and living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is so critically important to those of us who want to have a real and life-giving relationship with our only Source of life. Our worship will help shape us to become more like God our Father who reveals himself supremely in Jesus the Son so that we can become the truly human beings God created us to be.

The key to understanding Isaiah’s timeless prophetic criticism of the way God’s people worship is found in verse 2a: “Day after day they seek me [in worship] and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation [or church] that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.” In other words, God knows that worship is more than just personal piety. It is more than just us acting all holy and stuff on Sunday mornings, critically important as regular corporate worship of God is. But true worship of God extends far beyond Sundays. We are to worship God 24/7 in our lives. In other words, Who and how we worship on Sundays must translate into action so that we think and speak and act like the true image-bearing creatures we really are. Without this corresponding action, our worship will sooner or later turn into idolatrous self-worship where we pat ourselves on the back for being such “good” and “holy” people. This, in turn, inevitably leads us to become proud and self-righteous people who are ready to pronounce judgment on all who are not like us. When that happens, we really don’t have a chance to practice God’s righteousness and justice because we are too busy practicing our own distorted sense of righteousness and justice. The result? More darkness instead of God’s light.

Real worship of God, worshiping God in spirit and truth (John 4.24), always involves our acknowledgement that we don’t rule God’s world, God does, and that God has rightful claim of our individual and corporate lives because God is our Creator. When we act selfishly, we cut ourselves off from God’s love and power and should not expect to find that which we need to live truly human lives. But when our worship leads us to act in ways that are consistent with our call to be God’s image-bearing creatures who reflect God’s love, mercy, righteousness, grace, and justice out into the world, then we discover that we have tapped into a power that is far greater than our own and in that power, we find our peace and purpose for living. That is what God promises in our OT lesson when he tells us that he will be before and behind us, and when we call to him for help he will be present to us (v.8b-9a). And if you were paying attention to this morning’s psalm, this is exactly what the psalmist promises us. In short, when we practice God’s righteousness and justice, and not the world’s or our own often distorted sense of righteousness and justice, we will become like God in the best sense possible. What an awesome privilege!

This dynamic is also what Jesus is talking about in our gospel lesson today. Jesus was calling Israel to be Israel, to be the human agents who brought God’s healing love to the world. But Israel could not do that by being just like the world, chasing after false gods (idols) and practicing injustice and all kinds of self-serving and corrupt behavior. Neither can we as Christ’s body, the Church, live up to our Lord’s command to be his salt and light to the world when we follow our own distorted and self-centered ways instead of his. If we are to be Jesus’ light to the world so that the world (along with us) can finding healing and peace, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Paul tells us as much in our epistle lesson when he tells us that he resolved to know nothing but his crucified Lord. For you see, this is how God has overcome the world—through suffering and self-giving love, a love that was present in all that Jesus taught and did during his life, a love revealed supremely on Calvary. On the cross, God defeated the dark powers and principalities by breaking the power of Sin (a force) and offering us forgiveness of our sins so that we no longer have to be enslaved by the dark powers. This is why personal piety—worship, prayer, regular reading and study of Scripture, the eucharist, and fellowship—is so critically important. When we partake in these means of grace, we learn what God has done for us in Christ, i.e., we learn to experience God’s healing love and forgiveness, and we learn what God wants and desires us to be as his image-bearers. God wants us to embody his generous love, his faithfulness, his justice, his mercy, his grace, and his righteousness so that God can use us to bring his kingdom to bear on God’s broken and hurting world and its peoples. The kingdom doesn’t come in full until the Lord returns to finish his saving and healing work. But God uses us to advance his reign on earth and we can have confidence that anything we do faithfully in the name of the Lord is not done in vain (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58), thanks be to God!

The world will look at us like we are crazy. It will hate our sense of righteousness and justice and love because they are rooted in God and God’s wisdom—the wisdom of the cross which is not the world’s—and that means we will suffer for the Name. But we are to take heart. When we are Christ-bearers to the world, we are confident that the power of God will sustain us because as Paul also reminds us, we are not only God’s image-bearers, we are given the Holy Spirit, who lives in us to strengthen and uphold us to do the work God calls us to do, just like God promised us through his prophet Isaiah and our Lord himself (see, e.g., John 14.18-27).

So how are we to be Christ’s salt and light to the world? We start by loving all comers, friend and foe alike. But we don’t love them according to how the world tells us to love others. We do not give in to the beloved’s disordered desires. We love them by desiring what is best for them, by desiring for them the righteousness and goodness of God as revealed in God’s word and supremely in God’s Son, Jesus. We must be very clear on this point, my beloved. If we do not love others with the love of God, we cannot make any claim to loving them at all.

Beyond this, there are a million ways to embody the love of God and to be the light of Christ to the world. In what ways is Christ calling us to be his light, corporately and individually? Let me jump-start your thinking about this. Every time we offer forgiveness instead of revenge, every time we seek the other’s good over our own, every time we manifest the generous heart of God to others in need, we allow Christ’s light to shine in and through us. In this season of irrational fear and discord in our nation, our words and actions in the political arena can bring Christ’s light and love to bear, not to mention his peace. Instead of demonizing our opponents, we resolve to debate the issues. Instead of fear-mongering, we remind others that Jesus is Lord and Caesar (whoever that might be) is not. We are kind to those who abuse us and speak the truth to power, even when we know we will get blasted for doing so. And let us not forget our own family as the Lord reminds us in our OT lesson. Let God’s reign begin at home in how we treat our spouses and children. Let us be faithful and kind and self-giving toward them. If we have children (or grandchildren), let us be bold enough to act like parents (or grandparents) and speak the truth in love to them, daring to love them enough to encourage them to use their God-given talents to the glory of God and warning them about the dangers and lies that are beckoning them to join in the fun to their ruin, all the while masquerading as the glamorous, the sexy, the hip—things like illicit drug use and the idols of popularity, sex, identity, greed, prestige, power, and the rest.

Is this hard work? You bet it is because much of the world does not want to hear about God’s love and righteousness. And if you’re from my generation, there will be this fear that we are starting to sound like our parents, meaning that we have lost our ability to be cool along with our hair. But we need to get over that lie and delusion that was foisted on us years ago and not let it deter us. We mustn’t hide under a basket Christ’s light made real and manifest in our lives. One thing is certain. Being Christ’s light and image-bearers is not for the faint of heart. But as we have seen, we are not people who have faint hearts. We are a people who are loved and claimed by the living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us so that we can live with him now and forever, and who gives us his Spirit to equip us to do the work he calls us to do. And because of that great love, we are a people with a real present and future, unlike those who reject God and his Christ. This is worship that is pleasing to God. This is the Good News we are to live and proclaim, now and for all eternity. What a great privilege it is for us to be called to this life-giving work, which after all is the very definition of liturgy (the work of the people)! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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