Bishop Tom Wright: Entering the Advent Season Celebrating the Arrival of the King

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a91c4b35-31a6-4d93-aa83-245aa2d6fdc9As we prepare for Advent and Christmas, one obvious theme is the kingship of Jesus. We use royal language about Jesus a lot but we seldom pause to think what exactly that ought to mean both when we talk about Jesus himself and when we think about leadership and government in the world. On both sides of the Atlantic just now we are living with the surprising results of democracy, and this is a great moment to reflect on God’s vision for human government, and indeed God’s vision for a healthy human society. I find myself returning again and again to Psalm 72. Some theologians in our day have protested against royal psalms like this one, seeing them as exercises in spurious divine legitimation for oppressive regimes. But this Psalm stoutly resists all such deconstruction, for two obvious reasons to start with and then more as we go deeper into its message.

Psalm 72 holds out for us a vision of a world aflame with glory; a world in which justice is done, especially for the poor and for those who have nobody to speak for them. This is a vision of a king to whom the kings of the earth come bearing gifts because he is doing what they know they ought to be doing, namely delivering the needy when they call out, having pity on the weak and poor, rescuing the helpless from the greedy, the oppressive and the violent. How many times in recent years, recent days, have we longed for a society like that? In my country, and I think also in yours, the political elites and the pollsters grossly underestimated the fact that while in London and New York and elsewhere the rich were getting richer and organising the system to their advantage, in many parts of my country, including Durham where I used to work, and in many parts of your lovely country too, there were people whose cries for help seemed to be going unheeded.

The real poverty and hardship faced by many in the waste places of the former industrial heartlands have not been addressed. The job descriptions have not come true. Politicians come and go but they always have as part of their stated aim the radical improvement of the country, of the world, of the lives of ordinary people. Most public servants start out believing in that aim and object, but even if they are not befuddled by the many compromises they have to make on the way up they will be dazzled by the glittering temptations of power and prestige; or they will suppose that the way to put the world right will be a heavy-handed solution imposed from above, whether through a new social structure which might just trickle down to where it’s really needed or through bombs and missiles raining down on our perceived enemies. My friends, we’ve tried all these again and again and the world is in more of a mess, not less, as a result. It is time to glimpse the biblical vision of God’s kingdom which we find in this Psalm, as we read it through the lens of the gospel of Jesus in which its theme is intensified, not relativized as so many have imagined….

The obvious Christian reason is that this Psalm is picked up by both Matthew and Luke in announcing the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s Magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus are obviously fulfilling the prophecies of this Psalm about the gifts brought by the kings of Sheba and Seba, and indeed it may be the implicit reference to this Psalm which, in popular imagination, has turned the Magi into actual kings. Luke’s Benedictus, celebrating John the Baptist as the royal herald, echoes the final praise of the Psalm: Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel who alone does wondrous things! So the first followers of Jesus were encouraged to go back to this Psalm and make it their own, which they duly did in reporting the claim of the risen Jesus to possess already ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’. The foundation of all biblical visions of God’s purposes for the world, and how they are to be implemented is that the Creator God wants his world to be full of his glory, which means among other things full of true justice and generous mercy. This is not just a vision for a far-off distant time. We are not expected to sit on our hands and wait for it to happen beyond the sky by and by. Even in Old Testament times it was perfectly possible for kings to do justice and love mercy; they often failed, but the best of them didn’t do too badly. And part of the point of the resurrection narratives in the gospels is that in the risen Jesus God has already launched his new creation.

Jesus himself is both the start of that new creation and the Lord who gives his own Spirit so that his people can continue the project. You see, from Genesis 1 onwards it’s clear that the Creator God wants to rule his world through wise, image-bearing human beings. There is a Trinitarian base for all biblical political theology: the Creator wants to work in the world by his image of justice and mercy being reflected through obedient, humble, wise humans. The Davidic king is seen in some texts as the true Adam, and in others (as in Psalm72) as the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promises. The King is therefore the archetypal image-reflecting human. The grandiose language and glorious hope of the Psalm depend on this vision, that the coming king will reflect into the world God’s priority and care for the poor, the oppressed, those who suffer violence and wrong.

N.T. Wright
From Sunday Sermon, 20 November 2016
NTWrightOnline.org

Fr. Philip Sang: Walking in the Light

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday A, November 27, 2016, 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 2:1-5; Psalm 122.1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44.

Christmas is already here for some because carols can be heard over the air waves, trees with colored lights can be seen in some yards or living rooms, but mostly because merchants have been selling Christmas for weeks now. For us and some other Christian denominations, Christmas is in the air because Advent is finally here.

Advent is from the Latin word “adventus,” which means coming. This is a season, we are reminded that Christ is coming back to earth for a second time.

Other “A” words associated with Advent are: aware, alert, attuned, alive and attentive.

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Advent season. We start on a journey toward Bethlehem, where God meets us through the gentleness of the Christ-child. We move towards the humble stable, following the star, in the hope of finding the One who will finally bring healing, hope and new life into each of our lives.

As ‘we enter into this season we are shocked at how quickly the time has gone.Even the snow seems to have missed a beat this year. I don’t know about you, but I feel as if this Advent season has broken in too fast. I’m not ready yet! There are a 1001 things that still have to be done.

For many people Advent is not filled with the air of expectation and anticipation that is supposed to be part of the season. In place of joy they feel sadness. In place of fulfillment, loss. In place of celebration with family and friends, loneliness and despair.

Our hearts go out to those people throughout the world and especially among us, whose Christmas season will not be like any other. We cry with those whose Christmas will be a lonely time — maybe for the first time after the loss of a loved one.

We do well to take note of the unpredictable nature of God’s coming into our lives. We do well to be reminded of God’s Second Advent, and to heed the warning that God will break into our lives again at any time — like a thief in the night.

The article to members of Crosswalk church send by Fr. Maney on the newsletter this week had a question related to today’s readings

Q: Why are there so many scripture readings?

  • The readings are intended to tell part of the story of Jesus. Leading up to
    Christmas, many passages sound bleak and sad. That’s because Jesus came
    to bring light into a dark world. So those bleak and sad passages help us
    understand the level of darkness Jesus came to destroy.
  • The readings also help turn our attention forward to the day of Jesus’ second
    coming, when darkness will be destroyed once and for all.

During Advent we acknowledge the darkness that exists in our world, and our desperation for the light of Christ.

The Prophet Isaiah invites us to anticipate a time when all peoples and nations will turn toward God. He anticipates a time when the whole world will turn to God for light and direction. Let me read Isaiah 2:2-5

In the last days the mountain of the LORD ‘s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. ” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. {They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. } Come, 0 house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

This passage from the Book of Isaiah comes from around 740 BCE. It was a time when Israel’s enemies threatened the divided nation. Isaiah calls the people to look to God for hope and salvation.

Israel was waiting for a big event that would bring in the Kingdom of the Messiah. The people were waiting for God Himself to come down from heaven and destroy the enemies. But God’s people placed their hope for salvation in a great military leader.

Imagine Israel’s disappointment when the prophet later announced the birth of a child. Listen to Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. ” And in 1l:3ff: “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. And A Little Child Will Lead Them.”

Can you imagine the reaction? They will have argued, “What does a little child know about leading?” “We need a military King, a warrior, better technology.” “How can God save us through a common child?”

We too journey into the advent season, expecting great things to happen. We expect God to do a miracle to keep our families together and to bring those who are lost back into the fold. We hope that God will bring peace to ?ghting nations and communities like mine. We wait for the miracle of reconciliation in bitter and angry church conflicts and experiences we have seen after election. We pray for revival and New Life. You and I wait on God for our salvation!

The whole world is eagerly awaiting salvation from God. Indeed, our souls are searching for a sign from God. Our souls hunger for an inner peace that cannot be achieved through our own efforts. The problem is, that we go looking for that inner peace in all the wrong places. (People are looking for fulfillment in the sciences and in space exploration. We search for answers to life ’s complex questions. We look for fulfillment in technology and education. We hope to find it in a good job and financial achievement. We go looking in health clubs, sports, entertainment, the community hall, the Internet, pornography, and countless other places).

Where do you go looking for God? Where do you hope to ?nd peace for your soul? God sees the needs of His people, and He does not turn away. He hears the cry of those who are in despair — and He acts.

Maybe your heart is crying to God right now. Maybe you are in despair and experiencing a time of the deep night of the soul. Then I encourage you, Friend, to watch and wait for God’s salvation!

But, be careful, that you don’t miss it because you didn’t recognize it. God’s salvation does not come to us with noisy parades and spectacular ?reworks. God is at work in the ordinary places and events of our lives. God’s salvation comes to us in an innocent little child in a manger, among donkeys and oxen, and sheep and shepherds. God’s grace and forgiveness comes to us in small packages… In expressions of love and compassion.

God promises that a little child will lead us, and teach us, and show us the way. The New Life represented in the birth of the baby Jesus sets us free to walk with hope in His light. The assurance of God’s ultimate victory over sin and death gives us the confidence to seek His face and to follow where He leads us.

Advent is not only looking back to the events that took place in a dimly lit stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Advent has a second dimension: a future hope. Advent is also a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.

Isaiah encourages us, in the light of the Things to Come, to act decisively, (Isaiah 60:1f):

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Lift up your eyes
and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will
be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

In the light of our fixture hope in an everlasting Kingdom we are called to action. Arise, Shine, and walk in His light! Walking in God’s light means to live each day as if it were our last. It means that we take the opportunities that God gives you and me, to restore hope and healing in someone else’s life.

The season that is upon us gives us many challenges and opportunities to walk in the light of Christ, to stand with others in their loneliness and despair, to cast a ray of hope into someone’s dark existence.

The Season is short, therefore Seize the Day while there is still light! If we can take the time and make the effort during Advent to be more awake, alert, attentive and alive to God’s presence in the people we encounter and all the circumstances we face, this Christmas will be more meaningful for everyone around us.

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard earlier, God envisions a world transformed. What’s coming is a time when all wars will cease and weapons will be converted to implements of agriculture. Can we walk in the light of that future now?

Jesus tells us in the gospel that his second coming will be similar to those who missed their reservation on Noah’s ark, some have suggested that, today, the church is comparable to the ark.

Jesus goes on in the gospel to describe two pairs of people going about their daily chores side by side, two will be working in the ?eld, and two will be grinding meal. When Jesus returns only one from each set will be taken. Why the one when both are doing the exact same thing? We must assume that, in each case, only one was ready, awake, expectant and spiritually attuned. The other must have been in a state of ignorance. We may not have to be in church when Jesus comes, but being in church and part of the body of Christ regularly should keep us mindful of another reality breaking in.

We, too, are expected to go about our daily activities with love and care all the while knowing that at any minute Christ might come again and call us home. We will always be prepared for such a moment if we are committed to loving God and our neighbor as ourselves.

Romans 13:11-14

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Welcome Advent in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

How the Kingdom Came (and Comes) on Earth

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday C, November 20, 2016, 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: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 46.1-11; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism in his day. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and it brings to an end the so-called kingdom season we have been celebrating today and the past two Sundays. You probably noticed that the liturgical color changed from green to red this month after we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday. But why? Isn’t purple the color of royalty? Well, yes it is. But the kingdom we are talking about, God’s kingdom, is not a kingdom that focuses on pomp and glory and earthly understanding of power. It is a very different kingdom that has reclaimed God’s reign on earth as in heaven and it has been inaugurated by the blood of Jesus—thus the color red. As a result, we who are God’s kingdom people in Jesus are called to be cruciform (or cross-shaped) people, and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What does it mean for us to live as subjects in God’s kingdom here on earth?

In our epistle lesson, Paul tells us that in fulfillment of the OT prophecy we read in Jeremiah, God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. But what does this mean? Many Christians mistakenly think that this means we are rescued (or saved) from this world so that we can go to heaven when we die. But this is emphatically not what Paul is talking about. God does not save us from this world because God does not intend to destroy this world. Instead, God intends to restore his creation to its original goodness and to heal us, his image-bearing creatures, whom God created to rule over his good creation on God’s behalf, so that we can once again rule it wisely. And so here Paul uses Passover language, the great rescue event of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt, to remind us that God has rescued us from our slavery to sin and freed us to be his fully human and image-bearing creatures again. This is critical to God’s saving plan to reestablish his kingdom on earth as in heaven because when we act selfishly and contrary to God’s original creative intentions for us as his stewards, we cannot possibly rule wisely on God’s behalf. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans that all creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of God’s children (that would be us, my beloved) at our resurrection so that it could be freed from its bondage to sin and the decay our sin-corrupted and evil-infested rule has caused (Romans 8.19-21). Make humans right by freeing us from our sins and creation will be made right once again because we will start to rule it wisely as we were created. This is the end game in the biblical narrative because God is faithful to his original creation and intends to restore it and us to our original goodness (and more). This is what the promise of new heavens and earth is all about, and this is what it means to have the kingdom come on earth as in heaven, just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. When God’s rule (or kingdom) comes, goodness and wholeness and health and abundant life reign instead of the sin and evil and sickness and death that characterize the rule of the dark powers and principalities. This is the promise of salvation we read about in the Bible, especially in the NT.

And it is all made possible by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to heal us and reconcile us to God the Father so that we finally have real peace and can enjoy being the fully human creatures God created us to be. On the cross, Jesus took the entire weight of our collective sin and the full force of evil, and defeated it so that we could be freed from our sin and made ready to reassume our rightful place as God’s wise rulers on God’s behalf. This was a massive cosmic victory in which the invisible powers in heaven were also brought under God’s control in Jesus so that peace could reign on earth. To be sure, God’s victory over sin and the dark powers is not fully consummated. That must wait till Jesus’ second coming. But the victory is God’s and because we are God’s people, it is also ours, thanks be to God! As Paul tells us elsewhere, in our baptism we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6.4-6). That’s critically important because in today’s epistle lesson Paul reminds us that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead so that we too can anticipate our own resurrection and victory over death that Christ’s death won for us. In other words we are a resurrection people with a real hope and future.

This is why we are called to be a cruciform (or cross-shaped) people. While the forces of evil have been defeated, they are still quite active and they will try to destroy us. That is why until Christ returns, we can expect to suffer in this world when we exercise our freedom to act as God’s people. But act we must, and in the manner of Christ, who loves us and died for us so that we might be set free to act in the dignity of fully human beings who bear God the Father’s image. And we are to do this joyfully and with courage because we remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers are not, that death has been defeated, and that we have been given power by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit who loves us and lives in us to heal us so that we can imitate our Lord’s suffering and self-giving love for the healing of the nations.

Just as Jesus was crucified in the midst of evil and prayed that those responsible for his unjust death be forgiven, so too are we to bring Christ’s forgiveness and love to bear in the midst of the brokenness that surrounds us. What’s this look like? Last week I suggested that if we are going to live as people who believe Jesus really is Lord and others are not, we are to be agents of healing and forgiveness in our country where many people seem to succumb to the rule of fear and anxiety. So we are to meet people where they are and even suffer their abuse as we try to embody the love of God to them. It means we are to immerse ourselves in prayer, convinced of its power and efficacy, even when we cannot see the results of our prayer directly. We do so because this is what God’s wise stewards of his good creation do to reflect God’s goodness out into God’s creation. We are to immerse ourselves in reading and studying Scripture, both individually and together, so as to learn what the mind of Christ is and what real and godly living look like. The more we read Scripture, the better we understand what God’s good and creative purposes for us are. We are to pay attention to each other and rejoice with each other in our joys and grieve with each other in our sorrows. We are to put aside our own selfish desires and look out for the needs of each other, giving our time, our effort, ourselves, (and when required, our money) for the benefit of the other. We don’t do this perfectly because we will not be perfected until the new creation comes. Simply put, we are not completely done with sin until we die (Romans 6.7), and sin corrupts us. But this doesn’t mean we give up and revert to our selfish and evil behavior that comes so naturally to us. In sum, learning to be a cruciform people takes intentionality and hard work. But the rewards are far greater: peace with God with its resulting good health, forgiveness of sins, a new power to be fully human, and the promise of resurrection and new creation, life forever.

And here I want to remind us that this new life in Christ does not mean we can no longer have any fun, that living humble and self-giving lives in the manner of Christ means that there is no longer any enjoyment to be had. God does not want to rain on our parade, my beloved!  God created us to have abundant life and became human in Jesus to show us what that looks like. The suffering required of us sometimes is the result of the hostility of the forces of evil, not from God. To be sure, sometimes God tests us, but that is for our own good, not for evil. And so living life as freed people means a celebration more than anything else! Why do you think Jesus partied so much, especially with sinners? It was a foretaste of things to come! If we believe God is really good and generous and wise and kind and just, why would we not want to like thusly?

So on this Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s Kingship and Lordship over all creation, let us resolve to imitate him in our living, confident that the Holy Spirit, who loves us and lives in us, will give us the power to become like him. Let us rejoice that being cruciform people means we are being led by the Source and Author of all goodness and life, not by the dark powers who want to destroy us. And let us do the work we are called to do to be his faithful people so that the world comes to know the goodness and beauty and joy and freedom of living as God’s holy image-bearers. That is the the Good News we are to live and proclaim, 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.

153rd Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the seminal speeches in American history. Take time to read and reflect on it today and give thanks that God has raised up leaders like President Lincoln to guide our country through difficult times.

LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

doc_036_bigdoc_036b_bigFour score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

A God Big Enough to Heal All Creation

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 13, 2016, 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: Isaiah 65.17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19.

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

This morning we have our quarterly healing service and so I must keep my remarks short. Hopefully I will leave you wanting more rather than wondering why I preached so long. What do our lessons have to say about healing and what can we learn from them? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our OT lesson, we see God speaking through his prophet to lay out a bold and comprehensive promise to God’s people. God promises to heal all that is wrong in his sin-sick and evil-ravaged world, to bring about new creation, the new heavens and earth. Notice carefully what God is promising. God is not going to destroy his good but corrupted creation and creatures. No, God is going to recreate and restore his creation to its original goodness. When God does this, notice what will happen. The haunting, hurting memories we all carry with us, and that diminish us, will be healed. We will simply not remember all the hurt and darkness in our personal and corporate lives and history. Peace will be restored. Chaos that was part of the old creation in Genesis will be done away with. Harmony and prosperity will reign. God will live directly with his people, and evil will be banished forever, even while the agents of evil mysteriously remain (the snake still is with us, but is consigned to powerlessness). It is a breathtaking vision and it reminds us in no uncertain terms that creation is important to God and God remains faithful to his created order, us included. Do you have that kind of comprehensive hope?

The language of new heavens and earth has no parallel in the OT. We must look to the NT to find a parallel vision that is as bold and comprehensive:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea [forces of chaos] was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev 21.1-4).

It is no coincidence that the Christian bible begins with creation in Genesis and ends with God’s good but corrupted creation being restored and healed in Revelation. This is what the entire biblical narrative in general, and the gospel specifically, are all about—the healing of the nations and with them all of creation (cf. Romans 8.19-23). Only God can bring about this transformation with its attendant and necessary healing, and this reminds us that we are not to put our ultimate hope and trust in human solutions to fully transform God’s world into a better place. It is simply not in our power to do so. This is not to say that we are to withdraw from the world and become irresponsible abusers of creation and its creatures while we wait to go to heaven. This would be not only thoroughly unbiblical but also the ultimate act of idolatry and rebellion on our part. Why? Because God created us in his image to be his wise stewards over his good creation and to reflect God’s glory and goodness out into creation while receiving creation’s praise and glory and reflecting it back to its Creator. Simply put, we were made to be actively and totally involved in God’s world as his image-bearers, but we are to do so on God’s terms, not ours.

And of course the promise of new creation is made possible by the love of God acting in and through Christ to defeat the power of evil and reconcile us to himself so that we can serve once again as God’s faithful image-bearers (cf. Ephesians 6.12; Colossians 2.13-15). God did this through the death and resurrection of Jesus and by blessing us with the gift of his Spirit who lives in us and who heals and transforms us into new creations (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17). This promise will not be consummated until Christ returns to finish the work he started.

So what do we do in the interim? Why have a healing service if it is only God who can thoroughly heal and transform us? Because this is what we are called to do as God’s faithful people and this is where our epistle and gospel lessons can help speak to us. The promise of new heavens and earth, of complete and transformative healing and new creation, reminds us that God is at work in us through Jesus in the power of the Spirit to heal and transform his world hijacked by human sin and the dark powers and principalities. Or to put it another way, as the NT writers unanimously proclaim, Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord, not the dark powers, not the rulers of the nations or the nations themselves. Jesus is Lord. It is one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith, and it is essential to our healing. Do you believe this? Do you really believe that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar (or Barack or Donald or [name your favorite leader])? If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect many of us pay lip service to this proclamation but don’t really believe it because of the brokenness and evil we see in our lives and God’s world.

And this is where we need to pay attention to Jesus and Paul. Our Lord reminds us that while he is removed from our sight, we will be faced with all kinds of difficulties and challenges: wars and rumors of wars. Persecution and division, et al. But we are not to fear. Why? Jesus doesn’t tell us here but in John’s gospel he does. He is risen and ascended and rules over God’s creation as Lord, and he is really present to us in the power of the Spirit who lives in us. So we are not to fear. Instead (and astonishingly enough), we are to see the difficulties in our lives as opportunities to witness to our faith that Jesus is Lord!

Likewise, Paul reminds that we are never to tire of doing good. Why? Because we are a resurrection people who worship and follow the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and therefore we are called to live our lives in ways that witness to the truth that Jesus is Lord to an unbelieving and hostile world. So, for example, in the context of living life together as part of Christ’s family here at St. Augustine’s, we do our fair share as members of one family so as not to place undue and/or unfair burdens on other family members. We are to resist the temptation to let others do the work to make God’s love known to the world or to support this little parish. Doing so betrays a selfishness and an unbelieving attitude that Jesus really isn’t Lord. We are.

In closing, let me give you a specific example of how we can live our lives in ways that are consistent with the spirit of our epistle and gospel lessons so that we witness to the world that we are a resurrection (new creation) people who really believe Jesus is Lord and others are not. It seems to me that in the wake of Tuesday’s election there is great need of healing in this country. But what does the world do? It engages in acrimony, recrimination, and lawlessness. How can healing possibly occur in that environment? Not so with us here at St. Augustine’s. In the spirit of our NT lessons, and with the promise of new heavens and earth always in front of us, we are to remember first and foremost that Jesus is Lord and we are his people whom he has called to bring his healing to each other. That means we are to take the time to see if other family members are in need of healing. If we are Trump supporters, this means we don’t gloat or rub Clinton supporters’ noses in Trump’s victory. It means we listen to their complaints patiently and don’t attempt to debate them or tell them why they are wrong. Instead, we acknowledge their pain and offer them sympathy, just like we would want them to do for us if we were on the losing side. If we are Clinton supporters, we don’t run down Trump supporters and trash their candidate, or tell them why they’re wrong. We give Trump a chance to lead and we are gracious in defeat. But the critical point is that we check on each other and love and support each other and build each other up. We don’t let our differences become our lord and allow them to separate us. And just as importantly, we don’t trash our family members with whom we disagree to others, either inside or outside our parish family, running them down behind their backs. What kind of witness is that? If we conduct ourselves in ways that are patterned after Jesus, we proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and in the process, we find healing, both for ourselves and others. This, in a nutshell and in this particular context, my beloved, is one way we can proclaim the Good News and in the process find real healing, now and for all eternity. Why? Because in doing so we open ourselves up to the loving power of Jesus our Lord who rules and lives in and among us, and who alone has the power to heal. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Giving Thanks for Our Veterans, Known and Unknown

I am thankful that God has blessed us with so many brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice and to serve this great country of ours. I am thinking today especially of my dad, John F. Maney, who fought in Europe during World War II.

John F. Maney

I am also thinking of my grandfathers, John S. Maney and F. Earl Shaffer, who served in the army during World War I. Grandpa Maney also saw combat in Europe.

I am thinking of my uncle, W. Everett Jones, who served in the army in Europe during World War II.

I am thinking of my father-in-law, Donald E. Traylor, who served in the army in Germany during the Korean War.

I am thinking of my dad’s best friend, Dale Terry, who served in the navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.

I am thinking of my friends John Falor, Tod Tapola, Jim Lytle, and Jerry Gallaway who served in Vietnam.

I am thinking of my friend, Col. David Mullins, who served in Iraq.

I am thinking of all the men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces, some in very dangerous places, and ask God’s blessing and protection for them.

Thank you veterans, both known and unknown, for your valiant and heroic service to our country. God bless you all.

Which veterans are you thinking about today? Sign into Disqus and tell us about them.

A Short Veterans’ Day History

As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Read it all.

A Veterans’ Day Prayer

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Remember, Remember the 10th of November

Apologies to the Brits. From the pen of my mama. Check it out.

mom5One thing I thought I could do during WWII was to find out the customers of the O.P.C. [Ohio Power Company, now AEP] who had sons in the service, learn their names and ask about them when the customers paid their bills. Few checks were used back then so we were busy with cash customers. I always asked John’s Dad [my grandpa Maney] about John [my dad] and he would reply. Then, one day, he volunteered that John was on his way home! That’s why when I saw John in at Dolly’s [a now extinct local restaurant], I stopped to tell him his dad had told me he was on his way home and I wanted to thank him for all he’d done for our country–and for me. I shook his hand as my Dad had taught me, got my Coke and went to a booth to look at the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine I dearly loved for its funny cartoons. When I left to go get [mom’s sister] Betty at Thomas’ Jewelry (I’d worked there Saturday afternoons and evenings for quite awhile) John was still sitting up front on a bar stool. I stopped to show him a cartoon, he asked me if I’d like to go to the movie and I said yes after I’d told Betty I wouldn’t be walking home with her. John wasn’t really sure who I was ’til he walked me home and saw Dad’s picture. I knew he hadn’t been with a girl for over 2 years so when he was leaving I kissed him on his lips (yips as [granddaughter] Bridget used to say) and I suppose it turned out to be too much for him.

Heh. Classic mama. I’m still trying not to think too much about that kissing stuff, though. Kinda disgusting, even at this stage of the game. 🙂 Remember, remember the 10th of November, a key date in Maney family history.

Deacon Terry Gatwood: Master Builders

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent C, November 6, 2016, 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: Haggai 1.15b-2.9; Psalm 145.1-5, 18-22; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17; Luke 20.27-38.

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

I am not a master builder. If any of you ever ask me to help you with a building project I will show you pictures of the home remodeling I’ve been doing for the past four years in our home. They should provide you with at least a little laugh, and also assure you that I’m not your guy.

I’m slow, I not terribly well skilled in carpentry, and even if I know how to do something in the area of building or home improvement you can bet that I’ll stress over it to the point that I talk myself into calling in my dad, father-in-law, or the local handyman. But when I do something a couple of times I do all right. I get used to building the thing and can repeat it over and over again until I’m at least proficient. It’s just getting me past that initial phase where I’m not confident that is the monumental task. (And also, I really don’t like to spend money if I can help it…I was raised by a tightwad, and I tend to be one myself).

The house that my family and I now occupy was once owned by my step-father’s aunt and uncle. I remember what it used to look like before the owners in between us and them. It was beautiful. It was the kind of house that you’d see in a magazine, laid out in full color with gorgeous floors, the plush carpeting that made your feet feel like you were walking on pillows, and woodwork that was void of imperfection and looked like it was just built. The cabinets were a delightful oak, and were like a warm and cozy hug in the country kitchen during those cold months when all you could do was sit inside and sip on a warm mug of the delicious black coffee that filled the whole house with its alluring scent. It was the kind of house that anyone would be happy to call home.

But that was twenty years ago. By the time my wife and I bought it the house just looked sad. It was getting a bit run down, the evidence of a lagging local economy and the inability to keep it in tip top shape. Over the last few years we’ve done what we could do to make it the warm and cozy place that I remember from my childhood. I’m constantly chasing after that vision of what it used to be, and sometimes I get disappointed in my lack of skill and ability to make that vision come to life again.

Much was the case during this morning’s lesson from the Prophet Haggai. The first wave of the exiled is returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. They need a house of worship around which their whole national life can once again be centered. The word of the Lord comes to the Prophet Haggai in the early part of the first chapter, where the Lord remarks that the people have built and are now living in their paneled houses. They have left the Lord’s house in ruins. The people are eating, but never having enough; they are drinking, but cannot drink their fill. They clothe themselves, but can’t get warm. Even their harvests aren’t producing the food that they should. The Lord then commands them to build his house, and to consider their ways. It is God who is causing them to be lacking because they have forgotten to take care of building the house where their lives are to be centered on their God in holy worship.

“Look at this place,” God says to them. “Just look at it. Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”

Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed, and its treasures carried away. What was left was nothing more than a heap of stuff lying around. It must have been disheartening to see the most important house in their lives, the place where the glory of the Lord is to reside among them and where they will offer their worship, simply scattered and broken like a big lego house left by the kids on the living room floor in the middle of the night that has been stepped on by dad in the dark. Just crushed was the building, and likewise their spirits about it.
But God says to them, “Yet now be strong.” He says this three times, “be strong.”

“But what have we to offer here to build something new out of what was left in ruins? How nice can we make this in comparison to that which God once had here for his place?”, they must have been thinking. There wasn’t much hope when one looked upon these ruins and remembered the glory of the Temple which once stood so tall there in Jerusalem.

But God says to them, “Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant I made with you when you came out of Egypt.” God reminds them of how he personally instructed them and went with them through that whole arduous journey of fleeing from Egypt, receiving the commandments of the Lord as a safeguard for them to keep the eternal covenant initiated by God for them, and the hardships they endured through the desert years before they finally entered into the promised land. Through it all, God was with them.

“My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of Hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations, so that the treasures of all the nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.”

God has promised these people that their work, no matter how less impressive it would be in comparison to the work done on Solomon’s Temple, will be gorgeous in the Lord’s sight, because it is work that the Spirit of God himself is overseeing and guiding his people to do. And God will show his favor to his people by bringing back into this new Temple his glory, his presence, that he may dwell in the land with his people, and his people with him. Silver and gold, and all the things of the earth, already belong to God, and he will ensure that those things return to where they should be. It will be a beautiful sight in its own right, regardless of what it looks like when one of them remembers the old Temple. “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.”

God’s people have been called to do the building. Some may not have the skills necessary to build something that will necessarily be awe-inspiring to the untrained eye, but it will be something that God has lead them to do, and God will glorify it all the more because of the faithful work done by his people by the guidance of the Spirit. It will be spectacular, and there peace shall be found.

It is in our Gospel lesson today that we start to understand what this peace is, when the glory of God, which had departed the Temple in Ezekiel chapters 8-11, returns to the Temple in the person of Jesus Christ as he teaches.

Again in this passage some of the Sadducees are trying to tie Jesus up with questions. These Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection (so they’re sad, you see?) and they ask him to whom a woman shall be married at the resurrection if she had followed the law and married multiple brothers after the previous ones had died. This is the ultimate tricky hypothetical question someone who didn’t believe in the resurrection could ask Jesus. He replies that in the resurrection the situation will not be like it is now; currently there are those who marry and are given in marriage. Yet, in the resurrection life there will be no marrying or giving in marriage. These cannot die anymore, and thus they have no need of marriage in the resurrected life. Even Moses showed in the passage about the bush the fact of the resurrection: “He calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” These three are named, long after their deaths, because God is still very much their God and they are his people. Death is not all there is, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him, and all who have died in the Lord look forward to that day when they shall be resurrected unto eternal life in the body, just as happened in Jesus.

Jesus is preaching to them peace, and showing forth the glory of God in the Temple once more. The Lord has not forgotten his covenant with his people, and he still calls his people to continue building his kingdom now. For while death may seem hopeless to those without hope, we have a living hope that God will once again restore us and build us into his eternal kingdom, alive as blocks in his building, with Jesus Christ, the once dead and resurrected, as the chief cornerstone. God is still building us into his people, us here at St. Augustine’s, and those whom he is calling now to join with us in this work of showing forth the Lord’s glory and Gospel to a world who needs it so dearly. And by these efforts we do see people coming into his kingdom because we are building for God a home in our parish where they may come and worship God with us, and receive the same peace of God.

This building that we do is often in the intangibles. We encourage one another; we eat together, pray together, and spend quality fellowship time with one another outside the times of our principle worship services. We share our faith and hope in Jesus Christ by both word and deed. But we also work in the tangibles of building according to the Lord’s call when we help those in need through the discretionary fund, through our own tithing and special offerings, through the homeless bags, feeding the hungry, and many other things. We have seen the vision and heard the call to do these good things to build God’s kingdom here and now.

And we are now beginning to hear the call and see the vision for something else more tangible for Saint Augustine’s. A center of worship and our communal life together. A place where we are rooted and invested within our community, and where the peace of God may be found in Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. Somewhere that is set-aside as God’s house, where we may regularly gather in Westerville to honor and bless our God. No matter what it looks like, with him guiding our work it will be beautiful in his sight, just like the Temple built by those to whom Haggai prophesied.

God is calling us to be builders in many ways. Maybe for some through the ability to construct buildings, others through the ministries they’re already involved in, and others still in ways we haven’t yet thought of or prayed about.

Listen to the Lord’s voice as you read your Scriptures this week, and ask him to show you how you might become a master builder for his kingdom.

May we build something for you in our lives together and let us be strong, our Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Augustine Muses on the Saints of God

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19.25-26

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

–Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

One of the reasons I love Augustine is that he was never afraid to be real. As we read his description of the saints, we cannot help but wonder how these folks can be enjoying their rest with their Lord. I mean, look at their flaws Augustine is pointing out!

Here’s the answer. They have died with Christ and so are raised with him (Romans 6.8) They were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism so that they might rise with him in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And when they were alive, their lives were hidden with Christ (Colossians 3.3-4).

For you see, it is not about the saints or our worthiness. None of us is worthy to stand before God in God’s perfect holiness! Rather, it is about what God has done for us in Jesus so that through his death we might enjoy real peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5.111). In Jesus, God condemned sin in the flesh so that we might be equipped to live with God forever, both here on earth in the power of the Spirit and in God’s promised new creation (Romans 8.3-418-25). This is what Jesus reminds us in the passage above from Matthew and that’s why we have hope for the Christian dead and ourselves on All Saints Day. Jesus is Lord, even over death!

Is this your hope or are you clinging to something less which is bound to fail? On this All Saints Day may God grant you the grace, wisdom, and courage to embrace the hope offered to you in Jesus. Come celebrate our victory over death in Christ this Sunday as we celebrate the communion of saints!