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

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

A Prayer from George Herbert on His Feast Day (1)

My God, what is a heart? Silver, or gold, or precious stone, or star, or rainbow, or a part of all these things, or all of them in one? My God, what is a heart, that you should eye it so, and woo, pouring upon it all you are, as if you had nothing else to do? Teach me your love to know; that this new light which now I see, may both the work and the workman show: then be a sunbeam I will climb to thee.

—The Temple

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

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.