Chris Pappalardo (CT): Don’t Worry, There Are More Demons Than You Think

A very thoughtful meditation on Halloween (and beyond) with which I wholeheartedly agree. We don’t take the powers seriously, and this is to our peril.

All of this might sound like bad news. But it’s really good news that only sounds like bad news. You see, when we face an evil institution, we are facing more than an evil institution (that’s the bad news). But we are facing a problem we know how to overthrow (that’s the good news). We do not overcome spirits through better techniques or wiser social strategy. That way lies the way of the Dragon.

Instead, we overcome the powers of darkness in systemic evil the same way we grow in the mundane work of individual sanctification—through humble reliance on the power of Christ’s Spirit. And we do so with hope, because God has promised that he will not start a work unless he intends to finish it (Phil. 1:6). The cross of Christ proves to us the lengths that God will go in redeeming his creation. And the resurrection of Christ proves to us that no power of darkness, however strong, gets the final say (1 Cor. 15:22–24, 51–55).

There are still spirits of darkness at work in this world. And they do not limit their activity to one evening in late October. But God has armed us with a stronger Spirit, and it is not a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). So when we consider the enduring problem of racism in our society, or the political fracturing our nation is undergoing, or the prevalence of abuse in our own churches, we need not be naïve to be resolutely hopeful. The dark spirits at work in this world are bigger and stronger than we usually think. The battle we wage against them will take time. There will be losses and casualties along the way.

But we cannot forget that the verdict on the ultimate battle has already been declared. The powers and principalities may continue to wreak havoc, but the apostle Paul reminds us that they are flailing in the death throes of defeat. The powers were put to open shame by our Savior, who triumphed over them on Calvary (Col. 2:15). So we do not fight for victory; rather, with the cross at our back, we fight from victory.

Read it all.

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Jesus the Eternal Priest Who Sympathizes with Us

Sermon delivered on the last Sunday after Trinity B, October 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

We continue our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews. If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 42.1-6, 10-1; Psalm 34.1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 10.46-52.

Who can intercede for us? Who will sympathize with us?

Let me begin with a dialogue between God and a certain dead man.  When he realized it, he saw God coming closer with a suitcase in his hand.

God:  Alright Son, it’s time to go.

Man:  So soon? I had lot of plans

God:  I am sorry but it’s time to go.

Man:  What do you have in that suitcase?

God:  Your belongings.

Man:  My belongings?  You mean my things such as clothes, money etc

God:  Those things were never yours.   They belong to the earth.

Man:  It it my memories?

God:  No.  They belong to Time

Man:  Is it my talent?

God:  No.  They belong to circumstances.

Man:  Is it my friends and family?

God:  No son.  They belong to the path you travelled.

Man:  Is it my wife and children?

God:  No.  They belong to your Heart.

Man:  Then it must be my body.

God:  No, No. It belongs to Dust.

Man:  Then surely it must be my soul.

God:   You are sadly mistaken son.  Your soul belongs to me.

Man has tears in his eyes and filled with fear, took the suitcase from God’s hand and opened it. And found empty.  With heart broken and tears rolling down on his cheeks he asked God:

Man:  Do I ever own anything?

God:  Nothing. You never owned anything.

I want you to have dialogue with God now when we are alive to know to whom we belong, and realize we have an advocate and mediator who reaches us in our heart broken situations and who loves to console us and sympathize with us.  He is our perpetual priest offered his life for us that we have life in him forever.

Is there any one whom I can rely on?

How dose I relate to Jesus Christ in my need of direction and salvation?

We know from the author of the Hebrews that this letter he primarily meant for the Jews who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian faith because of persecutions.  Author emphasizing superiority of Christ as a divine son of the Living God and the new covenant to Moses, prophets and the old covenant.

Hebrews 7:23-25 deals with Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ in comparison with the priests of order of the Aaron who came, lived and died when the need of frequent replacement of priests.

Christ Jesus is eternal, having no beginning and no ending. Therefore His priesthood is unchangeable.

John 1:2-3 “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

How is Jesus the eternal priesthood? 

  He overcame sin and the death being humble, obedient and offered himself as an unblemished lamb for the forgiveness of sins of the world. (Phil 2:8-11).

And made atonement for the sin of the world as high priest.

Jesus no longer is subject to death after the resurrection.  He lives forever.  Jesus is able to save those who approach God through Him.  (John 3:16-18)  God so loved the world…..

• To be saved through Him

• One has to choose to make a decision to approach God through Jesus.

• Believe Jesus as the one sent by God.

Why it is so important that we profess our faith in Christ?

Why do we witness to Christ Jesus as the REDEEMER?

This is the reason:

John 3:18 whoever believes in him will not be condemned but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God.

Therefore dear friends let us choose light of Christ though the world chooses to accept darkness to the light of Christ.

May we reflect on the questions like what was the work of the ancient priests?

How is the priesthood of Christ differ from the Levite priest of the time?

What is the character of priesthood of Christ?

How does the Salvation possible?

What is the solution to our problem of Sin, Guilt, and Spiritual death?

Exodus 29:38-42.  The Law described daily burnt offerings of bulls and lambs to please God.

The most significant work of the high priest takes place on the Day of Atonement, when he makes the atonement for the sins of the nation. Whereas Jesus has no need to offer sacrifices of animals or do burnt offerings.  Because he sacrificed himself on the cross was once for all the time.  He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat. He endured the shame of the sin for us to bring us into the fellowship with God the Father.

One key difference is the priestly order to which they belong whereas Jesus, through God’s calling, serves as a priest in the order of Melchizedek.  The priest hood of Jesus remains forever.  Jesus’ eternal priest hood offers salvation whereas the Levitical priesthood could not achieve. Jesus and Melchizedek, a priest forever without lineage. Melchizedek was king of Salem, king of peace, king of righteousness.  So is our Lord Jesus; he by His righteousness made peace and greeted peace to everyone he met on earth. And he is the priest of most high God.  Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine to refresh Abraham and his servants when they were weary and blessed them.  Then Abraham gave him a tenth part of all. Abraham did this an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedek had done for him, as a testimony of his homage, as an offering vowed for him and dedicated to God (Genesis14:18). The Levitical priesthood was blessed by Melcheisedek for the tithe offered by Abraham. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of love and gratitude to Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favors we receive from him.  This is the time we need to be reminded of God’s blessings and gratitude to God and His people with the gift of tithes.

It is essential for every Christian to understand the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead is the guarantee our salvation if we believe it. Anyone who ignores such a great salvation for being lured away by sin and unbelief is already condemned.

Hebrews 2:3 “how shall we escape if we ignore such a salvation…?”

Hebrews 4:14-16: Therefore, since we have a high priest who has gone through heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to Sympathizes with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

This is what we see in today’s gospel Mark 10:46-52 we hear Jesus calls Bartimaeus and heals Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.

As Jesus was walking by him in Jericho, Bartimaeus heard who it was that was passing and called out to Him “Jesus, son of David, Have mercy on me” by calling Jesus the son of David, the blind man was affirming his belief that Jesus was Messiah (see 2 Samuel 7: 14 16) The people told Bartimaeus to be quiet, but kept calling out, even more loudly and persistently than before.  This is further proof of his faith.  He believed that Jesus was not like the other religious leaders, who believed that individual’s poverty or blindness or bad circumstances were a result of God’s judgement.  He knows like psalmist that our God who cares for the poor and the brokenhearted (P34:6, 18).

The creator of heaven and earth stood still when he heard the cry of the blind Bartimaeus. Jesus calls him to come to him and asks him what do you want me to do for you?  The beggar could ask for the money or food that he usually do every day from the people.  He didn’t even seek the opinion of the people but he asked for most important need that refers his faith in Jesus. He could witness to Jesus Christ that he is true messiah. He exercised his trust in Jesus as the son of God. He said “Rabbi, I want to see.” He determined to see Jesus. He desired to see Messiah.   He trusted Jesus that the merciful savior will willingly grant sight to him.  Jesus says your faith has healed you,” and the blind Bartimaeus instantly recovered his sight and followed Jesus.

By saying “your faith has made you well,” Jesus emphasizes the necessity of faith.   Jesus showed once again that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6) it is not enough that we have faith in God within our hearts, but we should be able to express it, indicate it and witness to it through our lives.

Hebrews11:1 “now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

The story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus is a spiritual icon that should make us aware of our sins, our blindness and incapacity. We may be blind to injustice and blind to discrimination of any kind and unable to see Jesus in others.

I want you reflect on the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus “what do you want me to do for you?  What is your response?  What is your most important need you have? 

 Do you ask for power, wealth, comfort, houses, health or any material things?

Be reminded of your own request and response for the request by Jesus.  Because Jesus answered the prayer of Bartimaeus but did not answer the prayer of mother of John and James.

John 11:41-42   we know from the mouth of Jesus that he prays to God to raise Lazarus. Jesus did many miracles to glorify God, the almighty.

The prayer and faith of the Canaanite woman was answered.

The prayer and the faith of the centurion of Capernaum was answered (Mathew 8:10).

Psalm 145:19 God will fulfill the desires of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry and will save them.

Luke 7:11-17 Jesus went to a town called Nain and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowed from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and said “DON’T CRY.”…..THEN HE WENT UP AND TOUCHED THE COFFIN, AND THOSE CARRYING IT STOOD STILL.  HE SAID, “YOUNG MAN, I SAY TO YOU, GET UP.  THE DEAD MAN SAT UP AND BEGAN TO TALK AND JESUS GAVE HIM BACK TO HIS MOTHER.

We can maintain perfect confidence in God’s rich promises, regardless of our circumstances, by meditating on the rock solid faithfulness of God’s workings in our lives. Because our God feels pain with us, feels sympathy for us in our emptiness, in our loneliness and in all our troubles of this material world and sickness and death.

May we receive the robe of righteousness through priesthood of Jesus Christ to enter into eternal life.  Amen.

Learning Obedience Through What??

Sermon delivered on Trinity 21B, Sunday, October 21, 2018 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: Job 38.1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104.1-10, 26, 37; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45.

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

This morning we continue our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews with its focus almost exclusively on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin. In our epistle lesson the writer of Hebrews makes the strange statement that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5.8). What on earth does that mean and what does that mean for us as Christians? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

As we did two weeks ago we come to Hebrews by way of Job. In the story of Job we have seen how God allowed the Satan to afflict Job with great loss and suffering of all kinds to prove Satan’s accusation that in the face of severe suffering and deprivation, Job would fold like a bad poker hand and curse God. Job didn’t and Satan is no longer in the picture, having been shown to be the liar he is. But that left all kinds of unanswered questions for Job and his “comforters,” mainly about why God afflicted Job. His “comforters” maintained that Job’s afflictions were the result of his sins. But Job adamantly denied this. He claimed he was blameless (not sinless) and therefore didn’t deserve this kind of treatment from God (and we are tempted to add, who does deserve that kind of treatment?) and demanded a hearing before the Lord himself. Well, in today’s OT lesson, Job got his wish (careful what you wish for, Job, you may get it). 

The story of Job points us to the greater mystery of suffering in this mortal life and throws cold water in our face by reminding us that we live in a world afflicted by Sin and Evil, a world and its creatures, ourselves included, that labor under God’s curse because of our sin and the evil it unleashed and continues to unleash (Genesis 3.14-19). For our purposes this morning, living in an evil-infested and cursed world can lead to two possible negative human reactions to the chaos and enigma of human suffering in which the good sometimes seem to suffer excessively (like Job did) while the wicked sometimes get off apparently scott-free. When we who actually believe in God experience this chaos and mystery we tend to think that either God has checked out on us—like when the prophet Isaiah cried out in anguish as he contemplated the unthinkable horror of God allowing his people to go into exile for their sins, “Truly you are a God who hides [yourself]. (Isaiah 45.15)—or we can fall into despair, realizing that while our own sins separate us from the love and Presence of God, we are truly incapable of breaking our slavery to Sin’s power or freeing ourselves from living in a God-cursed world. Either reaction can cause us to lose our faith and trust in God. If we think God has checked out on us, we tend to become apathetic and cynical and seek other gods like sex, power, money, security, or more recently identity politics. If we despair over our slavery to Sin and the chaos of living in a cursed world, we can fall into depression or hedonism, ultimately rejecting God because of our powerlessness. Both views have in common the notion that God is not big enough to handle our problems or the world’s. But our OT and psalm lessons emphatically reject that false notion. In asking Job if he was there at creation, the answer of course was no. God’s point to Job and us is that there are things beyond our ability to understand, but not God’s. Instead, when we are afflicted, we are to trust God to see us through the darkest valleys. But why should we trust God? Enter our lesson from the letter to the Hebrews with its focus on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin.

As we have just seen, we are enslaved by the alien and hostile powers of Sin and Death so that we are unable to free ourselves from the sins that dehumanize, shame, and oppress us. Need proof? How about those new year’s resolutions you made last January? How they working out for you? Or how about your various addictions, both great and small? Have you been able to free yourself from them by your own power? Resolve to treat your spouse better or to do that next great thing, only to be stymied? Or how about the times you really tried to help someone out only to be lambasted for your efforts? Look at your confessions. Are you confessing the same sins over and over? No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we repent, it isn’t good enough. God’s people Israel also found this out the hard way. Despite their occasional repentance, despite the reform efforts of godly kings, God sent his people Israel packing for their sins. Self-help was not enough. In fact, self-help is a delusion.

And let’s be clear about why God reacts to sin this way. It’s not because God is an angry, vindictive being who wants to rain on our parade and who works very hard to make sure we aren’t having any fun or enjoying life (as if our sins were the key to enjoying life; who in their right mind really thinks that???). No, it’s because God is good and just and holy that he detests anything that corrupts his creation or us. Think about those who ordered the extermination of six million Jews during WWII. Is it OK for God to wink and look the other way over that? Or closer to home, think about the woman who’s body was discovered burning in a local park. Can a good and just God simply ignore that? Good luck telling that to her family who grieves over her horrific death. No, a good God cannot and will not ignore sin and evil. That’s why God cursed the world in the first place: to show his utter hostility to anything evil. Not only do our sins corrupt and dehumanize us, they destroy relationships of all kinds, especially ours with God. But God did not create us to destroy us. He created us to have a relationship with him, and he will oppose anything or anyone who attempts to corrupt, pervert, and/or destroy his good creation and image-bearing creatures. The whole promise of new creation with its absence of sin and anything evil is based on the fact that God isn’t some doting old grandpa who winks at our sin and the evil it produces/unleashes. Nothing is further from the truth and we can thank God for that!

So what does that have to do with our epistle lesson and its claim that the Son of God learned obedience through suffering, or with Job’s message that the God we worship is big enough to handle all our problems and the world’s? Just this. The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God” (Hebrews 5.7). He is talking about our Lord’s struggle in Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion. Before we comment on this, let’s hear St. Luke describe what took place.

Jesus…went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to [this time of trial].” He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to [this time of trial]” (Luke 22.39-46).

Do you get a sense of what’s going on here? Jesus had been at war with the forces of evil and was tempted throughout his entire ministry to surrender to the demands of the Satan. The demons shriek as Jesus exorcised them from their victims, demonstrating that God’s power is greater than their own. As we saw in our gospel lesson, the dark powers even worked through Jesus’ disciples to tempt him to establish his rule as God’s Son in accordance with the way a cursed world defines true leadership—by lording it over others. Now here in dark Gethsemane we see our Lord struggling in the shadows of darkness with his last and greatest temptation. Both St. Luke and the writer of Hebrews want us to see that even though Jesus is God’s Son, he is also fully human and therefore subject to all the temptations and weaknesses we face. If, after all, in Jesus God really did condemn our sin in the flesh to spare us from his terrible judgment as St. Paul maintained (Romans 8.3-4), God needed a sinless body to do that, i.e., Jesus had to be fully human for God to deal once and for all with the power of Sin that enslaves us.

So now in our two lessons Jesus, being fully human and about to bear the collective weight of the world’s sins, your sins and mine, is confronted with the horror of doing that. We see our Lord somehow taking on the emotional misery our own sins produce: the shame, guilt, despair; the sense of hopelessness, total discouragement, and utter defeat we all experience over our being slaves to the power of Sin. We see our Lord beginning to understand the utter godforsakenness of the cross and somehow anticipating his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me!” as he would experience God’s wrath and condemnation of all our sins so that we would be spared from judgment. Who in their right mind would want to undergo such suffering and experience being utterly godforsaken? And what did our Lord do? He sweat blood as the full realization of what he must soon undergo swept over him like a tsunami, and he asked his Father to be released from having to endure it. Here we see the full humanity of Christ at work. As the coeternal Son, Jesus willingly agreed to give up his glory and become human to die for us (Philippians 2.6-8). In his human form, however, the horror of his mission threatened to overwhelm him and that is the scene St. Luke and the writer of Hebrews invite us to contemplate. Pay attention, my beloved because you are witnessing your salvation unfolding. 

Of course, God said “No” to his beloved Son’s request. God had to if God loved us and wanted to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death. Jesus knew that too. But in denying the Son’s request, the Father sent angels to give Jesus strength to complete his godforsaken task, and in resisting this final temptation to be spared from the cross, our Lord and his work came to its full completion or perfection. Jesus had always willingly obeyed his Father. Now in the darkest night he learned fully as a human what his obedience meant—suffering for the sake of the world. In taking on our sins and dying our death so as to spare us from God’s just and right judgment on our sins—and here’s one of the punch lines so listen up!—he understood exactly the same feeling we have (in much lesser degree) when we are angry with ourselves and so filled with shame and self-loathing that we cannot believe that God can do anything but hate us for our evil. Jesus knows what that is like. He went the whole way and took the full brunt for us. The next time you experience that self-loathing over your sins and think that God can only hate you, go back to Gethsemane with your Savior and see him sweating blood for you as he prepares to shed his blood for you to spare you from your just-desserts. Then come to his Table and feed on him by faith with thanksgiving. If this doesn’t make your heart overflow with love for God the Father for his great love for you demonstrated in God the Son’s sacrifice for your sins and made real and available to you in God the Holy Spirit, go see an exorcist because you are being totally deceived by the Evil One and his minions. No one, I repeat, no one is outside the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen?

And what does this great love cost us? On one hand, nothing. There is nothing we can do to earn it and it is offered freely to one and all. Christ’s death and resurrection witness to the fact that while we are all called to repentance, only God is powerful enough to conquer the powers of Sin and Death for us. Our repentance can’t do that; it can only open us up to God’s forgiveness. As St. Paul reminds us, in our baptism we share in a death like Christ’s so we can also share in a resurrection like his. When we are Christ’s we share in his life-giving death.

On the other hand, Christ’s death will cost us everything. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “God qualified Jesus as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him” (Hebrews 5.9). So the cost of our salvation is our obedience to Christ. But doesn’t that go against the inviolable truth that we are saved by grace through faith alone? No it does not. Faith is much more than articulating statements of belief. If we have real faith in Christ, in his saving death and resurrection, it will produce obedience to his commands. Obedience to our Lord’s teaching and way of life is the best indicator of faith we can demonstrate: to God, to ourselves, and to the world. Obedience is often very hard because we are so profoundly broken. And we will fail in our obedience because we are “cracked pots” as our own St. Augustine used to say, and that can lead us into despair. If you are tempted to fall into despair over this, STOP IT!! Stop it because as we’ve just seen, in Christ, God has broken the power of Sin over you and taken away the Father’s judgment on your own stinking sins.

Now unlike exorcising demons, the power of the cross is much less obvious to us. But we are resurrection people, my beloved. We have seen the shame and godforsakenness of the cross, but we’ve experienced the risen Lord and know the reality of his Resurrection. We believe he is our great High Priest who loves us, who intercedes for us, and who is infinitely gentle and patient with us in our weakness and infirmity. He knows all about being a human being because he was and is the only true and perfect human being. The Resurrection proclaims the truth that the powers of Sin and Death have been decisively defeated on the cross and we can joyfully await our Lord’s return to complete his work. Until then, we live by faith and this shouldn’t be so hard for us to believe. Think about it. During World War II, shortly after the success of D-Day, most observers knew the Nazis had been defeated. But the war still had to be fought for another long, hard year, including the costly Battle of the Bulge that following winter. The Nazis were defeated but not yet vanquished. Likewise with Sin, Death, and the evil powers. They are toast but they have not been vanquished. So we live by faith in the midst of all the chaos in our lives. This “already-not yet” reality also means we will suffer for our obedience to Christ because the dark powers, while defeated, are still quite active. The minute we give our lives to Christ is the minute we find ourselves at war. But we have our own D-Day. It’s called Easter and our liberation is at hand—partially now, fully when our Lord returns. So come, Lord Jesus, come. Until then be our great High Priest. Fill us with your Spirit and give us the grace to live out our faith in you by being obedient to your call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow you. We can’t do this on our own power and there will be many tears and many fears along the way. But you will strengthen us because you know first-hand what it is like. This all reminds us that we have your Good News to offer and claim, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Jesus Our Great High Priest

Sermon delivered on Trinity 20B, Sunday, October 14, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Fr. Sang is learning how to write (we think). Until then, you’ll have to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10.17-31.

But We See Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 19B, October 7, 2018 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: Job 1.1, 2.1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1.1-4, 2.5-12; Mark 10.2-16.

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

Today we begin our preaching and teaching series on the letter to the Hebrews, a massively important but often-neglected book in the NT. We will be focusing on the assigned readings from Hebrews through Christ the King Sunday at the end of November. October is also stewardship month, where we will be encouraging you to reflect on your favorite topic—giving your money to advance the Lord’s kingdom work on earth. This will culminate on Pledge Sunday on October 28, where we will offer our pledges for the coming fiscal year starting in January. There’s a lot to do and reflect on in the coming weeks!

We begin our study of Hebrews by way of Job. What are we to make of that strange story about God assembling an angelic council, apparently to make policy for running creation, contrary to our epistle lesson’s bold claim that God subjected all creation to the control of humans? And since the Satan was among them, were those on the council actually rebellious angels? Is this an example of Scripture having a split personality and contradicting itself? Well no, because as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, humans do not exercise their God-given task of being in complete control over God’s good creation—that apparently has to wait until God’s new creation arrives—and we all know this to be painfully true. There are many things beyond our control that afflict creation and us: death, destruction, human nastiness, Sin, Evil and disasters of all kinds, to name just a few. The result? We see life riddled with anxiety and we experience disorientation and disruption. No, as the writer of Hebrews says in massive understatement, “we do not yet see everything in subjection to [humans]” and this is where the book of Job comes into play because it explores the riddle and mystery of what has happened now that we have abdicated our God-given responsibility to rule. Something or someone has to rule in our place and our abdication of that privilege by way of our sin and rebellion opened the door for the dark powers of Evil to usurp our rightful role as rulers. But how can an all-powerful God allow Evil to operate in his world so that even the innocent are afflicted by it? Why doesn’t God just fill the void? God clearly remains in charge. The Satan could only do to Job what God allowed. In presenting these mysteries, Job challenges the OT principle of retribution in this life, that God afflicts and punishes the wicked while rewarding the righteous with all kinds of spiritual and material prosperity. 

In the story we see Job, who clearly was a righteous man in God’s eyes and had indeed enjoyed God’s blessings, being afflicted with God’s permission by the Satan—and please, let’s leave behind our childish concepts of Satan as looking like some bad cartoon character and grow up in our thinking about Evil so that we see it for what it is— to see whether he will curse God. We as readers are aware of this heavenly intrigue, i.e., of the dark powers usurping our role as rulers, but Job is not. This begs the real question, however: Why does God allow the forces of Evil to operate at all to corrupt God’s good creation? Nowhere do we find an answer to this existential question. We are told that God limits the destructive power of Evil but does not banish it in his creation. Why not? Clearly God’s creative purposes for both his creation and image-bearing creatures are being thwarted, so why would God allow that? Scripture doesn’t say. To be sure, Scripture does offer us partial answers to questions about Evil. As we have seen, human sin allowed Evil to get a toehold in God’s good world so that now we and all creation live under God’s curse. A cursed world can account for a good deal of the evil in God’s creation but not all of it. Nor are we told why the serpent was present in the garden in the first place to work his evil. Further, we are told that human sin and folly are directly responsible for all kinds of evil and suffering. But we are not told why God allows the forces of Evil behind our sin to continue to operate to corrupt and destroy God’s good world and people’s lives. What the NT does answer is what God is doing about this resident Evil and we are expected to live with all the riddles, ambiguity, and unanswered questions and trust God’s good plan for the redemption of all creation and our own. Enter the letter to the Hebrews and more precisely, enter Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews starts by reminding us of a breath-taking reality, that God the Father, God the Creator of this vast universe, has acted decisively and lovingly on behalf of his weak and rebellious image-bearing creatures to rescue us from our predicament. To be sure, our ongoing sin and rebellion grieves God’s heart to its very core. But God did not give up on his creation or us. Instead God became human in the person of Jesus and entered human history, something I fear we Christians have heard so often that we’ve lost the awesome wonder of this claim, to act decisively against the outside powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. God did not act outside history to defeat these dark powers. Instead, God became human (or in NT language, God the Father sent his only begotten Son) to suffer and die for us to free us from the terrible and deadly consequences of our sin and folly, and to break the power of Evil in our lives so that we are no longer its slaves. God did this in Christ’s death and resurrection and then by sending the Holy Spirit to live in each of us to make our risen and ascended Lord’s presence real and known to us, thereby enabling us to overcome our fallen human nature and the forces of Evil who hate us and assail us on a regular basis. None of this plays out in an easy or straightforward manner as we all can attest. Sometimes we miss the mark and fall off the proverbial wagon. Sometimes we choose to be willfully stubborn and rebellious toward God. Sometimes we are just plain stupid. Despite all this, however, the writer of Hebrews makes the stunning and audacious claim that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we not only find forgiveness of our sins but real power to resist and overcome evil. That is one of the underlying points in our gospel lesson this morning. If there weren’t power available for our hard hearts to be remade into human ones, Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce would be hopelessly idealistic. But the fact remains that while some (many?) of us have succumbed to divorce, many more have struggled and succeeded in remaining faithful to their marriage vows despite great obstacles and odds. This fact alone attests to the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in God’s people. 

Moreover, the writer of Hebrews makes clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s decisive action against the dark powers and the power of Sin that corrupts us and causes death to reign. But the war is not over as we all know. Final victory awaits Jesus’ return. Until then, we won’t see humans fulfilling their God-given commission to rule God’s world, but we do see Jesus paving the way for that to happen by casting out demons, ruling over the forces of nature, bringing healing of all kinds, and finally dying a God-forsaken and terrible death for us and taking on himself all the awful consequences of our sin and rebellion so that we can ultimately live in God’s new world to fulfill God’s original creative purposes for us as human beings. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the promise to be valid and true. 

What does all this mean to us as Christians who struggle to live faithful lives? First, as we are buffeted by darkness and suffering in God’s world and our lives, we are tempted to believe that God has given up on his world and us. The reality of Jesus reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. God has not abandoned us. Neither does God hate us. The existence of Jesus Christ reveals to us the great love the Father has for his rebellious creatures and the length and depth he will go to reclaim us and his world so that we can one day enjoy creation as God always intended for us. It’s a free gift offered to us and we better have the wisdom to accept the gift of God’s good grace. If Jesus really is God, and we know him to be, then we have received the definitive revelation about who God is and what God’s intentions are for his world and us. No further revelation is needed and we are called to embrace God’s offer to us to accept his forgiveness and love made known to us in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. 

This, in turn, means we must make a decision to accept or reject the healing and forgiving love of Christ. In reality we do both simultaneously in our lives because none of us loves God perfectly like Jesus did as a human. But we see Jesus and that means we don’t bury our head in the sand or wring our hands in despair. It means that when the forces of darkness threaten to overwhelm us we look to Jesus for strength, refreshment, and encouragement. When we do, it must change us, especially when we remember that we have God’s very Spirit living in us, testifying to us the truth about God’s love and rescue of us from Evil, Sin, and Death in Jesus. So we continue to move forward, following Jesus, learning to give our lives to him completely. This means we choose to love and forgive our enemies and those who revile us. It means we are implacably opposed to evil and injustice and are resolved in the power of the Spirit to be agents of God’s goodness, love, mercy, and justice. It means that we go to Scripture to learn and be reminded of the story of the Good News of our salvation, and we struggle with God in prayer. It means we are given the power to sometimes just endure, but always with hope because if we really do see Jesus, we must be people of hope. And it means we give our financial resources to help advance the Kingdom work. God has given generously to us. Are we not to respond likewise to God? Given the importance of money in our culture, this is perhaps the best litmus test of our love for and faith in God. Of course, Kingdom work does not take place exclusively in the confines of parish ministry, although that is important. Sound preaching, administering the sacraments, and godly fellowship are critical components of worship and worship is critical if we ever hope to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But Kingdom work goes on outside our parish and is an important part of our stewardship. So, for example, in addition to giving ten percent of our income to St. Augustine’s, the Maneys give regularly to the ASCPA and to Faith Mission because we believe they engage in good and holy work. How we spend our money will give us a keen insight into the state of our faith in Jesus. I don’t say this to lay a guilt trip on you. I say it to remind you that Kingdom work involves every dimension of our lives from worship to fellowship to service to giving. Everything we have comes from God who has an egregiously generous heart. Seeing Jesus in our lives and the life of the world produces hearts that are also egregiously generous and willing to share God’s abundance to help those in need. 

Therefore, my beloved, be intentional in seeing Jesus so that you will not lose heart or hope. Be intentional in seeing Jesus so he can transform your own hard heart into a truly human one. Seeing Jesus is a sometimes challenging and difficult task that requires our constant attention along with our regular worship, persistence in prayer, and engaging in fellowship with God’s people, both inside and outside our parish family. But seeing Jesus is the only real answer to our fears and anxieties about our purpose for living as well as our own fate and the fate of this good world of God’s gone bad. It is a story with a happy and healing ending and it is offered to everyone who has the good sense to accept it as well as the One who is the main character of the story. Ask God to give you the grace and power to see Jesus and follow him more completely. Doing so will affirm or reaffirm to you that you really are participating in the Good News of Jesus Christ who has rescued you from the dark powers, 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.