Fr. Santosh Madanu: Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 25, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; John 18.33-37.

An internet meme that was circulating several weeks during the presidential election, a picture of Jesus Christ, the King and it said “no matter who is elected President, Jesus Christ is still the King.”  Never have we needed to hear that message more than we’ve needed it at this present time.

It’s Christ the King Sunday.  This beautiful feast emerged from a period of great persecutions.  It is not an ancient feast.   It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements in the world wide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by the government that the government was due ultimate allegiance. At that time, it was strong sense of symbolic power.  The Russian communists came to power with the Revolution of October 1917 and Italian Fascists in October 1922 with their march on Rome.  The specific instance for the pope to make it a solemn feast was the martyrdom of the Catholic priest, Father Miguel Pro, during the revolution in Mexico whose shout and gesture just before his execution,

 “Viva Cristo Rey!” rang throughout the entire church.  The institution of this feast was almost an act of defiance by the church against the dictators who at the time were seeking to make absolute their own political ideologies, insisting boldly that no earthly power, no particular political power, military dictatorship is ever absolute.  The feast was and is restate that only the kingdom of God is Absolute. And that this kingdom is everyone’s source of power.  The year 1925 was also the sixteenth century of the Council of Nicaea which in the year 325 defined, proposed and added to the Creed the words “of His Kingdom there will be no end.” 

So today our voices come alongside those persecuted for their faith in all times and places, including in Mexico in the early twentieth century and the thousands facing persecution all over the world this very day, and with them we all proclaim in many languages, “Christ is King! Cristo Rey!”

 We read in the scripture that Christ is the King.  It starts with the expression “King of Israel and extended to that of universal King, Lord of the cosmos, and of history.  The testimonies of prophets is abundant.  In Samuel, we learn part of the Old Testament definition, as Jewish Kings were expected to be different from their gentile counterparts.  Initially led by Judges, the Israelites prayed to God to appoint a Jewish King.  Saul was the first, but David demonstrated better than any other monarch of Yahweh’s care and concern for His chosen people.  David was expected to “shepherd” His people, not to lord it over them.  He was expected to be outward sign of Yahweh’s care and love.

The same doctrine of the Kingship of Christ which we find in the O.T is more clearly taught and confirmed in the N.T.   The early followers of Jesus were just as convinced that God’s care and love for them was demonstrated through Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death and resurrection.  The historical Jesus is the outward sign of God’s kingdom of love and Truth.

Standing before  Pilate in the Pretorium, the very heart of political power, Jesus bears witness to the Truth that real power is not the ability to coerce others, but the strength to love; that true control is about the self-sacrifice; that the real life is found only through death itself.  In doing so Jesus turns our human values upside down and proclaims a new and radical form of kingship. In this encounter with Pilate, Jesus Christ offers an example for all, who like Christ, are called to bear witness to the Truth through their lives.  Throughout in the Gospel of Luke’s passion narrative, no matter how much pain Jesus is suffering, he is always concerned for others.

The cross is the paradoxical sign of His Kingship, which consists in following the loving will of God the Father in response to the disobedience of sin.  It is very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of his life that Jesus becomes King of the universe.  After the Resurrection he declares to his apostles:  “all authority in heaven and on earth has given to me.” Matthew 28:18

Regardless of who is in Washing or who rules in the capitals of the world, Jesus Christ is the only one true King of the universe.  Because “Jesus Christ same yesterday, today and forever Hebrews 13:8. The Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all things belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever.” Amen.

In what does the power of Jesus Christ the King consist?

It is not the power of great people of this world.  It is the power of Love that can save the human race from evil, sin and death.    Jesus showed us his greatest humility and love. Jesus alone could justify the glory of God.  Because he is anointed one, the messiah, the true king.

Personally, I don’t like the earthly kings who made his people slaves, who were power minded and wealth minded, who ruled the people unjustly and showed prejudices.  They were the cause of violence and wars. They were the cause of death of millions of innocent people.  Of course even today we see same kind of things going on in the world with the different name tags like dictatorship in North Korea and kings in the Middle East countries; presidents and prime ministers with their discrimination based on regions, color and religions.

I want King Jesus, who loves me, who makes me rich in virtues and blesses me with His grace.  I need Jesus my king who is absolutely Truthful, absolutely Peaceful, absolutely Loving and absolutely Compassionate. I desire the king who can save me from this evil and unjust world.

If we choose the evil king he would poison us and destroy us.  Whom do you want to choose? The earthly kings, who make us slaves or the heavily king Jesus who grants you freedom and eternal life.

Jews wanted king like other nations in the beginning and when the true king Jesus came they rejected him.  They said to Piolet we have no king but Caesar.  The consequences for not accepting Jesus as the only true king will be perishing and can’t enter the kingdom of God.

When Pilate asked Jesus, Are you the King of Jews?  Jesus answered “I came into the world to testify to the truth and everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  I accept whole heartedly that Jesus is my king and my all.  He owns my life and I belong to him and I listen to His voice of love, truth and his teaching of kingdom of God.

“Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6

What does it mean to say that Christ is my King?

It means that I belong to Jesus.  I obey His commandments. I submit totally to His love. I trust in Him. I have faith and hope in Him that he would grant me His eternal life. I am convinced that Jesus is the son of ever Living God, the Messiah, who died for my sins, who utterly spends Himself in love and in Him I subject to the Mercy and love of the God the Father.

Who do I want to follow?

Choosing Christ does not guarantee success according to world’s criteria, but assures the true peace and true joy that Christ the King alone can give us.  Choosing Christ is to make one’s life into sign of the Cross, preach Christ by daily living in His Truth in mind, heart and will.  It demands loving voluntary commitment in doing God’s will. You and I have to take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ to be saved. It is your choice, your freedom to make Christ your king or not.

Let us not be Saturday or Sunday Christians.  Society without Christ is chaos. You and I can’t make any difference being namely baptized Christians. To accept Jesus is to avoid sin.

I would like to use the analogy to help us realize the necessity to make sincere efforts and importance of being practical Christians.

Let us say you want to become good musician as a pianist or guitarist, or violin. What do you do? You practice it day after day and your hands would be paining, sometimes you would feel discouraged.  You have to spend time months and years in practice and you should persuade it till you feel confidence to play well the music instrument.

In the same way to be citizen of Kingdom of God, you and I must accept Jesus as our king and keep the commandment of unselfish love till our last breath.

The church prays to the Father in every Eucharistic celebration that Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done. Matthew 6:10.  She lives in fervent expectation of an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of Truth and the Life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, peace and love.   This expectation of the Lord is our constant source of confidence and strength.

Please say with me “Viva Cristo Rey!” Christ is the King. Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe. Amen.

Thanksgiving 2018: President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the country in which we live, warts and all.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

Mom basting the turkey at Thanksgiving

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving today. Please take a few moments and stop to give praise and thanks to God for his bountiful blessings to us as individuals and as a nation.

Among others, I am thankful for God’s gift of himself to us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and for his promise to rescue his good but corrupted creation.

I am thankful for my family and friends, past and present, and for a childhood that was second to none. I am thankful for my family of origin and for the many wonderful memories I have of Thanksgiving growing up in Van Wert. What a blessing it was to have two wonderful parents and my extended family all living in the same town.

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving 2018: A Very Brief History of Thanksgiving

After the first successful harvest in November of 1621, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebration, a festive three-day feast remembered today as America’s first “Thanksgiving.” The Governor gathered together the colonists along with a group of their Native American allies including Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe for the celebration.

The only written account of the festivities comes from Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s journal in which he describes how Governor Bradford sent out a party of four men on a “fowling” expedition prior to the celebration and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer.

Due to the lack of ovens on the Mayflower and the dwindling sugar supply by the fall of 1621 historians suggest that the traditional dinner and deserts we have today may not have been on the menu during the event. Many believe the feast more likely consisted of a variety of traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan along with local fruits and vegetables.

Read it all.

Thanksgiving 2018: A Thanksgiving Prayer

Almighty and gracious Father,
we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season
and for the labors of those who harvest them.
Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty,
for the provision of our necessities
and the relief of all who are in need,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

Thanksgiving 2018: A Thanksgiving Litany

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Thanksgiving 2018: Robert McKenzie: A First Thanksgiving Hoax

mayflower-compact-iiI first encountered William Bradford’s supposed First Thanksgiving Proclamation when my family and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some dear friends from our church.  Knowing that I was a historian, the host pulled me aside before the meal to tell me that he had found the text of Governor Bradford’s proclamation calling for the First Thanksgiving, and that he planned to read it before asking the blessing.  Here is what he had found:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

William Bradford

Ye Governor of Ye Colony

Although I was uncomfortable contradicting my host, I felt compelled to tell him that this was a hoax.  Can you figure out why?

Read it all.

A Healing Faith

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Advent, November 18, 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 than the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10.11-25; Mark 13.1-8.

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

Today we conclude our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews. It is appropriate that we do so on a Sunday designated as one of our quarterly healing services because the letter’s theme is the basis for our ultimate healing as we live out our mortal days. This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

Our epistle lesson reaches a crescendo of sorts in which the writer comes to the climax of his argument about the sacrifice of Christ. Last week we considered the grim fact that we are all slaves to that outside and hostile power we call Sin, and as long as we are enslaved by its power, we can and should expect nothing but God’s judgment and wrath on us. It is truly a fearsome prospect for anyone who cares at all about his or her relationship with God. But we also saw that because of Christ, God has freed us from our slavery to the power of Sin. Now today, the writer reinforces this truth for us. He tells us that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins was and is so efficacious (having the power to accomplish that which it intends), that our Lord sat down at the right hand of God. What in the world does that mean? It means, as the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross on our behalf was perfect, that when sins are truly forgiven, there is no more need for sacrifices. Because there was nothing further for Christ to do for us to effect our salvation and reconciliation to God, he could sit down or rest because his job was complete. Mission impossible for us, but mission accomplished for God the Father. On the cross, Sin’s power over us has been broken because the powers behind it have been defeated. And because of that, our sins have been forgiven and we enjoy full reconciliation with God. God will remember our sins no more because he has dealt with them, as well as the power behind them, the power of Sin, once and for all by judging our sins in Christ’s body on the cross. As St. Paul tells us, there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ because in him, God condemned our sins in the flesh (not Jesus) so as to spare us from his holy and right wrath on our evildoing (Romans 8.1-5). To be sure, there is an aura of mystery in all this as is fitting when the Almighty acts on our behalf in such a great and powerful way. Were we to understand fully all that happened in Jesus’ death, I suspect it would not be from God at all, but rather of our own making. 

So God the Father has dealt with the vexing problem of Sin and Evil in and through God the Son. We celebrate and proclaim this accomplishment each week when we come to Christ’s holy Table to feed on our Lord’s body and blood. Listen carefully to the words of institution as the bread and wine are consecrated and you will hear once again what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished. When by faith we accept his sacrifice as completely sufficient to deal with our sins, awful as they might be, flawed and broken as we are, several things happen. First, we believe the conditions that prevent us from entering into God’s direct presence, namely the filthy rags that are our sins, have been removed and we have full access to God the Father. We no longer need to fear coming into God’s holy presence because our sins have been dealt with and God remembers them no more. We are made pure, despite who we are, to stand in the Lord’s presence. That starts here and now and will be fully consummated one day in God’s new world where we will live directly in God’s presence forever. This is a massively important promise for us to consider and accept by faith because most of us, most of the time, have something that hangs heavy on our hearts, something we’ve said or done that we wish we hadn’t, something that haunts us and makes us afraid of being found out. How wonderful, then, to know that Christ’s sacrifice has the power, if we accept it by faith and trust—and that’s the key, to accept it by faith and trust—to wash every stain from our conscience so that we can come to God without any shadow falling across our relationship. That’s what the writer is getting at when he talks about our hearts being sprinkled clean from an evil conscience by the blood of the Lamb.

But we want to protest. That’s too good to be true! No one deserves a gift like that! Where’s the justice? Surely I must make amends somehow as part of the bargain. If you think along these lines, STOP IT!! Stop it now!! That is from the devil and your own pride. To think this way means you think you can somehow effect your own salvation. Wrong. It also means you are calling the Word of God a lie and do not believe in the love of God poured out for you on the cross so that you could be his and not Sin’s, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go there. No, the writer is crystal clear about this issue. The blood of Christ shed for us is sufficient to reconcile us to God and make us fit to live in God’s presence, just like our first ancestors did before the Fall. If you are interested at all in ending your anxieties that have their root in being separated from God because of your sins and the related mental, spiritual, and bodily illnesses that flow from those anxieties, start right here with this promise and believe it, my beloved. As the writer tells us, call on the Lord and he will bless you with his Spirit and confirm to you the truth of this astonishing claim, thanks be to God. Amen? This confession of hope about Christ’s sacrifice being sufficient to deal with all your sins and free you from Sin’s power will get you through the darkest hours of your life because it addresses the heart of all our problems and the evil in this world, and it is based on the promises of God who is completely trustworthy and faithful to his promises.

Second, and related to our first point, when we put our whole hope and trust in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice for us to free us from our sins and reconcile us to God, it must change us, and for the better. Our writer tells us that we are to encourage each other, to love each other, and to do good deeds. Christ’s sacrifice is not a license for us to continue living in the darkness. If you think that Jesus died so that you can sin freely, think again and consider the following verses that follow our epistle lesson this morning. “Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth [about Jesus’ sacrifice for sin] there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire [of God’s judgment] that will consume his enemies” (Hebrews 10.26-27). Jesus did not suffer and die for us so that we could continue living in the darkness and thus face God’s ultimate condemnation and wrath. What kind of loving God would want that? And who in their right mind would want to return to being a slave of Sin after having tasted real freedom? No, Christ’s death frees us to live for him and his perfect and holy goodness, and we are promised Christ’s help to live this way in the power and person of his Spirit and each other. Being a Christian is not about trying to tough it out on our own. If we attempt that, we are doomed to failure and lose all motivation to live a good life for God. That’s why there’s no such thing as an isolate Christian. It’s an oxymoron. That’s also why we must continue to meet together so that we can encourage each other and be encouraged. When the Spirit is around, we sense it immediately because there is health, goodness, and vitality in the air, and it’s patently obvious he is with us when we gather as St. Augustine’s. I sense it and have had countless visitors tell me that. This in itself should encourage and provoke us to do good and to love each other. It also serves to remind us that the Word of God is true as we see its promises fulfilled in our life together.

And we’re going to need to draw on all this truth and encouragement because as all our lessons attest, we live in evil times and our faith is tested regularly. We hear about the awful wildfires in California. We read about mass murders on a regular basis. We are dismayed at all the bitterness and rancor in our society. We suffer hurts and setbacks and illnesses of all kinds. We lose loved ones to death, sometimes in unjust and untimely ways. We see a drift away from traditional Judeo-Christian values in our culture and it makes us angry and afraid. These things (and more) make us wonder if God has abandoned us. But all our lessons insist that God has NOT abandoned us. In our OT lesson the prophet warns of perilous times to come during which there will be great anguish as God’s people are persecuted and killed. But then he promises God’s deliverance. In our gospel lesson, Jesus warns of awful times ahead for God’s people, but implies deliverance when he talks about the beginning of birth pangs, presumably the beginning of God’s new creation. The psalmist speaks of the futility of worshiping any other god than the living God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. And our epistle lesson speaks of Jesus sitting down at God’s right hand, NT parlance for ruling, until his enemies are defeated. All these writings, and dozens more, testify and remind us that the evil we experience in our lives is under God and his Christ’s authority and are part of God’s inscrutable plan of redemption. They call us not to understand why, but to believe God is working even now to advance Christ’s victory over the dark powers accomplished on the cross and to be consummated at his return. 

So how does this relate to us as God’s people in Christ? We are called to be part of the cosmic battle to defeat Christ’s enemies! But we don’t use the weapons of the world to fight the fight because to do so means we have already capitulated to the darkness. Instead, we are to put on the whole armor of God—peace that comes from our faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us, God’s truth and righteousness, God’s word in Scripture, and prayer (Ephesians 6.1-18). Every time we refuse to repay evil with evil, every time we forgive where forgiveness is undeserved or unwarranted, every time we pray for the welfare and conversion of our enemies’ hearts, every time we refuse to slander or act maliciously or denigrate or gossip or seek revenge, to name just a few, we help put Christ’s enemies under his feet. Again we want to protest. We try doing these things and nothing seems to happen! Patience, humility, and faith my impatient, proud, and skeptical ones. Persevere and rejoice that you are called to battle for your Lord Jesus and to suffer for his Name when necessary because this is how the kingdom comes on earth as in heaven. God can and does use your suffering for his redemptive purposes. You’ve got God’s word that you’ve been rescued from your slavery to Sin and Death and from his terrible wrath on your sins. You believe this promise because you know that God is trustworthy and you know God’s love for you poured out on the cross of Jesus Christ. You have other Christians here to encourage and support you because we all need the human touch. Don’t be a proud and arrogant fool; use this precious resource! You’ve got the testimony of the prophets that God foreknew the evil that plagues his world and you, and he’s done something about it, unexpected and astonishing as it may be. And you’ve got the hope and promise of God’s new world of which you will be part, despite who you are and the sins you have committed, because of God’s great love for you made known supremely in Christ’s sacrifice for your sins. Let all that heal and transform you by believing it so that you too may stand firm in the power of the Lord and proclaim all he has done for you and his broken and hurting world, 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. 

The (Not Always So Obvious) Kingdom of God

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent B, November 11, 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: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44.

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

Today marks the beginning of the brief season of kingdomtide, where we focus on the kingship of our Lord Jesus. This season culminates in the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our church calendar year. Thus we turn to the royal color of red—I do look extra stylish in red, don’t you think?—to help remind us of this royal focus (although green is still acceptable as we are still in so-called ordinary time of the calendar). You’ll also notice the readings begin to shift their focus more to the future with the promise of the Lord making his reappearance to consummate his saving work. Now that you’ve had a brief lesson on the church calendar, we can turn our attention to the matter at hand and focus on the letter to the Hebrews. What are we to make of our epistle lesson’s strange claims about blood sacrifice to remove sin and Christ entering heaven to appear directly before God on our behalf? What can that possibly have to do with us? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

You recall that last week during our celebration of the feast of All-Saints we talked about our sure and certain Christian hope of living in God’s direct presence in the new creation. But here’s the problem with that. As Scripture makes clear, living in God’s presence can be a dangerous proposition. Just ask, for example, Korah and his followers who rebelled against the Lord in the wilderness and were swallowed alive by the earth or consumed by fire (Numbers 16), or Uzzah who was struck dead because he reached out to prevent the Ark of God from falling off its cart as it was being transported to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6.6-8). The reason living with God is a dangerous proposition for humans is because God is holy and we are not. We are sin-stained and God in his perfect goodness and righteousness cannot allow any kind of profane or sinful thing to remain in his presence. Something has to be done on our behalf.

This ought to make sense to us, at least on one level. Consider our Lord’s condemnation of the religious leaders in today’s gospel lesson. Here were the very folks charged with teaching God’s people how to be God’s people, but they were more interested in their own status and honor. Worse yet, Jesus accused them of robbing and extorting widows, people who represent the most vulnerable in society and who have God’s special attention and concern. No wonder Jesus warned of their condemnation. Or closer to home, consider the terrible events in the news this past of week. Twelve more innocent people were murdered in yet another mass shooting, with the murderer taking his own life. This on top of deadly wildfires in northern and southern California that are consuming entire communities, causing multiple fatalities and great anxiety as families wonder if their loved ones are safe. It is a heart-wrenching thing to watch. Or consider the recently completed midterm elections with its accompanying bombardment of attack ads that focus on destroying the character and integrity of one’s opponent. Never mind the pressing issues at hand. It’s all about claiming your opponent is the sorriest excuse for a human being that ever lived. I don’t know about you, but by election day, I was about ready to scream. Now tell me, could a good and right God who is absolutely opposed to any kind of evil allow that in his space? Would you, could you really believe in a good and just God if he didn’t put an end to this kind of stuff? Would you really want to live in the new creation forever knowing that there was violence, rancor, suffering, and injustice of all kinds, always wondering if you could be the next victim? I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to live forever in a world like that and if a Sin-corrupted person like me wouldn’t want that, I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet that God doesn’t want that either.

What we are talking about, of course, is the problem of Sin, that alien and hostile power that has entered God’s good world to enslave us by its power. I’m not talking about our various acts of wrongdoing or thinking, or our sins. Frankly they are not the real problem; they are the awful symptoms of the real problem—our slavery to the power of Sin. Biblically speaking, to be enslaved by the power of Sin is much worse than our various wrongdoings, heinous as some of them are. To be in Sin means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal and healing love of God. It means to be separated from God’s heavenly banquet with all its wholeness, healing, and joy, with no hope of ever being allowed in (think the parable of Lazarus, Luke 16.19-31) for reasons we’ve just seen. To be enslaved in Sin means that greed, violence, cruelty and the like will continue unabated in our lives and God’s world because we are hopelessly trapped in our own worse self and miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God created us to be. This latter knowledge can and does lead many to self-loathing and despair as many of us can attest first-hand. No matter how frequently we resolve to do better, no matter how guilty we feel, no matter how much we are determined to repent of our sins, it’s not enough. Our repentance cannot free us from our slavery to the power of Sin because it is far greater than our will and our mortal power. To repeat, the point is not about the wrongdoings we may have done, troubling and destructive as they might be. The point is that they are symptoms of a far deeper and more consequential problem for us: Our enslavement to an outside and evil power (Sin) that is hostile to God’s creative purposes and bent on destroying all that is good in God’s creation, and we are unable to free ourselves from its grip.

Why am I spending so much time on this? Well, I love calling you all miserable sinners and making you feel rotten and guilty. Plus, it irritates my wife to no end, value added. But I also have a more legitimate reason. If we are going to grasp the significance and relevance of our epistle lesson this morning, we have to be crystal clear in our thinking about the enormous gravity of the problem of Sin. When we understand we are slaves to it and are powerless to free ourselves from its grip, we begin to focus on the real problem and better appreciate God’s solution that can lead to real repentance. We understand, for example, why St. Paul would make the strange statement that our enemies are not other humans but the dark powers behind the evildoing, i.e., the power of Sin (Ephesians 6.12), so that we learn how to really call on the name and power of the Lord. A grieving mother of a murder victim in California raged that she didn’t want people’s prayers. She wanted gun control. Her anger is understandable and I can only imagine her pain and grief; my heart breaks for her. But she misses the point in her rage and grief. Until Sin’s power is broken and people’s lives transformed by the radical love of Christ crucified, acts like this will become increasingly common and no amount of legislation, however good and effective it is, will solve the problem because human solutions cannot overcome Sin’s grip on us that causes us, for example, to shoot others for no apparent reason. I am not suggesting we take no action. That would fly in the face of the witness of Scripture as seen powerfully in our OT lesson today about Ruth. What I am saying is that ultimately human solutions will be incomplete and only partially effective because of the radical nature of Evil.

Moreover, understanding our slavery to Sin actually helps us to not despise or loathe ourselves because as we’ve seen, our individual sins are not the real problem. When we understand the real problem of Sin as we’ve just discussed it, we start to see ourselves as God sees us: as victims who have become hopelessly enslaved by a power from which we cannot free ourselves, hard as we might try, and who desperately need God’s help. We acknowledge this reality every time we confess that “there is no health in us” in the General Confession. We don’t confess this so that we can self-loathe, reminding ourselves how rotten we are. We confess this to acknowledge our slavery to Sin and God’s ability and willingness to free us from our slavery. Don’t misunderstand. We are responsible for our wrongdoing and wrong thinking—the devil may have made us do it but we are still the ones who did it and therefore responsible for it—and there are some people who truly have been consumed by the power of Evil and who are past redemption. But those people, by the grace of God, are thankfully a small minority. For the vast majority of us, when we get our thinking right about the real problem of Sin and its enslaving power over us, it helps us hear the Good News of Jesus Christ about which our epistle lesson speaks and to which we now turn.

So if we truly are slaves to Sin’s power and helpless to free ourselves from its grip, what’s the solution? As we’ve seen, left on our own, we are doomed to live a hellish existence with occasional periods of respite to provide us with some distraction and relief. But break the power of Sin and everything changes. The basis for God’s healing us and freeing us from our bondage to Sin are established and real transformative change, however slowly, however idiosyncratic, is possible. That’s the punchline. So how does God accomplish our rescue? The writer of Hebrews tells us today and throughout his entire letter. That’s why we should read Hebrews regularly because it is the only NT book that focuses almost exclusively on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin. But if we don’t understand the real nature of the problem, we’ll never come close to understanding the love of God expressed for us on the cross. God foreknew our predicament and our slavery to Sin. But God did not create us to be Sin’s slaves. He created us to be his image-bearers with all its relational implications. And so in God’s wisdom, love, mercy, and justice, God acted to break Sin’s power over us because only God has the power to free us from its power. So long before we were ever aware of Sin and our slavery to its power, God moved to defeat its power over us and free us. But God did this in the most unexpected way, by becoming human, or in NT parlance, by sending his only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so as to break Sin’s power over us and reconcile us to God so that we could stand in God’s direct presence without having to fear being destroyed by his perfect holiness. his is the achievement of the cross. This is Christ’s achievement on our behalf, thanks be to God!

In our epistle lesson today, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the high priest who atoned for Israel’s sins once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The chief function of priests in ancient Israel was to mediate God’s presence among God’s people so that God could live with them without destroying them for reasons we’ve discussed. Each year the high priest would offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people who in turn would confess them and declare their repentance. But as we’ve seen this was doomed to failure because humans don’t have the power to break our slavery to Sin. Only God has that power. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice to God to atone for our sins. His sacrifice was and is perfect because Jesus is fully God and fully human and because Jesus remained sinless. He therefore could make reparations or atone for our sins once and for all that have alienated us from God and each other. In doing so, the writer also tells us that Jesus broke Sin’s power over us so that we might no longer be slaves to it. This happened long before we knew we were ever sinners and independently of any guilt we might feel over our sins. God acted before we ever did one wrong thing. The NT writers don’t spend a lot of time talking about how Christ’s death accomplished all that, just that his sacrifice was and is fully efficacious, i.e., it has the power to produce its desired results, in this case freeing us from our slavery to Sin and reconciling us to God, which was always God’s intention. That’s why it only had to happen once and was available to all before and after Christ’s atoning death. This is our only hope and chance to be freed from our bondage to Sin because only God is more powerful than Sin’s power.

But we all know that we’re not totally free of Sin’s power in this mortal life. We all still commit sins from time to time. Yet the NT writers insist that in Jesus’ death we are freed from our slavery to Sin and so we are called to accept the claim on faith—enigmatic, mysterious, and impenetrable as Jesus’ work on the cross may be. When we do, the writer of Hebrews promises that when Jesus appears again at his second coming, he will fully consummate his saving work started with his atoning death when he raises our dead bodies and banishes Evil and Sin forever. And so we live in hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come because of the Lord’s trustworthiness. As the writer warns, judgment for our sins there will be. But because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us, we will hear the verdict of not guilty because the Son of God has born God’s terrible judgment on our sins and freed us from the power behind those sins. When we realize the depth of the problem and God’s gracious and wondrous solution to it before we ever turned to Jesus in faith, it helps us bear the fruit of repentance in the truest sense of the word. God acted on our behalf to free us from that which would ultimately condemn and kill us. We certainly don’t deserve this love and mercy but it’s ours for the taking. I could talk about what that means for us in the living of our days, but I want to stop here so that we can all contemplate and focus on this wondrous love, goodness, justice, and mercy of God. Amen?

Without the blood of Christ shed for us, none of us has the hope of new creation because none of us could stand in the perfect and holy presence of God the Father. God knew the problem and what needed to be done about it from all eternity, and has God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power. God did not accomplish this by sending in the tanks and routing the enemy in a spectacular military victory, at least not this time. Instead God saved us by becoming human and dying on a cross to transform our hopeless human condition and then working behind the scenes in and through faithful humans who trust in God’s goodness and power to fulfill his promises to us. That’s one of the main points of Ruth. The Good News is that God has acted on our behalf to restore us to himself forever, albeit in a surprising and unexpected way (at least from a human perspective) just as he always intended. There is much ahead of us and many unanswered questions. But when we put our hope and trust in Jesus our Savior and let him claim us in a positive way like Sin has claimed us in a negative way, we will be transformed and healed, not completely in this world but surely in the new creation. In letting Christ claim us, we also proclaim to the world that we trust this King of kings and Lord of lords to rescue us from all that hate us and want to destroy us. I cannot think of anything more relevant to the living of our days than this, my beloved. Ponder this Good News of Jesus Christ that is yours and commit yourself to him in the power and grace of God the Father mediated through the Holy Spirit. Let it heal and transform you, one minute at a time, so that you too may be refreshed and equipped to serve the Lord who loves you and gave himself for you to rescue you from all Evil and darkness, 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. 

A Brief History of Veterans’ Day 2018

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the Great War. 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.”

Taken at 10:58 a.m., on Nov. 11, 1918, just before the Armistice went into effect; men of the 353rd Infantry, near a church, at Stenay, Meuse, wait for the end of hostilities. (SC034981)

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.