Out of the Depths

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11B, Sunday, August 12, 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: 2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4.25-5.2; John 6.35, 41-51.

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

“Out of the depths, O Lord, I cry to you.” How many of us have prayed this prayer in one form or another in our lives? Like King David in our OT lesson, we are often afflicted by tragedy and other darkness. As Christians, what should be our response? Does the Bible have anything to say about the despair we all feel from time to time? This is what I want us to look at today.

So what can we learn from our psalm lesson this morning, with its cry of despair along with its embedded hope? As we read in our OT lesson, if David didn’t actually pray this prayer, he surely felt its emotion as he grieved the death of his beloved son. Likewise with us. While we may not have lost children to violent death, we have suffered betrayal and loss and hurt and sickness. We have been afflicted by fear over our health, our financial security, the uncertainty of living in a world going increasingly mad by the day, and by the unknowns in our life that afflict and oppress us. We may not have prayed Psalm 130 explicitly, but we understand the despair contained in it all too well. So what can this psalm teach us?

First, it reminds us that our cries of despair are not signs of faithlessness. Some of us believe that to have feelings of fear and anger and despair over the darkness and evil in our lives are signs that we don’t trust God. But that belief would surprise the psalmists who wrote prayers like the one in our lesson this morning. Rather, our cries of despair indicate a much-needed humility that recognizes we do not have the power to overcome everything that life throws our way and that we do need to cry out to the One who has the power to make all things right. Just as Jesus rebuked the crowds in our gospel lesson for their hard-hearted rejection of how God operated in their lives, the psalmist acknowledges that we are incapable of solving all our problems and must turn to God with a humble trust to rescue us when life overwhelms us. That is the essence of real faith. This is not easy for us to do because we much prefer our own delusional narratives that make us equal or superior to God. 

Second, the psalmist reminds us that Sin and the evil it has unleashed in God’s good world are at the root of all that afflicts us and here we must be very careful. The psalmist is not saying that all that afflicts and oppresses us is our fault. As we saw last week, while God forgives our sins, sometimes God allows the consequences of our sin to remain like he did with David, and we saw that tragically played out in our OT lesson this morning. So sometimes the darkness in our lives that causes us to despair is caused by our own sin and folly. But as the book of Job powerfully reminds us, sometimes the affliction we suffer is not our fault. Mysteriously and enigmatically, sometimes really bad things happen to innocent people. For example, innocents are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrible accidents happen that cause permanent wounds and alter lives forever. Innocent babies are born with horrible defects and deadly diseases. Whether we are responsible for that which afflicts us or not, the fact remains that we live in a sin-sick and evil-infested world and we are all afflicted by that, directly or otherwise. The psalmist recognizes correctly that only when Sin and Evil are properly dealt with by God can we expect to be truly healed and liberated from all that makes us despair. That is why we cry out to God from the depths, i.e., when we are overwhelmed, because we realize that only God has the power to deal with the darkness of Sin and the evil it unleashes. More about that in a moment.

Third, we need to be careful that we don’t misunderstand the key terms of hope and waiting on God contained in our psalm. As we have seen before, hope as it is used in both the OT and NT is more than an attitude. It’s much more than keeping good thoughts. Hope as the psalmists and NT writers use it is better translated as a confident expectation. Both terms require an object: We expect something or wait for someone. And so just as a guard waits for the morning to come, and with it an end to the dangers and threats of the night, so does the psalmist wait for the Lord to act on his behalf. 

And while there is an attitude of patience in our psalm, we must not be misled by its implications. While we might think that waiting patiently suggests a calmness or having a mellow attitude, this is not the attitude of the OT and NT writers. For them, waiting is impatient and urgent. Listen to them now (all translations from the NLT).

I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me? (Ps 6.3); O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?/How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (Ps 13.1-2); How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions! (Ps 35.17);  How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? (Ps 74.10); O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? (Ps 79.5); O Lord, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your anger burn like fire? (Ps 89.46); O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! (Ps 90.13); How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? (Ps 94.3); How long must I wait? When will you punish those who persecute me? (Ps 119.84). 

Do you hear and feel the sense of urgency and impatience for God to act on behalf of his people who cry out to him from the depths? Now listen to these final two verses of the NT. 

The one who testifies to these things [Jesus] says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! [And until you do, t]he grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen (Rev 22.20-21, NRSV). 

St. John has just finished recounting the vision given him in Revelation regarding how God will finally defeat Satan and his minions, i.e., the forces of evil, both spiritual and human, so we are meant to read these closing words with impatient longing and expectation. Of course there would be no impatient expectation if God were not faithful to his promises and/or lacked the power to deliver. Thus when we are overwhelmed by the darkness in our lives that afflicts or oppresses us, we too are called to have the same impatient longing for God to act on our behalf. This is part of living out our faith.

I can hear some of you grumbling right now. That’s all well and good, Father Maney, but here’s a newsflash for you. God doesn’t always answer our desperate prayers. We or our loved ones don’t always get healed. Injustice still runs rampant in our lives and society. The wicked seem to be having a field day mocking God and his word. I prayed for a job and didn’t get it. There’s much more but you get the point.

All of this is true, my snarky ones. Sometimes God seemingly doesn’t answer our prayers, at least in the immediate way we ask him, and all this remains an impenetrable mystery for us. I do not know why that is because God has chosen not to reveal why he sometimes acts while at other times he apparently doesn’t. But in acknowledging there is the mystery of unanswered prayer, as faithful Christians, we must also acknowledge that God answers far more prayers than he apparently doesn’t, and we must be thankful for that. Whatever the reasons for unanswered prayer, they remain above our pay grade and we must therefore have enough humility and wisdom to trust God’s promises to heal and redeem us, believing that God can, does, and will act on our behalf to answer our prayers uttered from the depths of despair. To be able to do this, the biblical writers exhort us to remember God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and love for us, as well as God’s ability to act on behalf of God’s people (cf. Psalm 77).

And now we are ready to turn to our gospel and epistle lessons because they provide us with the hope needed to deal with the darkness that afflicts us. They remind us of what God is doing about it all, regardless of whether we get the hoped-for response to our prayers. As Jesus reminded the crowds, God was not at their beck and call, nor is he at ours. God did not call them (or us) because we are special or somehow deserving of God’s love and mercy. We’re not, much as we love to think we are. Nobody is. And because all are hopelessly sin-sick and incapable of self-healing, we are utterly dependent on God to act on our behalf to heal and restore us to health. And how has God chosen to do that? By becoming human to die for our sins, to execute his justice on himself. It is God who calls us, not the other way around. And only God has the power to heal us from our internal sickness and external afflictions. This is why the Father sent the Son, because only in and through the Son do we find God and the resulting healing and redemption we so desperately seek. And while the claim of Jesus is exclusive (only he can save because only he has seen the Father and knows the Father’s will), the invitation to be healed (saved) is open to everyone. God calls us, pulls us, and cajoles us to him. God invites us to know Jesus because only then can we have eternal life. In turn, Jesus promises to raise up those who believe in him—those who believe that Jesus is the only way to God and that only in his Name is there salvation and forgiveness of sins—on the last day. That is why Jesus is the true bread of life who came down from heaven (who came from God). He has given his body and blood for the life of the world. In other words, in his death, Jesus has broken the power of Evil over us and redeemed us from our slavery to Sin and the death that results. Amen?

Our Lord said something similar to Martha and Mary when he came to raise Lazarus from the dead and give us a foretaste of his own resurrection. He didn’t answer their why questions (why didn’t you come earlier to heal our brother, Lord?). Instead, Jesus gave them an answer that, while demanding patient (and sometimes impatient) waiting and expectation, was ultimately more satisfying. Jesus told them he is the resurrection and the life, that those who live and believe in him will live forever, even though they suffer mortal death (John 11.27-27, 32).

And what is this eternal life about which Jesus speaks? It doesn’t mean dying and going to heaven as many Christians have been incorrectly taught (shame on the church and its leaders who have done that). Eternal life as Jesus used it meant two things. First, it refers to quality of life when we share in the inner life of Jesus. It means we choose, with the help of the Spirit who lives in us and who is given to us by the Father and the Son, to live like Christ. This is where our epistle lesson is helpful. In it, St. Paul lays out what Christlike living looks like. It means, for example, that we look out for the other, especially our fellow Christians, like Christ looks out for us. How did Christ do that? He gave himself for us and bore our punishment so we could be forgiven and healed of our sin-sickness. So St. Paul tells us to stop lying to each other, because lying causes hurt, heartache, bitterness, and distrust. We belong to each other in Christ so why would we want to act evilly toward the other? St. Paul tells us to not let our anger control us so that it does not open the door for us to eventually hate the other. Out of mutual love, we are to work hard so that we can support those amongst us who cannot legitimately do so, and we are never to abuse others’ generosity. We are to stop our evil speaking, where we criticize each other and speak wickedly about them. We are to put away wrath, anger, and abusive language and behavior toward each other, especially toward those we dislike. We are to build each other up and be kind to each other. We do this because this is exactly what Christ has done for us. We dare not judge those whom Christ has already redeemed by his body and blood. 

Wise Christians will immediately see that St. Paul is not laying out a bunch of rules for us to follow slavishly to get our tickets punched. Instead, they will recognize that he is urging us to put away our sins and wickedness because they lead to death and will not be allowed to exist in God’s new world when Christ returns. When we realize this, we realize that by choosing to live right now as Christ lived, always with the help of the Spirit, we align ourselves with God and find life as God intends us to live it. This is what Jesus had in mind when he talked about having eternal life in him. And second, this eternal life that we enter now will extend beyond our mortal death and last forever, imperfect and flawed as we are. The life we live in God’s new world will be a perfect version of the imperfect life we live now as new creations in Christ.

This is the answer to our concerns about unanswered prayer and the problem of Evil. As Christians we remember that God has acted decisively in Christ to defeat the dark powers that afflict us and cause us to cry out from the depths. We are healed and forgiven completely by the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. How that works, I couldn’t tell you completely. I just know that is does. This is the Father calling us to himself. This is why only Jesus, the true bread of life, can satisfy completely. When we give our lives to him and trust his promise that he has healed and redeemed us by his death, our fears about sin and punishment dissipate. On the cross, God has defeated the twin powers of Sin and Evil and in Jesus’ resurrection we have the promise that it’s all true, even if the promise remains partially unfulfilled. So when we cry out from the depths and wait expectantly and impatiently for God to act, we do so because as Christians we know Jesus has a job to finish and he will do so one day when he returns to consummate his saving work begun in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In the meantime we are his right now, warts and all, even in our affliction, and will be forever. We know this because we believe the story in Scripture and see God’s work in our lives and the lives of others, despite the darkness that descends on us from time to time. This is the only hope that can truly sustain us.

When we find ourselves threatened to be overwhelmed by the depths, we are called to remember God’s plan of salvation revealed ultimately in Christ. God will use our remembering to help strengthen our belief that God has acted decisively on our behalf and is present with us in the power of the Spirit to walk with us so we won’t be overwhelmed by the darkness. Knowing this gives us patience and the confident expectation that victory is ours, even as we cry out impatiently for God to consummate his great and saving work. When we believe this, really believe this, it won’t save us from moments of darkness and sometimes despair. But it will have the power to sustain us, even in death, because we know that we are God’s beloved children, despite who we are, and that we have the Good News of Jesus Christ who holds the key to not only our own healing but the restoration of all creation, now and for all eternity. Take hope and be renewed in this knowledge, my beloved, as you come to the Table to feed on the bread of heaven and drink the cup of salvation, the Lord Jesus himself. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

You are the Man (and Woman)!

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, Sunday, August 5, 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: 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 51.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35.

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

What are we to make of our OT lesson with its story of God’s judgment on David’s sins? How did God “put away” David’s sins? Why would God’s anointed king resort to committing the twin evils of adultery and murder after being so richly blessed by God? What are we as Christians with our own impressive baggage of sins to learn from this sad episode? And where’s the Good News to be found? If God pronounced this kind of judgment on David, “the man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13.22), what hope do we poor schleps have when we stand before God’s judgment seat? These are some of the things I want us to look at this morning.

If ever there were a compelling reason for us to believe the old proverb that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9.10), our OT lesson provides it. After hearing God pronounce judgment on King David through the prophet Nathan, we almost instinctively wonder how we will escape God’s judgment on our sins, and it makes us afraid. The story itself raises as many questions as it answers. Yes, there is God’s judgment on David’s sins of adultery and murder. But God also tells David through Nathan that God has put away David’s sins after he confessed them. But how? And why didn’t God remove David as king the way God did with David’s predecessor, Saul? Adultery and murder are about as serious as you can get, yet David remained God’s chosen king. What’s that all about? Like all sin and God’s reaction to it, it’s complicated and there are surely some questions that will remain unanswered this side of the grave. But that should never stop us from learning what we can from God’s word.

We start with David. Why would this man, so blessed by God, resort to committing two evils? Had Father Gatwood preached one of his tepid sermons on the OT lesson from last Sunday, the ostensible answer would have been that David wasn’t where he should have been—leading his men in battle against Israel’s enemies. But this is only a superficial answer. One of the things the writer surely wants us to see is that this episode is another tragic example of how the human heart—the biblical term for the core of our very being—is desperately wicked and beyond our understanding as the Lord himself reminded his prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17.9). In other words, we humans are terminally sin-sick, even the best of us, even the man after God’s own heart. Even though David wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he could have looked away and resisted his lustful urge to take the beautiful Bathsheba. But he didn’t. He chose to commit adultery and then tried to cover his sin by ultimately having her husband murdered. We can relate to this, even if we have never committed adultery or murder. How many times have we refused to take the high road and indulged our sinful desires instead? More than most of us care to admit. If our hearts are that thoroughly corrupted, who among us can hope to escape God’s judgment on the chaos our sins produce? We are truly the man in Nathan’s story. 

To make matters worse, as Nathan pointed out to David, David’s sins were like spitting in God’s face. David knew they were wrong but chose to sin anyway, despite the fact that God had been so graciously generous to David, blessing him by making him king, but also granting David success at every turn up until David chose to transgress against the Lord. We understand this dynamic as well. How often do we tend to turn our back on God when things are going swimmingly well for us? How often do we give ourselves credit for our successes and want to blame God when things go south for us? In other words, how often does success and God’s blessing actually harden our hearts toward God as it did David’s? We are the man! 

Last, but certainly not least, as God pointed out to David, his sins gave the enemies of God even more reason not to put their loyalty and trust in God. If God’s chosen one acted this way, what kind of God was he actually be worshiping? In this age of instantaneous communication, the consequences of our sin are even more vital for us to consider. As people watch how we behave and treat others in our lives, what are we proclaiming about the character of our Lord Jesus whom we profess to worship and follow? Are we accurately portraying the character of Jesus or are we projecting the image of the false idols we worship, thus causing harm to the Name? None of us likes to have our name or character besmirched by others. How much more for the perfect and holy triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? As we look at how many times we have failed our Lord publicly, we are forced to acknowledge once again that we are the man.

But God’s reaction in this tragic story is just as breathtakingly mysterious. By Law, David’s offenses were clearly punishable by death. So why did God spare him? Is this part of what Nathan meant when he told David God had put away his sins? We aren’t told. And why did not God remove David from office the way God removed Saul? David’s sins were as bad if not worse than Saul’s, but God did not remove David. Why? Again, we aren’t told, but I am persuaded that we see a glimpse of God’s love and grace here that might help explain why David remained king after sinning so grievously against God. You recall that two weeks ago we read the Lord’s promise to David. David had wanted to build God a house in which to dwell (i.e., the Temple at Jerusalem), but God refused. Instead, God promised to build David a house (a dynasty) that would one day include God’s anointed one, the Messiah (2 Samuel 7.1-17). It is here that we see the love, grace, and faithfulness of God shine through the darkness of human sin. God would punish his wayward king but God could never abandon him by reneging on his promise to David. As St. Paul reminded Timothy right before Paul’s death, God remains faithful even when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2.13). God cannot be untrue to himself or revoke his promises, even in the face of our flagrant sins. Here then is surely the main reason God did not remove David as king. God had to remain faithful to his promise to David that there would always be an ancestor sitting on his throne. That would be hard to do if God removed David as king! So even in the midst of judgment, we find God’s faithful love and grace piercing the darkness of our sin.

What then are we to make of God’s judgment on David? Didn’t God put away David’s sins after he confessed them to God? Well yes God did, even if we are not told exactly what that entailed. What we do know is this. God’s judgment on David matched David’s sins. David had flagrantly dishonored the marriage bed and took another man’s wife because he could. In return, God’s judgment matched the crime. David’s own wives would be taken by his own son, Absalom, and David would be publicly humiliated. David had committed murder to cover his adulterous tracks. God’s judgment also matched that crime. David’s sons would rise up in rebellion against David and two of them would die violent deaths. Violence and political intrigue would haunt David’s family until the day he died. Hard as it is for us to watch, especially considering the fact that we too are the man (and woman), we see God’s perfect justice being executed on his king.

All this makes us wonder how this represents God’s forgiveness. It is here we must remember that when God forgives our sins, this does not mean that God automatically removes the consequences of our sins. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are spared many of the consequences of our sins, both those we anticipate and those we don’t. But God doesn’t always spare us from the folly of our sin. For reasons known only to God, we often must deal with consequences of sins long since repented of. It’s part and parcel of living in a sin-sick and evil infested world. This doesn’t mean God refuses to forgive us. After all, God spared David’s life when God’s own law demanded it be taken. Instead, God simply let God’s justice be done and we all get that. We look around at all the wrongs of our world and we know that something has to be done about it. Without justice there can be no mercy. If God is truly just and good, God must do something about the evil in God’s world and those who commit it. Unfortunately, because we are the man (and woman), we can all expect to come under God’s fierce judgment. 

Uh, Father Maney, I hear some of you muttering right now. We know you’ve haven’t been in the pulpit since like Moby Dick was a minnow, but aren’t you supposed to be a preacher of Good News? Helpful hint. Good News does not focus on beating us up and reminding us that we all fall short of the glory of God without hope of fixing all that is wrong with us, n-kay? We know all too well that we are the man!

Patience, my grumpy and judgmental ones. I have been laying out for you the basis of the Good News of Jesus Christ and it is never a bad thing for God’s people to consider regularly the consequences and destructive power of our sins, which we have just done. Doing so reminds us God is already at work on us. Yes, we are the man. Yes, our hearts are desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair them. Yes, there are often lasting consequences to our sin and folly. Yes, we all can expect to fall under God’s fierce and terrible judgment if left to our own devices. But here’s the thing, my beloved. We are not left to our own devices. Thankfully we worship and serve a God who hates evil and who has promised to rid his good creation of all traces of it. If God did not hate evil and promise to pronounce judgment on it, we would have no hope of ever living in a new creation that is devoid of all evil and brokenness and hurt. In our heart of hearts, we all know that justice is necessary to address the wrongs and transgressions we all commit, even if we don’t want God’s judgment on us. To not believe in justice means that we could not support any kind of criminal justice system, that it would be OK for us and our loved ones to suffer all kinds of injustices and crimes because none of it really mattered in the end. Nobody in his or her right mind believes that for a minute, broken as we are. We all know wrongs must be put to right and that is exactly what God promises to do. 

But God also knows we are the man (and the woman) who deserve God’s just wrath for our sins. God knows we are thoroughly infected by the power of Sin and incapable of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Self-help is a farce and a lie. And because God made us in his image and loves us more than we can comprehend, God has moved to save us from destruction. Despite the fact of our ongoing sin and rebellion against God, which will produce permanent alienation and death if left unchecked, God’s great love and faithfulness are made known to us in Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us that while we were still active enemies of God, God sent his Son to die a shameful and godforsaken death on our behalf so that we would not have to suffer God’s just condemnation of our sins and the evil that resides in us. Like David, we are spared from death by the mercy of God. To be sure, barring the Lord’s return in our lifetime, we will all suffer mortal death. But we will not die because of Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that when we are baptized, we share in a death like Jesus’. And because we share in his death, we also share in a resurrection like his because our baptism unites us with our crucified and risen Lord. God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so destroyed death forever. So we too will be raised when the Lord returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. As Jesus told Martha, those who believe in him will live, even though they die, and anyone who lives and believes in him will never die (John 11.25-26). So here is God’s response to our sin and the evil it unleashes. God promises to condemn evil and evildoers but sent his own dear Son to bear that condemnation himself so as to spare us from having to suffer it. God did this for us while we were still his enemies because God loves us and is faithful to his good creation. God wants us to live and God has overcome death in the resurrection of Christ, promising those of us who believe the same destiny, the promise of eternal life in God’s new world that is devoid of evil and sin of any kind. None of us deserve it because we are too broken to live as God’s people. But God gives us his Holy Spirit to heal and transform us, one inch at a time, backsliding and all, to free us from our disobedience and slavery to Sin. God can do this impossible thing because he is the God who calls things into existence that don’t exist and who raises the dead. The extent we are able to live faithful lives in accordance with God’s created order and revealed is the extent we will enjoy real peace and true happiness. Jesus promises as much in our gospel lesson today. He is the true manna, the bread of life, that we are to consume regularly on our journey to the new creation, the new promised land. That’s why we feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving each week. We literally consume Jesus and are healed and reminded of God’s wondrous promise to heal and deliver us from our sin-sickness, thanks be to God!

If you are not overwhelmed by this Good News, then there’s a good chance that you either have not fully considered the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes and/or you don’t believe that God can be that good and loving. Believe it, my beloved. It’s true. Here is the nature of the heart of God whom we worship. God used our disobedience to imprison us so that God could show mercy on us! Amazing grace! God’s perfect justice has been executed in Christ but not yet fully implemented. One day it will be and we will be astonished at God’s love and mercy in ways we cannot now comprehend. Yes, we will all stand before God’s judgment throne. But because we belong to Christ, we will hear the verdict of “not guilty,” despite our mountain of sins.

And if you are overwhelmed by the Good News of God’s love made known to you in Christ, thank God, because it must change you. God did not die on a cross for you to continue to act like an ungrateful twit. God did not die for you so that you could keep on in your sinful and death-dealing ways. God is not a cosmic Enabler. God is the Supreme Lover. God gave himself for you and promises you eternal life so that you can start enjoying it right now in the power of the Spirit. None of us gets it right all the time, but if you want to know what being a new man (or woman) in Christ looks like, start by rereading our epistle lesson this morning. Christian unity will give you a good starting place to think about what Christlike living, real living, is all about. 

And so, my beloved, remember this. The bad news is that we are all prisoners to our sin and rebellion. The Good News is that God’s love and mercy are stronger than our sinful folly, and God has acted decisively on our behalf to give us life. Accept the gracious invitation and give your life to the One who is the source of your life. Then you will know that you are the beloved and that you have Good News, now and for all eternity, despite your sins and the times when you walk through the darkest valleys of life. 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. Terry Gatwood: Do Not Be Afraid

Sermon delivered on Trinity 9B, Sunday, July 29, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood makes it up as he goes along so there’s no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 11.1-25; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21.

Fr. Philip Sang: Bringing Down Dividing Walls and Erecting Unifying Ones

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8B, Sunday, July 22, 2018, 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: 2 Samuel 7:1-14; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.

We humans are great builders – we build towns and turbines, subways and satellites, farms and factories, tunnels et cetera. We can take justifiable pride in these accomplishments, but sometimes we tend to do our building for all the wrong reasons. In the lesson from Second Samuel this morning, we have conversation between King David and the prophet Nathan and between Nathan and God over building a house for God now that David and the people of Israel are settled. Buildings need walls and walls both shut in and they shut out.

Remember the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel? Those builders achieved amazing things – they were on their way to building a tower to heaven itself – but they were constructing a temple to their own glory. In Genesis 11, we read that the reason for building the tower was to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). To avoid this, God scrambled their languages and put some limits on their ambition.

Unfortunately, we took those skills we had at building one very tall tower and got really good at building lots and lots of walls. We build walls to protect, walls to shelter, walls to mark boundaries and walls to defend those boundaries.

In fact, the walls themselves work in concert with the curse of Babel. They help us define and defend all the differences between us. We usually start with languages and nations, but before long we’re segregating ourselves by customs and habits, by religions and ideologies. The distinctions get finer, and the walls grow more numerous. Ever creative in our pride, we begin to build walls to the glory of our own distinctiveness, and then convince ourselves that God dwells within our own particular boundaries.

The issue of walls- keeping us in or keeping us out continues in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Paul reminds the listeners that Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph. 2: 14). Languages and nations? Christ proclaims peace to those who are far off and those who are near. Religions and ideologies? Jesus was prepared even to “abolish the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Eph. 2:15).

Jesus takes down whatever walls we have raised to create divisions amongst us. The insiders and outsiders? The walls come down. Citizens and foreigners? The walls come down. Oppressors and victims? In Christ Jesus, the walls come down. Taking down walls, though, can be a scary proposition. We no longer have a place to retreat to or to hide behind. We are exposed in the sense of being known as we are. Good or bad. Big or small.

Jesus is not just doing demolition work here. He is not trying to bring about a sort of spiritual anarchy. He’s working to raise a new structure, to join us together into a holy temple. Jesus is working to reverse the curse of Babel, first by healing our divisions and then by creating a new tower. This tower though, is built to God’s glory. Instead of striving to reach heaven from the earth, this temple is built to invite the presence of God, to be “a dwelling place for God.” This temple though, is not a physical structure but rather one that does not need walls to separate us into denominations or other categories.

Paul tells us that Jesus does all this through his own body. At least in part, Paul is talking about the crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus accepted the full weight of our pride and our contention, allowing his own body to be broken in order to show us the foolishness of our divisions and hostilities. Through Jesus we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… in Jesus the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-21).

In the resurrection, Jesus not only witnesses to new life, but acts to reconcile all our divided factions to God “in one body through the cross.” In a sense, this is a natural extension of Jesus’ work of bodily healing throughout his earthly ministry.

In our gospel reading for today, remember how the crowds rush to meet Jesus, bringing the sick to lay along his path. The sick and injured come to him with nothing but their faith and their own weakness and vulnerability.

Jesus meets not only their needs to be healed, but their needs to be seen and acknowledged.

Sickness or disability in that culture was a sentence of separation. Likely it meant a life of dependence or even of begging. Certainly it meant exclusion from religious life, being declared unclean for temple worship(lepers), prevented from drawing near to the physical presence of God that the temple represented. Jesus instead brings God’s presence directly to those most excluded and most in need. Jesus does not let even the religious law stop him. He heals on the Sabbath. He heals in synagogues. We see the sick come to him to be healed there.

Jesus is healing more than bodily illness. He is healing division and exclusion. In fact, he is creating a new body, gathering together the crowds who have been like sheep without a shepherd, and bringing God’s presence among them. Teaching and healing, Jesus begins to assemble a new community bound together by faith in the nearness of God.

In the cross and resurrection, Jesus consummates all this work of teaching healing. He shows himself to be present even in surrender and suffering and death. He surpasses all those ills in the resurrection, and invites all of humanity to become part of his own body. He not only restores the temple of his own body in three days, but begins to shape all of us into the Body of Christ. In the cross, the two great metaphors for the church are united and find their basis: the church as the Body of Christ, and the church as the new temple of God.

We all are invited to join with the apostles and prophets in their self-giving role of building this new and holy temple. More, we are invited to hold each other up in service, prayer and worship, even as the stones of the temple together bear the weight of the whole.

This can only happen because of Jesus the cornerstone, who also happens to be the master architect. We may look at the church and see it terribly fragmented. We may look at our fellow Christians across the dividing line of denominations and worship styles and theologies, and despair of ever working together. Frankly, we may not want to be placed side-by-side with them in a new and unified structure. But remember this, though we are not called to like someone, we are called to love everyone. The strength of christianity is our willingness to sit in the pew and to come to the Table with those with whom we disagree. To remember in those acts that we are one body with one Lord and one Baptism.

If and when we come to seek healing, in humility and in faith, we will see that Jesus, who is able to heal our divisions, is also able to grow us into one body of many different sorts of members. And Jesus as our master-builder can make use even of our differences in order to create a perfect balance. He will work until the only walls that remain standing are the walls of one great “holy temple in the Lord.”

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

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Where is the Good News?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7B, Sunday, July 15, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood’s writer’s cramp continues and there is no written text for today’ sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: The Trump Blimp and the Roots of Rage

I watched with curiosity the big protest against Trump in London this week.

As regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of Mr Trump, however what we saw in London really had very little to do with Donald Trump.

Something else was going on which was much more interesting that Trump, a blimp and a crowd of angry people.

What was interesting was the anger. I watched a few interviews with protesters and there seemed to be a constant theme of rage simmering below the surface. The interviewer asked, “What specifically do you dislike about Trump and his policies?”

The replies were most often incoherent, sentimental, ignorant, inaccurate or all of the above.

The most cogent reply was from a young woman who said with a big smile, “I don’t know. I’m just angry.”

This is where it gets very interesting. Why the anger? Britain, like the USA, is one of the most privileged, affluent and aspirational countries on earth. As in the USA, if you want to get ahead and find happiness and you are not hindered by circumstances beyond your control, you can improve your life. Why the anger?

The boy is on to something. Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: Weakness: A Pathway to God’s Grace

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6B, Sunday, July 8, 2018, 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: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13.

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

“I will boast of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

The letter of St Paul to the church in Corinth that we read today prompts me to say a word about weakness. In our culture weakness is anathema, we don’t like it; it’s to be discouraged and to be avoided at all cost.

But there is some good news in weakness. What’s the good news about weakness? We’re more likely to see weakness as bad news. We don’t like to focus on our weakness; we prefer to talk about our strengths. When you go for a job interview, employers want to hear about your strengths, what are you bringing to the table, not your weaknesses. Keep your weaknesses under wraps. Dismiss them, minimize them, try to make them go away.

But weakness is standard equipment on every model of human being or society. We’re familiar with our weaknesses: fear, selfishness, judgmentalism, temptation, depression, disorganization, low self-esteem.

In our text for today, Paul says, “I boast of my weaknesses.” Paul is giving us a crucial insight into faith. He’s saying that his weaknesses are an important part of his faith. Paul had plenty of ego strength. It was obvious that he was enormously talented as a leader, theologian, and writer, but he says “To keep me from being too elated [prideful, arrogant], a thorn in the flesh was given to me.” We’ve long wondered what exactly was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It was surely more than a tiny splinter stuck in his little finger. Whatever his ailment was, it lingered with him, and Paul prayed over and over for God to take it away. It was not removed. You see, even St. Paul got the answer “no” to his prayers. However, Instead, God gave Paul the strength to bear his pain. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s a paradox of faith: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Whatever limitation Paul faced, his weakness helped him rely in a deep way not on himself but on God. He began to see his weakness as a pathway to God’s grace.

Power is made perfect in weakness, the Scripture says. As a nation and as individuals, we find our inner authority, our spiritual center, only when we face our weaknesses.

That’s why Jesus was always hanging out with powerless people—those who were hurting and oppressed. His mission was to invite weak and wounded people, ordinary people, to enter the Kingdom, the Beloved Community of love, forgiveness, justice, and restored life. But his starting point was weakness.

Jesus’ own life was filled with weakness. In the Gospel lesson today Jesus is rejected by his own relatives. They took offense at him: “Is this Joseph’s son?” And the text says, “He could do no deed of power there, except he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mark 6:5) Even as he was being rejected by his own people, he found some power in his weakness. He found that when he was weak, God’s grace came pouring into him and through him.

Jesus focused first on people who are weak. He was in the business of transforming weakness into strength. The question for us is whether we will allow God to turn our weakness into God’s strength.

Pain can become a source of healing. We can allow our pain to widen our sensitivity to others; we can allow our pain to connect us to the suffering of others and to activate our compassion. The central symbol of Christian faith is a cross, what do you see on the cross?—it was a symbol of weakness and defeat. But God turned the cross into a symbol of love— strength in weakness. A symbol of victory.

God is in the business of turning our personal defeats into victories, our disappointments into hope. But the first step is to trust that God will help us deepen our weakness until that weakness becomes a path to God’s strength.

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

Another Prayer for Independence Day 2018

Lord God Almighty,
you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory,
to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice
and the strength of forbearance,
that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Independence Day 2018

Lord God Almighty,
in whose Name the founders of this country
won liberty for themselves and for us,
and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:
Grant that we and all the people of this land
may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

July 2018: The Power of the Gospel

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

—The Way of a Pilgrim

What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! The issue here is alcoholism, but don’t restrict the lesson to that. Christ can heal any affliction if we let him. Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice the monk’s persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it.

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul

If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Here is indeed balm for your soul!