In regard to this Great Book [the Bible], I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book.
—Abraham Lincoln, Quotations of Abraham Lincoln
In regard to this Great Book [the Bible], I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book.
—Abraham Lincoln, Quotations of Abraham Lincoln
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
—Abraham Lincoln, Quotations of Abraham Lincoln
Sermon delivered on Sunday, Lent 1B, February 18, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Father Bowser’s inability to write contagion has spread through most of our staff so that now Father Gatwood has caught it. Doubtless Father Sang will catch it next week. Hence there’s no written text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 9.8-17; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15.
Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast (and you definitely should with this sermon), click here.
Lectionary texts: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. Unfortunately, many of us today do not understand the true nature of Sin, and without an adequate understanding of Sin we cannot possibly hope to understand how repentance relates to it. And if we do not understand the nature of Sin and our response to it, we cannot possibly hope to have an adequate understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ. To understand what Sin really is and how repentance relates to it will enable us to observe a holy Lent and beyond as we rejoice in God’s love for us made known in and through the cross of Jesus Christ.
In our OT lesson, God through his prophet Joel calls for God’s people to repent in light of the fact that the great and terrible day of the Lord is fast approaching. This is the appointed time when God would finally come to pronounce judgment on all that is wrong in his world, us included. Many of God’s people Israel mistakenly believed that God’s judgment would not fall on them because they were God’s chosen people. They thought God would only pour out his anger on the nations of the world while sparing Judah. Not so, warns Joel. Even the nation of Judah and its capital Jerusalem would be subject to the great and terrible day of the Lord. Repent, therefore, says Joel. Who knows? Maybe God will relent in his punishment.
Do you see the underlying dynamic behind this declaration? The implication is that sin is a matter of correcting bad behavior (like worshiping idols or exploiting society’s most vulnerable and helpless people) or making bad choices that lead to bad behavior. Stop engaging in bad behavior (or repenting) might cause God to relent in punishing. In other words, sin is really a matter of making good choices and behaving ourselves and repentance therefore leads to forgiveness. We have it in our power to stop sinning and if we do, God will (hopefully) relent in punishing us. This line of thinking is what helps some of us to become insufferably self-righteous. We see ourselves as having basically overcome sin because we make good choices and choose to behave ourselves—well, most of the time. We go to church regularly, we read our Bible on occasion, and say some quick prayers. Never mind the fact we sometimes gossip about those who irritate us (and even our friends) or sneak an occasional peak at pornography or cut in line ahead of others because we have urgent business to conduct and can’t be bothered by waiting our turn. Those things are all justifiable. And besides, we’re not murderers or rapists or white supremacists or child molesters. That’s why we can look down our noses in disgust on those who are. They should try to become more like us. And because we have overcome our sins by (mostly) behaving well, God will forgive us when we repent. After all, God is loving and merciful and God has to forgive us when we say we’re sorry for our occasional slip-ups, right?
Sadly, this line of thinking is one of the reasons why many Christians are loathe to talk about sin and repentance because some of us don’t seem to be quite as good at making good decisions and behaving properly as others, and the clear implication is that there are some superior Christians who are worthy of God’s love and admiration and some clearly worthless Christians who can’t live up to God’s expectations. What we are talking about here is the gospel of self-worth and self-help. For those of us who have a bit more will power than others, it’s a great game to play and a great gospel to try and foist on others because it allows us to see ourselves as the truly superior people we are. But this kind of thinking about sin and repentance is emphatically unbiblical and is itself a product of the real problem of Sin.
Sin, as the Bible describes it, is an outside and malevolent power that entered God’s good creation when our ancestors rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. It is variously described as “the darkness” or “the powers” or the “devil and his minions.” Name it what you want but understand that it is an active and malevolent force that has the power to enslave us. This means that none of us has the power to break its grip on our lives. If you want to know what’s wrong with the world with all of its darkness, look no further than the power of Sin. Sin is much deeper and darker than the bad deeds we do or the bad choices we make. In fact our bad deeds that cause all the misery and hurt and suffering in this world are the result of the problem of Sin, not the problem itself. To sin, biblically speaking, means something terribly more consequential than wrongdoing. It means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal love of God. It means to be permanently excluded from God’s heavenly banquet. It means to be helplessly trapped inside one’s own worst self, miserably aware of the vast difference between the way we are and the way God intends for us to be. And given the nature of God’s love and goodness, it is utter foolishness for us to think that God will let this state of affairs go on indefinitely. God must act to break Sin’s power over us to free us from its slavery. So when you hear me talking about Sin with a capital S, this is what I am talking about. It is a breathtakingly hopeless picture of the human condition that Scripture paints for us, not to make us feel bad, although that is a consequence of our sin, but to help us understand the enormity of the forces that are arrayed against us so that we are convinced we need help from beyond.
If you understand what I’ve just said, you will also understand that no amount of repentance on our part is going to fix the problem of Sin. Does that mean repentance is not important to Christians and we should abandon it? No, of course not. Jesus himself called for us to repent and believe the Good News (and there’s the hint where I’m going with this). What I am suggesting is that we have to put repentance in its proper place. More about that in a moment. No, the critical thing for us to understand is that we worship a God who has the power and the desire to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death. And the Good News is precisely that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.3-4) or as St. Paul says in our epistle lesson this evening, God the Father, in full cooperation and agreement with God the Son, made Jesus, the sinless one, to take on and absorb God’s wrath on the power of Sin so as to destroy its grip on us. Destroy the power of Sin and God can set us free from our slavery to it. This was God’s plan from all eternity to deal with the corrupting and dehumanizing power of Sin over us. This, says St. Paul, is exactly what happened to us at our baptism. Listen to him in full:
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him (Romans 6.1-8, NLT).
Did you catch the Good News? God has condemned our sin in the flesh by condemning it in Jesus’ body. In other words, God has moved to impose God’s justice on the evil behind all our wrongdoing and wrong thinking, sparing us in the process. In other words, God has chosen to absorb his own justice so that we might be spared and freed to live as the fully human image-bearing creatures God created us to be. So we no longer are separated and alienated from God. We are given power to overcome sin because God has defeated Sin and the powers behind it on the cross. We know the powers are defeated because God raised Jesus from the dead and we are united to Jesus by virtue of our baptism. Our slavery to Sin’s power has therefore been ended on the cross and we are no longer slaves to Sin. Notice Paul did not say we will no longer sin. There’s still the struggle because we are still weighed down by our mortal bodies and corrupted desires. But new creation has begun with Jesus’ resurrection. We live in a new world, albeit imperfectly until our Lord returns to finish his work. Nevertheless, it’s a done deal, whether we perceive it or not. So on the cross, we see God’s justice and God’s mercy at work simultaneously to rescue us from our hopeless alienation from God with its attendant death while condemning the power of Sin in our lives so as to spare us, thanks be to God. God did this for us out of God’s great love for us, not because of what we do or don’t do or because we are worthy of that love. This is truly Good News because God’s love and justice are simultaneously enacted on the cross and we are freed from our slavery to the power of Sin.
Nobody can prove any of this empirically, of course, but we see glimpses of its truth every time we choose to do the right instead of the wrong, every time we see real justice enacted, every time we see mercy extended to the unmerciful. No, we believe the Good News by faith and we live accordingly, however imperfectly. When by God’s grace, we are given the eye of faith to catch a glimpse of this, we are convicted of our sin and moved to repentance because we understand the great and wondrous life-giving gift God has given us in Jesus Christ. So our repentance is in response to what God has already done for us in Christ, not what God will do if we repent. If by God’s grace you truly understand this dynamic, you will truly understand what the Good News is all about and rejoice.
We see this dynamic working in our psalm for this evening. David committed adultery and then committed murder to cover his tracks. He now comes to God with a broken and contrite heart, asking for God’s mercy. Notice David does this precisely because he knows the steadfast love and mercy of God, just as Joel did in our OT lesson, which is the true basis for his call to repentance. David and Joel knew this, not because of wishful human thinking but because God revealed this about himself in Israel’s history. So while David’s spirit was crushed over his evildoing, he was also convinced that God had the ability and the means to cleanse David from his sin. The full means would not be revealed until the death and resurrection of the Son of God. But the point is that David’s repentance and plea for mercy were based on something God had already done for him before David was ever born. Likewise for us. This is the Good News, my beloved, now and for all eternity! During this Lenten season (and beyond), we are all invited to examine our lives in the light of God’s love, justice, and mercy on our behalf to free us from our sins and to act accordingly, all in the power of the Spirit. May we all observe a holy Lent, thereby giving honor, power and glory to the One who loved us and gave himself to us from 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.
There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
—Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 43
When the season of Lent is at hand, it is observed in the following manner. Now whereas with us the forty days preceding Easter are observed, here they observe the eight weeks before Easter. This is the reason why they observe eight weeks: On Sundays and Saturdays they do not fast, except on the one Saturday which is the vigil of Easter, when it is necessary to fast. Except on that day, there is absolutely no fasting here on Saturdays at any time during the year. And so, when eight Sundays and seven Saturdays have been deducted from the eight weeks—for it is necessary, as I have just said, to fast on one Saturday—there remain forty-one days which are spent in fasting, which are called
here “eortae,” that is to say, Lent.
This is a summary of the fasting practices here during Lent. There are some who, having eaten on Sunday after the dismissal, that is, at the fifth or the sixth hour [11:00am or noon], do not eat again for the whole week until Saturday, following the dismissal from the Anastasis [site of the cross]. These are the ones who observe the full week’s fast. Having eaten once in the morning on Saturday, they do not eat again in the evening, but only on the following day, on Sunday, that is, do they eat after the dismissal from the church at the fifth hour [11:00am] or later. Afterwards, they do not eat again until the following Saturday, as I have already said. Such is their fate during the Lenten season that they take no leavened bread (for this cannot be eaten at all), no olive oil, nothing which comes from trees, but only water and a little flour soup. And this is what is done throughout Lent.
The season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter is quickly approaching. One of the Lenten disciplines I commend to you this year is fasting. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about fasting and so I offer you some great insights from Dr. Scot McKnight’s excellent book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices. Hear him now:
Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments (p. xii).
St. Athanasius, one of the architects of Christian orthodoxy, knew the formative powers of the sacred rhythms of the church calendar. That calendar weaved in and out of mourning over sin (fasting) and celebrating the good grace of God (feasting). “Sometimes,” he says of the church calendar, “the call is made to fasting, and sometimes to a feast [like every Sunday when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection].”
…St. Augustine took fasting into a another area of formation. One way for Christians to find victory over temptation, St. Augustine reminded his readers, was to fast. Why? Because it is sometimes necessary to check the delight of the flesh in respect to licit [not forbidden or lawful] pleasures in order to keep it from yielding to illicit pleasures.
These two themes—fasting as a sacred rhythm in the church calendar and fasting as a discipline against sinful desires—are perhaps the most important themes of fasting in the history of Christian thinking (p. xv).
Dr. McKnight offers his own excellent definition of fasting:
Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). Does it bring results? Yes, but that’s not the point of fasting. Those who fasted in response to grievous sacred moments frequently—but not always!—received results, like answered prayer. But focusing on the results causes us to misunderstand fasting entirely.
Which leads us now to see fasting in an A —> B —> C framework. If one wants to see the full Christian understanding of fasting, one must begin with A, the grievous sacred moment (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). That sacred moment generates a response (B), in this case fasting. Only then, only when the sacred moment is given its full power, does the response of fasting generate the results (C)—and then not always, if truth be told. [So, e.g., in response to sin we fast and can receive forgiveness.]
What we are getting at here is very important: fasting isn’t a manipulative tool that guarantees results. The focus in our deepest Christian tradition is not moving from column B to column C but the A —> B movement. Fasting is a response to a sacred moment, not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not “if you fast you will get,” but “when this happens, God’s people fast [emphasis added]” (pp. xviii-xix).
Dr. McKnight develops these ideas in the subsequent chapters of his book and I wholeheartedly commend it to you for your edification. As always, it is critically important for us as Christians to know why we do what we do. This pertains to worship and the various spiritual disciplines, fasting included. Therefore, this Lent I encourage you to fast regularly as a means to help you become a more Christ-oriented person and to live a cruciform (cross-shaped) life.
To purchase Dr. McKnight’s book on fasting, click this link.
Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday, year B, February 11, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Since Father Bowser still refuses to learn how to write, there is no text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.
Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9.
Sermon delivered at the first quarterly healing service on the second Sunday before Lent B, February 4, 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: Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-11, 20; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we hold the first of our quarterly healing services. Why do we come (or not come) to them? What do we expect (or not expect) from these services? How we answer these questions will tell us a lot about how we perceive God and God’s interaction with us, and that’s always worthy of our time and consideration. This is therefore what I want us to look at this morning.
So what should we as Christians who have just heard our lectionary readings for this morning think about healing? I suspect many of us, if pressed to answer truthfully, would respond by saying “not much.” I mean, look around you. Where are the rest of our family members today? To be sure, some of them may be sick (no pun intended) or on vacation or have some pressing obligation that keeps them away legitimately. But what about those who don’t? We have advertised this service in plenty of time so everyone knew it was coming. Or consider our intercessory list. It has grown so large that we can barely read the names on it as we project it on the wall. Assuming we can invite some, if not many, of the folks on this list, and assuming that many would actually be able to attend today, where are they? Have you invited those you ask to be put on our intercessory list? If you have, assuming they are able to attend, why haven’t they come? And if you haven’t invited those folks, why haven’t you? If we can believe St. Mark’s account in our gospel lesson this morning, once the word got out about Jesus’ mighty act of healing, he was mobbed by people wanting to get in on the action to the point where he was forced to retreat to solitary places just to pray. So where are the sick today? Why aren’t they packed in this building and waiting outside for the opportunity to be healed?
The fact is that they don’t even have to wait for quarterly healing services to take place because we have intercessors on call every Sunday during communion. But the vast majority of us never bother to go back for prayer and anointing. Why is that? Is it because we are all paradigms of health, folks who have no problems in our lives that weigh us down? Right. So why do we get so few takers of the healing opportunities we offer on a regular basis? Again, I suspect if we were hard pressed to answer these questions honestly most of us would offer one of these three broad answers. We either don’t believe the Lord has the willingness or ability to heal us, i.e., we lack the faith in God’s power to heal or have an inaccurate understanding of God’s character, or we miss God’s healing activity in our lives when it occurs because we pigeonhole God by expecting him to act in a certain way to heal us, or we don’t think we are worthy of God’s healing power in our lives (or various combinations of these three answers). Regardless of the reason, all three make the category mistake of making healing about us rather than God and we need to look at each one in turn. Before we do, however, I want to emphasize that I am not castigating or trying to shame anyone here. Only God knows what is truly in your heart about his willingness and ability to heal you, or your perceptions about what that looks like, or your perceived worthiness to receive God’s healing. I am simply pointing out that these things suggest most of us don’t really take this healing business all that seriously for whatever reason, which obviously is not good for us or our relationship with God.
We turn first to the business of whether God is willing and able to heal us, or more specifically to perform mighty acts of power in our lives. Many of us would say yes in the abstract but no when it comes to our own experience. For example, when Bishop Jackson talked about the mighty acts of power he has witnessed, some of you asked me afterwards if I really believed that. The blind regaining their eyesight? The lame being able to walk again? Really? Let’s be honest. Most of us haven’t experienced that and so we are skeptical. Our skepticism also tends to jade us when we hear stories like we heard in our gospel lesson. And we’re not the only ones who have doubts. So did God’s people Israel, and almost from the beginning. The prophet Isaiah, being given a future vision of God’s people’s exile so real that he spoke of it as if it had already happened, knew what a deal breaker their exile was going to be for his people’s faith and trust in God. If God were in charge, how could God let his people be captured and deported by a hostile alien power? So the prophet had to remind us about who God is by reminding us of past events, i.e., of what we already know. Don’t you know, asks Isaiah, that God is the Creator of all things? Look at the vast number of stars at night. Consider the awesome power and beauty of nature. God created it all. The creation is evidence of God’s mighty power. Then consider the mightiest nations and their rulers. They may be the world’s current superpower but they are nothing compared to God because they are mortal and will eventually go to their grave. That’s not going to happen with God. Given these realities, do you really think God does not know what’s going on in your life? Are you crazy? He created you and this world in which you live! He knows everything. We can’t begin to comprehend this or God’s mind, let alone all of creation, even as clever as we think we are! Yet despite our unknowing, God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless because God is a God of mercy, love, and justice, to which the psalmist adds that God delights in those who realize God is awesome and who put their trust in his steadfast love. In other words, God’s power to act is not contingent on our understanding of God and God’s ways. So please, kids, get over yourselves and learn some humility! God acts as God wills because God is sovereign over all.
We see these truths about God played out in human history and the context of our lives. Who among us would have called a wandering pagan nomad out of what is modern-day Iraq to bring God’s blessings to heal God’s sin-sick world? Or who among us without the advantage of 20-20 hindsight would have looked at the awful spectacle of our Lord’s crucifixion and known it was the turning point in human history for the salvation of our race? Who would ever expect that God would allow himself to become human to be crucified in utter humiliation by his own creatures to destroy the power of Sin over us and reconcile us to himself? These events are not the product of human thinking. They are the product of the mind of the One who loves us, who created us for life and health, and who acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death so that we could enjoy God forever in the manner God always intended.
Or think about the times in your life when God acted on your behalf. You met or saw the person you absolutely needed to see or experiencing a turn of events in your life that produced unexpected turmoil and then blessing. This isn’t chance happening. There is no such thing as chance or coincidence in this world. To think otherwise is to deny the goodness, love, and power of our ever-present, all-powerful, and loving God revealed to us supremely in Christ and his faithful people. The latter would be you and me, my beloved, in all our warped and damaged glory. From all this we can only conclude that God is both willing and able to heal us and our infirmities. Whenever you doubt otherwise (and we all doubt from time to time), do as Isaiah and the psalmist tell us to do. Remember the mighty acts of God in the lives of his people (Psalm 77). As Christians, we would start by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
These things are also helpful to us in considering our other concerns about God in relation to healing. We have just seen that God is both willing and able to heal us, but we also know that God does not always choose to answer our prayers for healing, at least in the manner for which we ask. It is at this point that many of us simply check out in one way or another. In fine human fashion the creatures have the audacity to challenge the love and goodness of their Creator. We forget that we are mortal and have limited perspective as opposed to God. We’d much prefer to take matters into our own hands because we are too often consumed by the cares and concerns in our lives and this makes us jaded, in part because we don’t spend enough time in God’s Word in Scripture so that we really don’t know the great story of God’s rescue plan for us and some of the wonderful sub-stories within that greater story. Take Abraham’s nephew, Lot, for example. Although he chose to accompany his uncle to the land to which God called Abraham, Lot typically acted in his own self-interest. When Abraham gave Lot his choice of land, he picked what he thought was the best land, land that included the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. There he was contaminated by the worldly lifestyle of those two cities, just like we are today by our own culture. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by a mob to protect himself and God’s messengers. How does that show a trust in God’s protection? He argued with God’s angels about where he should settle after they graciously acted to save him from Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction and afterwards succumbed to his daughters scheme to get him drunk and have sex with him so that they could perpetuate their family line. Does this sound like one who put his hope and trust in God? No, it sounds pretty much like us. Yet St. Peter called Lot a righteous man (2 Peter 2.6-9), one God counted worthy of salvation.
What’s my point? Well, among other things, stories like Lot’s (and they are legion in Scripture), as well as stories of our own chaotic lives, show us God’s character and heart for us. Despite our stubborn refusal to love and trust God, despite our persistent rebellion against God which produces all kinds of chaos and sickness in our live, God acts for our good, even when it is not obvious to us because of our limited understanding. Or as St. Paul puts it, even while we were still God’s enemies, God sent his Son to die for us to reconcile us to himself and free us from our slavery to Sin and Death (Romans 5.6-11). I’m pretty sure that none of Jesus’ disciples were doing the happy dance and praising God for acting decisively in human history to save us as he hung naked on a cross. They were too busy hiding in fear! No, it takes faith—faith based on an intimate knowledge of the stories contained in Scripture that point us to God’s character and power—to have the audacity to believe God could heal us when we ask him. These stories also remind us that no one, not even you and me with our baggage and pile of sins that reach to heaven, is unworthy in God’s eyes to be healed. Whenever we start to think that, we had better head to the foot of the cross (or the table of the Lord, or both) to be reminded otherwise.
St. Mark tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. The healings he reports don’t seem to be contingent on the faith of the beneficiaries. Peter’s mother-in-law didn’t ask to be healed. Jesus just healed her. In fact, St. Mark apparently wants us to see that the healings are tied to the greater purpose of our Lord’s ministry. The crowds saw Jesus merely as a miracle worker who could heal them. The demons, however, saw Jesus as God’s Holy One who was exercising God’s power over them by driving them out of their victims, thus all the shrieking. And when the disciples came to get Jesus, he told them he had to move on so that he could preach the in-breaking power of the Kingdom of God in the power and person of himself. In other words, the healings that St. Mark reports are more about the healer than the healed. When we lose sight of this, we lose faith and hope because we instinctively know how broken we are and our inability to heal ourselves.
All this can help us understand, albeit imperfectly and enigmatically, why healing doesn’t always occur when and how we ask for it. It occurs according to God’s good will and purposes for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth as in heaven and those purposes are much greater than our physical/emotional/mental healing. Why? Because we are mortal and any healing, even the most spectacular kind, is temporary. For example, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, eventually died again. So will anyone who Jesus heals today. No, there is a greater healing at stake here, my beloved. It is the final healing that will occur at the resurrection of our mortal bodies when our Lord returns. Then our bodies will be reconstituted and transformed, healed forever, never again to succumb to death or sickness or disorder of any kind. That’s the healing for which we all should long as Christians. In the meantime, let us seek the lesser, more temporary varieties of healing, and let us do so eagerly and expectantly because we know God’s love for us and his power to heal. We aren’t called to have perfect faith in God to bring about our healing because as we have seen, it is about the healer, not the healed. Healed as we desire or not, we are called to wait patiently on the Lord to act on us in his good time and good way (or refrain from acting on us), trusting in God’s goodness, God’s justice, God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s overarching plan for all creation, not just us. If we are not healed, let us never doubt that it is because God does not love us or doesn’t have the power to heal or that we are somehow unworthy. In the final analysis, no one is worthy of God’s healing because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Any healing that occurs is an act of sheer grace and mercy on God’s part. It has nothing to do with the myth of our worthiness.
So come forward today and every Sunday and expect God to do great things in you because the God you love and believe in is a great God who loves you and wants the best for you. Believe it by remembering (or learning) the story of God’s salvation when you falter. Show your faith by inviting your sick friends to come and experience the healing love of God and his people here at St. Augustine’s. Talk to them truthfully and then back up your talk with your behavior. Don’t be afraid to invite folks to experience God’s healing because you are afraid God won’t deliver. That’s not our call to make. Instead, remember God’s love for you, a love that accompanies God’s ability to heal you. He’s going to raise you from the dead one day and make you live forever. Is anything too hard for God? No, invite your friends and trust God to act according to his loving purposes for them, despite what may or may not happen when God’s holy people lay hands on them and anoint them with oil, and prepare to let God blow your mind as God shows you his power and great love for them and you, often in unexpected and surprising ways. God’s power to heal is part of the Good News that brings us hope, joy, and health. Our challenge is to let God be God and not reduce God to our puny and incomplete expectations. Jesus showed us the way and gave us a glimpse of what God can and will do for all of us ultimately, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory, now and for all eternity!
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon delivered on the feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon because one has to be smarter than the recording device.
Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Last Sunday, after everyone went home, and the vestry met for a short while with Bishop Jackson, I went home expecting a relaxing evening before heading back to the office early Monday morning. I went into my house, changed over into my gym shorts and t-shirt, and started to get comfortable with my family as the day wound down. This is the routine we have come to expect on most typical Sunday’s, but it turned out that this would not be that kind of day.
Shortly after changing over and plopping myself on the couch I received a message from a family member that I should come to the hospital to visit with the man Larry whom I added to our church intercessions list. While he was already not doing well he had taken a very quick turn for the worst. So I put my trousers and shirt back on, grabbed my jacket, communion kit, and oils and headed out for Riverside Hospital. My rest and relaxation had to be put on hold.
When I arrived at the hospital I was greeted by a large group of family whom I had not seen in many years. They were all spending time quietly at the bedside of Larry. His children, grandchildren, wife, cousins, and friends sat there expecting the worst to happen in very short order.
As I stood there greeting the group I heard a familiar voice from behind me in the doorway, one that I had not heard in nearly fifteen years. “Well, I know you” said the comforting voice. I turned to look and saw an old friend with whom I had attended high school. She had been given charge of caring for Larry in these his finals days. Immediately any discomfort I had felt about seeing this family member of mine was soothed as I knew the kind of person she was, and had seen her to be even more through our keeping up over social media. During a dark time there was someone present through whom holy light kept breaking forth from, enlightening the whole room. These are the kinds of faithful people we hope to encounter during these difficult moments of life.
That remarkable enough a thing that I stand here today and tell you about it, but something that was more remarkable about this day was about to happen. We’ll get to that here shortly.
In Jerusalem, about two thousand and fifteen years ago another remarkable thing happened. In keeping the law for her purification, Mary, with Joseph and Jesus, went up to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus to offer sacrifice to God. This was a routine event for the Hebrew women of the day. At the same time, Joseph presented Jesus there to the Lord, as every first-born son was to be designated as holy to the Lord. This, again, is a very routine thing for any Hebrew family at this time.
But what seemed to be something that was going to be very common to them, although his conception and birth was anything but common, a funny thing happened on the way into the Temple. Standing there was a man named Simeon, who had been led inside by the Holy Spirit.
By this time Simeon was a very old man. The Bible describes him as a “righteous and devout” man, who was looking forward to Israel’s consolation. He was looking forward to comfort in the midst of great discomfort and suffering. Being a devout man, and righteous, he was also no doubt a man who knew the truth of God’s promises contained in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit rested upon him, and he knew from these Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit in his own heart and mind that he would not leave this world until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, the true Consolation of Israel.
Reaching forward, and taking the 40-day-old baby Jesus into his arms, this devout man of God began to praise God. The promise of God was being fulfilled right in this moment before his very eyes, and the fulfillment could be held in his very arms. This small child, the one whose blood had been shed in his circumcisions 32 days earlier and shown to be very much a human like those he came to save, and whose blood would later be shed for the salvation of all the world, was the one who had been promised. What inexplicable joy filled Simeon’s longsuffering and hopefully expectant heart as he cried out in praise and thanksgiving!
“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”
God’s promises are true, and Simeon’s hope has come. The Holy Spirit who had caused him to know these things through the Scriptures, through his prayers, and his hope, now is providing for his joy. He confesses the true nature of the child Jesus. Not only is this a baby boy of the faith, but he is the author of it. He is the salvation of all. And in knowing this now to have come to pass, Simeon bids the world farewell, knowing his days are now short. But he does so in the faith and knowledge of the Christ who has come. How comfortable the death of a man who knows Christ.
Imagine being Mary or Joseph here. Although they were no strangers to the mighty movements of God, this is still a moment of pure amazement and wonder. But Simeon goes on.
Blessing Mary and Joseph, Simeon turns his face intently toward Mary, saying to her: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The life of Jesus, according to this devout man, this confessor of Christ, and this prophet, is to be a tumultuous one. There will be great joys and great sorrows ahead. And here the Holy Spirit by the lips of Simeon lays the groundwork for the life, ministry, and coming death of the baby whom he just held in his arms.
So, now they can get on with their business after this, right? Nope. God sends yet another, a prophetess called Anna. She too has lived far beyond her expected years. This woman, being a widow, has devoted her entire life to fasting and praying at the Temple. Lips that should have already been in the grave here continue to pour out words of praise and thanksgiving, they continue to pray in the Spirit, and in this moment are about to prophesy to others about this child Jesus, whom she also recognized for who he is.
What a completely unexpected day this little family is having. Fully thinking they were going to go and do the things appointed for them in the Law they instead find themselves in the midst of something God has been planning since the foundations of the world were laid. This is a moment of cosmic significance, as it signals the salvation of the world, the redemption of the whole creation, that is always inherent in the life and witness of the texts of the Old Testament. Jesus is written on those pages, and is an active participant already in leading his people toward their salvation, toward himself.
It is an amazing thing to see God moving in such a powerful way in the world. And nothing God does is without purpose. As the Apostle tells us, “God works all things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose.” And to do this he came in human flesh, he became one of us, with all the frailties that come with the human package. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” so that we might have confidence in him, sharing in flesh and blood with him as his brothers and sisters, that he can be, and is, for us that merciful and faithful high priest who serves in the presence of God the Father. He was tested, like we are tested and will be tested, and is able to help us during these times of temptation and trial. This is the child Jesus who was shown to Simeon and Anna. This is the one about whom they started telling others. He is the one we share with our neighbors so that they too might be called his brothers and sisters.
I have made many hospital visits over the last twenty years. Most of them tend to go the same way, so there is a routine nature to most of it. Last Sunday, expecting one home life routine but trading it in for what I expected to be another type of routine event I found myself in the midst of God moving yet again. Larry, who had not been a participant in the life of the Church for many years, but who had been baptized as a kid, confessed Christ. It was one of the kids who had been there to visit who shared the Gospel with him, and another senior citizen who had prayed with him at that time.
I walked into that room fully expecting it to be a terribly sad affair, and I was among those who was and is sad, but instead what I found was the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy that he brings when he reveals Jesus for who he is, unfolding the truth of the Scriptures that the heart may understand and be transformed. There was prayer, praise, and hymn singing by the time I departed that day. Peace and comfort, testimony of God’s goodness, and the true love of Christ was so thick in there it was like being grabbed up and hugged so warmly and tightly. The Lord came into the room and revived the hearts of those who needed consolation so badly. And he did it no more than in the heart of Larry.
Larry went into that hospital one man, but now that he prepares to leave this mortal world he will be leaving it a new creation in Christ. In his own words, “I know who my savior is, and I can’t stop praising him.” Just like Simeon and Anna another will go home with praise on his lips because of that blessed child is who is the true light of the world.
May we find our hope in him that at our own end we may leave with such praise on our mouths. Thank you, God, for Israel’s consolation and ours, and for being the only one whom we can trust for our salvation. For when through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, gives light to us in our darkest times and in the shadow of death, guiding our feet into peace breaks into our hearts, we can do no other. Praise the Lord for his great and glorious love toward us.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 14, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and who wouldn’t?), click here.
Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51.
Today, I want us to look at the passage from John and 1 Samuel and think about what it means to answer the call to follow Jesus. I suppose, in a sense, every sermon is about what it means to follow Jesus – but there are things I want to draw on this morning out of the lesson.
The gospel scene is set for us as Jesus decides to head for Galilee, and that’s when the encounter with Philip begins. The first thing we notice is actually very easy to miss…
Right at the start of the story, John says: “Jesus found Philip”.
Philip didn’t find Christ. Christ found Philip.
The truth at the heart of the Christian story is not that you and I have found Christ, but Christ has found us.
We did not decide for God. God decided for us.
And the narrative that runs throughout the Bible is of a God who constantly seeks out his people.
And that’s the case right from the beginning of Scripture. If you remember in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, realised they were naked and were embarrassed, so they hid. And, in verse 8, God is walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve and in verse 9: “But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Right from the beginning of time, God has been seeking us out and finding us.
So let us never think that we chose God: he has chosen us! As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…”
And this is important because the knowledge that God has sought us out, rather than us choosing God, is crucial in keeping us humble before God. And once Jesus finds Philip, he issues a single command: “Follow me”. Philip is compelled to follow Jesus.
Philip follows Jesus, and bears witness to Nathanael. But Nathanael is skeptical, and he questions Philip.“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In our day and age, an argument might arise, but Philip does not enter into an argument of words, he simply says, come and see. Nathanael goes to see, and although scholarship is unsure of the meaning of the fig tree, it is obvious that Jesus knows something about Nathanael that no one but God incarnate could know. Jesus had identified Nathanael before Philip had spoken to him when he was under the fig tree. God knows who and what we are. Our Lord also knows that we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom. God called each of us in our own unique way so as to serve him by doing what he has called us to do. And i guess by now we all know that it is to make a difference for Him
In the Old Testament lesson, God called Samuel, and Samuel is confused until Eli finally perceives that God is calling Samuel. And then, Samuel responds with the familiar, here I am. God gives Samuel some difficult information. Samuel tells Eli what God has planned, and Eli accepts his fate. The point is that God calls, we listen, and then do what we are called to do.
The tasks we are called to do are all difficult because of our frailty as humans, but they are not beyond our capabilities. What we are called to do might be unpleasant for us, but they are done for the love of God. think about Medical doctors, they are called to relieve the suffering of humans. But part of their call is also to inform family members that a loved one has died, or has terminal cancer, or will never walk again. We do not have to understand what we are called for, in fact, there is no way we can understand because we are not God. We have to trust that God will make all things right in the end. We have to trust that God knows, not just what is best for us as individuals, but what is best for all in the Kingdom of God. What we do know for sure is that we are all mortal. Our flesh will die, but we get the chance to live on by the acceptance of our Lord, and the acceptance of what we are called to do.
Tomorrow is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, It can only be imagined that Martin Luther King felt much like the Apostle Paul in his call to spread the Good News. Paul was harassed, beaten, persecuted, and probably executed for his belief in spreading the Gospel of our Lord. Violence was not acceptable for either man as a way to spread the Word. Both men wrote letters while jailed. Dr. King’s most famous letter is probably his letter written from the Birmingham jail. The letter is addressed to eight clergymen in Birmingham who had suggested that King needed to wait to pursue his cause. The timing was not correct, King should wait on political leaders to change and let the process change the abuses and denial of rights being inflicted on Blacks. The eight men consisted of a Presbyterian pastor, Southern Baptist minister, Jewish Rabbi, Roman Catholic bishop, two Methodist bishops, and two Episcopal Bishops; a fairly ecumenical group.
Dr. King heard the call of our Lord. He was given his instructions, and he knew that his difficult information had to be given to the leaders of this country. He knew that the status quo had to change, and waiting was no longer an option. But, he also knew that any form of violence corrupted the message. In order to follow his call, the message he sent had to be one of change through non-violent means. He knew that the message of Jesus to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself applied to all persons, friend and enemy.
Jesus knows us before he calls us. He knows what we are all capable of, and he knows that the instructions we receive in our call will probably be difficult for us. But, we can all do it. We can all follow and serve the Lord. As long as we are alive, we can answer the call of our Lord. We are disciples. Discipleship is an active engagement with Jesus. It is also an active engagement in the world in which we live.
Hopefully, it is not necessary for any of us to risk our freedom or our lives in order to answer our individual calls. But it may take us out of our comfort zone, and cause us more than a little discomfort. It might even cause us discomfort to think that our Lord knows all that we do, and all that we can do. We can take the instruction of the eight clergymen in Birmingham, and wait for the system to set things right. Or we can accept the call of our Lord. We can acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and follow him. We can do what is unpleasant in this broken world to ease the suffering and injustice that exists. We do not have to fix it all. As individuals, we do our part, and hope that others are answering the call and doing their part. We are changed by God to make a difference for Him. Here I am Lord, speak for your servant is listening.
In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.