A Prayer for Fathers’ Day 2018

Heavenly Father,
you entrusted your Son Jesus,
the child of Mary,
to the care of Joseph, an earthly father.
Bless all fathers
as they care for their families.
Give them strength and wisdom,
tenderness and patience;
support them in the work they have to do,
protecting those who look to them,
as we look to you for love and salvation,
through Jesus Christ our rock and defender.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Seeds of Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3B, Sunday, June 17, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has gone completely illiterate so there is no written text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts for today are 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34.

An Easter Sermon for (Not So) Ordinary Time

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2B, Sunday, June 10, 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: 1 Samuel 8.4-20, 11.14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.5; Mark 3.20-35.

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

We recently entered “ordinary time,” the period after Trinity Sunday that runs through All-Saints’ Sunday and celebrates the ministry and mystery of Christ, God become human. During this liturgical season it is unusual for preachers to focus on resurrection because that topic is usually reserved for Eastertide. But you’re going to get an Easter sermon today because, well, I’m kinda unusual (I know, I know; you already knew that), because today’s Lectionary texts allow it, and because we live in a sin-sick world and need to be reminded on a regular basis about who God is and why we as Christians have a hope that is uniquely ours.

We would have to be utterly blind not to see that there is something wrong with God’s breathtakingly beautiful world. From natural disasters to personal illness to frustrated hopes and dreams to sudden catastrophes to living with the consequences of our sin to broken and dysfunctional relationships, we don’t have to be told that all is not right with God’s world or our lives. As we saw last week, in ancient Israel’s life as well as our own, everyone increasingly did what seemed right in their own eyes, which did nothing but bring about increasing lawlessness, anxiety, and disorder to their society and ours. When the creatures decide to tell their Creator they know better than the Creator, chaos, one of the primary signs of Sin and Evil, will surely follow.

Each of our lessons this morning speaks to this reality as well. In our OT lesson, e.g., God tells old Samuel that in demanding a king like the other nations, God’s people Israel were rejecting God, not Samuel’s leadership. And God commanded Samuel to tell the people that if they got a king, injustice and all kinds of other evil would ensue. The psalmist speaks about God rescuing him as he walks in the midst of trouble, especially from the fury of his enemies. And if we read the overarching story of Scripture carefully, we will see that our sin and rebellion against God not only results in our death, it also allows the powers of Evil to operate more freely in God’s world to corrupt and destroy it. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, our enemies are not flesh and blood, i.e., other humans, but the powers and principalities, i.e., the unseen forces of Evil, arrayed against us (6.12). To be sure, we usually deal with the human agents who cooperate with the dark powers, wittingly or otherwise. But our real enemy is the unseen forces of Evil that often control and/or manipulate sinful human behavior. As St. John writes, “…when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning (1 John 3.8a).

If we understand this dynamic and acknowledge the real presence of Evil in God’s good world, enigmatic and mysterious as that can seem, we are ready to examine what is really going on in our gospel lesson. This in turn will help us appreciate what Scripture is trying to tell us, that God is not an absentee landlord who cares nothing about his tenants and who turns a blind eye to our cries. To the contrary, our acknowledgement of the real presence of Evil in God’s world and our lives makes us want to cry out to the Lord in the manner of the psalmists: 

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! / When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. / All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. / I think of God, and I moan,  overwhelmed with longing for his help. / Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? / Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? / Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? (Psalm 77.1-3, 7-9)

Our gospel lesson testifies to the fact that God has both heard our prayers for deliverance from Evil and has acted decisively to defeat Evil be sending Jesus his Son to rescue us. That’s what this story is about and we need to have eyes and ears and minds of faith so that we don’t miss it. St. Mark never tells us explicitly that Jesus was performing an exorcism in the house but surely that was the case. We conclude this based on the exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities who had come down from Jerusalem to check him out. If Jesus wasn’t exorcising demons from an afflicted person, their criticisms of him make no sense at all, nor does Jesus’ response to their criticisms. Placing this story on the heels of previous exorcisms and healings, which in turn came after the story of Jesus’ victory over Satan during our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness (Mark 1.9-14, 21-32), St. Mark surely wants us to see that in these exorcisms, Jesus is extending his initial victory won over Satan in the wilderness, i.e., Jesus has bound the strong man, Satan, and has begun to plunder Satan’s house. Jesus, God’s Son and Messiah, is the stronger man and through him and his work, God is going about defeating the powers and presence of Evil. St. John tells us the same thing in his first epistle, except much more boldly. He states that, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8b). Of course, St. John makes this claim immediately after writing that those who still sin belong to the devil as we saw earlier. From this we can reasonably conclude that release from Sin’s power over us through the Son of God, and only the Son of God is part of defeating Evil. But how?

The cross, of course. In addition to the exorcisms and healings our Lord performed during his earthly ministry, signs that he truly is God’s Son and Messiah, the NT writers are adamant that on the cross God defeated the powers and principalities, but in a most surprising way. God didn’t send in the tanks. God sent his only Son to take on himself the full brunt of Evil and bear the punishment for our Sins, thus further breaking the power of Evil. We therefore have nothing to fear in this world or the next because we believe that in the blood of the Lamb shed to cleanse us from our sins, we are reconciled to God, our only Source of life, and freed from the power of Evil and Sin. And when we are freed from the power of Evil and Sin we are therefore freed from the power of Death because as St. Paul writes elsewhere, the wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6.23). By dying for us in a shameful and godforsaken manner, the Son of God freed us from the dark powers who hate us and want to destroy us (Romans 8.2). Even more remarkable is the fact that God did all this for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5.6-9).

All this is the Good News of Jesus Christ and is part of the Easter proclamation. But before we look at the heart of the Easter proclamation contained in our epistle lesson, let us stop and consider what this all means for us. First, a word about the unforgivable sin about which Jesus talks in our gospel lesson. I know it has caused a lot of anxiety in faithful Christians. Have we committed the unforgivable sin? The short answer is no, unless you attribute the mighty acts of healing and power performed by Jesus, exorcisms included, to Satan himself. Knowing most of you as I do, I think you all can breathe a sigh of relief and let go of this particular anxiety, because that was the context in which Jesus spoke about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. 

Second, Jesus’ claim to have bound the strong man (Satan) so that Satan’s kingdom could be plundered, i.e., that he was reclaiming God’s good world from the forces of Evil, is also meant to alert us to the reality that the world is full of spiritual dangers. “Go out there with your eyes open,” we hear him say. “Expect to be tempted. Realize that when bad things happen, evil powers may well have a hand in them. Don’t naively suppose that life ought to be like a leisurely afternoon at the beach and then blink in surprise when some sort of evil explodes into the middle of your existence.” Jesus announces that we live in a world held hostage by formidable evil powers, powers always on the prowl, but Jesus has the power to defeat them. He hasn’t defeated them completely, of course. In fact, I was reminded of this reality in a terrible way while writing this sermon. It is precisely at this point I received the news of Dawn Dunlap’s death yesterday. Now I am not suggesting the powers of Evil were behind her death, only that we live in a world where bad things can and do happen, even to good people. So while the evil powers have been defeated, they have not been fully vanquished. That won’t happen until the Lord returns to consummate his work won in his death and resurrection. This can be a challenge to our faith and it is here we must return to the psalmist who has cried out in desperation and anger, asking God where God is and why God allows evil to exist. The psalmist, of course, doesn’t receive an answer to his why questions. Instead he engages in holy remembrance. He remembers who God is and God’s mighty works on behalf of God’s people. Listen to him now:

I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” / But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. / O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? / You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. / By your strong arm, you redeemed your people. (Ps 77.10-11, 13-15a)

God’s people Israel were to remember God’s rescue of them from their slavery in Egypt. For Christians, our go-to remembrance is Jesus’ death and resurrection for the reasons we have just talked about along with the mighty acts of power like Jesus’ exorcisms and healings. 

Third, the presence and power of Evil in God’s world, combined with our utter helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and Death remind us we are dealing with powerful, alien forces who hate us and want to destroy us. If we are to be conquerors, therefore, we must rely on help from an outside power who loves us and wants to heal us, especially from the ultimate evil of Death. The NT teaches us, and we believe, that that help comes from God the Father himself who sent his only Son to die for us and free us from our slavery to Evil and Sin, and who broke the power of Death by raising Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson and elsewhere (cp. especially Romans 6.3-11), we are united to Christ in a death like his so that we can also be united to Christ in a resurrection like his. In other words, we share Christ’s reality, both in this world and the next. We did nothing to deserve it, but God offered Christ to us anyway because of God’s great love for us. Do we have the good sense to accept this most precious gift in the world? I pray we do, my beloved.

I can hear some of you saying right now, “I just can’t imagine any of that: God’s love for me, the strange way God defeated Evil, and the resurrection of the dead.” Well of course you can’t. None of us can, not even those of us who actually believe the gospel. We can’t imagine it precisely because this is about the God who raises the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist (Romans 4.17), not us. Last time I checked, none of us can do either of those things; so yes, it is unimaginable in that regard. But it’s true, despite our inability to imagine the power and mercy and love and grace of God behind it. When by God’s grace we do believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and learn to have a realistic view of Evil in the world, we are given the power to overcome that Evil and to persevere when it afflicts us as it inevitably will. 

This is what St. Paul was talking about in our epistle lesson. He had been defending his ministry to the Corinthians because it looked so weird to them. He talked about power in suffering for Jesus. He talked about dying to self and living for Christ, proclaiming nothing but his cross. St. Paul wasn’t a handsome, sexy leader. To the contrary he had suffered terribly for his Lord. And because some in the Corinthian church couldn’t imagine this is how God has chosen to rescue us from Evil, they questioned St. Paul’s legitimacy as an bona fide apostle of Christ.

In response, St. Paul tells them (and us) that he doesn’t lose hope or heart despite his immense suffering on behalf of Christ. In fact, he tells us that when we are faithful to Jesus we can expect to suffer too, and sometimes mightily! That is when we must stop and remember what God has done for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s rescued us from the enemy and our slavery to the evil powers so that even if we are killed, we have nothing to fear. Paul is not telling us he never had anxiety or fear. Read what he says in 2 Corinthians 1.8-11 about being crushed and overwhelmed in Asia beyond his ability to endure, even to the point where he expected to die. So St. Paul is not offering us some magic elixir full of happy juice that will suddenly make our troubles and sufferings disappear. No, St. Paul is offering us something much better: union with the crucified and risen Lord who has conquered the dark powers and all that can truly harm us, and claimed us as his own. That, proclaims St. Paul, not to mention countless Christians after him, is enough to help us persevere when we are afflicted by Evil because we know our eternal future is secure even if the fleeting present is still chaotic.

And what is that future? Resurrection! New bodily life patterned after our crucified and risen Savior. When St. Paul speaks of things seen versus unseen, he is not talking about the physical world versus the spiritual world (heaven), denigrating the former and exalting the latter. He is talking about the present world in contrast to the future world, the new heavens and earth, with its new type of physicality that will include us with our resurrection bodies that will be impervious to sickness, suffering, sorrow, or death. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated decisively that death had been defeated. It was the turning point in history! And Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of our own resurrection because as we have seen, as Christians we are united with Christ in a resurrection like his. We have this promise, despite our ongoing sin and wickedness and rebellion against God because we are united to Jesus in a death like his, where he broke Sin’s power over us and spared us from God’s justice being imposed on us, thanks be to God! Amen? If this future hope is not enough to sustain you in times of darkness and suffering, my beloved, I don’t know what can. Let us therefore ask the Holy Spirit, whom God gives us to strengthen and guide us, to give us the faith to believe the unbelievable (in human terms) and to imagine the unimaginable (again in human terms). Let us love and forgive and encourage each other as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and enthroned as Lord over the entire creation, to a world that desperately needs to hear it. And let our proclamation sustain us in our own sufferings because we know we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, which means we are proclaiming the defeat of all that is evil, especially Death, now and for all eternity. That proclamation, my beloved, will preach during Eastertide and any other season as well. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

The Word of the Lord Was Rare in Those Days (and Ours)

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1B, Sunday, June 3, 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: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18; 2 Corinthians 4.5-12; Mark 2.23-3.6.

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

What are we to make of the strange and intriguing story found in our OT lesson today? What can it possibly have to do with us? Much, because underneath the intrigue and the terrible act of judgment pronounced on old Eli and his sons lies a message of hope and we all could certainly use a fresh infusion of real hope.

Before we look at the actual story, some context is needed to help us interpret it correctly. This story is set in the time of the judges in Israel. Israel’s great leaders, Moses and Joshua, the men whom God chose to lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt and to conquer the land God promised to their forefather Abraham, were dead and Israel had no one to lead them. Given our corrupted human nature, the results were predictable. The Israelites did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord instead of being his faithful image-bearing people to bring God’s healing and goodness to the land, and God punished his people for their evildoing by bringing new conquerors to oppress and enslave them. The people in turn would cry out to the Lord, who in his great love and graciousness raised up leaders in Israel called judges, to lead God’s people and free them from their oppressors. Interestingly, some of the judges whom God raised up were themselves deeply flawed individuals, Samson being the poster boy, but God used them anyway to bring freedom and relief to his persistently rebellious people. This in itself should give us hope that God can use even us, deeply flawed as we are, to help achieve God’s purposes. The writer of the book of Judges sums up the period this way: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). 

We would have to live with our heads buried in the sand not to understand what the writer was saying about the darkness the enfolded Israel without a godly leader who would encourage God’s people to live truly as people of God because we too live in a land where people do increasingly what seems right in their own eyes. When we do what is right in our own eyes, darkness and chaos inevitably follow because we are hopelessly corrupted and sin-sick. So, for example, we have jihadists who murder innocents to achieve some sense of perverted justice in their own eyes. We have young people who shoot up schools, in part to achieve a sense of justice for being left out and/or ignored or bullied. We are asked increasingly to endorse sexual relationships and gender confusion in the name of tolerance and love, all the while ignoring the fact that these things run contrary to God’s created order and will surely not turn out well overall. We have folks who take to social media to say racist, sexist, and hateful things about those they do not like. We don’t argue ideas anymore. We try to shame and discredit those with whom we disagree because doing so seems right in our own eyes. We turn a blind eye to all kinds of injustice and evil in the world and come up with all kinds of rationalizations to justify our own questionable moral and ethical behavior. And Christians are not exempt from any of this. Look no further than the fiasco that has engulfed some of the old-guard leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention over their treatment of women who have been abused or raped because these men were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. This isn’t a white man’s problem. It is a human race problem because as Saint Paul reminds us grimly, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in whose Image we are created (Rom 3.25). In addition to the hopeless condition of our sin-sickness that prevents us from pulling ourselves up by our own moral bootstraps, we are a nation increasingly susceptible to this phenomenon of doing what seems right in our own eyes because for years now we’ve been told to think for ourselves. We’ve been urged to reject the wisdom and teaching of our various traditions and look what it has brought us. Not all is bad, of course, and some traditions need to be challenged, especially when they have become distorted by folks doing what seems right in their own eyes. That’s one of the points of our gospel lesson after all. But in the areas of moral and ethical behavior, we are essentially no different from the people of ancient Israel. We are more interested in doing what seems right in our own eyes than seeking to obey the word and wisdom of God as revealed in Scripture. No wonder the word of the Lord was (and is) scarce and visions far and few between.

This was the historical context for our OT story today. If that weren’t bad enough, old Eli had two sons who had apparently turned the Tabernacle of the Lord, the very place where God chose to live with his people, into a brothel (with stuff like this, who needs reality TV?). As the writer explains earlier, “Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were [having sex with] the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2.22). Eli rebuked his sons, but not in a way that got them to change their behavior, and he apparently did nothing further to stop this serious problem from occurring. It seems that even the priestly family was doing what seemed right in their own eyes. With all this in mind, is it surprising that the word of the Lord, i.e., God’s guiding presence, was rare in those days? We see the same thing happening in our country as people increasingly refuse to submit to the life-giving power of the word of the Lord and do what seems right in their own eyes.

Hey Father Maney! I hear some of you saying. You told us this was supposed to be a sermon about hope. If this is your idea of preaching hope, please stop and let us slit our wrists. That kinda seems to be what is right in our own eyes. Patience, grasshoppers. If we are not willing to take a hard look at our own reality, we will hardly be in a position to see hope when it presents itself. Despite the darkness that enveloped God’s people, despite the fact that the word of the Lord was scarce in those days (and ours), the writer reminds us that God had not totally abandoned God’s people in judgment because that is not who God is. God did not create us for destruction. God created us for relationship and life. And so we are told that the Lord’s lamp, a symbol of the very presence of God, had not gone completely out. God spoke to the young boy Samuel, who despite being dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah (1 Samuel 1.19-28), did not initially recognize the Lord was speaking to him, precisely because the word of the Lord was scarce. It was so scarce that it took a groggy Eli three times to recognize that it was God who was speaking to the boy. Once Samuel responded to God, however, I’m pretty sure he wished he hadn’t because the first word Samuel heard was an oracle of judgment against his beloved mentor, Eli, and his family. What a predicament for the youngster! God was ready to bring about the hope of a new beginning but first a terrible ending had to take place. God will not be mocked. We must realize that doing whatever seems right in our sin-sick eyes will not lead to our healing and restoration. The world, including parts of Christ’s Church, is in the mess it’s in precisely because we are not willing to submit to God’s wise leadership over us contained in God’s word. We are too busy trying to cling to equality with God and have been from the start!

But God does not abandon us because God is faithful to his created order (us included) and because God loves us, despite our rebellion and the judgment it brings. We must remember that stories like this fall under the overarching story in Scripture of how God is going about rescuing us from our death-producing sin and the evil it unleashes in the world. Even when the darkness of our sin and rebellion threatens to totally consume us and we wonder why God has abandoned us or how God could possibly love us in the first place, stories like this remind us that God is still in charge of God’s created order and is actively seeking us out to have a life-saving relationship with him. As the psalmist reminds us in our psalm lesson this morning, God is actively and intimately involved with us, even while we are being formed in our mother’s womb (listen if you have ears)!

As God’s people in Christ, we are reminded of God’s love and care for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, who died for us while we were still God’s enemies (Romans 5.6-11). Saint Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson that the light and love of God always shines in our hearts, despite the darkness that dwells in us and the world that seeks to snuff out God’s light and life-giving love for us. As the apostle also reminds us, we have life only by dying to ourselves, only by actively putting to death all that is in us that is actively opposed and hostile to God. We can’t do this on our own, of course. We do it in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and who makes our risen Lord available to us every day. The folks of Samuel’s day did not have this privilege. God only poured out his Spirit on a select few, mainly the prophets. But at Pentecost that all changed and now all believers have an Advocate, God himself, to defend us against the Accuser and his minions (and ourselves). This lifelong, difficult, and often messy process of putting to death our desire to be God’s equals so that we can do what seems right to us allows us to share in Christ’s life-saving death on the cross. And when we share in Christ’s death, we also get to share in Christ’s resurrected life, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s lesson, Rom 6.3-5, and elsewhere. We are not saved by our works, by our status or our money or our power or—I know this is hard for you who are looking at me to believe—our looks. We bring nothing to the table that gives us hope for life with God, either in this world or the next. We have this hope only in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, whose story is contained in Holy Scripture and whose presence is available to us in the power of the Spirit. Without this hope we still live in darkness. Without this hope, frankly healing services like today’s are nothing but a farce.

So here are two of many things to reflect on this week from this story of Eli and Samuel. First, God never imposes God’s will on us. God created us for relationship with God and each other and invites us to accept his invitation. If we choose to enter that relationship we must also be willing to submit to God’s authority contained in Scripture and revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. It’s never a good thing for us to think for ourselves when it comes to matters of God and God’s word. We must call on the Spirit and the collective wisdom of Christ’s Church to help us know God. Second, there are times in our lives and in our culture (like today) where it seems that God has abandoned us. The word of the Lord is scarce and visions are few, i.e. it appears that God is far away and doesn’t care about us or our plight. The story of Samuel and Eli suggests otherwise. God is always present and acts in sometimes very surprising and unexpected ways. After all, who expected the Creator of the universe to become human and die a terrible and shameful death on a cross to rescue us from our sin and its resulting death? Of course, the enemies of the cross seek to silence us and we can expect to be harassed and even persecuted for proclaiming the word of the Lord, and that can make us afraid. And in the context of our healing service, we become afraid when we come to the Lord for healing and nothing apparently happens. When we become afraid, we must ask the Spirit to reveal Jesus’ presence to us and to open our minds and hearts to God’s word, which is critical for our faith. After all, the last book of the Bible (Revelation) was written by a man exiled by the Roman authorities for his faith in Jesus. There he wrote about the eventual victory of God and his Christ over the powers of Evil and Death. God will judge all that is wrong with God’s world and that includes us. But we aren’t afraid because we are people who believe in the power of the cross and God’s love poured out for us there. That faith, that hope, and that love unite us with our resurrected Lord and remind us light and life are our destiny and present reality, not darkness and death. And that story is contained in God’s word. So hang on to that hope, my beloved. Encourage each other as you proclaim it to the world because you know you are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.3

And are there not those who, when faced with his silence, convince themselves that he does not exist? And are there not others who are scandalized merely by the way the world goes?

If God exists, why evil? If God is love, why sorrow?

If God is a Father, why death?

If I have knocked, why has he not opened to me?

I used to think all this and more, when I was new to this school.

But then, walking patiently, not allowing myself to become frightened off by the first difficulties, hounding his door with the determination of a man on a hunger strike, and, above all, believing his gospel true and unrelenting, I began to see the way things are, I began to discover how God goes about what he is doing, I began to distinguish his stealthy footsteps. . .

It was for him to open it, not me, always in a hurry.

Sin lies in Adam’s haste, and my lust for possession is stronger than my true love for him. Wait! Oh, the anguish of that “wait,” the emptiness of that absence!

But then, little by little, I began to understand, as never before, that he was present in the emptiness, in the waiting.

—From The God Who Comes

If you’d prefer to read the whole reflection at once, click here.

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.2

God is not only jealous in his love. He is tragic. Before making you his, before letting himself be possessed, he tears you to shreds-—rather, he makes history tear you to shreds…

For much of my life, I asked myself why God acted in such a strange way.

Why is he silent so long? Why is faith so bitter?

He can do everything, so why does he not reveal himself to us in a more sensational way?

What would it cost him to come out into the streets, among those who cry ”God does not exist,” give a hard slap to the noisiest, and say—better still, shout—”Don’t believe these fools! I am here indeed! To convince you, let’s make an appointment to meet tomorrow evening in Leningrad’s museum of atheism. You’ll see what I’ll do! I’ll crush you and reduce you to souvenir envelopes!”

But it seems that God does his best to remain silent, as if to demonstrate that he does not exist, that it is useless for us to follow him, that we would do better if we went all out to possess the earth.

—From The God Who Comes

A Prayer for Memorial Day 2018

Adapted from here:

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your loving-kindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
(though we sometimes feel that low)
and without fear
(though we are often anxious).
We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion and thanksgiving those who have died
serving this country in times of war.

We all must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
But we believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
because we believe that you have raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
and conquered death itself,
and that you have given us the privilege
of sharing in his risen life as his followers,
both now and for all eternity.
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving
in Jesus our risen Lord’s name. Amen.

Remembering on Memorial Day 2018

Memorial Day PictureI am remembering today the men and women who serve and have served our country, and who have given their lives for this nation.

I am thankful for my own grandfathers, John S. Maney and F. Earl Shaffer, who fought in WWI.

I am thankful for my father, John F. Maney, and my uncle, W. Everett Jones, who fought in Europe during WWII.

I am thankful for my father-in-law, Donald E. Traylor, who served in Germany during the Korean War.

I am thankful for my dear friend and brother in Christ, John Falor, who fought in Vietnam, as well as my friends, Tod Tapola and Jim Lytle, who also fought there.

I am thankful for Colonel David Mullins who fought in Iraq.

I am thankful for Fr. Terry Gatwood and Shane Blue, my brothers in Christ at St. Augustine’s, for their service to our country

I am thankful for Matt Collins, the son of my dear friends, Ann and Curt Collins who served his country as a Marine.

Thank you all, and thank God for continuing to raise up men and women who are willing to serve and sacrifice for our country to keep us free.

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.1

Then we come to understand the dimensions of heaven; then we see things as they really are, and we see God as really God!  

But then, too, we realize that this cannot last, that in order to keep its gratuitous quality, the fragrance of that hour must be paid for in a harsh and severe way.

Perhaps because it would all be too beautiful?

Perhaps because contemplation would destroy the roots of action?

Perhaps because you would never again get anything done, as though you were on too perfect a honeymoon?

Perhaps because heaven would start here and now, whereas the way is still long, and possession of the Beloved is feeble?

Yes, all this and many other things are true

But there is one other thing which  seems to me still more true, and I understood it only very late:

You would not be free any longer.

And God is terribly concerned about your freedom in loving him. 

He knows that you can be suffocated by the greatness and the quantity of his gifts.

It is difficult to make a marriage between two persons who are in such different circumstances.

[God] brings you his all, while you can only bring him your nothing.

How can one set about reconciling such differences?

How can he be certain that you are not seeking him out of self-interest?

That you are not going to him only because you have found no one else?

That you are not going to him for the pleasure you get out of it?

That would be too easy and too shallow a love.

When the Bible says that God is a jealous God, it is speaking truly.

But God’s jealousy is not like ours. He is jealous because he is afraid that, instead of loving him in his naked being, we love his creation, his riches, his gifts, the joy he bestows, the peace he brings, and Truth he makes us a present of.

—From The God Who Comes

Fr. Philip Sang: Celebrating the Unity of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday B, May 27, 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: Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17.

Trinity Sunday – the day when we celebrate the Father Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God – yet interestingly this is the one festival in the Christian year that does not relate to events that have happened or that will happen in time.

Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost all relate to specific events in Christ’s life on earth. But Trinity Sunday is different it refers to a reality that has no date and it leads us to ask – when did God become the Holy Trinity? Was he always the three-in-one creator, redeemer and sustainer was he always Father Son and Holy Spirit? A difficult question I don’t intend to try and answer this morning!

What we do know is that Trinity Sunday is the essential reminder, coming round once every year, that we cannot manage God – we cannot even imagine him. How can three be one? It defies both logic and understanding for if we could understand God – contain him – then he would cease to be GOD. When we are dealing with theology and faith we are always dealing with something more than we can cope with. We are dealing with things too wonderful for us to know – and we speak of things which we do not understand. God will always be beyond the capacity of our human minds. As Rowan Williams has said – we can but “let God be God”.

However this does not really let us off the hook! We live by faith as well as knowledge and it is FAITH that teaches us that God is indeed three in one, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This is spelt out clearly in our collect this morning when we pray that we may be led, ‘by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity’

We can acknowledge it by faith even when we cannot understand it by knowledge. The unity of the Trinity is what holds it together. The ‘three-in-one’, when together, makes the whole. Each part is necessary and without all three it is not whole – it is not complete – it lacks integrity. For God, in the unity of the Trinity, is the epitome of integration and completeness. So it is for us the supreme example of utter integrity, integrity meaning completeness, honesty, authenticity. And the opposite of which is dis-integration, brokenness, less than fully honest, less than whole.

And we only have to look around us to know that we live in a fractured and disintegrated world. Yet, within this world, we are called to become real and authentic, whole people, believers who live, as it were, in two necessary dimensions and to strive, with God’s grace, to integrate the two into one – the flesh and the spirit – the human and the divine – the earthly and the heavenly – within time and in eternity.

And our supreme example, our model, is of course Christ himself. Looking at Jesus we see a man – and we see God – two realities in one integrated life. The earthly and the heavenly become perfectly integrated. From his poor and humble birth to his prophetic life on the margins and ultimately by his resurrection – the life of Christ expresses the Father’s decision to make himself visible to all. So in looking at the man Jesus we see God himself, a human person who becomes a sacrament of God. Christ is the representative of the human race before God. We are promised that, by the transformation of grace, we may live in Christ as he lives in us. So we too, are to become sacraments of God to the world. We are never going to fully understand how it works because we can not have God’s perspective on it all. ALL we DO know is that, through the gift of the spirit, we are called to pray, to trust and to live with the integrity before God (to live ‘holy’ lives) that leaves the door open to let things come together so that God’s love can come through.

We believe in a God who is creator of all things visible and invisible, a God of the here and now, AND in the life that is to come. This is in fact something of deeply practical and personal meaning, it is about the possibility of an integrated life. We have seen yet again, in the stories of Easter, Jesus, in his resurrection appearances, doing what he always did, talking, eating, loving, making God present in his actual presence, in voice and touch. So God reveals himself as Trinity – from His inaccessibility in the Old Testament, where he is hidden in the ark of the covenant and in the temple and only approachable by a few special priests – to the New Testament where in the human person of Jesus, by his incarnation, He becomes accessible in one place and in one time and to a relatively small number of people and then at Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, He becomes accessible to all people, and for all time. God has breathed into his disciples, and into us, his ‘spirit’, the breath of life, so that we are equipped to do what he does – to speak with his voice to the world. So the revelation in the Trinity is complete. God is one integrated whole.

And so on this Trinity Sunday we have a renewed opportunity to look again at the supreme model of unity, integrity and wholeness – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s all very well but what, we may ask, has all this to do with our Gospel reading. How is the story of Nicodemus relevant to us on this Trinity Sunday? It’s certainly not immediately obvious! Looking at the story in more detail we learn that Nicodemus was an intellectual, a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin, not prepared to be seen coming to Jesus in broad daylight so coming by night. It appears that he couldn’t rest until he had heard Jesus first hand. We know that he came out of professional curiosity, with a willingness to learn, starting from the premise that Jesus must be genuine or he would not be preaching and healing as he did. It was a good start and Jesus built on it to such effect that Nicodemus was later, as we learn from St John’s Gospel, not only to speak out for justice in the Sanhedrin, but also later on, to give generous practical help to Joseph of Aramathea in attending the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.

So Nicodemus was a man of compassion with a legal and enquiring mind. A man used to weighing up evidence with a passion for truth and justice. His encounter with Jesus was an encounter of mutual respect and courtesy as we see from the fact that they each refer to the other as ‘Rabbi’. It was a meeting full of genuine concern with important issues. Nicodemus it seems was a man of utter integrity. And yet he was still not able to make that final leap of faith, to accept the whole of Jesus’ person and teaching. There was one part of Nicodemus that just could not understand or accept the reality and necessity, or even the possibility, of being ‘born again’, of living in both the world of the flesh AND the world of the spirit. There was a part of him that held back and just couldn’t handle what Jesus was telling him.

And perhaps many of us are in the same position. Are there parts of the gospel that we cannot handle or accept? Can we really accept the baptism of the spirit, of being born again? I would suggest that to be fully integrated Christians we must both accept it and also live it. Our readings make this clear. Jesus says ‘no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit’ and in our reading from Romans ‘if you live by the flesh you will die – but if you live by the spirit you will live’ and ‘all who are led by the spirit are children of God’.

So we are called to live not only in this world of the body but also in the spirit, in eternal life in this world and the next, in the here and now and in eternity. But what does this actually mean? At face value it seems to mean that we are to value the things of eternal life, things of God, above things of this world. To live by God’s truth rather than by worldly standards. This is certainly true.

But maybe it’s even more fundamental than that and we have to go one step further. If we are to live in the spirit, in eternal life, then life cannot end when our bodies die. Physical death cannot be the end. So in view of this we must live our earthly lives with our eyes firmly focused, not on the horizon of the death of our bodies, but always on the horizon of everlasting life with God himself whom, we are promised, we shall see ‘face to face’. If our sights are set on that eternal horizon it cannot but determine the way we live now, the decisions and choices we make, the way we relate to one another and, above all, the way we relate to God himself. It will be dictated by the long view, with bodily death an event on the way to full knowledge and life with God.

And our example of how we might try and do this is of course Jesus himself. He is our model for living in this present dimension of time and space, constricted as we are like him in an earthly body, but also with eyes firmly fixed beyond this world and on eternal life with God, beyond the grave. And if we are to live as best we can as Jesus did, we must take his whole life as our example, not just some aspects of it, the bits we find easy and comfortable. We must also take into account the example of his suffering and death. The cross, His and ours, is a necessary part and indeed to be welcomed. If we too want to live as closely as we can to Christ, we need to take to heart Jesus’ saying ‘unless a grain of wheat dies – it cannot bear fruit’ so we too must welcome the sufferings that come our way, as well as the joys, and pray that we may learn to rejoice in all things and to see them as opportunities to identify more closely with our Lord, to be enabled to worship our Trinitarian God with authenticity and integrity.

So let our prayer on this Trinity Sunday be that we might, little by little, become more fully integrated and Christ-like people, People who praise God the Father, the creator, who gave us bodies to live in this created world People who praise God the Son, who through his incarnation, his life in this world, his teaching and suffering, brought us salvation People who praise God the Spirit, who leads us beyond this world and into eternal life.

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

Thanksgiving for the Methodists in My Life on John and Charles Wesley’s Feast Day 2018

On this feast day of John and Charles Wesley, I am thankful for John Wesley and my Methodist heritage, even though I have returned to the mother Church and am now an Anglican priest. I am especially thankful that God blessed me with Dr. Paul Chiles, Dr. Phil Webb, Rev. Ron Payne, and Rev. Bill Patterson. Each of these men served as ministers in the Methodist churches I attended in Van Wert, Perrysburg, and Toledo, and each had a profound influence on my spiritual development.

And of course I am thankful for my parents who were faithful Methodists all their married lives and who hauled me off to church every Sunday. 🙂