2019: Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my dad’s 96th birthday, something I really can’t wrap my mind around—how can that much time have elapsed???? He’s been dead for almost 15 years and I still miss him. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I know where he is and I am not unhappy for him because he is enjoying his well-deserved rest with the Lord as he awaits his new resurrection body. So no regrets there.

No, I just miss him. I miss being around him and enjoying his company. I miss his gentle humor and his great wisdom. I miss his huge heart and him being the patriarch of our family.

God blessed me richly in giving me a father who loved me and served as a great role model for me and the community in which he lived. For that I am thankful and I try to conduct myself in ways that would make him proud. That’s easier said than done for me, however.

Happy birthday, dad. I love you. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift a son could ever want—you.

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Candlemas

Sermon delivered on Candlemas Sunday (transferred), February 3, 2019 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.

Candlemas

asato ma sadgamaya

tamasoma jyotir gamaya

mrityormaamritam gamaya

Om shanti shanti shantih

From ignorance, lead me to truth;

From darkness, lead me to light;

From death, lead me to immortality

Om peace, peace, peace

February 3rd, the final day of the 40 days long Christmastide season, is the presentation of the Lord, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or more popularly known as Candlemas.

Biblical basis:

This feast is based on the scripture in Luke 2: 22-40 where the Holy Family journeys to Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Jesus to present him to God and offer sacrifices in the temple.

At this time Mary completes the ritual purification required of women after the childbirth, and Joseph offers the sacrifice for the redemption of the firstborn male, as written in the Mosaic Law.

During their time in the temple Simeon gave his famous prophecy about the Christ Child being the Light to the Gentile nations and a sign for the Jews ,and that a word would pierce Mary’s soul: “ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; Simeon was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him………….Then Simeon bless them and said to his Mother Mary, “ this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be the 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 symbolism of Candlemas is very much connected to Simeon’s prophecy.  On this day the church has a special ritual involving the procession and blessing of the candles, the candles being a symbol of Christ whose birth illumined the world’s darkness.

The doctors of the church have given special meaning to the candles used in Candlemas as a symbol of the incarnate Christ: the beeswax is a symbol of His pure body, the wick His Soul, and the flames His Divinity. Let us see in the flame of our candle, a symbol of Jesus Christ who came to enlighten our darkness. 

The blessing of candles at Candlemas is similar to the blessing of ashes and palms during the Lent and

Easter Season, respectively.  The faithful will often bring candles to Mass on February 3rdto have them

blessed for the use at home throughout the year.  We are keeping the message out there.  Jesus is the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. 

John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  This is the power and grace of light of Christ Jesus.

Let us examine where we failed to embrace His Light and His Will.  Can I personally say like Simeon?

‘Master, now you can dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation.

Do I carry the light of Christ to others?

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the custom was for the mother of a male child to present him at the temple forty days after His birth, along with a lamb and a pigeon as a sacrifice.  Luke’s gospel tell us that Mary and Joseph were poor and could not afford a lamb, so Jesus was presented in the temple with two turtle doves for sacrifice. This shows clearly the family of Jesus was very poor and humble. The Light of the world became poor for us.

Let us continue to reflect on Jesus the Light of the world.

Think of glorious sunrise or sunset you have seen. No wonder some people worshiped the sun as a God in the eastern world (Hindus).  We who more enlightened to know One True God is not the sun but the Maker of the sun.  However we associate light with God, as did our Jewish ancestors in the faith. Bright clouds, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire were signs of God’s presence for them.   The psalmist promised, “The Lord shall be your Light forever” (I saiah60:19).  The light stood for the glory of God.

John 8:12 Jesus said “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. These words imply that Jesus was God as well as the Messiah. Jesus repeats His claim before he cured the blind man (John 9:5).

Light is beautiful and mysterious – like God.  It is one but can be separated into many colors. No one knows if light is made of particles or waves.  In addition light has many functions that makes it a good symbol for Jesus.  Light helps us see things. Jesus gives us the truth about God and about the life, our origin, and our destiny.  Light guides us as we travel.  Jesus guides us safely through life to our heavenly home.  Light promotes growth and life.  Jesus brings us everlasting life.  Light warms and comforts.  Jesus welcomes us and comforts us.  Light dispels the darkness, which stands for evil.  Jesus pierces the darkness of sin and death and conquers them. All the darkness in the world cannot put out one candle flame.  Much more so Jesus cannot be overcome by evil of the world.

John begins His Gospel with” the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:9). In the Nicene Creed, we call Jesus” Light from Light.”  Our greatest celebration, the Easter Vigil, opens by lighting a paschal candle from new fire and acclaiming the light of Christ.

A famous poem by John Hendry Newman” Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. / Lead thou me on.  We pray for enlightenment to Christ and His Spirit, who came to us in the form of fire on Pentecost.  Following their lights, we look forward eternal light in God’s kingdom where for all God’s holy ones, “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from the lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light.”  Revelation 22:5

We often take light for granted.

Do we recognize the glory and power of this beautiful light?

Do we recognize Christ our light, could be enough for us for everlasting life?

Being counter-cultural. We live in a dark world, full of lies, hate and confusion. But God’s word tell us to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12) while others are chasing after the physical pleasures and selfish gain, we are commanded to live a different way – to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” Romans 13:14.

Putting yourself out there.  Jesus said.  “Let your light shine before others” Mathew 5:16.  Jesus explained that no none lights a lamp just to hide it under a basket.   A lamp is meant to be placed on a stand to give light to everything around it. Whether you are timid or outgoing, you are called to be a light to the people around you.  That’s only possible if you are taking time to interact with the people and cultivate relationships.

Before you can be light to others, take a look at your own life.  Has sin dulled the evidence of Christ in you?  If there any sin you repeatedly struggle with, write it down and pray over it and if you want make confession with the priest, please do so to receive God’s grace to overcome it.  I am sure then you will be singing “This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine.”

The prophets declare that rote religious practices are of no value unless accompanied by the pursuit of justice.  In other words, God is not interested in Empty words of prayers. He expects true transformation from the faithful acts of true devotion.

We must surrender our trust unto Christ. We must surrender to God out of love but not out of fear.  We can’t see God until we are born again.  Our job is to bring light of Christ to ourselves and to others. I don’t really care who is president, prime minister and chief minister.  But I care only my Lord and My savior Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may guard us to be holy and to be light of Christ to the world. Amen.

The Extravagance of God

This sermon, delayed a week by last week’s weather cancellation, was delivered on Epiphany 3C, Sunday, January 27, 2019 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 62.1-5; Psalm 36.5-10; 1 Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11.

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

What are we to make of that strange but compelling story about Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana? What might we learn from it as Christians who seek to be faithful disciples of our Lord? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We come to our gospel lesson by way of our OT lesson. In it we note the desperation in the prophet’s voice as he resolves to give God no rest until God makes good on his promise to restore his people. Two weeks ago, we saw that God himself had promised to end his people’s exile in Babylon and restore them to the promised land. We also saw that only God has the power to free us from our slavery to Sin, which can result in the most permanent and terrible exile of all. Here we are, several chapters later in Isaiah, and God had apparently not fulfilled his promise to Israel to end their exile. And we all get what this is about because we too are waiting for God to consummate his promises to us in Jesus Christ. Now depending on how we view God, whether we think God is fundamentally for or against us, this waiting can cause us to lose hope and/or stop believing that the promises of God to liberate us and his good creation from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are true. Neither is a good choice for us as Christians because then we are effectively calling God a liar. Others of us want to roll up our sleeves and work harder to bring in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. Notice carefully that Isaiah did none of these things. Instead, he resolved to persevere in prayer like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable (Lk 18.1-8).

Why am I spending time with this? Because if we either lose hope or stop believing the promises of God or attempt to take matters into our own hands, we will eventually be defeated as we saw two weeks ago. If in the end we do not have a vision of God’s new heavens and earth that is robust enough and extravagant enough to help motivate us to keep our eyes on the prize, our faith will always be in danger of being broken by the next setback or catastrophe that strikes us or the world in which we live. We all get about chasing after goals too. Think about that prize in your life on which you set your sights, be it work or school or athletics or love or whatever. It was big enough and compelling enough for you to do whatever you had to do to achieve it. You probably were wiling to endure any setback, persevere against all odds, and sacrifice mightily to achieve your prized goal. Even you geezers out there (you know who you are) can remember doing this when you were the young whippersnappers you no longer are. As our Lord Jesus was fond of reminding us in many of his parables, if we are content to pursue the lesser things of life, how much more should we pursue the greater things of life, like eternal life in God’s new creation? 

And now we are ready to turn to our gospel lesson today because it is the prize every Christian should set his/her sights on, a foretaste of what is in store for us as God’s beloved and redeemed children in Christ. Before we begin, I want to remind us that when I talked about pursuing a prized goal, I was certainly not suggesting that we are responsible for our salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth as we saw two weeks ago when we looked at the grace of baptism. Salvation comes solely from the Lord, but it does require a response, and if we stop believing the promises of salvation in Jesus Christ, we no longer have the ultimate prize to look forward to because without Christ we are no longer God’s redeemed children. 

In our gospel lesson, then, we see the first of seven “signs” in St. John’s gospel, seven being the biblical number for completeness or perfection. Signs in St. John’s gospel refer to Jesus’ miracles, but they are not just supernatural acts. They are significant acts that point us to something greater. Here we see the astonishing extravagance of God manifested in Christ at this wedding in Cana. The wine has run out, a social catastrophe that could have serious legal consequences for the host, and the mother of our Lord asks him to rectify the situation. Please observe carefully that nothing happened until the servants obeyed Mary’s command to, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2.5). Remember that. At first our Lord apparently rebuffs his mother’s request (more about that later), but ultimately he delivers a whopper, producing the equivalent of 600-900 bottles of the finest wine! I see Fr. Bowser twitching in his seat in ecstatic excitement over this prospect. 

So what is St. John trying to tell us? Among the many things we could talk about, first we note the theme of the wedding/marriage covenant, a biblical theme that denotes the gracious call of God to his people Israel in the OT and ultimately to all people in and through Jesus Christ. This theme is also used to describe the intimate relationship between God and his people, a relationship broken by Israel’s sins and ours. No relationship in all creation is more intimate than the relationship between a husband and wife at its best. It is the restoration of this relationship that the prophet sees as the fulfillment of God’s promises for his people in our OT lesson (Isaiah 62.4-5). What could be better news for hurting and broken people who are alienated from God and each other, then and now, than to hear that God loves us as his spouse despite our infidelity? In this wedding/marriage theme we find security, protection, forgiveness, and healing, among others. And we are encouraged to embrace the love of God for us made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ and to be made new again in our relationship with Christ in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, the wedding feast is an integral part of a wedding where we celebrate the newly formed union of husband and wife. Scripture celebrates likewise with its various images of the wedding feast or Messianic banquet where God’s people will celebrate their union with their rescuer and savior, the Messiah, whom Christians know to be Jesus of Nazareth. This theme is by no means an exclusive NT theme. Listen to this description of God’s great future banquet from an earlier chapter of Isaiah, a passage that is frequently read at funerals:

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (Isaiah 25.6-9, NLT)

We note here the extravagance of God’s grace and generous heart on display like it was when Jesus turned the water into wine. People of the world will gather at God’s banquet to celebrate our liberation from all the darkness of this world and to feast on the finest, well-aged wine and choicest meat. None of us deserve an invitation but God invites us anyway. And those who have the good sense to accept the invitation will celebrate the end of their exile and enjoy no second-rate food and drink—we are not talking metaphor here—but the finest food and drink from God’s storehouse of grace. St. John is pointing us to the same promise in our gospel lesson this morning, thus he calls Jesus’ action a “sign.” As the psalmist proclaimed in our lesson this morning, God gives us drink from the river of his delights (Psalm 36.8)!

Second, we note that in providing this finest wine Jesus tacitly approves things that make life meaningful and pleasant: relationships, sexual fidelity, community, hospitality, meals, family, and celebration, to name a few. Contra to those who look for every reason to make our relationship with Christ a lifeless, dour, and grim experience, our Lord will have none of that nonsense in this story. When we are redeemed and healed by Christ, we have no reason to be dour and stingy. Christ gives our mortal life meaning and purpose, even as we live in the darkness of a fallen world and our sinful desires. When we love each other and work at developing healthy and wholesome relationships with all kinds of people, especially the people of God, the promise of this story is that we will find abundance and delight in doing the Lord’s work and obeying him. Engaging in the above activities is part of living the abundant life our Lord told us he came to bring (John 10.10). Nothing else will do it for us. No one other than Christ can give us the joy of love and the delight found in giving generously of our time, talents, and resources for the sake of others. To be sure, there is plenty in this world to make us sad and beat us down. But the hope and promise of having a real and lively relationship with our risen Lord can overcome the darkest darkness because it reminds us that life, wholeness, health, goodness, and abundance are the reality, not scarcity, sickness, alienation, hurt, or death, thanks be to God.

Last, the foretaste of the Messianic banquet that will be ongoing in God’s new creation reminds us to keep our eyes on Jesus the prize because the ordinary things of this life will be transformed when he returns and made more beautiful and abundant than we can ever imagine, just like the new wine Jesus made. Think about the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen—husbands, this is a good time to turn to your wife and tell her she is that most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, it’s good old creation, anti-doghouse practice—and then try to imagine things more beautiful and abundant than that, i.e., try to imagine the unimaginable. This will give you a clue as to what awaits us in God’s new heavens and earth. I don’t know all that that entails, but I do know that our resurrected bodies will be inexpressively beautiful and without defect or sickness or any kind of malady. We will drink the finest wines without becoming intoxicated and we won’t desire to become intoxicated because we will be enjoying unbroken communion and fellowship with God the Father and the Lamb. There won’t be an addictive or lonely bone in our new body, mind, or spirit. The intimacy we enjoy only partly now, we will enjoy in full then. We won’t worry about being unloved or abandoned by God or others because we will be living in the light of God’s presence and the Lamb’s forever! I’m sure my puny imagination does not do justice to God’s new heavens and earth in trying to describe our future life. But one thing is certain, we get a glimpse of the extravagant love and generosity of God in this first sign at Cana. 

Our future, of course, is made possible by the final sign in St. John’s gospel. Spectacular as this first sign is, the most powerful sign of Jesus is his death and resurrection, where the dark powers are broken and our slavery to Sin with its attendant sickness and alienation are forever destroyed. When Jesus told his mother that his hour had not yet come, he wasn’t pointing to his death, but later in the gospel, this was the hour about which he consistently spoke, the hour that couldn’t happen before its time. Without Christ and his sacrificial death and resurrection, we have no future on which to keep our eyes focused because we would still be living in our sins and death would not be conquered. It’s no coincidence that St. John tells us this creation of new wine happened on the third day. Without Christ’s death and resurrection we would therefore have no motivation to live in the manner he calls us to live. Thankfully, because of God’s extravagant love for us, we do have a real future and hope to sustain us in the midst of our darkness and sorrow (cf. Jeremiah 29.11). When we obey Christ, we allow ourselves to live life and live it in the abundance of God’s extravagant love and grace first revealed by our Lord at Cana. 

So what’s this all mean for us at St. Augie’s? First, we are to celebrate in ongoing and diverse ways the gifts of healing, wholeness, and life given us by God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no reason for any Christian to live a joyless life, even in the midst of sorrow. Having a joy that is not contingent on the circumstances of life will go a long way in helping us deal with our sorrows when they come. Second, we get a taste of the future real deal (new creation) each week when we come to the Table and feast on our Lord. That’s why we serve you fine port wine and bread. It mirrors imperfectly Christ’s banquet in the new creation where bitterness is no more. When you take in Jesus at the eucharist, he should be sweet to your palate and leave you wanting more because of Who he is and what he has done for you. So let me ask you this: As you return from the Lord’s Table and/or when you leave worship, would people mistake you for wedding guests or party goers? If not, I challenge you to examine your new creation theology because chances are it is lacking in significant ways. Last, it means we are to take our relationship with each other seriously and celebrate those relationships, along with our relationship with God, whenever we can. How we treat each other as family members matters to our Lord and it should matter to us. Today, we are receiving two new families into our parish family. I can’t think of a better topic with which to welcome them than by reminding us all that we have a hope and a promise to look forward to as well as a command for us to love each other extravagantly. Let us all continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come in full on earth as it is in heaven and for Christ to give us the grace to be obedient to him so that we will never turn his extravagant wine into water on our watch. After all, the only reason we have to celebrate is God’s extravagant and gracious love for us made known supremely in Christ and him crucified. And that, my beloved, is Good News, extravagantly so, now and for all eternity. So go celebrate and make others wonder what is your secret so you can explain it to them. Maybe even invite them to have a glass of the finest wine with you at the wedding feast of which you are a part so that they too can experience the new eschatological joy you do. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

But Now: The Power and Promise of Baptism

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 1C, The Baptism of Christ, Sunday, January 13, 2019 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 43.1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22.

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

As we do each year, we celebrate the baptism of Christ on this first Sunday after the Epiphany. Why do we do that? What’s the big deal about our Lord’s baptism and by extension our own? This is what I want us to look at this morning as we prepare to welcome a new member into Christ’s family here at St. Augustine’s.

In our OT lesson this morning, we find God’s response to his people’s ongoing sin and rebellion. In the previous chapter of Isaiah, as is typical in prophetic oracles, God has warned his people about his coming judgment on their sins. He formed and created them to be his light to a world riddled with sin and darkness. God called his people Israel to be his true image-bearers whom God would use to help restore his good creation and its creatures to their right minds so that God’s goodness and justice and health would reign instead of evil and sickness and death. But God’s people Israel had been just like the nations God called them to help heal. They had worshiped false gods and become like them so that instead of bringing God’s light and justice to a sin-sick world, God’s people brought the darkness and evil of false gods and now they faced God’s terrible wrath and judgment (Isaiah 42.18-25). If you are like me (God forbid), you listen to these judgment oracles and give thanks that we’re not the rotten people God is condemning in them, just like we do when we watch Dr. Phil or any program that showcases the human condition at its worst. We do so because it distracts us and keeps us from looking at ourselves in the mirror, and more importantly it keeps us from looking at ourselves in the light of God’s perfect goodness and righteousness. And we do all this because we are terrified of God’s just judgment on us. We know in our heart of hearts that we are no better than God’s people Israel who suffered the ultimate rejection and disgrace of exile because of their sins. We are no better than they were because the entire human race is held tightly in bondage to the tyranny of that outside and hostile force the Bible calls Sin. Try as we might to make ourselves better (itself a symptom of our sin-sickness), we fail because none of us is stronger than the power of Sin. Don’t believe me? How are those new year’s resolutions coming along? I’m willing to bet that even at this point many of them have already bit the dust or are well on their way to the dustbin. 

Returning now to our OT lesson, we see that God has taken his rebellious people to the cosmic woodshed and warned them where their sins will lead, mainly exile and separation from God, the Source of all life. If that’s not enough to make us afraid, I don’t know what will, especially as we contemplate the fire of God’s just judgment that will ultimately make all things right again. This is not exactly Good News, my beloved. In fact, it’s just the opposite because we are all sin-stained. But just when we begin to have feelings of despair without hope, we hear these beautiful and comforting words from God himself, something that is massively important for us as we will see: “But now…” Hear God as he speaks to us: I’ve seen your sins, your folly, and your rebellion, this despite my constant love and faithfulness toward you. I’ve seen it all but I know you are powerless to rescue yourselves from your slavery to Sin and so I am coming to rescue and heal you of your sin-sickness. I formed you as a people and created you to be mine forever. So don’t be afraid because I have redeemed you. I call you by name; you are mine. Imagine that. I, the Creator God of this incomprehensibly vast universe, know you by name and love you, despite your insignificance in the grand scheme of things, despite your sins and rebellion against me. So don’t be afraid because I have the power to break your slavery to Sin, just as I rescued my people Israel from their slavery in Egypt. When you walk through the deep waters of life’s darkness and troubles, you will not be overwhelmed. You will not be afflicted by the fire of my judgment because I am the one who redeems you and will spare you from that judgment. Notice I did not say you won’t have to walk through deep waters or the fire of judgment. I am not promising to remove you from all the darkness of this world and yourselves that afflict you. But I do promise to rescue and redeem you, even if the darkness claims your mortal life. So don’t be afraid. I know you by name. I am with you, you are mine (Isaiah 43.1-2, 5a). 

Were there ever more tender words in all Scripture than these? Were there ever more despair-shattering promises than these? There’s more. The Lord goes on to tell his people, us included, that they are precious in his sight, so precious and loved and honored that he will give nations in exchange for their lives, which God did, e.g., when he brought his people Israel out of Egypt and Babylon. But that is so OT. In Jesus Christ, God upped the ante. God demonstrated that he loves us so much that he gave his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, God become human, in exchange for our lives. And now we are ready to look at why Christ’s baptism is so important to us because in it we see the “But now…” God the Father commissions God the Son to begin his costly and life-giving work to rescue us from our slavery to the power of Sin and break its hold over us forever. Not only that, in Christ’s resurrection, God the Father promises to destroy our last and greatest enemy, Death, so that we can live in the hope of eternal life in God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. God did all this, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 5, even while we were still God’s enemies, alienated and hostile toward God. Because of our union with Christ through baptism and faith, we no longer fear God’s condemnation because God himself has borne it in and through his Son’s body (cf. Romans 8.1-4). The “But now…” has arrived.

And let’s be clear about what did and didn’t happen at Christ’s baptism. Our Lord didn’t get adopted at his baptism as good heretics throughout the years have proclaimed. We only need to read St. John’s wondrous prologue (John 1.1-18) to see that that dog don’t hunt. Neither was our Lord baptized to have his own sins forgiven as other geniuses have claimed. Christ was sinless and in his baptism he was commissioned to set us free from our sins by going to the cross and dying a terrible and utterly humiliating death so that we would not have to suffer the ultimate death of God’s final condemnation of our sins, thanks be to God! 

Of course the dark powers, whose grip over us our Lord came to destroy, are not going down without a fight. We see it immediately in John the Baptist’s imprisonment that the Lectionary conveniently and unfortunately omits from today’s gospel lesson, and we see it in the continued attack on us as God’s people. This, combined with our own proclivity to sin, is what makes living the Christian life such a challenge at times. And it can also make us afraid. But the Lord himself tells us to fear not because he is with us and in his Son he has destroyed Sin’s power over us as well as the death it causes. This is more than just lip service, my beloved, because only the Lord has the power to overcome Sin and Death, and in Christ’s death and resurrection God has made good on his promise to us, a promise that we see beginning to unfold in Christ’s baptism. We don’t deserve any of these wondrous promises nor can we ever hope to earn God’s favor on our own. God did this for us out of sheer love, mercy, and grace so that he could restore his creation and creatures to life and health without destroying us. For you see, God created us for life and relationship with him, not destruction.That’s why today is a big deal for us who belong to Christ, and that’s why we celebrate Christ’s baptism every year.

As John the Baptist prophesied, our Lord Jesus has indeed baptized us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and this separates believers and unbelievers as a winnowing fork separates the chaff from the grain. We have already seen the necessity of God’s good and perfect justice and Christ will execute that justice when he returns in great power and glory. In the meantime, as his baptism signals, Jesus has given his life in exchange for ours so that we no longer need fear God’s judgment, and he blesses us with the Holy Spirit to help us live the fully human image-bearing lives that God calls us to live so that we can reflect God’s goodness and glory to the world according to God’s original creative intention for us. As we’ve also seen, the world will largely reject us (along with the One who has rescued us) when we give our lives to Christ because sadly many people and systems love the darkness more than God’s light—humanity’s slavery to the power of Sin is universal— and this is the awful part of the winnowing process. No Christian should ever take joy or glee in this fact because we are here only by the grace of God, not our own merits. We remember that the darkness runs through each of us. But this opposition should never stop or deter us from proclaiming the saving power of our Lord Jesus and inviting others into a relationship with him that we enjoy. If we really do claim to love others, especially in light of what we know about the coming fire of God’s judgment, how can we do anything but proclaim Christ to them? Neither should it stop or deter us from living as our Lord Jesus lived and lives, hard as that is at times. If you want an example of what that looks like, look no further than how this parish has rallied around Ken and his family as they walked through the deep waters of Tanya’s untimely and tragic death. The powers did their best to destroy her but the promise of resurrection means that the powers ultimately will fail and will be destroyed forever one day as death is swallowed up in life. God’s perfect justice will prevail. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ because it announces God has seen our distress and despite our folly, God has acted decisively on our behalf so that we can live. There is no longer any need to despair once we have turned to the light of Christ in faith, despite the fact that our faith journey is often quite messy and convoluted. Take heart, my beloved. God is greater than our messiness.

This is why our own baptism is so important because it announces our birthright and inheritance in Christ, an inheritance of eternal life despite our mortal death, of health, of healing and wholeness, of reconciliation, of freedom, of redemption, of forgiveness. Those who are baptized are baptized into a death like Christ’s so that we can share in a resurrection like his as well. Our baptism proclaims God’s great love for us and fulfills God’s promise to give us his Holy Spirit so that we can live as truly human beings, free from our slavery to Sin and Death, free from the fear that can so badly oppress us. Our baptism doesn’t promise us a sin-free life. We all know better. What it does promise is that God is good to his word and has acted decisively in Jesus his Son to make us part of the family of the redeemed, and to help us overcome the darkness of this world and life in the power of his Spirit so that we have a real future and hope, a hope based on the love and power of God, who alone has the power to accomplish the impossible, thanks be to God! This is the promise young Eli will enter in a few minutes as he enters the waters of baptism, and it is reason for us to rejoice because we remember our own baptism and celebrate our rescue from the deep waters of Sin and Death and the fire of God’s perfect judgment, along with Eli’s. And that, my beloved, is Good News, the best news of all, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Epiphany Sermon

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Due to technical difficulties and the fact that one has to be smarter than the recorder one uses, there is no audio podcast of today’s sermon available.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12.

Merry Christmas St. Augustine’s. Today is the twelfth day of Christmas, and the Feast of the Epiphany – that great festival on which Christians, for at least fifteen hundred years, have celebrated the manifestation, or showing forth, of the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God made flesh.

Just as the showing forth of the glory of God in Christ takes many different forms, so our season of Epiphany commemorates many different things. First, the coming of the wise men from the East to worship at the cradle of the Infant Christ; then, the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, with the voice from heaven declaring that this Jesus is the beloved son of God; then the visit of Jesus, at twelve years old, to the Temple at Jerusalem, where the learned were astonished by his understanding and his answers; and then, a series of Jesus’ miracles: the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana; the healing of a leper, and the calming of the troubled sea. Then, at the end of the season of Epiphany, we have prophetic lessons about the final coming of the Son of God, in power and great glory.

Many different things – a great diversity of commemorations; yet they are tied together by one common theme. They are all aspects of the showing forth, the shining forth, the “Epiphany” of the divine glory of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the Eternal Word of God, made flesh. Thus these many commemorations of Epiphany make up a continuing meditation upon the meaning of the Christmas miracle – the miracle of God with us, Emmanuel, God in our flesh, God visible to human eyes, God audible to human ears, God tangible to human touch, God manifest in human life, judging, restoring, and transforming by the grace and truth he brings.

Coming to today’s gospel reading I wonder what the wise men as referred to by Matthew saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?

We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them but St. Matthew doesn’t say that. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.

This anonymity and lack of historical information is a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.

I don’t know what was in the sky, what they saw, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds; what they thought, asked, or talked about. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I know that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.

That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?

To seriously consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.

Yes God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through humanity, in the flesh.

Maybe it was the day you bathed your first grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator. Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God. Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the bedside of one who was dying and you experienced the joy that death is not the end.

These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.

Epiphany is about the manifestation of Christ; namely, that Christ has revealed himself, shown himself to not just be some sort of teacher or philosopher, not just be a miracle worker, not as one who has a piece of truth where everyone else also has a piece of truth, but the manifestation of Christ is about Christ making himself known, showing himself visibly to be God in the flesh, second person of the Trinity, who descended to dwell among his creation to bring about our salvation for the glory of God. So when we celebrate Epiphany, we’re celebrating light invading the darkness. You and I, as Christians, are rejoicing in this season that Christ has come into the world to push back the darkness. That’s what Epiphany is all about.

Paul had his epiphany and writing to the church in Ephesus tells them about his experience

“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

So Paul reminds the readers of this letter what he learned by revelation from God. He has been chosen by God to pass on the secrets, the plans of God. He does not claim to be the sole carrier of the message; he says that God is revealing this news by way of the Holy Spirit to apostles and prophets. Paul understands that it is God’s grace that gives him the qualification needed to tell the good news. This is in spite of his past, and in addition to his personal qualifications.

He understands that it is his mission and his assignment to “make plain to everyone” the who, what, why and how of Jesus Christ.

Friends, church, this morning I am not here to ask you to copy what God asked Paul to do.

However as the children of God, we take on responsibilities within his kingdom. As we grow up in the church we are to take on more and more responsibility. Because of our family connection and the grace that covers us we also take on the mission of plainly speaking for God. bringing Epiphany to others. We do that by relying solely on the leading of the spirit that we receive as we grow up in the family of God.

Let’s look at the big picture.

A church is not a church if it only does things for itself and for its members.

A church that lives like that is only doing half of its designed mission.

Paul points out how the understanding of God is to be passed on to the community where the church sits.

He says, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known …”

The church has a mission to share the wisdom of God, the good news.

The message is about grace and love and a relationship with our creator.

The qualifications to speak for God come by Grace to the individual believers to share what we know.

I have heard in the past and present Christians describing that they come to church to be fed. My question for you is how you are going to use that energy, that knowledge to share with those outside of God’s family?

How is God asking you to share what you know about Him?

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

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2019 (3)

Christ is God, for he has given all things their being out of nothing. Yet he is born as one of us by taking to himself our nature, flesh-endowed with intelligent spirit. A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and the Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge.

For surely the word of the Law and the Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.

The great mystery of the divine incarnation remains a mystery for ever. How can the Word made flesh be essentially the same person that is wholly with the Father? How can he who is by nature God become by nature entirely human without lacking either nature, neither the divine by which he is God nor the human by which he became one of us? Faith alone grasps these mysteries.

—Maximus the Confessor, Five Hundred Chapters 1, 8-13

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2019 (2)

Matthew 2:1-12

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity was now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of this divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi would recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).

—Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 5.1

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2019

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

—Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

In this way marvel was linked to marvel: the magi were worshiping, the star was going before them. All this is enough to captivate a heart made of stone. If it had been only the wise men or only the prophets or only the angels who had said these things, they might have been disbelieved. But now with all this confluence of varied evidence, even the most skeptical mouths are stopped.

Moreover, the star, when it stood over the child, held still. This itself demonstrates a power greater than any star: first to hide itself, then to appear, then to stand still. From this all who beheld were encouraged to believe. This is why the magi rejoiced. They found what they were seeking. They had proved to be messengers of truth. Their long journey was not without fruit. Their longing for the Anointed One was fulfilled. He who was born was divine. They recognized this in their worship.

—Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7.4

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018-19—Day 12

Today concludes the series of Christmas reflections from the Church Fathers. I hope you have enjoyed them and trust that God will use them to enrich you and bring you closer to him. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas is the day on which the Creator of the universe came into this world. This is the day on which the one who is always present through his power became present in the flesh. He came in the flesh with the intention of curing human blindness so that once we were healed we might be enlightened in the Lord. Then God’s light would no longer be shining in darkness but would appear plainly to people who wanted to see it.

—Augustine, Sermon 195, 2

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018-19—Day 11 (3)

In the very act in which we are reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body [the Church]. As the whole community of the faithful, once begotten in the baptismal font, was crucified with Christ in the passion, raised up with him in the resurrection, and at the ascension placed at the right hand of the Father, so too it is born with him in this nativity.

For all believers regenerated in Christ, no matter in what part of the whole world they may be, break with that ancient way of life that derives from original sin, and by rebirth are transformed into new persons. Henceforth they are reckoned to be of the stock, not of their earthly father, but of Christ, who became Son of Man precisely so that they could become children of God; for unless in humility he had come down to us, none of us by our own merits could ever go up to him.

—Leo the Great, Sermon 6 for the Nativity

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018-19—Day 11 (2)

Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal creator of all things, today became our Savior by being born of a mother. Of his own will he was born for us today, in time, so that he could lead us to his Father’s eternity. God became human like us so that we might become God.

We sinned and became guilty; God is born as one of us to free us from our guilt. We fell, but God descended; we fell miserably, but God descended mercifully; we fell through pride, God descended with his grace.

—Augustine, Sermon 13 on the Time