Fr. Philip Sang: Foolishness or Wisdom?

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple or Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 29, 2017, 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:  Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24.1-10; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

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

The Christian message is foolishness to our world. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Christians can only boast in God, and not in ourselves.

Imagine yourself a member of God’s heavenly selection committee. God has given us the job of putting together a pro?le of the sort of person that Heaven is looking for.

What sort of person should we be keen to select?

Smart people? — God knows everything (Omniscient). Surely he’ll want to surround himself with intelligence.

Good looking people? — God is beautiful in his holiness, so it makes sense to select attractive people.

Powerful people? —  God is Omnipotent, so Go-getters! Movers and shakers sounds good. People who know what they want and how to get it. People who know how to get things done.

Wealthy people‘? — Power comes from wealth doesn’t it? Better get some rich folk in.

Noble people? — You know — people of impeccable breeding; upper class. You just can’t surround God with low class you know.

We submit the list to God’s office, only to get it back. Ripped to shreds.

So what sort of person is God looking for?

The problem in the Corinthian church is that they thought God was using that sort of list.

They were a very talented, spiritually gifted church, but they’ve become proud of themselves and they’Ve lost sight of the importance of Jesus.

They’ve displaced Christ with wisdom. Replacing the cross, with their human ability. They have been patting or slapping themselves on the back for their own wisdom. But as we heard from the epistle, Paul’s pulled the rug out from under them. He’s turned their world upside down.

For the word/message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. —1 Corinthians 1.18-25

Paul wants to tell the Corinthians and us today two things.

Firstly, he wants to demonstrate the truth of the gospel being foolish to the world, and that God chooses and uses weak foolish people by the world’s standards to show himself as wise and powerful.

And secondly, he Wants to tell them about real Christian wisdom, a wisdom that comes from God, and not from humans.

Paul starts by reminding them of what God has done in and with them.

For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. —1 Corinthians 1.26

Paul is holding up a mirror to the Corinthians. You’re proud of your new wisdom and gifts from God — but don’t forget where you started from. Remember — you weren’t wise by human standards. You weren’t powerful. You didn’t have noble origins.

Paul is saying God chose a bunch of nobodies. The overlooked, the ignored, the unwanted.

God doesn’t choose how we would. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1.27-28).

Why does God do this? Is he just perverse in his selection criteria?

The reason God chooses the people he does is so that his people are on the same footing: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1.29).

That no human being might boast before God. God is the rescuer. God is the wise one. The mighty one. God chooses people to show to them, and the whole universe, that he is God. He owes nothing to anyone. He’s not won over by human wisdom or power.

God wants the world to know he’s God, and the one who saves. “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1.30-31).

God has made Jesus life for the dead. Wisdom for the unwise. Righteous for the Unrighteous. Sancti?cation for the Unholy. Redemption for captives.

We contribute nothing. God chooses who he wants on his own terms — not ours. And he loves to surprise the world by choosing the people the world overlooks.

Think with me for a moment the our old Testament lesson for today, in a nation that was required by law to care for its prophets, it is ironic that God turned to ravens (unclean birds) and a widow (a foreigner from Jezebel’s home territory) to care for Elijah. God has help where we least expect it. He provides for us in ways that go beyond our narrow de?nitions or expectations. No matter how bitter our trials or how seemingly hopeless our situations, we should look for God’s caring touch. we may ?nd his providence in some strange places!

When the widow of Zeraphath met Elijah, she thought she was preparing her last meal, but a simple act of faith produced a miracle. she trusted Elijah and gave all she had to eat to him. faith is the step between promise and assurance. miracles seem so out of reach for our feeble faith. but every miracle, large or small, begins with an act of obedience. we may not see the solution until we take the first step of faith.

Todays gospel is about the first miracle Jesus perfomed. it seemed foolish to be told to fill the jars with water. as if that is not enough when they are full they are told to draw some and take it to the chief servant.

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sancti?cation and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1.30-31).

The Corinthians have been boasting in all the wrong things. They think they are mature, but Paul is telling them to grow up. To boast in God and not themselves. And Paul also wants to remind them of when he first proclaimed the Gospel in Corinth. “Remember how I came to you. In weakness and fear. In much trembling.”

Sometimes God is merciful to the wise, and powerful of our age. But that’s the exception, not the rule. And for them to become a Christian actually means denying that God chooses them on the basis of their wisdom, power or position. For both the Corinthian Christians, and in Paul’s ministry, God wanted people to boast in him, not themselves. To acknowledge and respond on the basis of his power, and not their own.

The Christian message is foolishness to our world. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Christians can only boast in God, and not in ourselves. And Christians maturity is about having God’s Spirit, not our own wisdom. It’s about having the mind of Christ.

Let me ask these questions:

What are you taking pride in? Maybe you don’t admire secular wisdom, but is there something you boast in other than God? For me, there’s the temptation that I’ll look to my theological training. That what I learn about God becomes more important than knowing God himself. Or that I trust in my work with chaplaincy rather than in Christ.

What are you boasting in? How long you have been a Christian? Coming to St Agustine‘s Anglican Church? How much you give?

What are you trusting in? We need to hear Paul again: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sancti?cation and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. —Jeremiah 9.23-24

Let us sing prayerfully, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, The Christian Life Hymnal, 157

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Psalm 36

Your love, 0 Lord, reaches to the heavens –
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; –
you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.
How precious is your loving mercy, O God! °
All mortal ?esh shall take refuge
under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be satis?ed with the abundance of your house; –
they shall drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life –
and in your light shall we see light.
O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you –
and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: WWJT (What Would Jesus Think?)

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 3A, Sunday, January 22, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The apostle Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2). But what does that mean and how do we let that happen? Check out what Fr. Bowser has to say about it all, especially his thoughts on the “Sacred Why,” and then let the Spirit begin to transform you by the renewing of your mind.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 4-12; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23.

Listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon. There is no written text.

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Our Time and Effort

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2A, Sunday, January 15, 2017, 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 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42.

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

Who is the Servant in our OT lesson today? Is he Israel? The prophet? Someone else? Why should we care? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our lesson from Isaiah, we read the second of the so-called “Servant Songs” that describe the person and character of the “Servant of the Lord” (see also Isaiah 42.1-4, 50.4-9, and 52.13-53.12). But who is this person? The prophet at first identifies him as Israel (v.3), but later in our passage the servant is to rescue Israel (v.5). How can God call Israel to rescue itself? Is the prophet just really confused here? Maybe had some bad coffee or something?

Whoever Isaiah had in mind, Christians of course believe that Jesus is the Servant, in part, because we believe Jesus is the light of the world before whom one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess as Lord (Phil. 2.9-11). And as we saw in our gospel lesson this morning, John the Baptist certainly saw Jesus fulfilling the role of the Servant (and more). After seeing the Spirit descend from heaven and stay on Jesus, the baptizer declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This, of course, alluded to God’s call to Israel to be God’s light to the world. God had called his people Israel through the patriarch Abraham to bring God’s healing love to a sin-sick and evil-infested world, but Israel had proven itself to be every bit as sin-sick and evil-infected as the world to which God had called his people to heal. But now at Jesus’ baptism, we see the confirmation of our Lord’s vocation to be for Israel and the world what Israel could not be for itself—God’s faithful one who would bring God’s healing love to the nations, to folks like you and me. While John doesn’t tell us here, Jesus would take away the sin of the world by bearing its collective weight himself on the cross. In Jesus we see God in person coming to his world to free us from our sin sickness and to defeat the dark powers that had thoroughly corrupted God’s world and God’s image-bearing creatures. We know this because the baptizer used Passover language in describing Jesus as being the Lamb of God. Just as God’s ancient people had been commanded to smear on the posts of their doors some of the blood of the lamb slaughtered so that the Destroyer would pass over their homes and spare their lives as God began to rescue them from their bondage to slavery in Egypt, so we who put our whole hope and trust in Jesus’ blood shed for us will be rescued from a far darker bondage to sin and be spared from the ultimate evil of death, thanks be to God!

At this point, we tell ourselves it’s all good. God is doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves—freeing us from our slavery to sin and death. Time to kick back, pour ourselves a drink, and relax, basking in the glory of God and the knowledge that we are God’s special people. After all, as we have just seen, Jesus is the true Servant celebrated in the Servant Songs, the one who will bring God’s light to the nations and rescue the world from all that ails it. Not so fast, say the NT writers! Don’t get too comfy, dudes. While it is true that Jesus is the light of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and rescues us from our slavery to the dark powers and death, this doesn’t give us license to be passive observers. No, worryingly enough we are also called to be servants in the manner of our Lord Jesus himself.

Why is that you ask? Because as the whole of Scripture attests, God in his strange and astonishing wisdom has always called human beings to run his world in wise and just ways on God’s behalf. That’s why God created us in his image in the first place. But almost right from the start, we didn’t get that memo and decided to run the world on our own authority, not God’s, and we all know how well that’s turned out. So God in his wisdom and mercy ultimately became human to defeat the dark powers who used our sin and rebellion to usurp God’s rule over his world and to free us from their grasp. We’ve just talked about all that. But as Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, until Jesus returns to complete the redemptive work he started at his first coming, we as his rescued people are called to carry on his healing and saving work on his behalf.

But, but, we want to protest and whine. We are not equipped to do that work. We’re not perfect like Jesus. We’re a bunch of sad-sack ragamuffins and losers, some more than other. We can’t possibly be Jesus’ light to the world on his behalf. Sure you can, comes our Lord’s reply. Of course you are ragamuffins and losers and can’t possibly do what I ask on your own power. But here’s the thing. You are not operating on your own power! I have poured out my Spirit on you to heal and transform you so that you can bring my mercy, love, and justice to each other and the world.

Paul tells us the same thing. We are God’s Church, he reminds us, the very body of Christ. We are called to do the healing work of Christ together as the Church and only secondarily as individuals. In other words, God has called those of us who believe in the saving and healing work of Christ to shed his light on others like us who desperately need that light. Before we can do that, we must first and foremost remember Whose we are because we are not our own. Paul tells us we are God’s saints, God’s called-out people, who are to be Christ’s light-bearers. This too makes us really nervous because when we think of saints, we think of goody-two shoes who never do anything wrong and who have very little fun in the process. But this is a lie and a delusion. We must remember that Paul wrote these words to a church that was plagued by internal divisions, sexual immorality, discrimination, divorce, and other sins. In other words, the church at Corinth consisted of a bunch of ragamuffins and losers just like us! Never mind that, Paul exhorts! Put all that behind you! God has called you to be his people in Jesus. Despite your faults and foibles, you are God’s called-out, Spirit-filled people, and you are given the power, however imperfectly you display it, to love each other, to forgive each other, and to bring God’s love to the world on behalf of your Lord who loves you and gave himself for you.

How do we do this? Like the baptizer and his disciples, we first and foremost proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and therefore we have chosen to follow him and his ways, not the world and its evil ways. We call on his name to help us look out for each other as much as we look out for ourselves. We laugh with each other, cry with each other, support each other, and build up each other, even (or perhaps especially) when we don’t necessarily like each other! We choose to forgive each other when we are wronged and we ask others to forgive us when we wrong them. We don’t make us and our desires God, worshiping ourselves and doing whatever it takes to fulfill our needs. We look to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, taking care of those who are the least and the lost, the poorest and the weakest. We don’t do this perfectly and like the prophet in our OT lesson, we sometimes wonder if the good we do in Jesus’ name makes any difference. Of course it does, our Lord reassures us. Is using you as my light to the world too difficult for me? I created this vast cosmos! I conquered death! So have a little humility, consider my mighty acts, and have faith in my ability to be good to my word and use your work to help bring about my kingdom, even if it remains obscure to you..

None of this happens automatically, of course. We have to do our part. We have to put in our sweat equity so that we can be reminded of God’s truth and saving action in the world. This means we have to learn the story of Scripture and where and how we fit into it all. It means we come to worship God each week and be changed and refreshed. It means we partake in the eucharist each week to literally consume Jesus to be changed and strengthened by him to do his work.. It means we take an active role in our fellowship with one another so that we can support each other and build each other up. It means we are people who pray regularly that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven and are willing to let God use us to help carry out his will. Sacred privileges, those. And participating actively in those privileges are the ordinary means of grace God uses to equip us to do the work he calls us to do as his people.

As we begin 2017, let us rededicate ourselves to be Jesus’ people, new creations in Christ’s love for us (2 Corinthians 5.17), who gladly and joyfully proclaim our Lord Jesus’ name to the world as we are transformed little by little into his perfect image and equipped to work alongside him as his servants. The work won’t always be easy. But what a sacred privilege! The world will hate us. But we are called to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world in his death, resurrection, and ascension. This the Good News we are to live and proclaim in 2017 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.

Deacon Terry Gatwood: Eureka! I Have Found It!

Sermon preached on the feast of the Epiphany (transferred), Sunday, January 8, 2017, 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 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12.

“Eureka!” The lightbulb has gone off over the head. Aha! Of course! How could I have been so blind? Duh! Eureka! I have found it!

Sometimes we don’t even know what we have gone looking for before we find the exact thing we truly needed all along. Like the man who goes fishing for the sweet meat of a few bluegills just to feed himself one meal, and then he hooks into the monster fish large enough to feed everyone in his home, sometimes we get more than we might have set off looking for.

These are some of the thoughts I have when I read Matthew chapter 2, verses 8-10. Several wise and learned men from the east have journeyed a long way because of a prophecy. There is something happening at the end of the journey in the direction of the star that illumines the dark night skies. What is this something? What will we find when we finally reach our journey’s end?  Whatever this is at the end of our road, it is something that we must find. It is surely a treasure of great value. Their full attention has been seized by this beautiful light that has appeared before the eyes of all.

In Jerusalem these wise and scholarly men encounter Herod the Great, a real scoundrel of a man. He is a non-Jewish King in this region, and he has a laundry list of horrible things he has done in the past. Recently, he ordered the deaths of all the male children being born in the area so as to maintain his throne as illegitimate king over this place. Upon meeting Herod, the wise men tell him what they are looking for according to prophecy. They are looking for the one about whom it has been foretold that he would be a ruler and shepherd of Gods people in the Davidic spiritual and familial line. Herod has already gone on about the infanticide he used to protect his throne, and he’s also killed of scores of his own family to prevent them from ascending to the throne. There’s no doubt that when he asked to know where this child is to so that he may go and worship him, he’s really planning on snuffing out whatever he finds in that place so that he can continue on in power, unbothered by others’ claims, ruling as the tyrant he is.

So the Magi press on down the road, still following after that bright and beautiful star, their time spent in the darkness being shined upon by whatever this star means, by whatever the greater thing beneath it is. These men are tired, they are worn, they have been walking and riding for miles upon miles, and much of it at night when it isn’t particularly safe to go around. Getting to this place of the star is surely taking its toll on their bodies. Their feet are sore, covered with blisters. They don’t often have opportunity to stop and bathe when they find themselves in the midst of the dark and lonely parts of the journey where no one else is around, except maybe for those who would rob and maybe kill them for the things they have.

Yet, they are driven on further by the curiosity that has been building up within them throughout the whole trek. We must find this king and bow before him, and present him with our gifts. This is our mission, a mission we have been lead to follow after and accomplish, and we shall not relent.

Upon reaching their destination they saw that the star had stopped. This was the moment of discovery for these wearied travellers from the east. Their eyes would now behold him for whom they had come to see. And their hearts were overjoyed. The men rejoiced that they have now finally reached the end of the long and treacherous road journey that they have paid for in their bodies. And there he was, right inside the quaint little home, sitting with his mother, Mary. With Mary holding her son Jesus, and with Jesus clinging to his momma, the Magi bow down in humble submission and out of due reverence for the one of whom the prophecy foretold: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Before their very eyes, within the same room, the promised one enrobed in human flesh, sits gently upon his mothers lap. He is so young, and so precious to his mother. The flesh of her own flesh, her little baby boy. His name is “he will deliver,” “he will save,” “he will rescue,” Yeshua, Joshua, Jesus. He will save his people from their sins.

Could this be? How could I have been so blind! Aha! Boy oh Boy! Eureka! I have found it!

Looking for a child who would be a shepherd and ruler for his people, they also found revealed before them God in the flesh, the one who will save, not through military might, but through himself and his sacrifice for the sins of all the people; for his blood family, the Jews, and for the others outside of Israel, the Gentiles, of which these men are. “I have found it, and didn’t know I was looking for all this!”

In their due reverence they brought to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, a symbol of light and royalty, fit for a king of his proper standing in Israel. Frankincense, a recognition that Jesus is a priest, and in this case we can say God himself, enfleshed for us and like us, used to offer up prayers to God as a sweet fragrance reminding the user of how sweet the prayers of the people are in the nostrils of God. And myrrh, the one which is most interesting.

This holy oil, the myrrh, is scented oil that is commonly used in the preparation of the dead prior to burial. It would help to hide the scent of death before the one on whom it is used could be buried.

See Mary, receiving this gift of myrrh for her little boy, Jesus. She accepts the gift, but with a deep question in her heart. Is my son going to die before me? What is going to happen? Why would they give such a gift? What deep pain and questioning must have gone through the Blessed Mary’s mind, questions that would be answered for her in 33 years when the purpose of Jesus, the God-Man wrapped in human flesh, were revealed in their final spectacularity.

He is the one who was prophesied, and about whom the Psalmist wrote, when he said:

 72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Jesus is all that God has promised to us his creation, who has come to set us free. Have we found it? Have we discovered who Jesus really is? Not just some baby with a claim to an earthly throne, but the God in flesh who shall be a prophet, priest, and King. The one, and the only one, who when being discovered causes men and women from the depths of their hearts and souls to proclaim aloud, and with great joy, “Eureka! I have found it!”

We have gathered here today in this assembly not by accident, but because we were drawn by light. Something about this light just can’t be shaken off and ignored. It is too hard not to notice, and it’s almost as if, by some sort of providence—God’s providence, we could say—that we have been brought together on this day, in this place, to hear of a God who has been joined together with his human creation in the flesh. What a great and curious thing that a holy God would take on the weakness of the flesh of a little baby to reveal himself to all humankind.

But this is exactly what he has done. And his heart and flesh will be tested by Satan, by the pressing in of the pressures of life lived amongst sinful humanity, and by those who would seek to kill him. And this God-Man, this one whom we have sought, and whom we realize first loved us enough to come amongst us, will be handed off by his own kin to be killed on a torture device built by those not of his own people. At any time we could think he could call it all off and accomplish the redemption of the world by some other means—except that he wouldn’t, because that’s the price he was willing to pay to continue to bring all of us into his everlasting covenant of peace. This peace bought for us through the marring of his flesh, the spilling of his blood upon the ground, and the excruciatingly painful death he would die. Yes, he brought us peace through his death, and in rising he won for us who are called by his name, Christians, victory over evil, sin, and death. All of this will happen to the one to whom the Holy Spirit has lead us to in this place, on this day. We might have come looking for something else, but we have indeed encountered our Savior and our God.

Close: And the only reason any of us could have ever found him is because he caused himself to be found by taking on fragile human flesh, uniting us to himself, and leading us to true knowledge of him by the Holy Spirit whom he also sent according to his good promise. May we ever remember that what, or more properly who, we have found is worth getting to know better more and more every single day.

To him who revealed himself to us in the flesh, the bright and morning star who breaks through the darkness to light our path and give all people saving knowledge of the one true God, be the glory now and forever. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Eureka! We have found him! Amen.

Christmas: Light Shining in the Darkness (or the Beginning of the End of our Exile)

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve 2016 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.7-10; Canticle—from Isaiah 11.1-9; Hebrews 1.1-12; John 1.1-14.

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

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Accordingly, I want us to look at what that means so that we can all  develop a realistic and biblical view of Christmas that will help sustain us in the living of our days, as opposed to a sentimental and unrealistically false view of what Christmas is all about.

In his magnificent prologue to his gospel, St. John tells us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. To be sure, we all know about the darkness but we’re not so sure about the light. We know, for example, about the latest terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin or the bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Egypt. We shake our heads when we read of a road rage incident that claimed the life of a three-year old child. These are but the latest examples of a stream of news that make us mourn over the fact that the forces of evil and their human minions (the darkness) are alive and well in God’s world.

And then there is the darkness in our own lives. It might be an extramarital affair or the betrayal at the deepest level of a friend’s trust. It might come in the form of pornography addiction or drug or alcohol addiction. It might be the darkness of losing a loved one to death or divorce, or the darkness of loneliness that makes us feel we are all alone in the world with no one to help see us through. The list goes on and on, making us wonder if John didn’t have it backwards in his gospel—the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has overcome it.

This, I suspect, is where many of us really are when it comes to Christmas. We are enculturated to believe that somehow at Christmas time, all the problems of the world will magically disappear. We sing about comfort and joy and dream of a White Christmas with all its cozy trappings, but experience something quite different. And especially in the West where we have made the values of the Enlightenment our king, pinning our hope and trust on human reason and the steady advancement of technology and science to cure all that ails us, we are skeptical that Christmas is anything more than an attempt to create a pleasant diversion. In other words, we tend to dismiss the promise of the gospel as ineffectual and wishful thinking. If God were really good to his word, he’d clean up this mess with a mighty act of power and rid the world of all that ails it and us. And then another mass murder occurs, another natural disaster strikes. Evil rears its ugly head and we don’t know what to do with it. We continue to have our blue Christmases where all is not right with the world, at least our world, and we don’t know where to turn.

I trust by the glazed look in your eyes and the fact that some of you are taking ice picks to your head, I have gotten you in the proper Christmas spirit with this uplifting message so far. Take heart. I am not trying to be Scrooge to you tonight and rain on your Christmas parade. I am simply asking us to read the Good News of Jesus Christ with eyes wide open to the state of affairs in God’s good but corrupted world. When we have a realistic view of evil, and when we realize that the story of Scripture is the story of how God has returned to his world in and through Jesus and the power of the Sprit to restore it and us to our original goodness, i.e., that our loving God really is concerned about justice, we are ready to hear the good news of the Christmas story and believe it to be more than sentimental claptrap.

We start with our OT lesson this evening. The prophet Isaiah had previously warned his people that the unthinkable will happen to them, that one day they will be forced into exile and made to live under the oppression of a cruel enemy. The only way for this to happen, of course, was for God to abandon his people and vacate the Temple in Jerusalem, the very place where Israel believed heaven and earth intersected. And since God’s people would be going into exile, this was the terrifying conclusion of Isaiah’s prophecy. God would indeed abandon his people.

But now the prophet tells them of the day when messengers will bring the good news that God is returning to restore and comfort them, defeating their enemies and setting up his reign on earth as in heaven. In other words, God promises to return to his people and restore his justice so that all really will be well. And as we learn from our OT Canticle this evening, God will do this through his Messiah, God’s specially anointed person who will defeat the dark powers and bring about the healing of the nations. When that happens, new creation breaks out and the corruption and evil of the world will be forever destroyed, and we can enjoy living in the presence of God with all the goodness God intended for us in the first place. Who in their right mind would not long for this vision?

This brings us to our gospel lesson tonight. John tells us that in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, God has returned to his people to put them to rights, but not in the pillars of cloud and fire as he did when he rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. No, God has entered his world just like the rest of us—through our mother’s birth canal—to heal and restore us along with God’s creation that evil has corrupted. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John does not tell us how and why the darkness has not overcome the light of Christ shining in his world, but he does so later in his gospel. What is critical for us to see at this point in the story is that God is not some absentee and uncaring landlord who has abandoned us to our own devices. Despite our sin and alienation from God, despite our consistent rebellion and our failure to be his faithful image-bearing creatures in the manner God created us, God has returned, in fulfillment of OT prophecy, to dwell with us and to heal and release us from our slavery to sin and death, i.e., to restore justice to his world. This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews wants us to understand. You want to see the character and heart of God, say John and the writer of Hebrews? Look carefully at Jesus and you will learn how you can find forgiveness, healing, and new life. Why? Because the Lord God has returned to his people as one of us to free us! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

But why has the darkness not overcome the light? Because of the cross and resurrection. Without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas truly is nothing but airy sentimentality and we are bound to suffer blue Christmases because the dark powers have not been overthrown and we are still in our sins, alienated from God. But as Paul tells us, in Jesus’ death, God condemned our sin in the flesh, bearing his just condemnation himself so that we would be spared (Romans 8.1-4). Here is justice enacted with mercy at its finest. The cross reminds us that God will not tolerate sin forever and has acted to do something about it in Jesus, the light shining in the darkness. Not only did God address the madness of our sin, God defeated the powers and principalities on the cross so as to bring an end to their dominion over the earth. This is deeply enigmatic to us because as John reminds us, the darkness, while not overcoming the light of Christ, God-with-us, is sure putting up a good fight! But the resurrection of Christ testifies to us that what happened on the cross was indeed the end of the old order of darkness, sin, and death, and the beginning of God’s new world, a world in which the original goodness of creation is restored—and more. God had to enter human history as a human to deal with our sins, and this is why we can sing “Joy to the world” at Christmas, even in the midst of our own darkness and the darkness of this world. God has won the decisive victory for us himself. God has addressed the deadly consequences of our sins so that we can be his true image-bearers again who reflect God’s goodness and glory out into the world. Certainly, the victory is not yet consummated. But as we saw during the season of Advent, it will be when Christ returns so that there will no longer be any doubt as to who is Lord and King of God’s creation (cf. Philippians 2.5-11).

To be sure, there is much we do not understand in all this. For example, if God defeated the dark powers on the cross, why does God still allow evil to operate in his world? How has the cross defeated the dark powers? Nowhere does the Bible give us answers to these kinds of questions and we must assume that part of the reason is that the answer is simply above our pay grade.

Moreover, Scripture reminds us consistently that God often acts in ways that take us completely by surprise. For example, as Luke will tell us in our dismissal gospel tonight, God announced the Good News of the reestablishment of his rule on earth as in heaven in and through Jesus his Son, not to the power-brokers of the world—after all, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because Caesar was flexing his political muscle and requiring folks to enroll in the census—but to shepherds, the losers of their day, in effect telling us not to be fooled as to who really is in charge. Acting in this way is not how the world understands power and we are consequently caught off guard when we encounter the story. However, this does not change the truth of the matter that God loves us and his world, and is actively involved in it to restore justice and make things right in and through Jesus. So let us have the needed humility to accept the fact that God is God and we are not (cf. Isaiah 55.6-11), and live accordingly with faith and hope.

Christmas, therefore, is the beginning of the culmination of God’s rescue of his good world and us from the dark powers, and we are called to have faith in this God who has acted strangely and decisively in his world through Jesus his Messiah to give us real hope—and be-cause of that victory, through folks like you and me to restore God’s rule on earth as in heaven. This is the way it was always meant to be and Jesus is still present with us in the power of the Spirit to heal and transform us to do the work he calls us to do, quirky and messy as that is.

And because God has fulfilled his promise to return to us and set things right in his world, we can celebrate Christmas with joy despite the darkness that often surrounds us. So, for example, for those of us who grieve the loss of loved ones to death, we can grieve as people with hope, confident that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we will one day be reunited with our loved ones, never to lose them again. Contrast this kind of grief to those who have no resurrection hope. How awful that must be! And when we read of fresh acts of terror and the like, we can be confident that because Jesus is Lord, and God has returned to set his world to rights, that their murderous acts will be met with justice, sometimes through the God-ordained governments that exist, and certainly at the end of time, when God will consummate his loving, just, and merciful rule. Whatever form the darkness takes, we are promised that in Jesus, God has made good on his promise to return to his people to set us free from that darkness. This the Good News we are to live and proclaim, now and for all eternity—if by the grace of God we have hearts and minds to believe. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Merry Christmas, my beloved! Rejoice and be glad because your King and Lord has been born! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

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

Fr. Philip Sang—God with Us!

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Advent 4A, December 18, 2016, 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 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-8, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be
acceptable to You, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. In the name of God the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Since we started Advent, in the lectionary reading texts for the season, there
seemed to be a common theme that surfaced. The theme is waiting, and of course
that is no surprise to us during this Advent season. Immediately following
Thanksgiving, we start to anticipate Christmas. The texts have us waiting for even
larger and broader ideas. Our readings in Advent have certainly built up our hopes
and expectations, with promises about war turning into peace in the text about
beating swords in plowshares; gentleness, not violence, becoming “the norm” even
in nature itself, the lion lying with the lamb; and all of us coming home at last to
the God of healing, wholeness, and reconciliation. We’ve been looking forward,
not backward, in this season of anticipation, and today’s reading brings us to the
long-awaited moment of God’s dramatic “new thing,” God’s fresh, new act in the
drama of salvation. We are waiting for what could be considered idealistic
changes in our world. And we know they can only happen when we trust and
know that God is with us. However, we know the outcome of the waiting in the
texts we read today. They were waiting for Emmanuel, and we know that Jesus
was born. So, to truly understand the waiting experienced by our brothers and
sisters in Isaiah and Matthew, we must understand waiting in today’s context.

It is my assumption that each of us here know about waiting. Many of you have
waited for different reasons. Maybe it was waiting to find out about a job; the
results of a test, medical or otherwise; waiting to hear from a family member you
have tried to reach; waiting for a return call about insurance coverage; waiting to
find someone to share your life with; waiting for children; waiting for
grandchildren; waiting to be accepted into a college or program; waiting for a grant;
waiting for financing for a house or project; waiting to find a permanent place to
worship as we do. There is really no shortage of examples of ways or things that
we wait for today. And we don’t know the end result. So, this allows us to
understand the waiting we hear in our readings today.

Honestly though, the Psalm today does not seem to fit with the season, and yet
scriptures like Psalm always appear here during Advent. If you didn’t follow the
mood of the Psalm when it was read, listen to some of these lines:

“You feed them with the bread of tears; •
you give them abundance of tears to drink

“O Lord God of hosts, •
how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer??”

Psalm 80 has been called a communal hymn of lament — a lament, as in a
depressed crying out in time of great pain. Does such a scripture seem to fit with
the seasonal cheer around us? Believe it or not, this is always case of Advent to
focus on a scripture that makes pain and lament come to life. It is about as real,
genuine, and full of raw emotion as you get in the scriptures. The community
speaking here is one that is feeling abused, depressed, and down-trodden. They
feel as though God is ignoring them and maybe even taking the side of their
enemies. They feel cast aside and forgotten. And so, they sing this lament
together. All people in touch with reality have experienced and are aware of the
pain in the world. The psalmist reminds us of human frailty. This sets an
important tone for the hope to come here at Christmas. After all, the birth of the
Christ Child was not an excuse to decorate or give gifts. The birth of Christ was an
action on God’s part to give us hope. To show humanity that there is a possibility
for love and a different kind of Kingdom. Jesus came to wipe tears away and
change our reality. That is where we are headed this Christmas.

In our Old testament and gospel lessons the prophet and angel foretell the birth of
Emmanuel, God-with-us. The name “Emmanuel” (God with us) is more than a
nice name for a sweet baby. You might say that it frames the whole Gospel of
Matthew, that it tells the story of what God is about, and for the early Jewish
Christians it was especially clear that this gift of Jesus was meant to fulfill the
longing of their ancestors for all people, not just their own, to recognize God. Both
the biblical characters and we, can understand waiting, some days better than
others. The advantage we have over the biblical characters is that we have already
been assured of the Emmanuel part, God-with-us.

As a family, we have been through hard times, however, what has allowed our
family to survive and stay focused as best as we can is that, we know God is with
us. So, you ask, how in the world do you know God is with you? The answer is so
simple. We are surrounded by people who support us. We feel strength from the
people who pray for us. We are aware that people are God’s hands and feet, and
we are in no shortage of hands, feet and prayers. Does this continue to challenge
our family, as does waiting challenge others? Of course, Like anyone, we reach
the end of our ropes, we question, we get angry, frustrated and grumpy. But then
we realize and again feel the love and support of our church family, our friends and
our family.

Here at St. Augustine’s we receive new members into our congregation every time
and we make promises to them and their families that we accept them into our
family and support them. Through our hands and feet, these members and their
families can be assured that God is with them. We have a ministry to Worthington
Christian Village that visits the elderly people. This ministry, helps with prayers an
being a supportive presence to the community. Through hands and feet of the
Christians, these members of the village can be assured that God is with them.
There are also many people in this church that volunteer outside of the church
events that we have. Through their generosity of time and care, they are assuring
people that God is available to and with them.

As we are seven days away from Christmas, what should we be focusing on in our
lives? Should we be concerned about the waiting? Waiting is an on-going part of
our lives, we will always be waiting for something. Let us not worry so much
about waiting for the birth of a baby, let us, instead, celebrate the presence of God-
with-us. Let us also celebrate the possibilities of the way we can be God-with-us
to others.

I hope you feel the presence of God through others hands, feet and prayers; and
hope that you have the opportunity to be the hands, feet and pray for others. God
IS with us!

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

Deacon Terry Gatwood: Waiting

Sermon delivered on Advent 3A, Sunday, December 11, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 35.1-10; The Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was eleven years ago this week that I took a trip to New York City via Greyhound to complete a trip in honor of my Mamaw Shirley. She had passed away a few months before, and had never gotten to take her trip to Ellis Island to see where her grandparents had entered the United States. This trip was something that I could always remember her talking about, so I took it upon myself to complete the trip that year before heading off to my first naval assignment in Okinawa. It was an interesting trip for a reason that I think you will all understand.

New York is a busy place. Especially during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas the city takes on a whole new pace as people are in a bigger rush than they normally are. We have to get this shopping done, and tie up these loose ends in our work, and see all these people that we’ve not seen all year, and rush, rush, rush. It’s enough to make your head spin.

But during these weeks of Advent, year after year after year, in the midst of all the busyness, rushing, and noise we hear a still, small voice repeat these words to us: be patient…endure…wait…have faith…be strengthened…you shall see…

These words are intended to calm our busied hearts, and recapture our focus back toward that which has the ultimate claim on us. They are meant to continue to feed us on the spiritual food that nourishes our souls, keeping us until the new Advent, when the Lord will again come, when the New Jerusalem will descend, and the Lord will be physically present again with his people on his earth.

But the noise competes for our attention. The checklist of things we must accomplish seems to grow by two every time we mark off one of our “to-do’s.” The stress is real, and it is palpable. But the voice of the Lord continues to speak to us from his holy Word: Be strong…do not fear.

On that trip to New York I was able to hear a sermon on patient endurance one Saturday evening at St. Lucy’s Church in the Bronx. And in that time worshipping with that body of believers it was peaceful and the Spirit of God relieved us of our fears, of our worries, of the feelings of stress that loomed over us. And then we left that place to rush around to the trains, and through traffic in busses, taxis, and cars, and scurried down the sidewalks to beat the rushes of people who would be coming out to do their shopping. The crush of the madness of fleeting time was still present in the neighborhood, and it pressed upon us all. The sun was setting, the light was going away, the frigid wind was like a dog gnawing on our faces, and it seemed to come from every which direction we would face. We just wanted to get to the part where we’re happy and light hearted, singing around a piano in the warmth of our homes, surrounded by family and friends, wearing hideous Christmas sweaters and drinking our eggnog with big goofy grins like in the movies. Except no one in my home plays the piano, and I’m generally goofy looking as it is.

Advent is a season of waiting, but really it’s the season when we may see our own impatience rising to the top. And we may not like it, but it’s still hard to shake. We have an expectation of joy, and we want it right now, much like when we were little children awaiting the opening of presents on Christmas day. It’s the waiting that is really hard for us children of God, because it’s in that time that we might begin to lose our sight of true joy. But God still whispers to us: be patient. I will come.

Israel had been waiting a long time for the promised Messiah to come. Some had come and claimed to be the Messiah, but the movements of those men never seemed to last very long. They would be put down, or just fizzle out. And so the people did everything they could to figure out when the Christ would come. They wanted out from under the oppression they lived with every day, and they wanted free right now.

In the village of Nazareth lived a young woman called Mary. She was one of the poor folks living in a poor town filled with folks who were seen as yokels. It was the kind of place one would ask, “can anything good come from that hole?”

Mary had been visited by an angel of the Lord, much in the same way Zachariah, John the Baptists father, had. In fulfillment of what the prophets had said, and for which they awaited, she was told that she would be with child, and that he would be the Son of God. He would be called Jesus, Yeshua, Yehoshua, Joshua, all the same name, meaning, “The Lord will save.” And when she visited Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, the child in Elizabeth’s stomach leapt for joy at his coming. The promised Messiah, the one for whom Israel had been waiting, was now among them. And he did not coming like most would have expected; he entered the world in the most unlikely of places, being born to the most unlikely of people. And Mary sung her song, filled with the joy of the Lord, her son.

And now we fast-forward in the story of Jesus the Messiah, the one who has brought this joy into the life of Israel. We’ve heard recently of the ministry of John as he preached the coming of the Messiah, and baptized many in the Jordan River. He’s even baptized Jesus. But things have recently become very difficult for John. He’s been thrown into a prison cell. It’s not a very happy time for him. John, sitting in his cell, waiting for his coming death, sends some out to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come?” Maybe this isn’t, and we have to keep on waiting.

And that’s the real question: Is Jesus the one I’m waiting for, or should I keep on looking? Is this the present I’ve been waiting for? Is this the party, is this the family reunion, is this the date I’ve been waiting for? Is this the job I really wanted? Is this really the house we wanted so desperately two years ago? Is this really the person I loved four years ago? Is this really the person I love now?

In Jesus Christ we find that gift, the promised gift, who brings true and lasting joy. We see that the lame have been made to walk, the blind have been made to see, the deaf to hear, and prisoners of oppression, of sin, are set free. We see true reconciliation between God and humanity, and take our cue to seek reconciliation with other people. The dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor. The pattern of things has been reversed, and instead of going toward death we can move toward life.

And these things didn’t come in the way that they were expected. They came through the blessing of a poor young woman called Mary, living in a poor town, the oppressed of the oppressed. Jesus came among a bunch of people who did not have everything worked out. He came in the midst of the madness.

And in the midst of the madness of our own time he comes to us poor through the preaching of his Word, participation in the sacraments of the font and the table, and through the fellowship of the Church. The pressures and pulls of life, of the rush and the busyness are still present, sure. Some of us have gotten a lot of the things we’ve always waited and worked for. We might have the car, the house, the job, the stuff, but is that all there is? These things make us happy, but they might not last. People lose jobs, and homes. Cars wear out. The stuff breaks and ends up in the bin. And then the cycle of trying to get new things begins. And these things are usually good for us. But they’re only good for us if we aren’t looking to them to bring us the ultimate joy. That can only be found in the Christ.

And now we live on the other side of the first Advent. Christ has been crucified for us, making the sacrifice that enables our entrance into God’s kingdom. He has risen from the dead, and has ascended into heaven. So we wait again for the second Advent, his coming again in glory. We wait in the midst of broken things, and fleeting time. We wait in the midst of the rush.

Listen to what Jesus told John’s disciples when they asked that Advent question. Jesus said, “When you get me, the lame walk, the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, the poor get good news.” What did all that mean? It meant that John’s disciples, who had already repented and turned around once, were going to have to repent and turn around again.

It meant that Jesus comes to reverse things. What was dead is now raised. What was blind now sees. What was lame now walks. When we get the gift of Jesus, our lives are changed. The sign that Jesus has come is that people are changed. And this brings us great joy.

This week we’ve lit the rose candle, a symbol of joy. We celebrate the joy of the promise of God being fulfilled in the coming of the Christ child, and a light of future hope in his coming again. We wait patiently, taking as our example the prophets, in our struggles and sufferings. For we know we haven’t merely gone out to see a reed swayed by the wind, or someone dressed to the nines telling us things that tickle our ears to gain our support in their quest for power. We’ve gone out to hear the Good News that Christ is coming again. We’ve gone out, maybe expecting one thing, but gaining something so much better: the salvation of our souls, and the unfolding promise of a renewed life. A life filled with patient endurance, and the joy of the knowledge of our salvation, and the God who graciously gives it to us wrapped up in the most beautiful of wrappings: swaddling cloths.

Hear this good news: Jesus Christ has come, and he is coming again. Strengthen your hearts, and be patient, serving the Lord and feeding on him in your hearts by faith, and with thanksgiving. For we might die before his coming, but we shall all someday see that land for which he is preparing us, the place from where we have come into being, that Garden of goodness where our ancestors once tread.

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

Advent—A Season of Hope (and boy, do we need hope in this season!)

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Advent 2A, December 4, 2016, 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 11.1-10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12.

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

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we have lighted the second purple candle on our wreath that represents the OT prophets. As Fr. Sang reminded us last week, Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, and means coming or arrival. It is a season of expectation and preparation in which the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (advent) of Christ in his Incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge and ruler at the end of time. As Christians, that promise should give us hope. But why? And how can we have confidence that God’s promises are trustworthy and true? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

What do you think about when you think of God’s judgment? Most of us, I suspect, see God’s judgment as a bad thing. After all, we read passages like our OT and gospel lessons this morning and we should rightly tremble. Both prophets warn us that God is coming to judge his world and sweep away the wicked. Given that we are all sin-infected, we rightly wonder and worry about our own fate. Will we be swept away in God’s righteous judgment and wrath?

But this view of God and his judgment is skewed and one-dimensional. Behind it is the assumption that God is basically an angry God, terminally irritated over our behavior and bent on whacking us up side the head the minute we get out of line. This view of God, however, has no basis in Scripture, and it tells us more about ourselves and our fears than about God. To be sure, there is a negative dimension involved with God’s judgment. Evil and evildoers will be dealt with, and severely. But not because God is some angry deity bent on destroying us and delighting in it when he does. That is a pagan notion of God and we must adamantly reject it.

No, as Christians, we should humbly see God’s righteous judgment as both a good and bad thing. When Christ returns, the wicked and evildoers should rightly be terrified of God’s judgment because it will be aimed at them. Thus the ubiquitous call to repentance by God’s prophets, who serve not so much as seers of the future but as God’s spokespersons. This call to repent itself gives us insight into the heart of God because God does not take pleasure at the death of anyone, not even the wicked (Ezekiel 18.22, 32; 33.11), and we should pay attention to this because it reminds us that the heart of God beats with love for us, not anger. The reason God must come in judgment is to rid his good world gone bad of the sources of its corruption so as to restore it and us to our original goodness, and it is critical that we keep this big picture narrative of the Bible in mind at all times.

We see the logic of how the biblical narrative works in our OT lesson this morning. Isaiah tells his people that God’s promised Messiah, God’s anointed one, is coming to judge the earth and its people. The Messiah will be unlike any other human ruler. He will be totally righteous and uniquely equipped to judge God’s world and its people. He will decide with equity for the meek of the earth (a good thing). He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. At first blush striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and killing the wicked sound like bad things. But keep in mind the big picture narrative of the Bible. Notice carefully what happens after God’s Messiah executes judgment on the wicked and all the dark forces that corrupt God’s good creation and creatures. New creation springs forth! The wolf will lie down with the lamb and formerly deadly creatures will cease being deadly. In other words, the original harmony of nature before the Fall will be restored and the forces of death and destruction will be either  neutralized or destroyed! The result? The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But what does that mean? After all, the waters are the sea! It means that God’s human image-bearing creatures will stop worshiping the idols that have corrupted and dehumanized us, and once again return to worshiping the one true and living God so as to be able to perfectly reflect God’s image out into God’s good creation as we rule wisely over it. Justice and peace and harmony break out, not to mention joy and health and contentment and life! God’s judgment has brought about a new world, perfectly beautiful and full of God’s goodness. No wonder the psalmist predicts that the heavens and earth and all that are in them will rejoice when God comes to judge his good but corrupted creation (see Psalm 96.10-13, 98.4-9, etc.)! God’s judgment results in God’s world and its creatures, especially God’s image-bearing creatures, being healed and restored to their intended goodness! Who, except the most hardened and inveterate of evil doers, would not long for this?

And here is where we must also be crystal clear in our thinking about sin. Sin of any kind distorts our ability to be God’s image-bearers and when that happens, disorder, corruption, and chaos result, and our lives and God’s world are beset by all kinds of nasty things, especially the ultimate evil of death. God’s promised judgment of his world through God’s Messiah is therefore a good thing to be desired by those of us who want to be God’s people in Christ. God judges because God loves and wants to see his created order run in the manner God created it to run. When that happens—and it will not fully happen until the new heavens and earth come with the return of our Lord Jesus—there will be no more death or sorrow or sickness or sighing (cf. Revelation 21.1-7). Again, God wants that for all of his creation because God loves us. Let us be clear and bold in proclaiming that to each other and to the world around us, my beloved.

But how do we know God’s promises are true? How do we know they are not just wishful human thinking? And how do we know that God’s character truly is defined by love and not something else? Here Paul helps us in our epistle lesson, reminding us that all Scripture was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and the encouragement Scripture offers, we might have hope. Hope, I remind you, is not wishful thinking. In the parlance of Scripture, especially the NT, hope is the sure and certain expectation of things to come. And we develop that sure and certain expectation by engaging the Scriptures through regular reading and study of them. There are other means of grace, of course, like worship, partaking in the eucharist, and mutual Christian fellowship, but I want us to focus on reading and studying the Scriptures today.

In all our lessons this morning, we see how Scripture can encourage us to help us develop steadfastness to meet the difficulties of life that confront us. Everyone here knows how easy it is for us to become discouraged because all is not yet right with God’s world or our lives. But as we have seen, God promises to put things to rights through his Messiah and his people. We can believe these promises because we see them played out in history. For example, God promises through his prophet Isaiah to give his people a Messiah to judge the world and bring about God’s promised new creation. And of course as Christians, we believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah (or Christ) and that evil, sin, and death have been defeated in his death, resurrection, and ascension. More about that in a moment. We see God’s promise of giving his people a Messiah being fulfilled in the announcement of John the baptizer. John announces that the kingdom of heaven (God’s kingdom) is at hand because God’s promised Messiah, Jesus, is at hand. But unlike previous prophecies, astonishingly, God’s Messiah would be God himself come as a human being to bring judgment on the corrupting forces and people who defiled God’s good creation. To be sure, John himself did not fully understand the prophecies he spoke. We know that because he would later send his disciples to ask Jesus if he were the promised Messiah (Matthew 11.2-6). But full understanding on the prophet’s part is not required for God’s prophecies to come true. Jesus did appear as promised, pronouncing that God’s kingdom was at hand in his coming.

But how do we know Jesus was the real deal? After all, instead of bringing about the great and terrible day of the Lord’s judgment, Jesus went to the cross. This was a sign of a failed Messiah, not the real deal. So why did the first Christians come to believe that in Jesus’ death God had somehow dealt with the forgiveness of our sins and the evil that corrupts and defiles God’s world and creatures? Because of the resurrection. When Jesus burst forth from the tomb on that first Easter Sunday, his followers soon realized that God’s promises of new creation and new life had been realized, albeit only partially. The full consummation of God’s victory over evil, sin, and death would have to wait until our Lord’s return and the resurrection of the dead. And that, of course, has not yet happened. But given the reliable track record of God’s promises to heal and restore his creation, we can have confidence that Jesus’ promise to return and consummate God’s victory over sin and the dark powers will surely be fulfilled as well. That’s the whole point behind the Revelation to John. Be awake. Stay alert. Things may look as dark as they can be, but the forces of darkness, including the resident sin in all of us, have been defeated and we have been reconciled to God so that we can expect to enjoy God’s new world with the rest of the redeemed in Christ, thanks be to God! This is our Advent hope, my beloved. Do you believe it? Do you live your lives with that hope always at the forefront of your thinking? One thing is certain. If you do not know the overarching story of Scripture, of God’s plan to rescue us and his world from the clutches of sin and evil, you will never have a real hope that will encourage and sustain you during the times you must walk through dark valleys. Put another way, not knowing your story is like not knowing your own family’s story. It must impoverish you.

So if you are struggling with hopelessness and fear and despair over the state of affairs in your life and/or this world, do yourself a favor. Pick up a good study Bible and join (or start) a Bible study and learn the story of how God promises to defeat all that corrupts and sickens and dehumanizes us and his world. You will have opportunities to do that in the coming new year as part of St. Augustine’s. Read the Scriptures to develop the confidence that you can trust God’s promises in the power of the Spirit, that everything will indeed turn out right in the end, at least for God’s people in Christ. And let that hope sustain you as you embody the love of God for you to others. Is this easy? Of course not. We live in a world that is hostile to God and his people, and we can therefore expect to suffer by living as God’s healed and redeemed people in Christ. But if we want to live a meaningful life, we must resolve to stop worshiping the idols that we do, idols like money, sex, power, and self, and learn to worship the one true and living God, the God who went to the cross for us so that we can find healing and forgiveness and real purpose for living. In other words, we must bear the fruit of repentance.

In closing, Advent is the time for us to focus on God’s promised future for us, confident that it will come about because of God’s past actions, most notably in coming to us as Jesus, to fulfill God’s promises. That is the hope of the Good News we are to live and proclaim, especially during this season of Advent—and also 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: Walking in the Light

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday A, November 27, 2016, 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 2:1-5; Psalm 122.1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44.

Christmas is already here for some because carols can be heard over the air waves, trees with colored lights can be seen in some yards or living rooms, but mostly because merchants have been selling Christmas for weeks now. For us and some other Christian denominations, Christmas is in the air because Advent is finally here.

Advent is from the Latin word “adventus,” which means coming. This is a season, we are reminded that Christ is coming back to earth for a second time.

Other “A” words associated with Advent are: aware, alert, attuned, alive and attentive.

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Advent season. We start on a journey toward Bethlehem, where God meets us through the gentleness of the Christ-child. We move towards the humble stable, following the star, in the hope of finding the One who will finally bring healing, hope and new life into each of our lives.

As ‘we enter into this season we are shocked at how quickly the time has gone.Even the snow seems to have missed a beat this year. I don’t know about you, but I feel as if this Advent season has broken in too fast. I’m not ready yet! There are a 1001 things that still have to be done.

For many people Advent is not filled with the air of expectation and anticipation that is supposed to be part of the season. In place of joy they feel sadness. In place of fulfillment, loss. In place of celebration with family and friends, loneliness and despair.

Our hearts go out to those people throughout the world and especially among us, whose Christmas season will not be like any other. We cry with those whose Christmas will be a lonely time — maybe for the first time after the loss of a loved one.

We do well to take note of the unpredictable nature of God’s coming into our lives. We do well to be reminded of God’s Second Advent, and to heed the warning that God will break into our lives again at any time — like a thief in the night.

The article to members of Crosswalk church send by Fr. Maney on the newsletter this week had a question related to today’s readings

Q: Why are there so many scripture readings?

  • The readings are intended to tell part of the story of Jesus. Leading up to
    Christmas, many passages sound bleak and sad. That’s because Jesus came
    to bring light into a dark world. So those bleak and sad passages help us
    understand the level of darkness Jesus came to destroy.
  • The readings also help turn our attention forward to the day of Jesus’ second
    coming, when darkness will be destroyed once and for all.

During Advent we acknowledge the darkness that exists in our world, and our desperation for the light of Christ.

The Prophet Isaiah invites us to anticipate a time when all peoples and nations will turn toward God. He anticipates a time when the whole world will turn to God for light and direction. Let me read Isaiah 2:2-5

In the last days the mountain of the LORD ‘s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. ” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. {They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. } Come, 0 house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

This passage from the Book of Isaiah comes from around 740 BCE. It was a time when Israel’s enemies threatened the divided nation. Isaiah calls the people to look to God for hope and salvation.

Israel was waiting for a big event that would bring in the Kingdom of the Messiah. The people were waiting for God Himself to come down from heaven and destroy the enemies. But God’s people placed their hope for salvation in a great military leader.

Imagine Israel’s disappointment when the prophet later announced the birth of a child. Listen to Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. ” And in 1l:3ff: “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. And A Little Child Will Lead Them.”

Can you imagine the reaction? They will have argued, “What does a little child know about leading?” “We need a military King, a warrior, better technology.” “How can God save us through a common child?”

We too journey into the advent season, expecting great things to happen. We expect God to do a miracle to keep our families together and to bring those who are lost back into the fold. We hope that God will bring peace to ?ghting nations and communities like mine. We wait for the miracle of reconciliation in bitter and angry church conflicts and experiences we have seen after election. We pray for revival and New Life. You and I wait on God for our salvation!

The whole world is eagerly awaiting salvation from God. Indeed, our souls are searching for a sign from God. Our souls hunger for an inner peace that cannot be achieved through our own efforts. The problem is, that we go looking for that inner peace in all the wrong places. (People are looking for fulfillment in the sciences and in space exploration. We search for answers to life ’s complex questions. We look for fulfillment in technology and education. We hope to find it in a good job and financial achievement. We go looking in health clubs, sports, entertainment, the community hall, the Internet, pornography, and countless other places).

Where do you go looking for God? Where do you hope to ?nd peace for your soul? God sees the needs of His people, and He does not turn away. He hears the cry of those who are in despair — and He acts.

Maybe your heart is crying to God right now. Maybe you are in despair and experiencing a time of the deep night of the soul. Then I encourage you, Friend, to watch and wait for God’s salvation!

But, be careful, that you don’t miss it because you didn’t recognize it. God’s salvation does not come to us with noisy parades and spectacular ?reworks. God is at work in the ordinary places and events of our lives. God’s salvation comes to us in an innocent little child in a manger, among donkeys and oxen, and sheep and shepherds. God’s grace and forgiveness comes to us in small packages… In expressions of love and compassion.

God promises that a little child will lead us, and teach us, and show us the way. The New Life represented in the birth of the baby Jesus sets us free to walk with hope in His light. The assurance of God’s ultimate victory over sin and death gives us the confidence to seek His face and to follow where He leads us.

Advent is not only looking back to the events that took place in a dimly lit stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Advent has a second dimension: a future hope. Advent is also a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.

Isaiah encourages us, in the light of the Things to Come, to act decisively, (Isaiah 60:1f):

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Lift up your eyes
and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will
be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

In the light of our fixture hope in an everlasting Kingdom we are called to action. Arise, Shine, and walk in His light! Walking in God’s light means to live each day as if it were our last. It means that we take the opportunities that God gives you and me, to restore hope and healing in someone else’s life.

The season that is upon us gives us many challenges and opportunities to walk in the light of Christ, to stand with others in their loneliness and despair, to cast a ray of hope into someone’s dark existence.

The Season is short, therefore Seize the Day while there is still light! If we can take the time and make the effort during Advent to be more awake, alert, attentive and alive to God’s presence in the people we encounter and all the circumstances we face, this Christmas will be more meaningful for everyone around us.

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard earlier, God envisions a world transformed. What’s coming is a time when all wars will cease and weapons will be converted to implements of agriculture. Can we walk in the light of that future now?

Jesus tells us in the gospel that his second coming will be similar to those who missed their reservation on Noah’s ark, some have suggested that, today, the church is comparable to the ark.

Jesus goes on in the gospel to describe two pairs of people going about their daily chores side by side, two will be working in the ?eld, and two will be grinding meal. When Jesus returns only one from each set will be taken. Why the one when both are doing the exact same thing? We must assume that, in each case, only one was ready, awake, expectant and spiritually attuned. The other must have been in a state of ignorance. We may not have to be in church when Jesus comes, but being in church and part of the body of Christ regularly should keep us mindful of another reality breaking in.

We, too, are expected to go about our daily activities with love and care all the while knowing that at any minute Christ might come again and call us home. We will always be prepared for such a moment if we are committed to loving God and our neighbor as ourselves.

Romans 13:11-14

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Welcome Advent in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

How the Kingdom Came (and Comes) on Earth

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday C, November 20, 2016, 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: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 46.1-11; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism in his day. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and it brings to an end the so-called kingdom season we have been celebrating today and the past two Sundays. You probably noticed that the liturgical color changed from green to red this month after we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday. But why? Isn’t purple the color of royalty? Well, yes it is. But the kingdom we are talking about, God’s kingdom, is not a kingdom that focuses on pomp and glory and earthly understanding of power. It is a very different kingdom that has reclaimed God’s reign on earth as in heaven and it has been inaugurated by the blood of Jesus—thus the color red. As a result, we who are God’s kingdom people in Jesus are called to be cruciform (or cross-shaped) people, and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What does it mean for us to live as subjects in God’s kingdom here on earth?

In our epistle lesson, Paul tells us that in fulfillment of the OT prophecy we read in Jeremiah, God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. But what does this mean? Many Christians mistakenly think that this means we are rescued (or saved) from this world so that we can go to heaven when we die. But this is emphatically not what Paul is talking about. God does not save us from this world because God does not intend to destroy this world. Instead, God intends to restore his creation to its original goodness and to heal us, his image-bearing creatures, whom God created to rule over his good creation on God’s behalf, so that we can once again rule it wisely. And so here Paul uses Passover language, the great rescue event of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt, to remind us that God has rescued us from our slavery to sin and freed us to be his fully human and image-bearing creatures again. This is critical to God’s saving plan to reestablish his kingdom on earth as in heaven because when we act selfishly and contrary to God’s original creative intentions for us as his stewards, we cannot possibly rule wisely on God’s behalf. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans that all creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of God’s children (that would be us, my beloved) at our resurrection so that it could be freed from its bondage to sin and the decay our sin-corrupted and evil-infested rule has caused (Romans 8.19-21). Make humans right by freeing us from our sins and creation will be made right once again because we will start to rule it wisely as we were created. This is the end game in the biblical narrative because God is faithful to his original creation and intends to restore it and us to our original goodness (and more). This is what the promise of new heavens and earth is all about, and this is what it means to have the kingdom come on earth as in heaven, just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. When God’s rule (or kingdom) comes, goodness and wholeness and health and abundant life reign instead of the sin and evil and sickness and death that characterize the rule of the dark powers and principalities. This is the promise of salvation we read about in the Bible, especially in the NT.

And it is all made possible by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to heal us and reconcile us to God the Father so that we finally have real peace and can enjoy being the fully human creatures God created us to be. On the cross, Jesus took the entire weight of our collective sin and the full force of evil, and defeated it so that we could be freed from our sin and made ready to reassume our rightful place as God’s wise rulers on God’s behalf. This was a massive cosmic victory in which the invisible powers in heaven were also brought under God’s control in Jesus so that peace could reign on earth. To be sure, God’s victory over sin and the dark powers is not fully consummated. That must wait till Jesus’ second coming. But the victory is God’s and because we are God’s people, it is also ours, thanks be to God! As Paul tells us elsewhere, in our baptism we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6.4-6). That’s critically important because in today’s epistle lesson Paul reminds us that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead so that we too can anticipate our own resurrection and victory over death that Christ’s death won for us. In other words we are a resurrection people with a real hope and future.

This is why we are called to be a cruciform (or cross-shaped) people. While the forces of evil have been defeated, they are still quite active and they will try to destroy us. That is why until Christ returns, we can expect to suffer in this world when we exercise our freedom to act as God’s people. But act we must, and in the manner of Christ, who loves us and died for us so that we might be set free to act in the dignity of fully human beings who bear God the Father’s image. And we are to do this joyfully and with courage because we remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers are not, that death has been defeated, and that we have been given power by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit who loves us and lives in us to heal us so that we can imitate our Lord’s suffering and self-giving love for the healing of the nations.

Just as Jesus was crucified in the midst of evil and prayed that those responsible for his unjust death be forgiven, so too are we to bring Christ’s forgiveness and love to bear in the midst of the brokenness that surrounds us. What’s this look like? Last week I suggested that if we are going to live as people who believe Jesus really is Lord and others are not, we are to be agents of healing and forgiveness in our country where many people seem to succumb to the rule of fear and anxiety. So we are to meet people where they are and even suffer their abuse as we try to embody the love of God to them. It means we are to immerse ourselves in prayer, convinced of its power and efficacy, even when we cannot see the results of our prayer directly. We do so because this is what God’s wise stewards of his good creation do to reflect God’s goodness out into God’s creation. We are to immerse ourselves in reading and studying Scripture, both individually and together, so as to learn what the mind of Christ is and what real and godly living look like. The more we read Scripture, the better we understand what God’s good and creative purposes for us are. We are to pay attention to each other and rejoice with each other in our joys and grieve with each other in our sorrows. We are to put aside our own selfish desires and look out for the needs of each other, giving our time, our effort, ourselves, (and when required, our money) for the benefit of the other. We don’t do this perfectly because we will not be perfected until the new creation comes. Simply put, we are not completely done with sin until we die (Romans 6.7), and sin corrupts us. But this doesn’t mean we give up and revert to our selfish and evil behavior that comes so naturally to us. In sum, learning to be a cruciform people takes intentionality and hard work. But the rewards are far greater: peace with God with its resulting good health, forgiveness of sins, a new power to be fully human, and the promise of resurrection and new creation, life forever.

And here I want to remind us that this new life in Christ does not mean we can no longer have any fun, that living humble and self-giving lives in the manner of Christ means that there is no longer any enjoyment to be had. God does not want to rain on our parade, my beloved!  God created us to have abundant life and became human in Jesus to show us what that looks like. The suffering required of us sometimes is the result of the hostility of the forces of evil, not from God. To be sure, sometimes God tests us, but that is for our own good, not for evil. And so living life as freed people means a celebration more than anything else! Why do you think Jesus partied so much, especially with sinners? It was a foretaste of things to come! If we believe God is really good and generous and wise and kind and just, why would we not want to like thusly?

So on this Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s Kingship and Lordship over all creation, let us resolve to imitate him in our living, confident that the Holy Spirit, who loves us and lives in us, will give us the power to become like him. Let us rejoice that being cruciform people means we are being led by the Source and Author of all goodness and life, not by the dark powers who want to destroy us. And let us do the work we are called to do to be his faithful people so that the world comes to know the goodness and beauty and joy and freedom of living as God’s holy image-bearers. That is the the Good News we are to live and proclaim, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

A God Big Enough to Heal All Creation

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 13, 2016, 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 65.17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19.

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

This morning we have our quarterly healing service and so I must keep my remarks short. Hopefully I will leave you wanting more rather than wondering why I preached so long. What do our lessons have to say about healing and what can we learn from them? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our OT lesson, we see God speaking through his prophet to lay out a bold and comprehensive promise to God’s people. God promises to heal all that is wrong in his sin-sick and evil-ravaged world, to bring about new creation, the new heavens and earth. Notice carefully what God is promising. God is not going to destroy his good but corrupted creation and creatures. No, God is going to recreate and restore his creation to its original goodness. When God does this, notice what will happen. The haunting, hurting memories we all carry with us, and that diminish us, will be healed. We will simply not remember all the hurt and darkness in our personal and corporate lives and history. Peace will be restored. Chaos that was part of the old creation in Genesis will be done away with. Harmony and prosperity will reign. God will live directly with his people, and evil will be banished forever, even while the agents of evil mysteriously remain (the snake still is with us, but is consigned to powerlessness). It is a breathtaking vision and it reminds us in no uncertain terms that creation is important to God and God remains faithful to his created order, us included. Do you have that kind of comprehensive hope?

The language of new heavens and earth has no parallel in the OT. We must look to the NT to find a parallel vision that is as bold and comprehensive:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea [forces of chaos] was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev 21.1-4).

It is no coincidence that the Christian bible begins with creation in Genesis and ends with God’s good but corrupted creation being restored and healed in Revelation. This is what the entire biblical narrative in general, and the gospel specifically, are all about—the healing of the nations and with them all of creation (cf. Romans 8.19-23). Only God can bring about this transformation with its attendant and necessary healing, and this reminds us that we are not to put our ultimate hope and trust in human solutions to fully transform God’s world into a better place. It is simply not in our power to do so. This is not to say that we are to withdraw from the world and become irresponsible abusers of creation and its creatures while we wait to go to heaven. This would be not only thoroughly unbiblical but also the ultimate act of idolatry and rebellion on our part. Why? Because God created us in his image to be his wise stewards over his good creation and to reflect God’s glory and goodness out into creation while receiving creation’s praise and glory and reflecting it back to its Creator. Simply put, we were made to be actively and totally involved in God’s world as his image-bearers, but we are to do so on God’s terms, not ours.

And of course the promise of new creation is made possible by the love of God acting in and through Christ to defeat the power of evil and reconcile us to himself so that we can serve once again as God’s faithful image-bearers (cf. Ephesians 6.12; Colossians 2.13-15). God did this through the death and resurrection of Jesus and by blessing us with the gift of his Spirit who lives in us and who heals and transforms us into new creations (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17). This promise will not be consummated until Christ returns to finish the work he started.

So what do we do in the interim? Why have a healing service if it is only God who can thoroughly heal and transform us? Because this is what we are called to do as God’s faithful people and this is where our epistle and gospel lessons can help speak to us. The promise of new heavens and earth, of complete and transformative healing and new creation, reminds us that God is at work in us through Jesus in the power of the Spirit to heal and transform his world hijacked by human sin and the dark powers and principalities. Or to put it another way, as the NT writers unanimously proclaim, Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord, not the dark powers, not the rulers of the nations or the nations themselves. Jesus is Lord. It is one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith, and it is essential to our healing. Do you believe this? Do you really believe that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar (or Barack or Donald or [name your favorite leader])? If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect many of us pay lip service to this proclamation but don’t really believe it because of the brokenness and evil we see in our lives and God’s world.

And this is where we need to pay attention to Jesus and Paul. Our Lord reminds us that while he is removed from our sight, we will be faced with all kinds of difficulties and challenges: wars and rumors of wars. Persecution and division, et al. But we are not to fear. Why? Jesus doesn’t tell us here but in John’s gospel he does. He is risen and ascended and rules over God’s creation as Lord, and he is really present to us in the power of the Spirit who lives in us. So we are not to fear. Instead (and astonishingly enough), we are to see the difficulties in our lives as opportunities to witness to our faith that Jesus is Lord!

Likewise, Paul reminds that we are never to tire of doing good. Why? Because we are a resurrection people who worship and follow the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and therefore we are called to live our lives in ways that witness to the truth that Jesus is Lord to an unbelieving and hostile world. So, for example, in the context of living life together as part of Christ’s family here at St. Augustine’s, we do our fair share as members of one family so as not to place undue and/or unfair burdens on other family members. We are to resist the temptation to let others do the work to make God’s love known to the world or to support this little parish. Doing so betrays a selfishness and an unbelieving attitude that Jesus really isn’t Lord. We are.

In closing, let me give you a specific example of how we can live our lives in ways that are consistent with the spirit of our epistle and gospel lessons so that we witness to the world that we are a resurrection (new creation) people who really believe Jesus is Lord and others are not. It seems to me that in the wake of Tuesday’s election there is great need of healing in this country. But what does the world do? It engages in acrimony, recrimination, and lawlessness. How can healing possibly occur in that environment? Not so with us here at St. Augustine’s. In the spirit of our NT lessons, and with the promise of new heavens and earth always in front of us, we are to remember first and foremost that Jesus is Lord and we are his people whom he has called to bring his healing to each other. That means we are to take the time to see if other family members are in need of healing. If we are Trump supporters, this means we don’t gloat or rub Clinton supporters’ noses in Trump’s victory. It means we listen to their complaints patiently and don’t attempt to debate them or tell them why they are wrong. Instead, we acknowledge their pain and offer them sympathy, just like we would want them to do for us if we were on the losing side. If we are Clinton supporters, we don’t run down Trump supporters and trash their candidate, or tell them why they’re wrong. We give Trump a chance to lead and we are gracious in defeat. But the critical point is that we check on each other and love and support each other and build each other up. We don’t let our differences become our lord and allow them to separate us. And just as importantly, we don’t trash our family members with whom we disagree to others, either inside or outside our parish family, running them down behind their backs. What kind of witness is that? If we conduct ourselves in ways that are patterned after Jesus, we proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and in the process, we find healing, both for ourselves and others. This, in a nutshell and in this particular context, my beloved, is one way we can proclaim the Good News and in the process find real healing, now and for all eternity. Why? Because in doing so we open ourselves up to the loving power of Jesus our Lord who rules and lives in and among us, and who alone has the power to heal. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Deacon Terry Gatwood: Master Builders

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent C, November 6, 2016, 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: Haggai 1.15b-2.9; Psalm 145.1-5, 18-22; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17; Luke 20.27-38.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I am not a master builder. If any of you ever ask me to help you with a building project I will show you pictures of the home remodeling I’ve been doing for the past four years in our home. They should provide you with at least a little laugh, and also assure you that I’m not your guy.

I’m slow, I not terribly well skilled in carpentry, and even if I know how to do something in the area of building or home improvement you can bet that I’ll stress over it to the point that I talk myself into calling in my dad, father-in-law, or the local handyman. But when I do something a couple of times I do all right. I get used to building the thing and can repeat it over and over again until I’m at least proficient. It’s just getting me past that initial phase where I’m not confident that is the monumental task. (And also, I really don’t like to spend money if I can help it…I was raised by a tightwad, and I tend to be one myself).

The house that my family and I now occupy was once owned by my step-father’s aunt and uncle. I remember what it used to look like before the owners in between us and them. It was beautiful. It was the kind of house that you’d see in a magazine, laid out in full color with gorgeous floors, the plush carpeting that made your feet feel like you were walking on pillows, and woodwork that was void of imperfection and looked like it was just built. The cabinets were a delightful oak, and were like a warm and cozy hug in the country kitchen during those cold months when all you could do was sit inside and sip on a warm mug of the delicious black coffee that filled the whole house with its alluring scent. It was the kind of house that anyone would be happy to call home.

But that was twenty years ago. By the time my wife and I bought it the house just looked sad. It was getting a bit run down, the evidence of a lagging local economy and the inability to keep it in tip top shape. Over the last few years we’ve done what we could do to make it the warm and cozy place that I remember from my childhood. I’m constantly chasing after that vision of what it used to be, and sometimes I get disappointed in my lack of skill and ability to make that vision come to life again.

Much was the case during this morning’s lesson from the Prophet Haggai. The first wave of the exiled is returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. They need a house of worship around which their whole national life can once again be centered. The word of the Lord comes to the Prophet Haggai in the early part of the first chapter, where the Lord remarks that the people have built and are now living in their paneled houses. They have left the Lord’s house in ruins. The people are eating, but never having enough; they are drinking, but cannot drink their fill. They clothe themselves, but can’t get warm. Even their harvests aren’t producing the food that they should. The Lord then commands them to build his house, and to consider their ways. It is God who is causing them to be lacking because they have forgotten to take care of building the house where their lives are to be centered on their God in holy worship.

“Look at this place,” God says to them. “Just look at it. Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”

Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed, and its treasures carried away. What was left was nothing more than a heap of stuff lying around. It must have been disheartening to see the most important house in their lives, the place where the glory of the Lord is to reside among them and where they will offer their worship, simply scattered and broken like a big lego house left by the kids on the living room floor in the middle of the night that has been stepped on by dad in the dark. Just crushed was the building, and likewise their spirits about it.
But God says to them, “Yet now be strong.” He says this three times, “be strong.”

“But what have we to offer here to build something new out of what was left in ruins? How nice can we make this in comparison to that which God once had here for his place?”, they must have been thinking. There wasn’t much hope when one looked upon these ruins and remembered the glory of the Temple which once stood so tall there in Jerusalem.

But God says to them, “Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant I made with you when you came out of Egypt.” God reminds them of how he personally instructed them and went with them through that whole arduous journey of fleeing from Egypt, receiving the commandments of the Lord as a safeguard for them to keep the eternal covenant initiated by God for them, and the hardships they endured through the desert years before they finally entered into the promised land. Through it all, God was with them.

“My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of Hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations, so that the treasures of all the nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.”

God has promised these people that their work, no matter how less impressive it would be in comparison to the work done on Solomon’s Temple, will be gorgeous in the Lord’s sight, because it is work that the Spirit of God himself is overseeing and guiding his people to do. And God will show his favor to his people by bringing back into this new Temple his glory, his presence, that he may dwell in the land with his people, and his people with him. Silver and gold, and all the things of the earth, already belong to God, and he will ensure that those things return to where they should be. It will be a beautiful sight in its own right, regardless of what it looks like when one of them remembers the old Temple. “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.”

God’s people have been called to do the building. Some may not have the skills necessary to build something that will necessarily be awe-inspiring to the untrained eye, but it will be something that God has lead them to do, and God will glorify it all the more because of the faithful work done by his people by the guidance of the Spirit. It will be spectacular, and there peace shall be found.

It is in our Gospel lesson today that we start to understand what this peace is, when the glory of God, which had departed the Temple in Ezekiel chapters 8-11, returns to the Temple in the person of Jesus Christ as he teaches.

Again in this passage some of the Sadducees are trying to tie Jesus up with questions. These Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection (so they’re sad, you see?) and they ask him to whom a woman shall be married at the resurrection if she had followed the law and married multiple brothers after the previous ones had died. This is the ultimate tricky hypothetical question someone who didn’t believe in the resurrection could ask Jesus. He replies that in the resurrection the situation will not be like it is now; currently there are those who marry and are given in marriage. Yet, in the resurrection life there will be no marrying or giving in marriage. These cannot die anymore, and thus they have no need of marriage in the resurrected life. Even Moses showed in the passage about the bush the fact of the resurrection: “He calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” These three are named, long after their deaths, because God is still very much their God and they are his people. Death is not all there is, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him, and all who have died in the Lord look forward to that day when they shall be resurrected unto eternal life in the body, just as happened in Jesus.

Jesus is preaching to them peace, and showing forth the glory of God in the Temple once more. The Lord has not forgotten his covenant with his people, and he still calls his people to continue building his kingdom now. For while death may seem hopeless to those without hope, we have a living hope that God will once again restore us and build us into his eternal kingdom, alive as blocks in his building, with Jesus Christ, the once dead and resurrected, as the chief cornerstone. God is still building us into his people, us here at St. Augustine’s, and those whom he is calling now to join with us in this work of showing forth the Lord’s glory and Gospel to a world who needs it so dearly. And by these efforts we do see people coming into his kingdom because we are building for God a home in our parish where they may come and worship God with us, and receive the same peace of God.

This building that we do is often in the intangibles. We encourage one another; we eat together, pray together, and spend quality fellowship time with one another outside the times of our principle worship services. We share our faith and hope in Jesus Christ by both word and deed. But we also work in the tangibles of building according to the Lord’s call when we help those in need through the discretionary fund, through our own tithing and special offerings, through the homeless bags, feeding the hungry, and many other things. We have seen the vision and heard the call to do these good things to build God’s kingdom here and now.

And we are now beginning to hear the call and see the vision for something else more tangible for Saint Augustine’s. A center of worship and our communal life together. A place where we are rooted and invested within our community, and where the peace of God may be found in Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. Somewhere that is set-aside as God’s house, where we may regularly gather in Westerville to honor and bless our God. No matter what it looks like, with him guiding our work it will be beautiful in his sight, just like the Temple built by those to whom Haggai prophesied.

God is calling us to be builders in many ways. Maybe for some through the ability to construct buildings, others through the ministries they’re already involved in, and others still in ways we haven’t yet thought of or prayed about.

Listen to the Lord’s voice as you read your Scriptures this week, and ask him to show you how you might become a master builder for his kingdom.

May we build something for you in our lives together and let us be strong, our Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.