Fr. Ric Bowser: Jesus, the Good Shepherd (or When the Person in the Position of Authority Gets it Right)

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 4B, April 22, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser loves the Lord but he has never learned the skill of writing. So take pity on him and listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon instead of trying to find the text to read it.

Lectionary texts: Acts 4.1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.16-24; John 10.11-18.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: When We See Him We Will be Like Him

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 3B, April 15, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has completely lost his ability to write, so no manuscript for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48.

The Cross and the Resurrection: Living Out Our Easter Hope

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 2B, April 8, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 4.32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1.1-2.2; John 20.19-31.

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

Last Sunday we looked at the integral relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection. We saw that without the Resurrection, Jesus was just another failed Messiah and that he had not really died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. In other words, nothing was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross. Our sins remain unforgiven and we remain enslaved by its power forever, which means death is our only future. The cross needs the Resurrection and the Resurrection needs the cross. We also focused on the nature of resurrection as a new bodily existence that is impervious to death. It is not a teaching about life after death or going to heaven or existing in some kind of disembodied state for all eternity. Most of what I said about the Resurrection, especially its attendant hope, is future oriented, i.e., we looked at what our future is in God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. But there’s more to the Resurrection than that because as St. John makes clear in his account of the Resurrection we read both last week and this, the Resurrection signaled the beginning of God’s new world breaking in on God’s current good but sin-corrupted and evil-infested world. This is often hard for us to see, given that Evil and the dark powers still seem to be having a field day with us and the created order. Yet St. John insists that until the new creation arrives in full, we are called to live as faithful people in God’s good but broken world because we are Easter people who have a resurrection hope: the sure and certain expectation of things to come based on what God has already done for us in the past. So how do we do that? Last week, I suggested that Father Gatwood take up this topic. But then I had my one allotted bright idea for the year and decided I should follow up on last weeks’ sermon myself. Being the lazybones he is, Father Gatwood graciously allowed me to swap preaching dates with him so I could do just that.

Before we look at ways we can live as Easter people, let us keep in mind (and proclaim boldly) that as we saw last week, resurrection is not a concept, it is a person. Jesus, and only Jesus, is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will live, even after dying. And everyone who lives in Jesus, i.e., who has a living relationship with him, and believes and trusts his promises, will never ever die (John 11.25-26). And what specifically is our resurrection hope based on what God has already done for us in Jesus? Hear St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 because he articulates it better than anyone else.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory/O death, where is your victory?/O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15.51-57).

Before I read you St. Paul’s conclusion to what he has just written, what would you expect him to say to us, i.e., what’s the punchline? That we have a great and eternal party awaiting us? That we should thank God for pointing us to the abolition of death when God raised his Son? That living in God’s new world will be more wonderful than we can ever imagine? All of that is true, of course, and we should indeed thank God for our future hope as Jesus’ people, even as we anticipate being part of the ultimate party of parties. But that is not how St. Paul concludes his description of our resurrection hope. Here is what he says: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58, NLT). 

Did you catch that? St. Paul is telling us in no uncertain terms that our future hope is vital to how we live in God’s created order with all of its corruption and Evil-infestation, not to mention  the darkness of residual sin and brokenness each of us brings to the table. You see, St. Paul understood how difficult it is for us to live faithfully in a world that gives every appearance of being impervious to the death and resurrection of Jesus. So he understood we need to have a real hope, a resurrection hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come based on what God has already done for us—to sustain us as we live out our faith. This is never easy because as Jesus himself told his disciples, as the world hates him (which it does), so it will hate us his followers (John 15.18-20). And since none of us likes or wants to be hated, we need a hope strong enough to sustain us when we encounter the world’s hostility. Remember your resurrection hope and stay the course, St. Paul tells us. The new creation is a done deal, even though it is not readily apparent to most, us included at times. Stay the course because appearances can be deceiving. When God reconciled us to himself by defeating the dark powers on the cross and raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated his power to heal and to overcome the worst that the darkness can afflict on us and God’s created order. One day we will live in that reality. Until then, we must live it by faith in the power of God, the God who raises the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist (Romans 4.17b).

Jesus tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. For the second time in this chapter (the first being last week), St. John, pointing us back to the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2, reminds us again that Jesus appeared to his disciples on the first day of the week, the eighth day, the day of new creation, the day following Jesus’ completed work on the cross and his day of rest in the tomb. Here again we see the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body, along with our own future bodies. Jesus suddenly appeared to his frightened disciples hiding behind locked doors. Our Lord showed them his hands and his side, and the following week invited St. Thomas to touch his wounds. No disembodied spirit or ghost here, kids. 

Then our Lord breathed on his disciples, evoking memories of how God breathed life into his image-bearing creatures in Genesis, and giving them the Holy Spirit so that Jesus could remain with them (and us) always, even after he had ascended back to the Father (and hence out of our sight) to rule over the present created order as its Lord and King. You’ve got work to do in my name, our Lord tells us. But you will never have to live out your faith alone because I am present with you in the power of the Spirit who lives in your mortal bodies. Because I am alive forever, your future is secure and I am calling you to do my healing and Kingdom work on my behalf. You are to announce the Good News of God’s love shown most notably in my death and resurrection and warn folks what will happen if they are foolish enough to reject the gift my Father and I offer them (and you). Don’t you be fools along with those who hate me and refuse my Father’s gift offered to all freely and at great cost to my Father and me.

With all this in mind, we are now ready to consider what being Easter people who live in the present created order looks like. I do not offer you an exhaustive list of ways we might live out our Easter faith. Rather, I offer you some suggestions that hopefully the Spirit will use to help you jumpstart your own reflections and thinking on this essential topic for us who profess to be Christians. 

The first distinct trait of Easter people is that we are wise enough and humble enough to accept the gift of being forgiven our sins that was accomplished on the cross. Our acceptance of this gift, coupled with our resurrection hope, should produce in us an unmistakable joy that is not contingent on our current life situations. More about that in a moment. In other words, it is not a joy that depends on the happenstances of this world for its energy. Rather, its energy is derived from God’s gracious love for us demonstrated supremely on the cross so that we know we are forgiven and that Sin’s power over us is broken forever, even though we are not yet sin-free. Despite the residual darkness that remains in us, we are equipped to stand in God’s presence forever, starting right now, all because of our Savior’s blood shed for us. 

Yet it is curious how many of us refuse to accept God’s gift of forgiveness won in Christ and offered to everyone freely. Many of us like to wallow in our past sins, choosing in our prideful arrogance (usually masquerading as pious humility) to believe our sins are greater than God’s love and mercy for us. Why do we continue to think and act as if our past sins are still being counted against us when in fact they have already been dealt with once and for all on the cross? To think and act in this way is to effectively retain our sins and to thumb our nose at God’s grace, mercy, and love for us, not to mention having to deal with the anxiety and joylessness that retaining our own sins produces. Even if we believe in the resurrection of the body, if we retain our sins, we will never be Easter people in any meaningful sense of the term. At best, we are without hope and can only try to manage our own anxiety over being unforgiven and unreconciled with God. As our own St. Augustine observed in one of his sermons, “Those who despair of God’s merciful kindness inwardly suffocate themselves and make it impossible for the Holy Spirit to remain in them” (352.8). And without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to have a relationship with Christ, the only source of real life. Does your Easter faith lead you to truly forgive your own sins just as God in Christ has forgiven you?

As forgiven people, then, we are quick to forgive others, costly as that is to us, and to seek to be reconciled with those who do us wrong, always with the understanding that it takes two to make real reconciliation happen in any relationship. This will entail that we suffer for our Lord because the enemies of Christ (and sadly sometimes his friends) will not offer us forgiveness or mercy. Yet how many Christians take to social media and other venues to rail against our enemies? To be sure, if we love people, we must warn them about the consequences of human pride and hardheartedness that make us hostile toward God and his Christ. But that is different from getting into shouting matches with enemies of the cross and condemning them as so many Christians today seem to want to do. Doing so effectively denies what God accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection. My beloved, let us resolve to love others as Christ loved us and when we fail, as St. John tells us, let us approach the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness, confident it will be granted to us because of our Lord’s cross. Our ability to love and forgive, to show mercy where none is deserved, is one of the most powerful signs of the in-breaking of God’s new world on the old. It is also one of the most costly.

Third, living as Easter people means we resolve to live as a family, warts and all. In other words, we resolve to live out our Easter faith and hope together. This was the point of our NT lesson, not that the first Christians were really Marxist wannabes. It means we are willing to get in the trenches with those in our parish family, to rejoice with them and weep with them and everything in between. It means we are quick to forgive and slow to anger when our fellow family members don’t treat us fairly or are ungracious to us instead of taking our toys and leaving. It means we speak the truth in love to family members, hard as that is to do sometimes, always with their welfare and best interest in mind, not our bruised ego. How we settle our disagreements—and let’s be clear about this, there will always be disagreements among us because that is the nature of life; just ask St. Barnabas and St. Paul who disagreed so severely that they never worked together again, but whose disagreement God used to spread the gospel even further (Acts 15.36-41)—is a key indicator of the nature of our resurrection hope and faith. Our Easter faith demands that we dare love each other and forgive each other, surrendering our own prideful needs for the sake of the other. Without a real hope in the future, not to mention the power of the Spirit who lives in us, it is impossible for us to do any of this. Our ability to live together as a parish family, however imperfectly, is another powerful sign of God’s new creation breaking in on the created order. I think overall we do that pretty well as a parish family.

Last, we as Easter people must live and act as people who are part of God’s eternal party, even in the midst of darkness and desolation. I am not talking about being glib in the face of Evil. I am talking about having a hope and joy that are impervious to it. This gets to the heart of what St. Paul told us in his first letter to the Corinthians. We suffer setbacks and defeats. We face personal obstacles, from health issues to alienation to poverty to all kinds of injustice in our lives. Of course we will weep when we are afflicted. But we will weep as people who have hope. For example, we will bury our dead with the hope of resurrection in mind and its accompanying joy. We will face health issues with a resurrection hope, always mindful that our mortal bodies must be changed into immortal ones. Or consider this story about Bob B’s mother when she was a child. It is a powerful example of living as an Easter person and I share it with his permission. Bob’s mom lived in a household ravaged by their father’s alcohol abuse. During one particularly bad evening, Mary Lou did the most remarkable thing. In the midst of the darkness of being left alone in the house with little to eat, Bob’s mom, at the tender age of 11, lit a few candles, turned off the lights, set the table for her sisters and her, and then cut an orange into four slices—a piece for each sister—sprinkling them with sugar and offering up a feast of light and love that could only come from a resurrection hope, knowingly or otherwise, a tangible sign of Christ’s love in their otherwise desolate lives. It is such a remarkable story that Bob’s aunt still revels in telling it. This poignant story reminds us that our resurrection hope gives us a fresh and new perspective, and is the best antidote to prevent us from being overwhelmed by all the darkness that confronts us in the living of our days. Like Bob’s mom, we remember that nothing we do on the Lord’s behalf is ever in vain because God has overcome the darkness that afflicts us and promises us eternal life in the death and resurrection of Jesus, thanks be to God!

Certainly, being the flawed characters we are, we will need help in remembering this. This is why having a family to walk with us and remind us of our hope is so critical to our well-being. Every one of us needs to be reminded from time to time (some more than others), that we are forgiven and redeemed sinners who have immediate access to our risen Savior in the power of the Spirit, through prayer, in our reading of the Scriptures, through each other, and in the eucharist. And every one of us needs to be reminded that as we walk through life’s darkest valleys, our Lord is with us in any and every circumstance. God has a proven track record with God’s people. Therefore we must constantly remember. For God’s people Israel, the go-to remembrance is the Exodus, where God rescued God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. For Christians, our go-to moment to remember is Jesus’ death and resurrection, where God rescued us forever from our slavery to Sin and Death and promised to heal his good but disordered creation in the process. As Easter people who have a joy that does not have its origin in the present created order, we are to remind each other and encourage each other, not to mention those in the world around us, to remember what God has done for us in Christ and then get to work in a thousand small and great ways to bring the love and mercy of God to bear on God’s world. We do this without losing hope because we know our future is secured, unlikely as it appears at times. We have heard our Lord’s cry of dereliction on the cross and seen his empty tomb. We have been given the Holy Spirit to live in us to make Christ’s presence known to us, and we have been given each other to provide the much-needed human touch, itself a glorious foretaste of the resurrection. So we get to work on the Lord’s behalf, remembering always that God’s power demonstrated most spectacularly in the Resurrection ensures that our work on Christ’s behalf is never, ever in vain. Join the biggest and best party of all (life in the new creation) and ask others to join you. Let us never be bashful or afraid of sharing this Good News with anyone, now and for all eternity. Alleluia! Christos Anesti! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Why are Some of You Saying There Will Be No Resurrection of the Dead?

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday B, April 1, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; John 20.1-18.

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

Today we come together to celebrate the joyous occasion of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. This feast is the central feast of the entire Christian calendar and marks the turning point in human history, the day God’s new creation was launched. Why, then, do so many of us, like our forebears in the ancient church at Corinth, struggle to believe that the Resurrection was an actual historical event and/or try to make the Resurrection into something it is not? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start with our epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians 15, the longest and most detailed exposition on resurrection contained in the NT. In our reading, St. Paul reminds us of the Good News he preached. He emphasizes that the most important aspect of the Good News is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that God raised Jesus on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. In other words, Christ’s death and resurrection are the two primary markers that confirm Jesus is who he claims to be: Israel’s Messiah and King. Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled what the OT said was going to happen (a different topic for a different day). What I want us to see today is the integral connection between the cross and the empty tomb. I wish the Lectionary would have included the next eight verses because they serve to illuminate what Paul has just said about Jesus dying and rising again in our morning’s lesson. Here is the punchline from those verses: 

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? …For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins [emphasis mine]. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished (1 Corinthians 15.12, 16-18).

Did you catch that? No resurrection, no forgiveness of sins. We are toast and so are our loved ones who have died in the Lord. The cross needs the resurrection and vice versa. 

I can see some of you starting to squirm and mutter under your breath. What’s this stuff about the cross and forgiveness of sins on Easter Sunday, Father? You’re supposed to be preaching happy stuff, not all the gloomy jazz we heard about on Good Friday. Patience, my ignorant ones. We are talking about the good stuff because the cross is part of the good stuff. Here is what St. Paul is saying to us. When God raised Jesus from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures, this vindicated Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah so the apostolic and ancient Church’s proclamation about the cross was true. And what was that first proclamation after the resurrection of the Son of God? That on the cross, Jesus willingly and in full cooperation with God the Father, absorbed the outpouring of God’s wrath on our sins so as to spare us from having to experience that terrible damnation. For this to be of any use, God also had to break the power of Sin over us, Sin being defined as an enslaving, hostile power that has kept us prisoner to its will and grip ever since our first ancestors were expelled from paradise. If Sin’s power over us isn’t broken, then Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross would be rendered essentially useless. We would still be enslaved by Sin’s power and would never be able to come close to living as the fully human image-bearing creatures God created us to be. But this is exactly what the apostles and the early Church proclaimed: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and freed us from our slavery to the power of Sin. As a result, we are reconciled to God and each other and have real peace, not to mention life that will continue on forever, even after our mortal death. As St. John writes in his first letter: 

Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life;  whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5.10b-12, NLT). 

Without the Resurrection, none of this would be true. Jesus would simply be another failed Messiah who was psychotic in his beliefs and claims, and we should treat him as such (as those who do not believe in him often do). So the cross needs the empty tomb, but the empty tomb also needs the cross, precisely for the reasons we’ve just discussed. Without the forgiveness of sins, there would be no point of resurrection, new bodily life. We would still be dead in our sins and without hope for a future. Jesus’ resurrection would be no more than a dazzling display of power on God’s part and an in-our-face reminder that we are still toast. Look at me, says God. I can raise the dead. Too bad you aren’t gonna be among them. Hahahahaha! Losers. To repeat, the cross needs the empty tomb and the empty tomb needs the cross.

And let’s be crystal clear about what we mean when we say resurrection. Resurrection does not mean life after death. It does not mean going to heaven when we die. It does not mean some spiritualized existence where we live in a disembodied state. It does not mean the immortality of the soul, which is a Greek concept, not a biblical one. It does not mean continuing to exist in some form in our loved ones’ memory. These are all variations of the ancient heresy of gnosticism, a belief that at its core sees things spiritual as being good and things material as being bad. Neither is resurrection resuscitation, where the dead are brought back to life, only to eventually die again.

No, resurrection refers to our body being raised from the dead and transformed, never to die again, just like what happened to our Lord Jesus that first Easter morning. Consider the various NT testimonies about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. He was able to eat and drink. The disciples could hear him, talk to him, and touch him. Yet he could appear to them suddenly behind locked doors. Clearly Jesus had a body, but while there was some continuity with his mortal body, there were also some radically different qualities about his body. So when we speak of resurrection, we are talking about new bodily existence that is impervious to death.

And if we know the overarching story of Scripture, this should make total sense to us. According to Genesis 1-2, God did not create us as spirits. God created us as body, mind, and spirit. We were created as a package deal because as the creation narratives make very clear, God values God’s created order. The material created order matters to God as evidenced by the fact that when God finished all his creative work, with his image-bearing human creatures being the pinnacle, God pronounced it all very good (Gen 1.31). This is why we say that our Christian dead, despite their souls being quite alive in the presence of their Lord Jesus in heaven, are still dead. Their bodies have not yet been raised. They still lie mouldering in the grave, separated from their souls. And a moment’s thought about this helps us truly understand the truth of this claim. Think of someone you have loved but lost to death. If you are like me, when you think of that person, you miss seeing his face, hearing his voice, feeling the warmth of his embrace. You miss hearing her laughter or seeing the beautiful things her hands and mind created. You miss looking into her eyes and seeing a love for you burning brightly there. No sanitized version of a disembodied heavenly existence comes close to this or will ultimately satisfy because God made us into creatures and to desire the goodness of creation. We long to see our dead loved ones and to embrace them once again. Jesus’ resurrection promises that for those of us who are united with Christ by faith and love will get to do just that one day. It wasn’t some disembodied spirit that Mary embraced in the garden. It was her risen Lord. She heard him and touched him and spoke to him, just like we will get to do on the day of our Lord’s return, thanks be to God. Amen? As Christians, let us embrace the original goodness of creation and things material, just as God the Father did when he created it all, including us, before our sin ruined it.

With all this in mind, we are now ready to see why so many struggle to believe in the Resurrection, Christians included. Jesus’ death and resurrection remind us that we are not ultimately in control of the most important things in our life. We aren’t in control of life or death. Because we are thoroughly infected by the residual power of Sin, that outside enslaving power that once held us in bondage, we are unable to fix ourselves so that we are reconciled to God our Father. This means we are still unable to stand in the presence of perfect Goodness and Holiness, and are doomed to destruction without outside help. That outside help came from God the Father, who in perfect cooperation with God the Son, freed us from our sins and made us fit to live in God’s presence forever. Or as St. Paul put it, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. We are reconciled to God only through the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. As St. John put it in his Passion narrative we read on Good Friday, the final words out of our Lord’s mouth were, “It is finished!” (John 19.30). What was finished? God enacting the ultimate Passover by freeing us from our slavery to Sin and reconciling us to himself, just as God always promised to do. In other words, we are seeing the power, wisdom, and love of God the Father for us miserable rebels to claim us for himself once again. None of us deserve it, but we may claim it nevertheless because of the great love the Father has for us. And we couldn’t proclaim this truth if it weren’t for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. 

Paradoxically, this is what makes many of us reject the Resurrection. We don’t want to acknowledge our helplessness or acknowledge the power of God acted out on Calvary for us. And if Jesus really was raised from the dead, it means that the Christian faith is radically different from other religions and this offends our worship of the false god of inclusivity. Now to be sure, if we love God and humans, we would wish that all might be saved from destruction, even the worst of the worst. So in that regard, our desire for inclusivity is not bad. But this is not the testimony of the first eye-witnesses of the Resurrection. Neither is it the testimony of the early Church or the writers of the NT, not to mention Jesus himself. We want to think that there are many paths to God, but there are not. There is only one way to God, as Jesus himself claimed, and that is through Jesus. This is true for the reasons we’ve just seen. Only in Jesus do we find reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus said so himself when he told Thomas that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that only by having a real relationship with him do we have any hope of going to the Father (John 14.5-7). We want to protest. That’s not fair! But our protestations are futile and indicative that we have not considered fully the seriousness of our sin, which can find resolution only in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. When we are united with our Lord in baptism, we are promised that we will share both in a death like his—we all must die and struggle in the power of the Spirit to put to death in us all that keeps us hostile to God—and a resurrection like his (Romans 6.3-11). Only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is not a concept, my beloved. It is a person and his name is Jesus. 

There are other reasons why many of us struggle with the idea of resurrection. We are troubled that the path to life is so narrow (Jesus) and we are frankly skeptical of the notion of new heavens and a new earth where we will live with immortal bodies forever in God’s direct presence. After all, who among us has ever seen a dead person raised to life? That’s why I refused to recite the clause in the Apostles’ Creed about believing in the resurrection of the body when I was a young man. Cemeteries were still full and my loved ones were still rotting in them. 

Despite all this, as both St. Paul and St. John make clear in our epistle and gospel lessons today, the resurrection was an historical event. There were eyewitnesses to an event that was totally unexpected. Mary didn’t go to the tomb expecting to find it empty. In fact, that’s what threw her into such a panic. She thought Jesus’ body had been stolen and the thought of that, heaped upon her already intense grief over his awful death, was unbearable. We can relate. But all four gospels proclaim that God did raise Jesus from the dead and in doing so, inaugurated God’s new world and new age, the promised new heavens and earth that would be devoid of any pain, suffering, and evil, including the ultimate evil of death itself. It’s a promise and hope that is available to all who accept it by faith. Not a blind faith, mind you. Rather, a faith that has weighed out the evidence, listened to the testimonies and stories, and come to know that those stories are true, even if we don’t fully understand all the ramifications of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s why we are resurrection people, people of hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come based on things that have already happened, not wishful thinking. And without hope, we die. Our resurrection hope is the only hope that can ultimately satisfy because only in God’s new world will perfect justice be enacted. In this world, we can punish evildoers but we can’t undo their evil deeds, especially the wickedness of murder. In God’s new world when the dead are raised and all evil and injustice is forever expunged from it, the victims of injustice will finally receive full justice and those who perpetrated evil will receive their just reward, barring repentance on their part. Harmony will then be fully restored, the whole point of justice in the first place. If this hope is not enough to strengthen and encourage you in the living of your days, even in the darkest of days, I fear nothing will ever be able to, my beloved.

I’ve focused on the future. But what about the present? Time doesn’t permit me to talk about living out our resurrection hope here in this world that is still corrupted by Sin and Evil. Even when we believe with all our heart and mind that the resurrection is true, we’ll still be greeted with bad news when we leave this place. We will still carry with us our hurts and pains and sorrow. What are we to make of that? Hopefully Father Gatwood will piggyback on today’s sermon and pursue this topic with you next week. But being the Loser he is, he probably won’t. That notwithstanding, let us seize the gift of life offered to us in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, especially during these next fifty days of Eastertide, and seek to find the joy that accompanies that knowledge, a joy given by the Spirit. As Christians, we are first and foremost resurrection people who have Good News to offer, both to the world and to our sometimes doubting and despairing hearts and mind, now and for all eternity. Let us not be bashful or afraid of sharing this Good News, the best news of all, so that others can hear, believe, and join the biggest and best party of all time and for all eternity. Alleluia! Christos Anesti! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Easter 2018: St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

Fr. Philip Sang: Why We Call Good Friday “Good”

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, March 30, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The epidemic amongst the St. Augustine’s clergy is complete. Father Sang has also forgotten how to write and so there is no text for tonight’s sermon. If you would like to listen to the audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9. The Passion narrative is from John 18.1-19.42.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Servant to All

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday B, March 29, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has regressed and forgotten how to write. There is no text for tonight’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast of the sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-13, 31b-35. Gospel of the Watch: Matthew 26.30-75.

Passion Sunday: A Most Unusual Day in the Life of a Most Unusual King

Sermon delivered on the Sunday of the Passion of our Lord (Palm Sunday), year B, 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 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Mark 11.1-11, 14.1-15.47.

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

What are we to make of a celebration like Palm Sunday? It starts in triumph and ends in tragedy. And what does this tell us about Jesus, our Lord and King? Who and what exactly are we celebrating today, and why? This is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

Palm Sunday is a strange day, is it not? We start in a festive and celebratory mood with palm branches and processions and shouts of God saves (hosannas) and all that. But we end the day in catastrophe, with a crucifixion. We’re all for the first part but not so keen on the second. Given our propensity to focus on the positive and expunge the negative by denying it in our lives, most of us would be perfectly happy to go straight to Easter from the first half of our liturgy this morning. But the ancient liturgical wisdom of the Church won’t let us do that. While most of us call today Palm Sunday, the actual liturgical title for today is The Sunday of the Passion, and with the reading of the full Passion narrative of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are reminded in a painful and compelling way that we don’t get to Easter without first going to Calvary. There can be no Easter without Good Friday and the reading of our Passion narrative provides an in-your-face reminder that our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, God become human, was betrayed, abandoned, condemned, and put to death in the most demeaning and degrading manner ever invented by humans. So what are we to make of all that?

Well, first, there can be no doubt that St. Mark wants us to see that Jesus understood himself to be Israel’s long-promised Messiah, or God’s anointed one. But clearly our Lord saw the role of Messiah differently from that of most of his contemporaries, his chosen twelve included. Most Israelites of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to do three things when he came. First, the Messiah would free God’s people Israel from their oppression to foreign dominance, in this case the Romans. Second, the Messiah would cleanse the Temple and restore right religious activity there; and third, the Messiah would establish God’s kingdom on earth by ruling as God’s king. And while almost every one of Jesus’ contemporaries expected God to return to his people as God promised, almost no one expected God to do so in the person of the Messiah.

Consistent with God’s promise to return to God’s people to rescue them from their oppression, Jesus chose to act out the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9, entering Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a warhorse. Jesus would indeed come to free God’s people, but not by military force because the Romans weren’t the real enemy. Sin and Evil were (and are). And so Jesus would free us by shedding his blood for us. In other words, as both our OT and epistle lessons make clear, Jesus would free us from our slavery to Sin by his suffering and humble obedience to the will of God. This completely violates our expectations of how an all-powerful God would act on our behalf. Everybody knows that “might makes right” and if God were going to break the power of Sin over us and destroy the forces of evil and their human minions, God would do so by a mighty act of power, just like God did when freeing his people from their slavery in Egypt. This very nature of Jesus’ kingly rule is the first way our expectations about him are violated. We never expected to see God coming to us riding on a donkey or later being nailed to a tree, and St. Mark hints darkly that we are not alone in our violated expectations by suggesting that the rulers and people of Jerusalem were not there to greet Jesus on his arrival to Jerusalem. Instead of cheering crowds, Jesus entered the Temple alone and looked around at everything before he retired to Bethany for the night. There were no crowds, no praise, no enthusiasm for Jesus in Jerusalem, only silence—the silence of the anger we often feel when our deeply-held expectations are violated. Not even the Son of God is off limits to this kind of anger, especially from his contemporaries.

This understanding of the true nature of Jesus’ kingship prepares us to examine St. Mark’s Passion narrative to see how God intends to rescue us from our real enemies, the enemies of Sin and Death, that have enslaved us all. Like all the gospel writers, St. Mark wants us to consider the truth about Jesus and what happened on the cross by telling us his story. Consequently, almost 20 percent of Mark’s gospel (119 out of 678 total verses) is dedicated to the Passion narrative that we just read. We’d better pay attention to that. While we don’t have time to explore all that the evangelist wants to tell us, one thing we can see is that St. Mark invites us to follow Jesus to the foot of his cross, carrying with us all our hurts and fears and anxieties and brokenness and violated expectations about God and God’s will for us, not to mention God’s character and heart. There we will see, perhaps surprisingly and in further violation of our expectations, how God the Father has chosen, with the full agreement and cooperation of God the Son, to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death. How so, you ask? I’m glad you do. It will allow me to finish this sermon in a timely manner.

St. Mark (not to mention Isaiah and St. Paul) is inviting us to see and contemplate the love and justice of God being poured out on the cross for us. When we kneel at the foot of the cross, we are reminded of how terribly costly is God’s love for us. The cross did not cost us a thing; it cost God everything. Here we see how a good and loving God chooses to deal the powers of Sin and Evil without destroying us in the process. As we saw two weeks ago, God cannot possibly be a loving and good God if he turns a blind eye to all that is evil and wrong in God’s world. Sin and Evil, along with those who commit them, must be judged and God’s justice must be served. But how can God do that without condemning us for all eternity, given that we are all thoroughly sin-stained with no hope of fixing ourselves? St. Mark gives us the answer in his Passion narrative. The Son of God, God become human, willingly took on the collective weight of our sins and bore them in his body on the tree. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8.3-4, on the cross, God condemned our sin in the flesh so as to spare us from his just and terrible condemnation. Jesus, in a moment of human weakness, asked to be spared this terrible task, but willingly and obediently took it on out of his great love for us. On the cross we see the Son of God dying a godforsaken and degrading death, naked, exposed, and nailed to a cross to die. We hear his terrible Cry of Dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and our very hearts are pierced with shame and sorrow knowing that we are watching our Savior die on account of our sins and the evil we commit. As we watch, we are shocked that we are seeing God’s justice being executed in the pierced and bloodied body of our Lord, that God himself is bearing his justice to spare us from having to suffer it. This too is completely unexpected.

So where does this leave us? What does Jesus’ Passion have to offer those of us who live today in an increasingly unhinged world? First, we are invited to see that in Jesus’ death, we are witnessing the turning point in history, even if it is riddled with enigmas, uncertainties, and questions. Note carefully that Jesus asked his Father to take the cup of God’s wrath from him but that his prayers were not answered. Jesus had to go to the cross if we were to be saved. We’ve just looked at why that was necessary but we should consider that this also represents our reality living in a broken and fallen world with all its enigma, uncertainties, and darkness. For example, we see all kinds of violence and injustice and hurt and suffering. We pray for help or relief but no answer comes, at least in the form we desire, and we don’t know what to make of it. We wonder if God really doesn’t care or has abandoned us. Yet the NT is adamant in its insistence that on the cross God defeated the powers of Evil and the power of sin was broken (cf. Colossians 2.15ff). Isn’t St. Mark telling us that Jesus experienced exactly this contradiction in his Passion? Salvation was achieved in the midst of his Cry of Dereliction! There is much we don’t know and much we do not see in God’s good purposes for us. So like Jesus, St. Mark invites us to be obedient to our Lord’s will and to imitate Jesus in his humility, even though we will certainly suffer for doing so, even though there are times in our lives that make us cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Life and our life of faith is anything but cut and dried, but we are rescued nevertheless. Are you ready to follow your Lord Jesus in humble obedience to his good and perfect will for you, even in the face of suffering, death, and uncertainty?

The NT encourages us to answer that question with a resounding yes! Hang on, its writers tell us. Don’t abandon your faith, even in the face of all life’s uncertainties and darkness, even in the midst of your own doubts, sorrows, and fears, because Easter is coming, where we catch a glimpse of the power of death being destroyed forever. But without Good Friday, Easter loses its power because without Good Friday the powers of Sin and Evil remain undefeated. Good Friday needs Easter and Easter needs Good Friday. We will never be able to fully plumb the depths of the meaning of our Lord’s crucifixion, but we are given enough to let us see the love of God poured out for us and to remind us that on the cross, especially in the Cry of Dereliction, we are witnessing the deepest identification of God the Son with our darkest and most profound sorrows and suffering. This is a God worth loving and obeying, my beloved.

All this is why I exhort you to make the story of Holy Week your story first-hand. Come with our Lord to the Upper Room Thursday night where he will give his disciples a meal as the means to help them understand what his impending passion and death is all about. Watch with him in the garden as he struggles and shrinks from the gigantic task of allowing the powers of Evil to do their worst to him, and the prospect of having to bear the judgment of God for the sins of the entire world, your sins and mine. Our own personal sins can be a terrible burden to us. Try to imagine having to bear the sins of the entire world. Come, therefore, and venerate the cross on Good Friday as you ponder and contemplate the death of the Son of God for your sake and the sake of the world. Such contemplation demands silence, desolation, and humility. Was there ever any suffering like our Lord’s (and if you answer no to this question, there’s a good chance you don’t really understand the magnitude of what happened on Good Friday)? Grieve with his first followers as they laid his crucified and dead body in the tomb with no expectation of Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is the time to do just that, culminating with the Easter Vigil and the reading of the story of God’s salvation on Saturday evening. It simply won’t do to observe any of this from afar. It’s as unedifying as listening to one of Fr. Bowser’s sermons. No, if you really love your Lord and have even an inkling as to what great love has effected your salvation and changed the course of history forever, how can you possibly stay away from our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services? Easter Sunday will come with its great joy. But let none of us be too hasty to celebrate the great Paschal Feast without first pondering and agonizing and reflecting on the great and astonishing love of God that flows from God’s very heart as it was pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear. To be sure, it isn’t a pretty or fun thing to do. But if you commit yourself to walking with Jesus this Holy Week it will change you in ways you cannot imagine or envision, and for the good. It will change you because it is the Good News of our salvation, now and for all eternity. May we all observe a holy and blessed Holy Week together as God’s people at St. Augustine’s. 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: In Dying We Live

Sermon delivered on Lent 5B, Sunday, March 18, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 51.1-13; Hebrews 5.5-10; John 12. 20-33.

There is something we do not talk about that Jesus is referring to today, Death. Yes, we acknowledge death when it happens but for the most part we do not talk about death with any real depth or substance, and certainly no enthusiasm. We don’t deal with it. We deny it. We ignore it. We avoid it. No one wants to die. If you can remember, I have mentioned here before about how death is viewed in my community, that when you mention death it is like calling for bad omen upon the family and whoever mentions it would be asked to renounce/take back/cancel what they just said.

We don’t really acknowledge, talk about, and deal with death. The death of our loved ones is too real, too painful. Our own death is too scary. The relationships and parts of our lives that have died are too difficult. So, for the most part, we just avoid the topic of death. Besides it’s a downer, depressing experience in a culture that mostly wants to be happy, feel good, and avoid difficult realities.

I suspect the Greeks in today’s gospel did not go expecting to talk or hear about death. They just want to see Jesus. Jesus has a pretty good track record up to this point. He has performed a lot of miracles. I don’t know why they wanted to see Jesus but I know the desire. I want to see Jesus. I believe you would as well. Seeing Jesus makes it all real. After all, seeing, they say, is believing. We all have our reasons for wanting to see Jesus.

If you want to know your reasons for wanting to see Jesus look at what you pray for. It is often a to do list for God. I remember, my son, every evening when we pray my son James would pray for what he wants for himself and for every member of the family and i just learned that it is our way of praying, a to do list for God. When our lives are in a mess we pray that God would fix it all.

You probably know those kind of prayers. We want to see Jesus on our terms. We don’t want to face the pain of loss and death in whatever form it comes. Sometimes we want something from Jesus more than we want Jesus himself. There is a real danger that we will become consumers of God’s life rather than participants in God’s life. We pick and choose what we like and want but we skip over and leave behind what we do not like, want, or understand. Christianity, however, is not like that. Christianity means participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus sets before the Greeks who want to see him.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

If we want to see Jesus then we must look death in the face. To the extent we refuse to acknowledge the reality of death, to the degree we avoid and deny death, we refuse to see Jesus. Really looking at, acknowledging, and facing death is some of the most difficult work we ever do. It is, as Jesus describes, soul troubling. It shakes us to the core.

There is a temptation to want to skip over death and get to resurrection. So it is no coincidence that this week and last week the Church points us towards Holy Week and reminds us that death is the gateway to new life. Death comes first. Death is not always, however, physical. Sometimes it is spiritual or emotional. We die a thousand deaths every day. There are the deaths of relationships, marriages, hopes, dreams, careers, health, beliefs. Regardless of what it looks like, this is not the end. Resurrection is always hidden within death. There can be, however, no resurrection without a death.

To the extent we avoid death we avoid life. The degree to which we are afraid to die is the degree to which we are afraid to fully live. Every time we avoid and turn away from death we proclaim it stronger than God, more real than life, and the ultimate victor.

Jesus did not ask to be saved from death. He is unwilling to settle for survival when the fullness of God’s life is before him. He knows that in God’s world strength is found in weakness, victory looks like defeat, and life is born of death. This is what allowed him to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, a city that will condemn and kill him. That is what allows us to ride triumphantly through life. Triumph doesn’t mean that we get our way or that we avoid death. It means death is a gateway not a prison and the beginning not the end.

Regardless of who or what in our life has died, God in Christ has already cleared the way forward. We have a path to follow. That path is the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death, however, is of no benefit to us if we are not willing to submit to death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ultimately, death, in whatever way it comes to us, means that we entrust all that we are and all that we have to God. We let ourselves be lifted up; lifted up in Christ’s crucifixion, lifted up in his resurrection, lifted up in his ascension into heaven. He is drawing all people to himself, that where he is we too may be.

Grains of wheat. That is what we are. Through death, however, we can become the bread of life. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies….”

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

THE Reason to Rejoice

Sermon delivered on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent B, March 11, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and you should because it’s a lot better than the written text), click here.

Lectionary texts: Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 107.1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21.

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

Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent (thus our fashionable pink/rose colored vestments). Laetare is the Latin word meaning to rejoice. But what is there to rejoice in during this penitential season of Lent with its emphasis on confession, repentance, and self-denial? Aren’t we supposed to be feeling bad about ourselves and stuff? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Our gospel lesson for today contains one of the most famous and oft-quoted verses in all Scripture: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16, NLT). But then we read passages like the ones from our OT lesson, where the Lord sends serpents among his rebellious people to bite and kill them, and we wonder how a loving God does this. If we are going to begin to appreciate the basis for our rejoicing in the Lord, it is essential that we understand what is going on in our OT lesson, as well as our other lessons from today, so that we can get a more complete picture of what God’s love looks like on the ground and in our lives. Looking at the overarching story of Scripture will also prevent us from parroting ignorant beliefs that the God of the OT is an angry, vengeful God while the God of the NT is a nice God, you know, a God of love who really doesn’t care that much about our sins. As the German poet Heine observed, “I like to sin, God likes to forgive. Really, the world is admirably arranged.”

So the first thing we must say before we look at our lessons is that the wrath of God— God’s unremitting, implacable opposition to any form of evil and those who commit it (not to mention the dark powers behind those human agents)—is a dimension of God’s love for us and for all of God’s creation. If God does not hate racism or adultery, if God’s wrath isn’t relentless against those who peddle drugs or porn so that those who use them are enslaved by their power, if God does not hate when the rich exploit the poor or turn a blind eye to their plight, then God is not a loving God. End of story. What loving parent says to her child, go get addicted to heroin or go try to break up another marriage by having an affair, or go sell people into slavery to make yourself rich? By definition, love wants the best for the beloved and none of these things is good for us as God’s image-bearers. So let us understand that when we talk about the wrath of God, we are also talking about the love of God. They are two sides of the same coin.

But here’s the difference between God’s wrath and human wrath. While God hates the things that dehumanize, enslave, and destroy us (which all sin ultimately does), we must remember what God has ultimately done about the problem of Evil, which is really what we are talking about in this context. God in his great love for us has determined to deal with all the nasty, insidious, vicious, soul-destroying evil that plagues us, and that we sadly commit, by sending his only begotten Son to die for us. More about that in a minute. But before we look at God’s love revealed on the cross, I want us to look at our OT lesson to help us gain a deeper and fuller understanding of how God’s love revealed itself before Jesus’ crucifixion.

So what are we to make of that strange story in our OT lesson? What’s with all the snakes and stuff? Where do we see the love of God in this story? To understand what’s going on, we must remember the context for this story. God had rescued his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt by a mighty act of deliverance. God had brought his people through the Red Sea and destroyed an overwhelming force of Egyptians who were pursuing them to re-enslave them. If that weren’t enough, God had been graciously present to his people in the pillars of cloud by day and fire by night. God had also fed his people with manna, the bread of angels. God did all this because the Israelites were the descendants of Abraham, the people God had sworn to bring God’s healing love and blessing to a sin-sick world.

And what was the people’s response? They had forgotten all about God’s mighty act of deliverance. They had forgotten that God had called them to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests who mediated God’s presence to the world. They had either forgotten or apparently took for granted God’s night and day presence with them and now here they were, in the middle of a desert with all its discomfort and suffering, and they started to grumble once more against God and Moses. They didn’t want to be in the desert anymore. They didn’t want any more manna (you serving the same slop for dinner again, God??). Things were so bad that they wanted to go back to their slavery to end their current suffering! And we can relate. Think of our own lives, which the wilderness wanderings symbolize, with its attendant suffering and discomfort: health problems, financial woes or uncertainty, alienation, loneliness, addiction, frustrated dreams, and all the rest. We pray for healing and none comes. We ask for stability and healthy relationships but find only chaos instead. And what do we do? The atheist uses these things to remind us there is no God. How could a loving God, if he existed, allow these things? For those of us who believe in God, we too start to grumble against God and seek to take matters into our own hands, which always makes things worse because we are so thoroughly infected by the power of Sin. To be God’s real people who could embody God’s love and presence in the world, the Israelites had to trust God to get them to the promised land, despite the difficulties and hardships along the way. Likewise for us as God’s people today. In other words, life’s journeys require humility and obedience to God’s commands. But here’s the thing. Ever since the Fall, we humans have had an allergic reaction to being told what to do—by anyone, even God, and our capacity to obey and to trust God’s good providence over us is almost non-existent! And so God wrath against his people’s rebellion broke out in the form of an invasion of deadly snakes.

Now if we stopped right there, we would truly have a schizophrenic God, i.e., the angry God of the OT vs. the loving God of the NT. But that isn’t the end of the story. God heard his people’s confession of their proud rebellion against him and their desire to repent. And so in one of the strangest stories in all Scripture, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that if a person were bitten, (s)he could look at the bronze serpent and live. What is going on here? First, let’s be clear about what the story isn’t telling us. We are not intended to see this serpent as a representation of God, in flagrant violation of the second commandment. Neither was the bronze serpent to be looked at as some form of magic, whereby God’s people would be automatically healed if they looked at it. No, the bronze serpent got its power to heal from God and healing would take place only if the Israelites who looked at it believed that God would heal them when they did. In other words, for God’s people to be healed they had to have faith in God and his power to heal. And for that to happen, God’s people needed humility if they really were going to function as and be God’s people. The same conditions exist for us today as well. In the story of the bronze serpent we are being told clearly that while God has punished his people’s disobedience (as he still punishes ours), God has also lovingly and graciously provided the means of healing because it is never God’s intention to destroy us. Sometimes, however, the darkness we love results in our own destruction, whether willingly or otherwise, but that is not God’s will for us (cf., Ezekiel 18.23, 33.11). No, in this strange story we see God punishing his people’s rebellion, precisely so they could be the people God called them to be, and giving them a means to be healed. To be sure, there is much we do not understand about this story. We all feel God’s absence from time to time. We all feel God’s judgment on our sin. We all wonder if God really will forgive our sins. And just as distressingly for us, we aren’t told how God’s efforts work on our behalf. How did the bronze serpent work to heal the Israelites? We aren’t told. We are just given the story and expected to understand that it is enough to know that when we are at death’s door God provides a remedy. This kind of faith in God’s love and power can only come through a humble spirit and a knowledge of the heart of God. If we believe God really is an angry ogre bent on punishing us every time we misbehave, we have no hope of ever really beginning to grasp the love of God made known supremely to us in the cross of Christ.

We also see this call for humble trust and obedience in God in our psalm lesson. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t read all 43 verses of this psalm because only then can we see what the psalmist is up to. Whatever the reason the whole psalm wasn’t assigned for today, here’s the point. In the psalm things are going badly wrong: wandering in the desert, prisoners sitting in darkness, people who are sick and dying, those being tossed about on stormy seas. But then comes the refrain: they cried out to the Lord in their distress and he rescued them. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love. Do you see the implicit demand for humble trust in the Lord’s goodness and love for us, a trust that is formed in the power of the Spirit and in the remarkable and consistent track record of our Creator who is also our Rescuer, even when our prayers are not always answered in the way we’d like? Never mind that in some cases we look at the mess of our own lives and realize we have brought that mess on ourselves by our selfishness or greed or pride or lust or myopic behavior. Never mind there are others who, like us, have brought their own misery on themselves (although not always). No, the refrain of the psalmist is this. God is our ultimate Rescuer who takes special delight in rescuing the totally undeserving. When God does that, especially when God does that, God’s love and grace are on display all the more powerfully. Paul says something similar in Rom 5.8 where he startles us by saying that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Who are we then as God’s people to refuse to extend that same mercy and grace to the underserving, ourselves included?

And now we are ready to look at our gospel lesson because it is not only a remedy to our suffering and sin-sickness, it is the only remedy, and therefore our only basis to rejoice in the Lord. As we saw with the story of the bronze snake, St. John does not tell us how God’s sending of the Son to be crucified deals with the problem of Evil, both our own and the world’s. We aren’t given an answer to our “why” questions. We are simply invited to see that in the death of Jesus, the Son of God, God’s wrath is poured out on our sins so that we can escape God’s just condemnation and experience God’s love for us. We are therefore invited to enter into a trusting and faithful relationship with God that sees the love and power of God in action so that we are healed by God’s chosen solution to the real and urgent problem of Evil.

To be certain, like the strange story of the bronze serpent, there is a great mystery here. Our Lord Jesus does not tell us, for example, that when he is lifted up on the cross, all persons everywhere are automatically and magically forgiven their sins and granted eternal life. Rather, our Lord says that whoever believes in him and his saving act on the cross to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death will be given everlasting life. This is no easy thing, given that the cross is an instrument designed to humiliate and degrade. It is the perfect symbol that represents the human race’s great hatred and disdain for the Lord, but it is also the very symbol of God’s greater love poured out for us. Perhaps this is the ultimate meaning for us during our Lenten journey, that the meaning of the cross will come upon us like a great shadow into which we must walk in the days to come. For right now, however, it is enough to know that we are traveling to the place where we see our Lord Jesus being lifted up so that we may be spared God’s condemnation of our sins, a condemnation many of us already impose on ourselves and which we fear we will hear from the Lord on the day of judgment.

But in the midst of our fear we hear the Son of God’s voice whispering to us in the power of the Spirit. Don’t be afraid, my beloved! I have rescued you from that condemnation. You will never hear it from my Father so stop pronouncing it on yourself! I know you find this hard to believe. You are so unlovable and unlovely in your proud rebellion and idolatrous self-help practices. But you are lovely in my sight because of my own blood shed for you to break the power of Evil over you and to free you from your slavery to the greatest enemies of all: Sin and Death. Yes, I know you still love the darkness, and frankly some of you love it more than others. But because I have been lifted up for you, you no longer have to fear my Father’s condemnation if you only believe, because I have taken that condemnation on myself. My apostle Paul told you the same thing in your epistle lesson today. Listen to him (and that brilliant preacher who is preaching to you right now)! Before you knew me, you were dead in your sins and helpless to give yourself life because you could do nothing to free yourself from your slavery to the power of Sin. What mortician expects a corpse to help with its embalming? We all know the dead are utterly helpless to do anything for themselves and so were you helpless to give yourself life before you knew me, even as imperfect as your knowledge of me currently is. But you are helpless no more. Like you heard last Sunday, you have been condemned into redemption with me. You have shared in my death so that you can share in my eternal life. You don’t deserve this gift and you never will because you love the darkness. It’s in your spiritual DNA. But I have been lifted up for your sake because my Father and I love you greatly. So look upon my cross and find your life, real life that not even your mortal death can interrupt. It is only in me that you can have life because my cross is the only way God has ordained to rescue you from your slavery to Sin. Therefore I invite you to give up your love of darkness and come to my light. I will be present to help you in the power of the Spirit. Trust me. My presence and power won’t be straightforward or always apparent to you. But I remain with you nevertheless. So believe and persevere. I’ll help you in that as well. Just come to me. Look at the Son of God being lifted up for you and dare to think the unthinkable: this is how much God loved the world. This is how much God loves you. Don’t make it a cliche like so many do. Make it the utter reality in your life so that it transforms you into a new creation one bit at a time. And then rejoice, because this, my beloved, is the Good News of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, 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.

Learning the Wisdom of God: How to Become a Real Wise-Guy

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, March 4, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; John 2.13-22.

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

During this season of Lent it is appropriate for those of us who call ourselves Christians to use this time for self-examination, repentance, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. But why do all that fun stuff that none of us really likes or wants to do? The short answer is that these Lenten disciplines are means of grace given us by God to help us learn God’s wisdom so that we can become real wise-guys (guys being used here in the generic sense of the word). On one hand this is breathtakingly simple. On the other, it is maddeningly impossible to learn on our own. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start by affirming that there is fundamentally something wrong with the world in which we live and with ourselves. Only those who live with their head buried in the sand or who are utterly delusional would deny this. The overarching story contained in Scripture is very clear about this. Our first human ancestors decided they weren’t content with being God’s image-bearing creatures who were given the task of running God’s world wisely and reflecting God’s goodness out into the world. No, they wanted to usurp the role of God so that they could run God’s world in the manner they saw fit, and things haven’t changed very much from then to now. We’ve just gotten more sophisticated in our role as usurpers. The result of our first ancestors’ rebellion against God was our expulsion from paradise, God’s curse on his good creation and creatures, and the unleashing of an alien and hostile power better known as Sin that has enslaved the human race and kept us alienated and hostile toward God our Creator. And as long as we are alienated from our very Source of life, we are dead people walking. It is a grim picture indeed.

Not only that, our slavery to the power of Sin leads to all kinds of havoc, injustices, and chaos (the very essence of sin) in God’s world. We don’t have to look very far to see this. There is chaos in our families. Look at the high divorce rate or the push by some to impose gender identity as the basis for doing family. We see chaos in our society that gives every impression of becoming increasingly unhinged: mass murders, sexual abuse, public shaming of those with whom we disagree, alarmingly high rates of drug and pornography addiction, increasing isolation and alienation that results from the breakdown of our families and communities. The list goes on but you get the point.

All is not bad, of course. We have made great advances in medicine, science, and technology that have enabled many in the West to enjoy an unprecedented standard of living. But even in the midst of our wealth and prosperity there is still plenty of chaos to be found, both in our life together and in our individual lives: poverty, racism, homelessness, mental illness, loneliness, et al. Again, much of this chaos is fundamentally the result of our desire to be our own boss and our refusal to submit to God’s good and wise rule over us. We are broken to the core and do not have the means to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and Evil. And a logical result of our rebellion is that we have created our own wisdom that is often not consistent with the wisdom of God. When that happens, we become people whom the Scriptures call “fools.” We rely on human wisdom rather than the wisdom of God, and of course for Scripture, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all true wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1.7, 9.10). The extent that human wisdom aligns with the wisdom of God is the extent that human wisdom is truly wise.

Of course the chaos caused by our enslavement to Sin is intolerable to God and so God in his great love and mercy set out to put things back to rights with his good creation gone bad. That’s what the story of the OT and NT is all about. God in God’s wisdom chose to rescue us and God’s creation through Abraham and his ultimate descendant, Jesus, and God has given us signposts along the way to help us to live wisely instead of foolishly. Consider, for example, the 10 Words or Commandments in our OT lesson today. As the psalmist tells us in our psalm lesson, God’s law is perfect, reviving the soul. God’s statutes are right and rejoice the heart. We are to desire them more than the greatest earthly riches. Why? Because God’s law helps us to live wisely (and therefore happily) as God’s image-bearing creatures. If God is our Creator, who knows better what is good (and bad) for the creature than the One who made them? That is why the first commandment affirms God is the only God and prohibits the worship of idols. Why is that first? Among other things, God prohibits that we worship false gods because God knows that we become what we worship. When we worship the one true and living God made known supremely in Jesus Christ, we reflect God’s goodness and light in our lives, however imperfectly that reflection might be. We understand that God gives us laws to help us live wisely and happily in the manner God created us to live. But consider what happens to those who worship false gods like money, sex, or power. Look at the attendant misery that comes when we make these things our idols. Note carefully I am not saying that money, sex, and power are bad things in themselves. I am talking about what happens when we make them gods and worship them. When that happens we do all kinds of dehumanizing and unjust things to get them. We commit adultery, we get addicted to porn, we steal, we cheat, we lie, we are willing to destroy lives in all kinds of ways as we pursue these idols. In other words, chaos reigns and lives get corrupted or destroyed because we are pursuing false gods and the wisdom that accompanies them. By contrast, when we see God’s wisdom reflected in God’s laws we learn to develop meekness, i.e., when through our obedience to God’s laws we learn to develop an attitude of humble, submissive, and expectant trust in God, accompanied by a loving, patient, and gentle attitude toward others, we learn to become truly wise and happy. Notice carefully that the emphasis here is on obedience. God gives us God’s laws and expects us to obey them for our own good.

All well and good, you say. But what about our old enemy of Sin, that alien, hostile, and wicked power that has enslaved us and made us rebellious and disobedient by nature? How’s that working out for us in terms of our ability to keep the commandments? God, we have a problem. Enter our epistle lesson where St. Paul talks about the ultimate manifestation of the wisdom and power of God: the cross of Jesus Christ. The apostle does not really lay out a theology of the cross for us here, but rather sets up a series of contrasts between the wisdom of the world, i.e., people and institutions who remain hostile toward God, and the wisdom of God found supremely in the cross, the vehicle by which those who believe in its power are saved from destruction. Before we say anything else about this, observe carefully the dramatic shift in dynamics. The emphasis is on what God does for us, and only on what God does for us, not on our ability to obey God’s commands.

The world, says St. Paul, sees the cross as foolishness because we have an innate pride, selfishness, and will to power that drives our “wisdom,” which is foolishness in God’s eyes because it is contrary to God’s ways. We pride ourselves in self-help, self-achievement, status-building, and acquiring power, among others. Might makes right and helps us achieve our goals. So, for example, outside the Church we hear Vladimir Putin announce a new generation of nuclear weapons that he described as invincible. “Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world, but nobody listened to us,” Putin said. They will “listen now.” The U.S. will undoubtedly respond by accelerating our weapons programs because having an enemy stronger than us makes us afraid and we all know that might makes right. And let’s be honest, most of us prefer our God to operate in this manner. That’s why most of us prefer the Exodus over the crucifixion. The former was a lot more straightforward and unambiguous than the latter.

Or consider what happens when folks encounter people or opinions with which they disagree. They don’t engage the opinion or idea. They set out to destroy the person’s character and credibility. For example, one of the lines of attacks on Christians today is to describe us as mentally ill or as haters. This is how the world’s wisdom advocates achieving goals and it leaves us feeling abused and angry. Do what it takes, baby, because truth is in the eyes of the beholder and our truth is better than yours. So worldly wisdom dictates that we shame our opponents into silence because it almost always works.

The Church is not immune to this wisdom of self-help and self-sufficiency. We read the Bible more than others, we pray more than others, we miss worship less than others, we strive to get on church leadership councils, usually to correct the things we see that are wrong and need to be fixed because everyone knows what a fool that rector is (I resemble that statement). Will to power, anyone? We do all the “right” things to gain the approval of God and our fellow humans and to show our superior ability to obey all the rules. We don’t really want to take any chances with that cross thing. Now I am not suggesting that those who do these things always do them for the wrong reason. Only God knows our hearts. Neither am I suggesting that we not engage in prayer, worship, Bible study and the like. What I am suggesting is that the human heart has the tendency to distort and pervert even the good and God-given means of grace for our own benefit. We do this either consciously or subconsciously, but we do it nevertheless. This is the foolishness of human wisdom St. Paul is talking about and like any human wisdom that is not aligned to God’s wisdom, things will not turn out well in the end, either for us or for others.

Enter the wisdom of God, the cross of Jesus Christ. Those who are opposed to God see it as foolishness because of its very godforsaken nature. Elsewhere, St. Paul talks about what happened on the cross. He tells us in Romans that on the cross, God condemned sin in the flesh to spare us from having to suffer God’s perfect and just condemnation for our rebellion, a condemnation that would result in our eternal destruction. But no. God loves us too much to want that for us, and God also knows we are unable to break the power of Sin over us. So God sent his Son to bear God’s own just punishment for our sins and to break the power of Sin over us. There is a profound mystery in all this that is frankly above our pay grade. We know Evil is still prevalent, both inside and outside us. St. Paul wrote about Evil being defeated on the cross while he languished in prison for Christ’s sake so he knew first-hand that its power had not been vanquished fully! But from the very beginning this has been the message of the NT and the Church: On the cross, God broke the power of evil over us and instead of debating us, God points us to the transformative power of the gospel in the lives of hundreds of millions of people over time and across cultures. Not perfectly, of course. Nothing is perfect this side of the grave. But lives are being changed, including your lives and mine, an inch at a time, however imperfectly and messy it looks. The wisdom of God, then, tells us that we change God’s world by imitating the suffering love of our Savior because this is how God chose to rescue us from the twin powers of Sin and Death. This isn’t the will to power, might makes right wisdom of the world. It is the godforsaken and suffering love of the Son of God, Jesus our Lord, the very embodiment of God, that saves us. We are not saved by anything or anyone else. Only God has the power to break our slavery to Sin and Evil. Only God in Christ has the power to rescue us from death, and God chose to do this in a terrible display of humiliation and weakness according to the world’s standards.

Once by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit we understand and believe that we are only saved by the cross and not anything we do, however rudimentary or incomplete our understanding of this truth is, it makes all the difference in the world to us and is a sure sign that we have the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us because that is the only way we come to understand and believe in the power of the cross to save. We realize God has dealt with our sins without condemning us so that when we confess our sins, we are astonished to realize forgiveness has already been granted to us. We see the true nature of God revealed in the cross, a God who loves his creatures so much that he endured unspeakable horror and humiliation to rescue us from ourselves and the powers that hate us. This knowledge takes the heat off us and exposes our own proud and futile attempts to earn God’s favor by what we do. But we realize even then that we are forgiven our folly because of the cross and God’s merciful love and justice poured out for us! In calling God’s wisdom foolishness, St. Paul’s point is that God did all this for us in the most astonishing and unexpected way possible.

So we still read our Bible, pray, worship, partake in the eucharist and all the rest. But we do it for a different reason. We partake in these means of grace because we realize they are God’s gift to help free us from our slavery to self-help and other forms of sin, and to help us better grapple with God’s astonishing love for us. As this happens we will become more content to live within the mystery of the faith. For example, we will look at our baptism and rejoice in it as we grapple with the truth that we are condemned into redemption, i.e., that we share in the death of Christ (his condemnation on our behalf) as well as his risen life (our redemption). We will better understand that Christ died for the ungodly, for you and for me, because as St. Paul reminds us, there is no one who does good; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and therefore all deserve God’s just condemnation (Romans 3.10, 22-23). But for those who believe in the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross of Christ, there is redemption and life and hope because of the love God has for each of us, undeserving and unlovely as we are. Our proud nature will want to scoff at this, of course, but we know this is just the old man in us dying off and we fall to our knees in humble and grateful thanksgiving for the love of God made known to us in the scandal and foolishness of the cross. And like St. Paul, we will strive in matters of our salvation to forget everything but Christ, the one who was crucified for us, because only in his death and resurrection are we saved. When we start orienting ourselves in this manner we can finally claim that we are becoming real wise-guys because we are starting to grapple with the wisdom of God made known in humiliation, weakness, and self-giving love on the cross.

This knowledge will spill out into our dealings with the world, both collectively and individually. Let me give you two examples to jumpstart your thinking about how this applies to our life together and to our own lives. What should be our response to the Joy Behars of the world who claim that listening to Jesus’ voice in prayer is a mental illness? This is an affront to anyone who has heard Jesus’ voice, and the world’s wisdom, spurred on by our fallen human nature, tells us to lash back at her and those like her. But what does the cruciform (cross-shaped) wisdom of God say? One thing might be to consider that anyone who makes a statement like that about Jesus is to be pitied because (s)he doesn’t know the One who died for him/her (something that would bring us further derision by the world’s wisdom) and is headed for destruction if that doesn’t change. That person is therefore worthy of our compassion and earnest prayer that (s)he does come to know the crucified Son of God because none of us should desire the destruction of another. God certainly doesn’t (cf. Ezekiel 18.23).

Or consider the gun control debate. Surely there needs to be political action, but in the final analysis that is only window dressing and on one level is a manifestation of our desire to be in control of things because we cannot discern God’s movement and presence in all the violence. A cruciform response will also seek to address the much more difficult root causes of the issue: the disintegration of the family and our communities, the failure of parents to instill Judeo-Christian values in their children with all the attendant virtues that go with it (civility, good manners, respect for others, for starters.), the attack from some quarters on fatherhood and males in general, all related in part to this country’s increasing rejection of God made known supremely in Jesus Christ, to name just a few. How do we advocate for and help rebuild families and communities? How do we advocate Christian values and show love for those who hate us? These are massive problems so perhaps we start by engaging them one person at a time. Whatever that looks like, it will surely require self-giving and suffering love from us. But don’t be afraid. This is how God changes God’s world and its people this side of the Second Coming. This is the challenge of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. But follow him we must because only in him do we find health and life, real happiness and purpose for living. This is why we engage in our Lenten disciplines, both during Lent and throughout the year, because these disciplines are recognized means to help us obey our Lord’s command to be cruciform people. It’s too big a challenge for us if we try to do follow him in our own power. But we are not alone. We have the power of the Spirit who equips us to be imitators of our Lord in the best way possible, despite our profound brokenness and imperfect responses. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised to life, to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death and turn us into God’s true children, thanks be to God. May we all become real wise-guys, my beloved. To him be honor, praise, and glory now and for all eternity!

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Choosing the Cross and Being Vulnerable

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, February 25, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22.23-31; Romans 4.13-25; Mark 8.31.38.

On this second Sunday of Lent, we are still quite far from Jesus’ death. Around this time, I have to acknowledge that I have already failed in my Lent plans. I had planned not to take tea with milk but being in a kenyan family where tea without tea is no tea, i have been tempted and ended up taking tea with milk. Compared to Advent, the other season of preparation, Lent just seems so hard sometimes. Advent is a season of joy and hope, preparing for the birth. Lent, on the other hand, is a period of intentional restriction and discipline. Instead of birth, Lent prepares for death. Yet, in this season that seems like the opposite to the joy of Advent, there is still a gift.

And we see this gift in today’s gospel of Mark. Jesus tells Peter and his disciples the uncomfortable reality of his ministry. Jesus must die, and not even a peaceful death, he is going to suffer and be crucified. This death will be pain and anguish and despair, and Jesus is willing to talk about it. Now imagine you are the disciples. You have been following Jesus around, learning and listening from him. You’ve dropped your entire life, and lived on the road. Abandoned the fishing business like peter John, Andrew and James. Hung up your tax collector’s license like Mathew. You’ve witnessed him feed five thousand people with a small boy’s lunch. You’ve seen him bring a dead girl back from the dead. You are convinced that he is the Messiah. And now, now, after all of this, Jesus is spending his time on earth talking about his death, talking about leaving you– behind.

Peter is uncomfortable in Jesus’ speech, and we are too. I imagine that after all Peter has gone through, the thought of losing Jesus, his friend and teacher, is just unthinkable. Peter and the disciples were expecting a conquering, warrior Messiah, and instead their Messiah is acknowledging his defeat. This long-expected present from God is not the biggest, instead, this gift comes in a lumpy, ugly package. Peter and the other disciples see this confession as the ultimate weakness. Their great Savior is not supposed to simply die; there must be more to the story. But, Jesus criticizes them for this thinking. He even calls Peter Satan. Now, is there a bigger insult than the Son of God calling you Satan? But why? Why is this so horrible? Peter’s rejection of death and suffering is supposed to be natural, isn’t it? We are taught in this world that our status, our position, our wealth are what makes us powerful. But what Jesus is doing here is denying all power by worldly definitions. His power comes from his humility, from him being willing to submit to human suffering. God loves us so much that Jesus is willing to die for us. This gift of his vulnerable self, the gift of a perfect man willing to humble himself so low that he will be punished for no crime. Peter sees this as a moment of humanity, but in fact, this is a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. Perfect, blameless, Jesus is willing to sacrifice himself, to lower himself so much because of God’s love for us.

However, the gift Jesus provides is something that is essential. The divine example of humble submission even to death on the cross is the reason for our faith. Jesus subjects himself to the worst possible death that we may find reconciliation with our God, and forgiveness for our sins.

Yet, there are other consequences for this gift. This is not a present that can be received passively. God’s gift does not end on his sacrifice. Jesus’ story does not end on the cross, on the pinnacle of suffering, and even at his subsequent resurrection. No. This is not the end. Jesus shares that we are invited to follow him, even after his death. Jesus invites us to take the journey with him. His gift is one that does not end in his own vulnerability, but asks to humble ourselves in his footsteps. “Take up the cross,” he says.

This is an invitation to grow and recognize the depths of God’s love and the power Jesus demonstrated in conquering death.

Jesus didn’t have to follow the way of the cross. Just as he made his choice, I wonder if we can fully accept the gift of Jesus as a sacrifice without following his example of embracing weakness. And Jesus never promises that this will be easy. Yet through death and resurrection, he urges us to die to our own desires and what we cling to as identity so that he can make us new. The death on the cross is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new life in Christ. Recognizing that following a true Christian lifestyle means dying to all those individual desires, and instead discovering the desires Jesus asks for us under the cross.

Jesus is calling us to be vulnerable in the same way that he shows this vulnerability. To humble ourselves and our self-importance, not to destroy our self worth, but to find it in Christ’s worth, to give us new identities, as a sign of God’s love. He is asking us to care about what he cares about. And what is it that God cares about?

When we are so wrapped up into seeking status and glory and do not look first to take up the cross, we shun Jesus’ desires for our lives. We reject the gift we have been given. Have you ever caught yourself constantly comparing yourself to others? Have you ever felt that you just simply will not measure up? That your best efforts will just never be enough?

I know I have. Jesus is calling us away from these standards in this moment. He is calling us to grasp his gift, and root our new identities in this gift. Now, this rejection of life is not a completely and total abandonment of life goals and ideals; it is simply a re-grounding of identity. We root ourselves in the gifts of God’s love instead of others’ perceptions of us. We let God reinvent us as his children. Reinvent us as followers of Jesus. Reinvent us as people who can take up the cross and dare to love as God loves.

And this is not a challenge we take alone. As we will be going through the stations of the cross in a few weeks, we will see Simon helping Jesus carry his cross. Even Jesus himself did not carry his physical cross alone. And in the same way, we do not bear the burden of our crosses in solitude, but carry our cross with others. The gift of Jesus’ vulnerability is not something that has consequences just for our relationship with God, but also with others.

This is against our culture, against every fiber in our being – to share our weaknesses and trust that they will be heard and received well. I know firsthand that disclosing details of your internal self with those around you can be absolutely terrifying. But, this can be an important step for fully receiving Christ’s gift of vulnerability. Letting others see your weak and fragile moments, just as God himself let us see his moment. This gift of vulnerability is something that we all can receive through Christ.

But the beauty of this gift is that we also can give it. Henri Nouwen talks about this idea of taking up the cross as embracing weakness, he also challenges beyond this. “Once you have taken up that cross,” he says, “you will be able to see clearly the crosses that others have to bear.” Christ gives us the gift of vulnerability not only as an example, but a call to the vulnerabilities of others. It is an opportunity to not only receive, but to give.

One of the most beautiful things about the community in Christ is that we are called into relationship with those who we will never see, touch, hear, or speak to. This profound love calls us to be a listening ear and an understanding heart to those marginalized by the human sin of the world, and calls us to take on the divine perspective in response. To let our hearts bleed for others in the same way he bled for us. We are called to love and care for those who are physically, mentally, spiritually in poverty.

We respond to the brokenness in our world in the same way we recognize brokenness of ourselves. We embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ, just as we are embraced in Christ’s love. Our cross is not a platform of glory, but a symbol of humble love and sacrifice.

It is through this cross that we understand the full power of God. Receiving this gift, choosing the cross, will not be an effortless road to walk. It is through committing to reframing our minds to Jesus’ humility, through denying our identities and the ways of the human world, and through taking up the cross that we acknowledge the depth of God’s love. When we participate in this relationship with God, when we accept this gift of weakness, we are able to reflect the infinite love God shows for us.

So, as we travel this season of Lent, it is my prayer that we may acknowledge the gift Jesus has given us in his vulnerability. That you will recognize your own need. Accept the gift that is the cross, carried for you. And stay alert for the day you carry it for someone else. Amen WHAT SHOULD I GIVE UP FOR LENT? MEAT? SWEETS? CHOCOLATE? ICE CREAM? BEVERAGES ?

Many of us try to be more disciplined for Lent and give up something that we really like. That’s great! Fasting has always been an important tradition of Lent. This year however, let us also consider other things that we can give up.

*Give up complaining* – _Focus on gratitude_ Philippians 2:14-15 – Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.

*Give up bitterness* – _Turn to forgiveness_ Ephesians 4:31 – Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

*Give up worry* – _Trust in God_ Matthew 6:25 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… who by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:33 – But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

*Give up discouragement* – _Be full of hope_ Deuteronomy 31:8 – The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you: he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 40:31 – But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

*Give up hatred* – _Return good for evil_ 1 John 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Luke 6:27 – “But I tell you who hear me; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

*Give up anger* – _Be more patient_ Matthew 5:22 – But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Proverbs 15:18 – A hot tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

*Give up gossiping* – _Control your tongue_ Psalm 34:13 – Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

Proverbs 21:23 – He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.