Fr. Terry Gatwood: Living in Our Baptism

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Lent 1B, February 18, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser’s inability to write contagion has spread through most of our staff so that now Father Gatwood has caught it. Doubtless Father Sang will catch it next week. Hence there’s no written text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 9.8-17; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15.

Ash Wednesday: Sin and Repentance

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast (and you definitely should with this sermon), click here.

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21.

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

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. Unfortunately, many of us today do not understand the true nature of Sin, and without an adequate understanding of Sin we cannot possibly hope to understand how repentance relates to it. And if we do not understand the nature of Sin and our response to it, we cannot possibly hope to have an adequate understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ. To understand what Sin really is and how repentance relates to it will enable us to observe a holy Lent and beyond as we rejoice in God’s love for us made known in and through the cross of Jesus Christ.

In our OT lesson, God through his prophet Joel calls for God’s people to repent in light of the fact that the great and terrible day of the Lord is fast approaching. This is the appointed time when God would finally come to pronounce judgment on all that is wrong in his world, us included. Many of God’s people Israel mistakenly believed that God’s judgment would not fall on them because they were God’s chosen people. They thought God would only pour out his anger on the nations of the world while sparing Judah. Not so, warns Joel. Even the nation of Judah and its capital Jerusalem would be subject to the great and terrible day of the Lord. Repent, therefore, says Joel. Who knows? Maybe God will relent in his punishment.

Do you see the underlying dynamic behind this declaration? The implication is that sin is a matter of correcting bad behavior (like worshiping idols or exploiting society’s most vulnerable and helpless people) or making bad choices that lead to bad behavior. Stop engaging in bad behavior (or repenting) might cause God to relent in punishing. In other words, sin is really a matter of making good choices and behaving ourselves and repentance therefore leads to forgiveness. We have it in our power to stop sinning and if we do, God will (hopefully) relent in punishing us. This line of thinking is what helps some of us to become insufferably self-righteous. We see ourselves as having basically overcome sin because we make good choices and choose to behave ourselves—well, most of the time. We go to church regularly, we read our Bible on occasion, and say some quick prayers. Never mind the fact we sometimes gossip about those who irritate us (and even our friends) or sneak an occasional peak at pornography or cut in line ahead of others because we have urgent business to conduct and can’t be bothered by waiting our turn. Those things are all justifiable. And besides, we’re not murderers or rapists or white supremacists or child molesters. That’s why we can look down our noses in disgust on those who are. They should try to become more like us. And because we have overcome our sins by (mostly) behaving well, God will forgive us when we repent. After all, God is loving and merciful and God has to forgive us when we say we’re sorry for our occasional slip-ups, right?

Sadly, this line of thinking is one of the reasons why many Christians are loathe to talk about sin and repentance because some of us don’t seem to be quite as good at making good decisions and behaving properly as others, and the clear implication is that there are some superior Christians who are worthy of God’s love and admiration and some clearly worthless Christians who can’t live up to God’s expectations. What we are talking about here is the gospel of self-worth and self-help. For those of us who have a bit more will power than others, it’s a great game to play and a great gospel to try and foist on others because it allows us to see ourselves as the truly superior people we are. But this kind of thinking about sin and repentance is emphatically unbiblical and is itself a product of the real problem of Sin.

Sin, as the Bible describes it, is an outside and malevolent power that entered God’s good creation when our ancestors rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. It is variously described as “the darkness” or “the powers” or the “devil and his minions.” Name it what you want but understand that it is an active and malevolent force that has the power to enslave us. This means that none of us has the power to break its grip on our lives. If you want to know what’s wrong with the world with all of its darkness, look no further than the power of Sin. Sin is much deeper and darker than the bad deeds we do or the bad choices we make. In fact our bad deeds that cause all the misery and hurt and suffering in this world are the result of the problem of Sin, not the problem itself. To sin, biblically speaking, means something terribly more consequential than wrongdoing. It means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal love of God. It means to be permanently excluded from God’s heavenly banquet. It means to be helplessly trapped inside one’s own worst self, miserably aware of the vast difference between the way we are and the way God intends for us to be. And given the nature of God’s love and goodness, it is utter foolishness for us to think that God will let this state of affairs go on indefinitely. God must act to break Sin’s power over us to free us from its slavery. So when you hear me talking about Sin with a capital S, this is what I am talking about. It is a breathtakingly hopeless picture of the human condition that Scripture paints for us, not to make us feel bad, although that is a consequence of our sin, but to help us understand the enormity of the forces that are arrayed against us so that we are convinced we need help from beyond.

If you understand what I’ve just said, you will also understand that no amount of repentance on our part is going to fix the problem of Sin. Does that mean repentance is not important to Christians and we should abandon it? No, of course not. Jesus himself called for us to repent and believe the Good News (and there’s the hint where I’m going with this). What I am suggesting is that we have to put repentance in its proper place. More about that in a moment. No, the critical thing for us to understand is that we worship a God who has the power and the desire to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death. And the Good News is precisely that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.3-4) or as St. Paul says in our epistle lesson this evening, God the Father, in full cooperation and agreement with God the Son, made Jesus, the sinless one, to take on and absorb God’s wrath on the power of Sin so as to destroy its grip on us. Destroy the power of Sin and God can set us free from our slavery to it. This was God’s plan from all eternity to deal with the corrupting and dehumanizing power of Sin over us. This, says St. Paul, is exactly what happened to us at our baptism. Listen to him in full:

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him (Romans 6.1-8, NLT).

Did you catch the Good News? God has condemned our sin in the flesh by condemning it in Jesus’ body. In other words, God has moved to impose God’s justice on the evil behind all our wrongdoing and wrong thinking, sparing us in the process. In other words, God has chosen to absorb his own justice so that we might be spared and freed to live as the fully human image-bearing creatures God created us to be. So we no longer are separated and alienated from God. We are given power to overcome sin because God has defeated Sin and the powers behind it on the cross. We know the powers are defeated because God raised Jesus from the dead and we are united to Jesus by virtue of our baptism. Our slavery to Sin’s power has therefore been ended on the cross and we are no longer slaves to Sin. Notice Paul did not say we will no longer sin. There’s still the struggle because we are still weighed down by our mortal bodies and corrupted desires. But new creation has begun with Jesus’ resurrection. We live in a new world, albeit imperfectly until our Lord returns to finish his work. Nevertheless, it’s a done deal, whether we perceive it or not. So on the cross, we see God’s justice and God’s mercy at work simultaneously to rescue us from our hopeless alienation from God with its attendant death while condemning the power of Sin in our lives so as to spare us, thanks be to God. God did this for us out of God’s great love for us, not because of what we do or don’t do or because we are worthy of that love. This is truly Good News because God’s love and justice are simultaneously enacted on the cross and we are freed from our slavery to the power of Sin.

Nobody can prove any of this empirically, of course, but we see glimpses of its truth every time we choose to do the right instead of the wrong, every time we see real justice enacted, every time we see mercy extended to the unmerciful. No, we believe the Good News by faith and we live accordingly, however imperfectly. When by God’s grace, we are given the eye of faith to catch a glimpse of this, we are convicted of our sin and moved to repentance because we understand the great and wondrous life-giving gift God has given us in Jesus Christ. So our repentance is in response to what God has already done for us in Christ, not what God will do if we repent. If by God’s grace you truly understand this dynamic, you will truly understand what the Good News is all about and rejoice.

We see this dynamic working in our psalm for this evening. David committed adultery and then committed murder to cover his tracks. He now comes to God with a broken and contrite heart, asking for God’s mercy. Notice David does this precisely because he knows the steadfast love and mercy of God, just as Joel did in our OT lesson, which is the true basis for his call to repentance. David and Joel knew this, not because of wishful human thinking but because God revealed this about himself in Israel’s history. So while David’s spirit was crushed over his evildoing, he was also convinced that God had the ability and the means to cleanse David from his sin. The full means would not be revealed until the death and resurrection of the Son of God. But the point is that David’s repentance and plea for mercy were based on something God had already done for him before David was ever born. Likewise for us. This is the Good News, my beloved, now and for all eternity! During this Lenten season (and beyond), we are all invited to examine our lives in the light of God’s love, justice, and mercy on our behalf to free us from our sins and to act accordingly, all in the power of the Spirit. May we all observe a holy Lent, thereby giving honor, power and glory to the One who loved us and gave himself to us from all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: Renew Your Mind

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday, year B, February 11, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Since Father Bowser still refuses to learn how to write, there is no text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9.

The Enigma of Healing

Sermon delivered at the first quarterly healing service on the second Sunday before Lent B, February 4, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-11, 20; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39.

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

Today we hold the first of our quarterly healing services. Why do we come (or not come) to them? What do we expect (or not expect) from these services? How we answer these questions will tell us a lot about how we perceive God and God’s interaction with us, and that’s always worthy of our time and consideration. This is therefore what I want us to look at this morning.

So what should we as Christians who have just heard our lectionary readings for this morning think about healing? I suspect many of us, if pressed to answer truthfully, would respond by saying “not much.” I mean, look around you. Where are the rest of our family members today? To be sure, some of them may be sick (no pun intended) or on vacation or have some pressing obligation that keeps them away legitimately. But what about those who don’t? We have advertised this service in plenty of time so everyone knew it was coming. Or consider our intercessory list. It has grown so large that we can barely read the names on it as we project it on the wall. Assuming we can invite some, if not many, of the folks on this list, and assuming that many would actually be able to attend today, where are they? Have you invited those you ask to be put on our intercessory list? If you have, assuming they are able to attend, why haven’t they come? And if you haven’t invited those folks, why haven’t you? If we can believe St. Mark’s account in our gospel lesson this morning, once the word got out about Jesus’ mighty act of healing, he was mobbed by people wanting to get in on the action to the point where he was forced to retreat to solitary places just to pray. So where are the sick today? Why aren’t they packed in this building and waiting outside for the opportunity to be healed?

The fact is that they don’t even have to wait for quarterly healing services to take place because we have intercessors on call every Sunday during communion. But the vast majority of us never bother to go back for prayer and anointing. Why is that? Is it because we are all paradigms of health, folks who have no problems in our lives that weigh us down? Right. So why do we get so few takers of the healing opportunities we offer on a regular basis? Again, I suspect if we were hard pressed to answer these questions honestly most of us would offer one of these three broad answers. We either don’t believe the Lord has the willingness or ability to heal us, i.e., we lack the faith in God’s power to heal or have an inaccurate understanding of God’s character, or we miss God’s healing activity in our lives when it occurs because we pigeonhole God by expecting him to act in a certain way to heal us, or we don’t think we are worthy of God’s healing power in our lives (or various combinations of these three answers). Regardless of the reason, all three make the category mistake of making healing about us rather than God and we need to look at each one in turn. Before we do, however, I want to emphasize that I am not castigating or trying to shame anyone here. Only God knows what is truly in your heart about his willingness and ability to heal you, or your perceptions about what that looks like, or your perceived worthiness to receive God’s healing. I am simply pointing out that these things suggest most of us don’t really take this healing business all that seriously for whatever reason, which obviously is not good for us or our relationship with God.

We turn first to the business of whether God is willing and able to heal us, or more specifically to perform mighty acts of power in our lives. Many of us would say yes in the abstract but no when it comes to our own experience. For example, when Bishop Jackson talked about the mighty acts of power he has witnessed, some of you asked me afterwards if I really believed that. The blind regaining their eyesight? The lame being able to walk again? Really? Let’s be honest. Most of us haven’t experienced that and so we are skeptical. Our skepticism also tends to jade us when we hear stories like we heard in our gospel lesson. And we’re not the only ones who have doubts. So did God’s people Israel, and almost from the beginning. The prophet Isaiah, being given a future vision of God’s people’s exile so real that he spoke of it as if it had already happened, knew what a deal breaker their exile was going to be for his people’s faith and trust in God. If God were in charge, how could God let his people be captured and deported by a hostile alien power? So the prophet had to remind us about who God is by reminding us of past events, i.e., of what we already know. Don’t you know, asks Isaiah, that God is the Creator of all things? Look at the vast number of stars at night. Consider the awesome power and beauty of nature. God created it all. The creation is evidence of God’s mighty power. Then consider the mightiest nations and their rulers. They may be the world’s current superpower but they are nothing compared to God because they are mortal and will eventually go to their grave. That’s not going to happen with God. Given these realities, do you really think God does not know what’s going on in your life? Are you crazy? He created you and this world in which you live! He knows everything. We can’t begin to comprehend this or God’s mind, let alone all of creation, even as clever as we think we are! Yet despite our unknowing, God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless because God is a God of mercy, love, and justice, to which the psalmist adds that God delights in those who realize God is awesome and who put their trust in his steadfast love. In other words, God’s power to act is not contingent on our understanding of God and God’s ways. So please, kids, get over yourselves and learn some humility! God acts as God wills because God is sovereign over all.

We see these truths about God played out in human history and the context of our lives. Who among us would have called a wandering pagan nomad out of what is modern-day Iraq to bring God’s blessings to heal God’s sin-sick world? Or who among us without the advantage of 20-20 hindsight would have looked at the awful spectacle of our Lord’s crucifixion and known it was the turning point in human history for the salvation of our race? Who would ever expect that God would allow himself to become human to be crucified in utter humiliation by his own creatures to destroy the power of Sin over us and reconcile us to himself? These events are not the product of human thinking. They are the product of the mind of the One who loves us, who created us for life and health, and who acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death so that we could enjoy God forever in the manner God always intended.

Or think about the times in your life when God acted on your behalf. You met or saw the person you absolutely needed to see or experiencing a turn of events in your life that produced unexpected turmoil and then blessing. This isn’t chance happening. There is no such thing as chance or coincidence in this world. To think otherwise is to deny the goodness, love, and power of our ever-present, all-powerful, and loving God revealed to us supremely in Christ and his faithful people. The latter would be you and me, my beloved, in all our warped and damaged glory. From all this we can only conclude that God is both willing and able to heal us and our infirmities. Whenever you doubt otherwise (and we all doubt from time to time), do as Isaiah and the psalmist tell us to do. Remember the mighty acts of God in the lives of his people (Psalm 77). As Christians, we would start by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.

These things are also helpful to us in considering our other concerns about God in relation to healing. We have just seen that God is both willing and able to heal us, but we also know that God does not always choose to answer our prayers for healing, at least in the manner for which we ask. It is at this point that many of us simply check out in one way or another. In fine human fashion the creatures have the audacity to challenge the love and goodness of their Creator. We forget that we are mortal and have limited perspective as opposed to God. We’d much prefer to take matters into our own hands because we are too often consumed by the cares and concerns in our lives and this makes us jaded, in part because we don’t spend enough time in God’s Word in Scripture so that we really don’t know the great story of God’s rescue plan for us and some of the wonderful sub-stories within that greater story. Take Abraham’s nephew, Lot, for example. Although he chose to accompany his uncle to the land to which God called Abraham, Lot typically acted in his own self-interest. When Abraham gave Lot his choice of land, he picked what he thought was the best land, land that included the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. There he was contaminated by the worldly lifestyle of those two cities, just like we are today by our own culture. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by a mob to protect himself and God’s messengers. How does that show a trust in God’s protection? He argued with God’s angels about where he should settle after they graciously acted to save him from Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction and afterwards succumbed to his daughters scheme to get him drunk and have sex with him so that they could perpetuate their family line. Does this sound like one who put his hope and trust in God? No, it sounds pretty much like us. Yet St. Peter called Lot a righteous man (2 Peter 2.6-9), one God counted worthy of salvation.

What’s my point? Well, among other things, stories like Lot’s (and they are legion in Scripture), as well as stories of our own chaotic lives, show us God’s character and heart for us. Despite our stubborn refusal to love and trust God, despite our persistent rebellion against God which produces all kinds of chaos and sickness in our live, God acts for our good, even when it is not obvious to us because of our limited understanding. Or as St. Paul puts it, even while we were still God’s enemies, God sent his Son to die for us to reconcile us to himself and free us from our slavery to Sin and Death (Romans 5.6-11). I’m pretty sure that none of Jesus’ disciples were doing the happy dance and praising God for acting decisively in human history to save us as he hung naked on a cross. They were too busy hiding in fear! No, it takes faith—faith based on an intimate knowledge of the stories contained in Scripture that point us to God’s character and power—to have the audacity to believe God could heal us when we ask him. These stories also remind us that no one, not even you and me with our baggage and pile of sins that reach to heaven, is unworthy in God’s eyes to be healed. Whenever we start to think that, we had better head to the foot of the cross (or the table of the Lord, or both) to be reminded otherwise.

St. Mark tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. The healings he reports don’t seem to be contingent on the faith of the beneficiaries. Peter’s mother-in-law didn’t ask to be healed. Jesus just healed her. In fact, St. Mark apparently wants us to see that the healings are tied to the greater purpose of our Lord’s ministry. The crowds saw Jesus merely as a miracle worker who could heal them. The demons, however, saw Jesus as God’s Holy One who was exercising God’s power over them by driving them out of their victims, thus all the shrieking. And when the disciples came to get Jesus, he told them he had to move on so that he could preach the in-breaking power of the Kingdom of God in the power and person of himself. In other words, the healings that St. Mark reports are more about the healer than the healed. When we lose sight of this, we lose faith and hope because we instinctively know how broken we are and our inability to heal ourselves.

All this can help us understand, albeit imperfectly and enigmatically, why healing doesn’t always occur when and how we ask for it. It occurs according to God’s good will and purposes for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth as in heaven and those purposes are much greater than our physical/emotional/mental healing. Why? Because we are mortal and any healing, even the most spectacular kind, is temporary. For example, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, eventually died again. So will anyone who Jesus heals today. No, there is a greater healing at stake here, my beloved. It is the final healing that will occur at the resurrection of our mortal bodies when our Lord returns. Then our bodies will be reconstituted and transformed, healed forever, never again to succumb to death or sickness or disorder of any kind. That’s the healing for which we all should long as Christians. In the meantime, let us seek the lesser, more temporary varieties of healing, and let us do so eagerly and expectantly because we know God’s love for us and his power to heal. We aren’t called to have perfect faith in God to bring about our healing because as we have seen, it is about the healer, not the healed. Healed as we desire or not, we are called to wait patiently on the Lord to act on us in his good time and good way (or refrain from acting on us), trusting in God’s goodness, God’s justice, God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s overarching plan for all creation, not just us. If we are not healed, let us never doubt that it is because God does not love us or doesn’t have the power to heal or that we are somehow unworthy. In the final analysis, no one is worthy of God’s healing because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Any healing that occurs is an act of sheer grace and mercy on God’s part. It has nothing to do with the myth of our worthiness.

So come forward today and every Sunday and expect God to do great things in you because the God you love and believe in is a great God who loves you and wants the best for you. Believe it by remembering (or learning) the story of God’s salvation when you falter. Show your faith by inviting your sick friends to come and experience the healing love of God and his people here at St. Augustine’s. Talk to them truthfully and then back up your talk with your behavior. Don’t be afraid to invite folks to experience God’s healing because you are afraid God won’t deliver. That’s not our call to make. Instead, remember God’s love for you, a love that accompanies God’s ability to heal you. He’s going to raise you from the dead one day and make you live forever. Is anything too hard for God? No, invite your friends and trust God to act according to his loving purposes for them, despite what may or may not happen when God’s holy people lay hands on them and anoint them with oil, and prepare to let God blow your mind as God shows you his power and great love for them and you, often in unexpected and surprising ways. God’s power to heal is part of the Good News that brings us hope, joy, and health. Our challenge is to let God be God and not reduce God to our puny and incomplete expectations. Jesus showed us the way and gave us a glimpse of what God can and will do for all of us ultimately, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory, now and for all eternity!

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

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Simeon, Anna, and Larry

Sermon delivered on the feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon because one has to be smarter than the recording device.

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

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

Last Sunday, after everyone went home, and the vestry met for a short while with Bishop Jackson, I went home expecting a relaxing evening before heading back to the office early Monday morning. I went into my house, changed over into my gym shorts and t-shirt, and started to get comfortable with my family as the day wound down. This is the routine we have come to expect on most typical Sunday’s, but it turned out that this would not be that kind of day.

Shortly after changing over and plopping myself on the couch I received a message from a family member that I should come to the hospital to visit with the man Larry whom I added to our church intercessions list. While he was already not doing well he had taken a very quick turn for the worst. So I put my trousers and shirt back on, grabbed my jacket, communion kit, and oils and headed out for Riverside Hospital. My rest and relaxation had to be put on hold.

When I arrived at the hospital I was greeted by a large group of family whom I had not seen in many years. They were all spending time quietly at the bedside of Larry. His children, grandchildren, wife, cousins, and friends sat there expecting the worst to happen in very short order.

As I stood there greeting the group I heard a familiar voice from behind me in the doorway, one that I had not heard in nearly fifteen years. “Well, I know you” said the comforting voice. I turned to look and saw an old friend with whom I had attended high school. She had been given charge of caring for Larry in these his finals days. Immediately any discomfort I had felt about seeing this family member of mine was soothed as I knew the kind of person she was, and had seen her to be even more through our keeping up over social media. During a dark time there was someone present through whom holy light kept breaking forth from, enlightening the whole room. These are the kinds of faithful people we hope to encounter during these difficult moments of life.

That remarkable enough a thing that I stand here today and tell you about it, but something that was more remarkable about this day was about to happen. We’ll get to that here shortly.

In Jerusalem, about two thousand and fifteen years ago another remarkable thing happened. In keeping the law for her purification, Mary, with Joseph and Jesus, went up to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus to offer sacrifice to God. This was a routine event for the Hebrew women of the day. At the same time, Joseph presented Jesus there to the Lord, as every first-born son was to be designated as holy to the Lord. This, again, is a very routine thing for any Hebrew family at this time.

But what seemed to be something that was going to be very common to them, although his conception and birth was anything but common, a funny thing happened on the way into the Temple. Standing there was a man named Simeon, who had been led inside by the Holy Spirit.

By this time Simeon was a very old man. The Bible describes him as a “righteous and devout” man, who was looking forward to Israel’s consolation. He was looking forward to comfort in the midst of great discomfort and suffering. Being a devout man, and righteous, he was also no doubt a man who knew the truth of God’s promises contained in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit rested upon him, and he knew from these Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit in his own heart and mind that he would not leave this world until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, the true Consolation of Israel.

Reaching forward, and taking the 40-day-old baby Jesus into his arms, this devout man of God began to praise God. The promise of God was being fulfilled right in this moment before his very eyes, and the fulfillment could be held in his very arms. This small child, the one whose blood had been shed in his circumcisions 32 days earlier and shown to be very much a human like those he came to save, and whose blood would later be shed for the salvation of all the world, was the one who had been promised. What inexplicable joy filled Simeon’s longsuffering and hopefully expectant heart as he cried out in praise and thanksgiving!

“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”

God’s promises are true, and Simeon’s hope has come. The Holy Spirit who had caused him to know these things through the Scriptures, through his prayers, and his hope, now is providing for his joy. He confesses the true nature of the child Jesus. Not only is this a baby boy of the faith, but he is the author of it. He is the salvation of all. And in knowing this now to have come to pass, Simeon bids the world farewell, knowing his days are now short. But he does so in the faith and knowledge of the Christ who has come. How comfortable the death of a man who knows Christ.

Imagine being Mary or Joseph here. Although they were no strangers to the mighty movements of God, this is still a moment of pure amazement and wonder. But Simeon goes on.

Blessing Mary and Joseph, Simeon turns his face intently toward Mary, saying to her: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The life of Jesus, according to this devout man, this confessor of Christ, and this prophet, is to be a tumultuous one. There will be great joys and great sorrows ahead. And here the Holy Spirit by the lips of Simeon lays the groundwork for the life, ministry, and coming death of the baby whom he just held in his arms.

So, now they can get on with their business after this, right? Nope. God sends yet another, a prophetess called Anna. She too has lived far beyond her expected years. This woman, being a widow, has devoted her entire life to fasting and praying at the Temple. Lips that should have already been in the grave here continue to pour out words of praise and thanksgiving, they continue to pray in the Spirit, and in this moment are about to prophesy to others about this child Jesus, whom she also recognized for who he is.

What a completely unexpected day this little family is having. Fully thinking they were going to go and do the things appointed for them in the Law they instead find themselves in the midst of something God has been planning since the foundations of the world were laid. This is a moment of cosmic significance, as it signals the salvation of the world, the redemption of the whole creation, that is always inherent in the life and witness of the texts of the Old Testament. Jesus is written on those pages, and is an active participant already in leading his people toward their salvation, toward himself.

It is an amazing thing to see God moving in such a powerful way in the world. And nothing God does is without purpose. As the Apostle tells us, “God works all things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose.” And to do this he came in human flesh, he became one of us, with all the frailties that come with the human package. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” so that we might have confidence in him, sharing in flesh and blood with him as his brothers and sisters, that he can be, and is, for us that merciful and faithful high priest who serves in the presence of God the Father. He was tested, like we are tested and will be tested, and is able to help us during these times of temptation and trial. This is the child Jesus who was shown to Simeon and Anna. This is the one about whom they started telling others. He is the one we share with our neighbors so that they too might be called his brothers and sisters.

I have made many hospital visits over the last twenty years. Most of them tend to go the same way, so there is a routine nature to most of it. Last Sunday, expecting one home life routine but trading it in for what I expected to be another type of routine event I found myself in the midst of God moving yet again. Larry, who had not been a participant in the life of the Church for many years, but who had been baptized as a kid, confessed Christ. It was one of the kids who had been there to visit who shared the Gospel with him, and another senior citizen who had prayed with him at that time.

I walked into that room fully expecting it to be a terribly sad affair, and I was among those who was and is sad, but instead what I found was the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy that he brings when he reveals Jesus for who he is, unfolding the truth of the Scriptures that the heart may understand and be transformed. There was prayer, praise, and hymn singing by the time I departed that day. Peace and comfort, testimony of God’s goodness, and the true love of Christ was so thick in there it was like being grabbed up and hugged so warmly and tightly. The Lord came into the room and revived the hearts of those who needed consolation so badly. And he did it no more than in the heart of Larry.

Larry went into that hospital one man, but now that he prepares to leave this mortal world he will be leaving it a new creation in Christ. In his own words, “I know who my savior is, and I can’t stop praising him.” Just like Simeon and Anna another will go home with praise on his lips because of that blessed child is who is the true light of the world.

May we find our hope in him that at our own end we may leave with such praise on our mouths. Thank you, God, for Israel’s consolation and ours, and for being the only one whom we can trust for our salvation. For when through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, gives light to us in our darkest times and in the shadow of death, guiding our feet into peace breaks into our hearts, we can do no other. Praise the Lord for his great and glorious love toward us.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Answering the Call to Follow Jesus

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 14, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and who wouldn’t?), click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51.

Today, I want us to look at the passage from John and 1 Samuel and think about what it means to answer the call to follow Jesus. I suppose, in a sense, every sermon is about what it means to follow Jesus – but there are things I want to draw on this morning out of the lesson.

The gospel scene is set for us as Jesus decides to head for Galilee, and that’s when the encounter with Philip begins. The first thing we notice is actually very easy to miss…

Right at the start of the story, John says: “Jesus found Philip”.

Philip didn’t find Christ. Christ found Philip.

The truth at the heart of the Christian story is not that you and I have found Christ, but Christ has found us.

We did not decide for God. God decided for us.

And the narrative that runs throughout the Bible is of a God who constantly seeks out his people.

And that’s the case right from the beginning of Scripture. If you remember in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, realised they were naked and were embarrassed, so they hid. And, in verse 8, God is walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve and in verse 9: “But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Right from the beginning of time, God has been seeking us out and finding us.

So let us never think that we chose God: he has chosen us! As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…”

And this is important because the knowledge that God has sought us out, rather than us choosing God, is crucial in keeping us humble before God. And once Jesus finds Philip, he issues a single command: “Follow me”. Philip is compelled to follow Jesus.

Philip follows Jesus, and bears witness to Nathanael. But Nathanael is skeptical, and he questions Philip.“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In our day and age, an argument might arise, but Philip does not enter into an argument of words, he simply says, come and see. Nathanael goes to see, and although scholarship is unsure of the meaning of the fig tree, it is obvious that Jesus knows something about Nathanael that no one but God incarnate could know. Jesus had identified Nathanael before Philip had spoken to him when he was under the fig tree. God knows who and what we are. Our Lord also knows that we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom. God called each of us in our own unique way so as to serve him by doing what he has called us to do. And i guess by now we all know that it is to make a difference for Him

In the Old Testament lesson, God called Samuel, and Samuel is confused until Eli finally perceives that God is calling Samuel. And then, Samuel responds with the familiar, here I am. God gives Samuel some difficult information. Samuel tells Eli what God has planned, and Eli accepts his fate. The point is that God calls, we listen, and then do what we are called to do.

The tasks we are called to do are all difficult because of our frailty as humans, but they are not beyond our capabilities. What we are called to do might be unpleasant for us, but they are done for the love of God. think about Medical doctors, they are called to relieve the suffering of humans. But part of their call is also to inform family members that a loved one has died, or has terminal cancer, or will never walk again. We do not have to understand what we are called for, in fact, there is no way we can understand because we are not God. We have to trust that God will make all things right in the end. We have to trust that God knows, not just what is best for us as individuals, but what is best for all in the Kingdom of God. What we do know for sure is that we are all mortal. Our flesh will die, but we get the chance to live on by the acceptance of our Lord, and the acceptance of what we are called to do.

Tomorrow is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, It can only be imagined that Martin Luther King felt much like the Apostle Paul in his call to spread the Good News. Paul was harassed, beaten, persecuted, and probably executed for his belief in spreading the Gospel of our Lord. Violence was not acceptable for either man as a way to spread the Word. Both men wrote letters while jailed. Dr. King’s most famous letter is probably his letter written from the Birmingham jail. The letter is addressed to eight clergymen in Birmingham who had suggested that King needed to wait to pursue his cause. The timing was not correct, King should wait on political leaders to change and let the process change the abuses and denial of rights being inflicted on Blacks. The eight men consisted of a Presbyterian pastor, Southern Baptist minister, Jewish Rabbi, Roman Catholic bishop, two Methodist bishops, and two Episcopal Bishops; a fairly ecumenical group.

Dr. King heard the call of our Lord. He was given his instructions, and he knew that his difficult information had to be given to the leaders of this country. He knew that the status quo had to change, and waiting was no longer an option. But, he also knew that any form of violence corrupted the message. In order to follow his call, the message he sent had to be one of change through non-violent means. He knew that the message of Jesus to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself applied to all persons, friend and enemy.

Jesus knows us before he calls us. He knows what we are all capable of, and he knows that the instructions we receive in our call will probably be difficult for us. But, we can all do it. We can all follow and serve the Lord. As long as we are alive, we can answer the call of our Lord. We are disciples. Discipleship is an active engagement with Jesus. It is also an active engagement in the world in which we live.

Hopefully, it is not necessary for any of us to risk our freedom or our lives in order to answer our individual calls. But it may take us out of our comfort zone, and cause us more than a little discomfort. It might even cause us discomfort to think that our Lord knows all that we do, and all that we can do. We can take the instruction of the eight clergymen in Birmingham, and wait for the system to set things right. Or we can accept the call of our Lord. We can acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and follow him. We can do what is unpleasant in this broken world to ease the suffering and injustice that exists. We do not have to fix it all. As individuals, we do our part, and hope that others are answering the call and doing their part. We are changed by God to make a difference for Him. Here I am Lord, speak for your servant is listening.

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

The Power of God in Jesus’ Baptism and Our Own

Sermon delivered on the feast of Christ’s baptism, Epiphany 1B, Sunday, January 7, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. It’s the perfect time to jump into the waters of baptism to reflect on God’s power.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mark 1.4-11(12-13).

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

Happy new year, St. Augustine’s! Today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism and our own. But what’s it all about? Why care about either? This is what I want us to look at this morning. To understand the significance of our Lord’s baptism, we must place it within the proper context of the history of God’s salvation as contained in Scripture. Otherwise making sense of his baptism and our own will be impossible. First and foremost we must look at Christ’s baptism as the NT’s answer to the longing for God’s return to God’s people contained in so much of the OT.

Appropriately, our assigned OT reading is from Genesis 1. The writer declares that in the beginning God created the heavens and earth out of nothing, or as the text puts it, the Spirit (or wind) of God hovered over the chaos of the waters. Over against the darkness, chaos, void, and nothingness that is like the nothingness of death, God’s creative word issued forth God’s life-giving light that signals the goodness and orderliness of God’s creative power. We note that this light is not the light produced by the sun or the moon. Those two heavenly bodies were not created until later. No, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is present from the beginning and is instrumental in bringing about life from nothingness and order from chaos. More about that in a moment. This life-giving light, unlike the light of the sun and moon, is available only to those who are the people of God, born of the Spirit, the water, and the blood (1 John 5.8). The point of the creation story is that God created his creation to be good and God created humans in God’s image to run God’s good world on God’s behalf. As the psalmist writes, this world and all that is in it pulses with God’s ongoing goodness and creative power. Without the life-giving power and presence of the Spirit, there is no life or order or peace. There is only chaos and death. As we ponder and reflect on this aspect of God’s life-giving and creative activity, we are reminded that God’s Spirit and presence can bring light and peace out of the darkness and chaos in our own lives if we only will let him. Do you believe this about God’s Spirit?

As we have just seen, the original goodness of God’s creation was despoiled by human sin and rebellion that brought about God’s curse on us and all creation and opened the door for the forces of darkness, evil, and chaos to get a foothold within God’s good world to further despoil and corrupt it and us. We don’t have to look around us very far to understand that within the beauty and goodness of God’s world, human sin and the dark powers behind it constantly unleash new chaos in God’s world and our lives. That’s what all sin and rebellion against God is at its core: chaos. Whether it’s the chaos of disease or dysfunction or infirmity or madness or poverty or war or alienation or strife, our rebellion against God produces the darkness of chaos that is directly opposed to God’s original creative purposes and the life-giving light of God’s love and grace for us and God’s world.

This corruption and perversion of God’s good created order is why God called his people Israel into existence. As God promised Abraham, God would bring God’s blessing and healing love to the world through Abraham and his descendants. But sadly God’s people Israel were every bit as susceptible to the darkness as the world to which they were to bring God’s healing love. As St. John tells us in his gospel, the people, God’s people Israel included, loved the darkness better than the light of God’s life-giving love because our deeds are evil (John 3.19). That’s why folks reject Jesus. Of course God knew this before he ever formed Abraham in the womb. But as Scripture repeatedly insists throughout its narrative, God is faithful to God’s promises and God’s promises and purposes can never be defeated. And so God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the one true Israelite through whom the world and its people would be redeemed.

This brings us to our gospel lesson with its narrative of Jesus’ baptism, and with it we begin to appreciate St. Mark’s ability as a skillful storyteller. In his narrative, St. Mark invites us to see the spectacle of God operating in the confines and constraints of human history to bring about our salvation. As the Son rises from the waters, he sees the heavens torn apart and the God’s life-giving Spirit—the same Spirit who brooded over the waters of chaos in the beginning to bring light out of darkness—descending on him to commission and empower him to embark on his life-saving work as God’s Messiah. The verb St. Mark uses to tell us that the heavens were torn open is used in only one other place in Scripture, in Isaiah 64.1. There the prophet’s anguished plea on behalf of his sin-sick and beleaguered people who walk in the darkness of their evil deeds is for God to tear apart the heavens to rescue his people by forgiving them their sins and establishing God’s good and healing justice on earth as in heaven. In using the same verb for tearing apart the heavens in relation to the Holy Spirit’s descent on Jesus, St. Mark is inviting us to see that in Jesus’ forthcoming ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, the anguished cry of God’s people everywhere is finally being answered, and here we see the breathtaking power and initiative of God at work, but not in the way we expected or anticipated.

Instead of destroying the enemies of God’s people in a mighty act of power as God had done to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, instead of giving God’s people a mighty warrior Messiah to liberate them from the grip of Rome as many Israelites expected, God himself came as promised, but in weakness and great humility, to break the power of Sin and Evil over God’s people and free us to be the human beings God created us to be. In other words, God sent his Son to suffer and die a humiliating and shameful death on our behalf. Listen to St. Paul’s take on it:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation (Rom 5.6-9, NLT).

Elsewhere in Romans Paul affirms that we are indeed no longer under God’s just condemnation for our sins because of the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross that enabled God to condemn our sins in the flesh without having to condemn us along with it (Romans 8.1-4).

This is the power and initiative of God we are witnessing in Jesus’ baptism, my beloved. We see the power of the Father descending on the Son through the Spirit and affirming that Jesus is indeed God’s beloved Son, commissioning our Lord to embark on his surprising and life-giving ministry that would lead to Calvary and an empty tomb. In God telling Jesus he is God’s beloved Son, St. Mark takes us back to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42.1, who will bring God’s justice to the nations. As we’ve just seen, the Servant would not do this in the way the world expected God to act. The Servant would embody God’s great love and perfect justice through his own suffering and death, and in the process we would find God’s light, life, and rescue from our slavery to the darkness, thanks be to God! Amen?

Curiously, the lectionary omits the next two verses in Mark but I want to read them to you because they are important in helping us see the critical importance for us as God’s people to have God’s Spirit dwell in us. Hear St. Mark now. [At once] “[t]he Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.” (Mark 1.12-13). Do you see what’s going on here? The dark powers know that something radically different is happening, and they don’t like it one bit. The result? The prince of darkness, Satan himself, immediately confronts Jesus to derail his life-giving mission as the Son of God. But Jesus has the power of the Spirit, and only the Spirit, to strengthen him and enable him to overcome Satan’s temptations, unlike our first human ancestors. And here is a key to help us look at God’s power available to us in our own baptism.

Have you ever looked at your faith, at your claim to love God, and been tempted to fall into despair over your folly and faithlessness? You profess love for God but as you examine your life, you see yourself committing the same sins over and over, no matter how hard you try to do otherwise. I suspect many of us are in this boat and if you are one of these folks, then remembering your baptism is the perfect antidote. Why? For two reasons. First, remembering our baptism testifies to us in a powerful way that in this sacrament—the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality—we are not responsible for our salvation. God is. Let me repeat that to you. We are not responsible for our salvation. God is. God is responsible for our salvation because only God has the power to break the power of Evil and Sin that has enslaved us. Only God’s light has the power to overcome our darkness. Only God has the power to give life and conquer death, and baptism is God’s ordained way of uniting us with our Lord Jesus, God’s only Son and Messiah, who broke the power of Evil and Sin over us and freed us from God’s just condemnation by bearing our punishment in his own body. St. Paul puts it this way:

[H]ave you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6.3-6, NLT).

Let the Good News that St. Paul proclaims here, the only Good News that has the power to heal your despair, sink in. He is telling us that we are joined to Christ who bore our punishment in his body so that one day we can anticipate sharing a new bodily existence like Jesus enjoys. We no longer need to fear God’s condemnation nor death because God the Father has taken care of it through God the Son. When we read about God telling Jesus he is God’s beloved, our baptism reminds us that God is speaking those same words to us as well. We too are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Not because of who we are or what we’ve done or not done, but because of who Christ is. And in and through the mystery of our baptism, we are united to our Lord Jesus Christ so that we are assured we will share in every good thing that Christ enjoys. No wonder Martin Luther, who was prone to fits of depression and despondency, would cry out in the midst of his darkness, I am baptized! I am baptized! The next time you are feeling hopeless about your relationship with God, perhaps you should do likewise until your darkness subsides. It’s likely you too are under demonic attack. And if you really do not believe the words God directed to Jesus at his baptism, then you frankly do not know the love and heart of God the Father made known supremely through the cross of God the Son and made available to you in the power and person of God the Holy Spirit. Don’t ignore that last bit about the Spirit. It’s critical to your daily living.

Why? In addition to having our baptism remind us that our future is secure in Christ, our Lord’s baptism also reminds us we have real power to live our mortal life in ways that are pleasing to God. And this is critically important because the Christian faith demands that we live in faithful obedience to our Lord Jesus. We have the power to do so as St. Paul just told us, despite being thoroughly broken people. We no longer have to live in slavery to Sin because like Jesus, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us put to death our sinful nature. This doesn’t mean we will live sinless lives. Hardly. As St. Paul reminds us, no one is finished with sin until we die (Romans 6.7). But here again, we see God’s power at work in our lives to help us overcome our slavery to Sin. So even though we are thoroughly infected by Sin, it does not have to conquer us. This is where many of us get tripped up because we fail to believe in the promise of God to give us his Holy Spirit to help us be real human beings who live in peace and God’s light. Our future is secure because we belong to Jesus and we have the power to overcome our darkness by the light of God’s Spirit. As the NT makes clear, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit and the Spirit equips each of us with gifts. That’s one of the points Luke wants us to see in our strange little NT lesson from Acts. We are given power to live and gifts that God will use to bring his light to bear here on earth. Are we up for the task? Of course not! We are all losers and ragamuffins! But again, it’s not about us. It is about the power of God working in and through us to accomplish what God wills, despite our warts and flaws.

So what do Spirit-filled people look like? As St. Paul tells the Colossians, you will see Spirit-filled people loving each other, forgiving each other, putting up with our mutual shortcomings and not thinking too highly of ourselves. We will see folks serving each other, praying for each other, and supporting each other. We will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5.22). Spirit-filled folks avoid being involved in sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, and envy, mainly because by the Spirit’s help and power we are putting to death the pride and other darkness in us, however slowly and imperfectly. We won’t be successful all the time, of course. But we will be more often than not. And when we fail, we confess our sins to Almighty God knowing that God forgives us, which makes us quick to be merciful to others when they offend or hurt us. This knowledge of God’s love for us made known supremely in Jesus Christ, along with our faith in God’s power to help us live in his light and not the darkness, is enough to not only sustain us through the living of our days, but also to produce in us joy, even when we walk through life’s darkest valleys. I believe this is true even for those poor souls who have been robbed of their minds and/or the ability to make willful, conscious decisions. I believe this is true because I know the love of God made known to us in and through his Son. This is why remembering our baptism is important, my beloved. It is an outward and tangible sign that we are God’s by virtue of our union with God’s Son, imperfect as our lives are. It is the basis for us to live together as members of Christ’s body, the Church. It is the Good News that brings us hope and joy, 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.

St. John Chrysostom: Possibly the First Christmas Sermon Ever Preached

Whether the first sermon preached, it is the first extant Christmas sermon we have. Preached in Antioch in 386 AD, the year St. Augustine of Hippo converted to Christianity, and recited to St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH on Christmas 1B, Sunday, December 31, 2017. Enjoy.

To listen to the audio podcast of the reading of Chrysostom’s sermon, click here.

Notice the theological richness and depth of this sermon. It is clear that the early Church had done a tremendous amount of theological reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation and the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

From the The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He who is, is Born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that [humans] cannot see. For since [humans] believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of [humans]. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with [humans] without fear, and [humans] now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.


Christmas Eve Sermon: Christmas: News that Brings Great Joy

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.2-7; Canticle (from Isaiah 11); Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20.

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

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s promised Messiah. As St. Luke tells us, at Jesus’ birth the angelic armies of heaven proclaimed to the shepherds, “Good news that will bring great joy to all people.” But what kind of news can bring us great joy, you ask? I am glad you asked because this is exactly what I want us to look at this evening!

The good news that will bring us great joy is of course the news that God himself has returned to his people and his world to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death and restore us and all creation to its original goodness. In fulfillment of the prophecy we read tonight in our OT lesson, God became human in the man Jesus to rescue us from God’s coming and terrible judgment on our sins and the dark powers behind them that have enslaved and utterly corrupted us and God’s good world.

But many of us have a problem believing the Good News of Jesus Christ that God’s messengers announced because we are people who live in a great darkness, both our own and the world’s. Many of us are dealing with serious health issues that threaten to change our lives or the lives of our loved ones forever. Some of us deal with crushing loneliness and isolation or broken relationships. Others of us struggle with depression or have loved ones who struggle with it to the point where its accompanying darkness threatens to destroy those it afflicts. We read on a regular basis about mass murders, terrible accidents, all kinds of scams, lies, cruelty, and betrayal. We see people starving or homeless or crushed by poverty, all of which leave us angry, overwhelmed, and disaffected because we try futilely to manage the unmanageable. We are increasingly becoming a people without roots or purpose because we as a nation are losing our spiritual grounding. So when we read stories like our gospel lesson tonight with its angelic announcement of Good News, we struggle to believe it. In our human pride and arrogance we declare the announcement of God’s Good News is either false or ineffectual because God is not operating according to our own expectations, needs, and/or standards. Everybody knows that if God were really going to do something about the darkness that enslaves us, God would come in great power and glory, with all the heavenly guns blazing, to rout the enemy and stop all the evil in this world and our lives. Incredibly the creature pronounces judgment on the Creator.

And then there is the darkness of our own sin and alienation from God that causes us to remain hostile to God and rebel against him, even as it makes us increasingly fearful. Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick and those in prison? Who’s got time for that stuff? We’re too busy making money so we can have a secure future, or dealing with a difficult boss or spouse, or trying to gain the kind of power and status we know we deserve but that has eluded us all these years. How can we look out for others when we are so busy looking out for ourselves? And forgive our enemies or those who criticize us or who hold different political and social views than us? Are you kidding me? Those idiots clearly don’t recognize real talent when they see it. Otherwise they’d be seeing things the right way; you know, the way we do!

And if we care at all about our relationship with God, both now and through all eternity—and it’s safe to say that most of you here tonight probably do care about this, otherwise you wouldn’t be here—the knowledge of our own sin and the alienation it causes between God and us can be the darkest darkness of all. As we have seen during Advent, God’s terrible and holy wrath will fall on all of humankind because none of us is without sin and therefore none of us can escape God’s just judgment on us. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10.31). Who among us can hope to stand before God’s judgment seat and have the verdict turn out well for us? It is a very sobering thing to ponder, if we allow ourselves to ponder it all. And so we try frantically to compensate for our sins by following all kinds of rules in hope that it will balance the scales of justice in our favor. It won’t. We are too hopelessly enslaved by the outside and hostile power of Sin. As St. Paul reminds us, everyone has sinned and we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3.23).

Ah Father Maney! I hear some of you muttering under your breath. What an uplifting and inspiring Christmas Eve sermon! Could you perhaps book the pre-redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge to preach next year? Even Father Gatwood’s preaching would be better than this. Merry Christmas? Out with Merry Christmas! Patience, grasshoppers. If we don’t have the wisdom, courage, and humility to think soberly and realistically about our human condition and God’s resulting good and just judgment upon us, we will never have ears to hear and minds to believe the Good News the angels announced at Jesus’ birth. Instead, in our enslavement to the powers of Sin and Evil, we will delude ourselves into thinking that sin really doesn’t matter, or if it does, God won’t do anything about it. So we have to think seriously and truthfully about the bad news of our human condition and the darkness of living in a sin-sick world to prepare us to hear the Good News of God’s rescue plan for us in Jesus.

The Good News the angels announced in the skies over Bethlehem is that Evil, Sin, and Death aren’t the final word, despite appearances to the contrary. Despite our sin-sickness and inherent rebellion against our Creator, despite the Evil that has corrupted God’s good world so that darkness envelops it and us, God intends to rescue and heal us, and reestablish his goodness and justice in his world and our lives. And God has chosen to do this, not by an initial show of force, but by becoming human to die for us so that our enslavement to Sin could be broken and the power of Death destroyed forever. When the darkness of our lives threatens to consume us, we need to look no further than the manger in Bethlehem, just as the shepherds were instructed to do to find the Christ child, to be reminded that God’s rescue operation is underway. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, at just the right time, even while we were still God’s enemies, while we were utterly helpless to live as God’s true image-bearers who love justice and goodness and who do the right things all the time so that God’s glory and goodness are reflected out into God’s creation, Christ came to die for us to break the power of Sin over us and to condemn our sin in the flesh so that we would not have to bear God’s terrible wrath against it (Romans 5.6-11, 8.1-4). From Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection, the Good News that brings great joy to us is that out of God’s great love for us, God has chosen to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to free us from our slavery to Sin with its inevitable death sentence pronounced upon us, death being eternal separation from God, our one and only Source of life. In effect we were condemned into redemption at our baptism, i.e., we were baptized into a godforsaken death like Jesus’ (our condemnation) so we could share in a resurrection like his (our redemption) (Romans 6.3-5). Sin has deadly consequences and God must act against it. How could a loving God do otherwise? What loving parent would stand idly by and let their children engage in activities they knew would destroy them forever if they didn’t intervene? How can God claim to love us and yet not act to bring justice to his world? It makes no sense.

As Christians, we will have to stand before the judgment throne of Christ along with the rest of humankind to answer for our sins. As both the OT and NT make clear, God’s judgment begins with God’s own people. We must face the fearsome prospect of experiencing God’s wrath against our sins that have helped corrupt God’s good world and dehumanize us. But the Good News that must bring us great joy if we really believe it is that when we hear the verdict pronounced on us it will be “not guilty” because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. As St. Paul puts it, because of the cross, there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ (Romans 8.1). We won’t hear this not guilty verdict because we are somehow better or more deserving than others. We most certainly are not. We are sinners like all humans. We will hear the not guilty verdict because God has acted on our behalf to save us from his just condemnation of our sin. For those who belong Christ, the cross is the tangible symbol of what God’s justice looks like and we no longer have to fear it as others do.

And because we believe God raised Jesus from the dead, we believe that we too will share in that glorious future we read about tonight in our canticle, a future where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, i.e., a world in which God’s peace and good order will reign, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. How do the waters cover the sea we ask? The waters are the sea and this means that in God’s new world we will be living in God’s direct presence so that we can enjoy real life, real health, and real peace for all eternity. This is God’s free gift to us, my beloved. None of us can earn it and none of us deserve it. But God offers it to us anyway because God loves us and is faithful to his created order and image-bearing human creatures.

God’s new heavens and earth will be ushered in fully one day as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson tonight. Then the world will see and know that God’s merciful justice and judgment are true and that God takes Evil and Sin very seriously. This is the other side of God’s mercy offered to us in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness without justice is a sham. Evil must be dealt with and God’s judgment will be as much about restoring all things to their good and original order as it is about punishment for Sin and Evil. As Isaiah put it to his fearful people, “Don’t be afraid. Your God is coming in judgment and wrath to save you by destroying your enemies” (Isaiah 35.4). When we hear of bad news, we know in our bones that something needs to be done to right all the wrongs of this world. Human justice can go only so far. Our own Tom lost his wife, Sarah, to cancer at too young an age. Where’s the justice in that? The murderer may get life in prison but his victims are still dead and their families still grieve. Where’s the justice in that? How can God forgive drug dealers who push their poison and destroy lives? How can God refuse to take action against those who callously disregard the weakest and most vulnerable in our world? Where is justice for them? To be sure, even the most evil of evildoers can find the mercy and forgiveness of God offered in and through the death of God’s Son. But justice still must be done and this is what God did for us through Jesus on the cross. If we understand this, at least as best we can this side of the grave, we will understand why Jesus uttered that terrible cry of dereliction on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In that cry we get a glimpse of God’s own beloved Son bearing God’s terrible and just judgment and wrath on our sins to spare us from it. God did this out of God’s great love and mercy for us to let us know how terrible and costly our sins really are, both to us and to God. If we really understand and believe this about the death of Christ, how can we not have great joy?

To be sure, there is much we do not understand because God’s justice has not yet been fully implemented. Christ has not yet returned to consummate his initial victory over Sin, Evil, and Death won on the cross. So until that day comes, we must live by faith. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, of things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). Hope as the NT uses it means to have a sure and certain expectation that something promised will happen based on what God has already done for us in the past. And what has God done for us in the past? God raised Jesus from the dead and promises to do likewise for us when Christ returns because we put our hope and trust in him and live accordingly by the power of the Spirit. And when God raises us from the dead, the last enemy, death, will be destroyed forever and real justice will be achieved, thanks be to God! This is the essence of faith. It involves hope and a humble trust in God and God alone for our salvation, and it must change the way we live. We live for God, not for us. And because we believe we have been reconciled to God in and through the death of Christ, when we fail to live faithfully as we all inevitably do, we can return to God again and again, asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness with confidence that it will be granted to us.

This is the Good News the angels announced on that first Christmas. It began with our Savior’s birth and it is God’s gift to us, the best gift of all, better than anything we can wrap and put under a tree. This is why we are to rejoice and sing tonight and every day of our lives, especially during the darkest times. This is why we cannot and dare not reduce Christmas to airy sentimentality. Christmas announces that God has entered the trenches of human history to fight our battles for us because only God has the power to conquer Sin and Evil. Christmas also announces our Easter hope, our resurrection hope that is grounded in the loving justice and mercy of our God made known to us supremely in the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. May this hope and knowledge sustain you in the power of the Spirit all the days of your life. It is the Good News that brings us great joy, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Merry Christmas, my beloved!

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: Don’t Quench the Spirit

Sermon delivered on Advent 3B, Sunday, December 17, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

We’ve tried and tried, but Father Bowser just cannot get the hang of writing so there is no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to its audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28.

Fr. Philip Sang: Prepare the Way for the Lord: Make Straight His Paths

Sermon delivered on Advent 2B, Sunday, December 10, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark 1.1-8.

Prepare the way of the Lord make straight His paths in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. We note that the readings and liturgies not only directs us towards christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement.

Last week Fr. Kevin reminded us that the four last things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell- have been traditional themes for Advent meditation.

Advent means “coming.” I don’t need to tell good Anglicans that. This is a season of waiting, of expectation, for Christ’s coming on Christmas Day. So with the whole church, we wait: lighting candles, singing coming of the Lord songs, counting down each Sunday until, with Christmas joy, we celebrate God’s incarnation. Waiting, faithfully, for Christ’s coming at Christmas.

But there’s another side to Christ’s coming, one that, generally speaking, us mainline Christians get a bit nervous to discuss. This reason gives some of us hope to get out of bed each morning, and for others, it’s the farthest thing from our minds, a scary and strange idea that we just rather not consider.

Advent means “coming” in another way: Christ’s “second coming.” Christ’s return. Today’s lection is all about Christ’s coming again, Peter calls it “The day of the Lord” , but that day isn’t December 25th at all. It’s that other day, the timing of it is rather fuzzy, after all “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” but it’s that day, that second-coming-day, about which Peter is concerned.

I’ve heard a story told about one New Testament scholar who every day would wake up, stretch, and walk to the window of his bedroom and open the blinds. Then he’d pray the same prayer every morning. Short, succinct, longing. Every morning he’d pray: “Is it today Lord? Is it today?”

These are not new questions, they are the questions Peter’s community were struggling with when he wrote 2 Peter. It was then several generations after Jesus’ death, and the people were met with the hard truth: Jesus had not yet returned.

Their opponents said the delay was proof that he would not come. The doubters cemented their stances against the Christ-followers. And, like you and I might be, Peter’s community was worried. They found themselves asking, “Is he ever going to get here?”

Waiting is hard. Anyone who has checked the mail anxiously expecting an admissions letter or very important mail knows that waiting is hard. Anyone who has kept vigil beside a hospital bed, crying and worried, holding a loved-one’s hand knows that waiting is hard.

Peter gets it too, waiting is hard. Perhaps he was persecuted for his beliefs like other Christians of his day. Perhaps he had struggles along the way, but he knows his Bible and echoes Amos and Joel and Isaiah: “The day of the Lord will come.”

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness” Peter writes, “but is patient with you, not wanting any one of you to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Peter writes But the day of the Lord will come, like a thief in the night . And then he says the heavens will pass away with a bang, and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and all that is done on the earth will be disclosed. One translation puts it: “Then the earth and everything on it will be seen for what they are.”

Advent is a time of grace to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the season. We heard the beginning of today’s Gospel reminding us of the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled in John the Baptist, Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ (Mark 1:2-3) The season of Advent therefore being the time of waiting and anticipating Christ’s coming is like John the Baptist now, crying out to us to prepare. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ (Mark 1:3) The Church longs for the Second Coming of Jesus because it will be Christ’s victory over all evil and Christ’s triumph in the world.

In the Eucharistic Acclamations we profess our faith in Jesus’ Second Coming: Great is the mystery of faith:

Christ has died Christ is risen Christ will come again

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

In the Creed which we profess every Sunday too we also proclaim: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

Advent every year encourages us to reflect on the Second Coming of Jesus and to long for it because then Christ will triumph and all evil will be destroyed and God’s plans will finally be accomplished. As I said earlier like the church of Peter’s day we have been waiting two thousand years for Jesus’ Second Coming but Peter reminds us that for God that is only like a day because time for us is very different to time in eternity, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet 3:8) This time of waiting for Jesus to come again, this Advent of two thousand years already, is a time of grace for us so that we can prepare our hearts and do what we can to bring about God’s kingdom. As I pointed earlier Peter reminds us that this extended time, this long Advent, before Jesus comes again has been given to us because God is patient, “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) If this is the case what is to be our attitude as we wait? The gospel says prepare the way. Peter advices us to be “conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet 3:11-12) And the reading concluded, Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive, in other words be eager, to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish (2 Pet 3:14)

My Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this Advent let us prepare our hearts for Christ by turning away from sin and evil and giving ourselves completely to God so that when Christ comes, or when we are called from this life, we are ready and prepared.

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ (Mark 1:3)

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