Fr. Philip Sang: The Four Last Things: Judgment

Sermon delivered on Advent 2C, Sunday, December 9, 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: Malachi 3.1-4; Luke 1.68-79; Philippians 1.3-11; Luke 3.1-6.

In ancient times, when a king was going to visit a city, he would send before him someone to herald his coming, someone to announce that he would be arriving soon. The herald would go around the city, and go before the leaders of the city, telling them all, “The king is coming. He will be here any day. So clean up your lives. Make sure you are all in obedience to the kings commands so that you will not be punished when he arrives.”

This herald also served as a city inspector. He would go around the city and make a list of things that needed to be fixed. He would tell them, “Clean up your city. Sweep your streets. Get rid of all the garbage lying around. Round up any criminals to make the city safe. Fix the roads; make them smooth and straight. Make sure the town is gleaming. Make sure the city is fit for a king to ride through.” It was an embarrassment for that city, and the people of the city, if they were not prepared when the king did arrive. It was also an insult to the king if they had not prepared properly for his arrival. If he came, and they were not prepared, he might pronounce some judgment and punishment upon the city and its rulers.

This is what we are seeing going on in today’s reading. The King is coming, and He has sent a herald to announce His imminent arrival. The king, of course, is Jesus Christ and the herald “the one who will pronounce His coming” is John the Baptist. John has come as a herald to make sure that the king’s subjects are well prepared for the king’s coming. John has come to prepare the way.

As Father Kevin mentioned last week the name of this season comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Advent, then, is not simply the lead up to Christmas, but rather it is a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. This advent of Christ takes a threefold form which includes his coming in the flesh as a baby born of the womb of Mary, but also his coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his coming to us today in the midst of our daily lives. Last week we were reminded of the focus of our preaching this advent here at St, Augustine’s; Death, Judgement, heaven and Hell. Last sunday we looked at Death and this second Sunday of Advent I want to bring to our attention Christ’s coming in glory at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead.

We often think of judgment, the final judgment as this terrifying, harsh, dark thing, we see it uncomfortable, and it is scary.

But the judgment is supposed to be good news.

Because when we’re faced with the injustice, wars, corruption, sinfulness, killings, when we see these tragedies that we don’t even have words for in the news again and again, and the raw heartache and pain and the pure evil that is in our world, the only thing I know to say is that Jesus sees it too, and he’s coming back; he’s going to clean house. He’s coming to judge that evil, and he’s going to bring healing. He’s the only one who could bring healing, and he’s coming. Sometimes, when we see just unspeakable horrors being perpetrated, the good news we need, the only hope we have, is the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ. Because he can make things right.

Judgment is supposed to be good news. As N.T. Wright likes to point out, that’s why we see things like Psalm 96:11-13:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD.

Why? Why this jubilee? For he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

The whole earth, all of creation, is dancing for joy because the Lord is coming to judge the world, with righteousness, with truth. And don’t we need some righteousness and truth in this world? Well, they’re on their way. The Lord is coming to set things right. Judgment is what gives us hope, even in the face of the darkest evil, because the light is gonna shine in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

When we think about judgment this does not sound like Christmas, right? That’s true, but we are not here for Christmas, we are here for Advent. Because Advent is a season when we’re expecting Jesus, watching for his coming—not just in Bethlehem, but also to his coming back to this world to judge what is evil, heal what is broken, and make things right again.

And in a world of brokenness, a world of evil, we need that promise and hope of judgment.

As we look to the hope of judgement we need to understand that each person will have to account for his conduct, and the deepest secrets of his soul will come to light. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God’s grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how well we have loved our Lord. “As often as you did it for one of My least brothers, you did it for Me” (Mt 25:41).

Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Death is not the end of our existence. That is what is so awesome about it. We are not mere material beings that simply go out of consciousness and decompose in the ground. This word from God stands over against the common evolutionary idea expressed, When the writer of Hebrew 9:27 says, “After death comes judgment,” that is exactly what it means. God does give damnation after death. And it is the most terrifying prospect in the universe, that we might be met after death with a holy and angry and omnipotent God holding us accountable for whether we trusted him and worshipped him and followed his ways in this life. That is a fearful prospect.

So when when the bible says that we have an appointment with death and after death with judgment, it means that it will be terrifying and a furious fire and a great act of divine vengeance even on those who claim to be part of God’s people, but are only external Christians.These are sobering realities. May God use them to wake us up and make us alive to what really matters in this world!

Advent – we reflect on Coming Death, coming Judgment, coming Heaven, and coming Hell. Remember, It is appointed for men once to die and after this the judgment. Death is appointed, and no one is exception. You only die once, and death is not the end; Judgment is our destiny’s door.

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

The Four Last Things: Death

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday, Year C, December 2, 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: Jeremiah 33.14-16; Psalm 25.1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36.

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

Happy new year, St. Augustine’s! Today is Advent Sunday. We begin a new calendar year, a new lectionary cycle, and have lighted the first purple candle on our wreath that represents the patriarchs. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus (parousia in Greek), and means coming or arrival. Advent begins in the dark. It is a time for us as Christians to take stock of the darkness of a sin-sick and evil-infested world as well as the darkness of our own lives as we await God’s final defeat of the powers of Sin and Evil that sorely afflict us. Advent is a time for us to ask hard questions such as where is God in the middle of the darkness that afflicts us or why isn’t God acting to end the suffering and injustice and evil that exists in his world? But we must always ask these questions in light of our Christian hope that insists God actually is in the midst of our darkness and suffering and will come again to finally make all things right. Advent is therefore a season of expectation and preparation in which the Church focuses primarily on Christ’s Second Coming or his final advent as judge at the end of history to judge all that is wrong with the world and us. Advent is not part of the Christmas season but rather a preparation for it. Without Advent and its invitation for us to peer into the darkness, the meaning of Christmas is diminished to the vanishing point, disappearing in the lights and other trappings of Christmas as secular society celebrates it, all designed to provide sentimental and festive good cheer, the kind that is false and will ultimately fail us because it is based on unreality.

Now in any parish that observes Advent, St. Augie’s being no exception, you will find two groups of people. One group, seeing the purple hangings and hearing the readings about sin, judgment, and the wrath of God, will perk up and say, Ah! Good. It’s Advent. It’s good for us to get real! The other group will look around and ask where the Christmas decorations are and grumble that we are not singing Christmas carols the way everybody else is. This second group, admittedly much larger than the first, tends to look at the first group as being touched in the head, and in a significant way. Why look into the darkness when you can have such pretty music and lights? But this misses the meaning and purpose of both Christmas and Advent with the latter’s call for us as Christians to live faithfully and with hope in the darkness of a sin-marred world, trusting in the only One who has the power to make all things new and right. In reality, of course, most of us are members of both groups. I confess that outside of church I am a Christmas junkie as secular society likes to play it. Our house, thanks to the Herculean efforts of my wife, is bursting with the gaiety of Christmas and my collection of Santa Clauses. But inside these walls, I am chastened to remember that all that glitters isn’t gold, that I need to focus on the hope and power of God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom God has promised to end our suffering and darkness forever. This focus on the end times makes Advent an appropriate time for us to reflect on the Four Last Things—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. While none of us really want to talk about these things (myself included), talk about them we must because they remind us of the reality of our standing before God without his merciful and gracious intervention on our behalf, and no amount of denial or discomfort on our part is going to change that fact. Better for us to think clearly and soberly about the human condition and our relationship with Almighty God than to whistle through the graveyard hoping everything will turn out all right in the end. So today we begin our preaching series on the Four Last Things by looking at Death.

Death is the greatest of humankind’s enemies, a relentless Grim Reaper that shows no respect for age or wealth. It robs parents of a precious child, leaving them to mourn their loss for the rest of their lives. I have been ministering to a woman afflicted in this way and it is heartbreaking to watch. It deprives wives and children of their breadwinner and protector, leaving them vulnerable in a hostile world. It takes away an aging spouse, leaving a senior citizen without a lifelong companion and closest friend when he/she needs that companionship and friendship the most. Sometimes it arrives suddenly and unannounced like it did with the recent wildfires in California. At other times it approaches slowly like it does with many diseases, stalking or taunting its helpless victim. Sometimes it hauls away its victims en masse like it does in the spate of mass shootings we’ve had to endure with disturbingly increasing frequency. On other occasions it targets individuals. It uses a variety of methods and weapons, but only rarely does it capture its prey without inflicting pain and terror. Power, beauty, and wealth can usually overcome any obstacle, but in death they meet their match. As the eighteenth-century poet Thomas Gray wrote, “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike the inevitable hour; The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Scripture personifies death as being a hungry and crafty enemy (Isaiah 5.14; Habakkuk 2.5a) that uses snares to trap victims (Psalm 18.4–5) and sneaks through windows to grab children (Jeremiah 9.21). In Ecclesiastes the old Preacher declares that death renders everything in life meaningless. St. Paul called death the last enemy to be defeated whose fatal sting is caused by sin (1 Corinthians 15.28, 55–56; cf. Hosea 13.14), an inescapable (Ps 89.48; Ecclesiastes 8.8), terrifying (Hebrews 2:15) and relentless (Song 8.6) foe with which no one can strike a lasting bargain (Is 28:15,18). Ironically, death finds its origin in God, the giver of life, who decreed that death would be the ultimate penalty for disobedience to his revealed command (Genesis 2.17, 3.19; Psalm 90.3–11). When the first couple ate the forbidden fruit and rebelled against God, death accompanied sin into the world and has reigned over humankind ever since (Rom 5.12–21, 6.23; James 1.15).

Clearly then, death is a terrifying part of God’s judgment on our sin and all forms of evil that corrupt us and God’s good creation, and this makes us very afraid. We hear it in this morning’s psalm with the psalmist’s desperate cry to God to forgive and rescue him. This is a classic Advent theme because it is a prayer of waiting that contains a mixture of desperation and hope. The psalmist doesn’t tell us what his sins and transgressions are that he fears his enemies will discover. Like us, he keeps his sins secret. But they aren’t hidden from God and the psalmist knows it. And so he pleads for God to act on his behalf in mercy and grace. If we understand this dynamic, we are close to understanding the meaning of Advent.

Likewise, our fears about death are heightened when we read Jesus’ warnings about the trials and tribulations that would one day beset Jerusalem because of its rejection of him as God’s true Messiah. We are afraid of trials and tribulations, in part, because in the context of our gospel lesson, Jesus clearly saw them as being part of God’s judgment on our sin, and we know we are not immune to that judgment. As we contemplate this, we know that death with its power to sweep us and our loved ones away is part of that judgment. An honest admission of our standing before God without his gracious intervention on our behalf is also part of observing a true Advent because we know we are powerless to prevent our own death. We can exercise like crazy, eat right, and take great care of ourselves, but we will still die, and no amount of facelifts, tummy tucks, boob-jobs, vitamin regimens, miracle drugs or anything else, including the Christmas cheer we attempt to create to distract us from this grim reality, is going to change that fact.

But we are Christians and so we have real hope, the sure and certain expectation that God has acted and will finally act to rescue us from his fierce judgment on our sins and the death that results. We see it in our gospel lesson where our Lord tells us not to cower in fear when we hear or experience great trials and tribulations, but rather to stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is near. Why is our redemption near? Is it because we find special favor in God’s sight or are exempt from God’s judgment and death because we are somehow deserving of God’s favor? Of course not. We are sinners like everyone else. What is different is that we have seen the power of God at work in the death and resurrection of Jesus and we believe it is the only power under heaven that has the power to rescue us from God’s wrath on our sins. We see this promise echoed in our OT lesson with God’s promise to send his people a Messiah to rescue them from the exile their sins have caused and to rescue us from our exile to death that our sins have caused. And so God in his great mercy and love promises to set all things right and rescue us in the process so that we do not suffer ultimate destruction. God did this, of course, by sending his Son to die for us and absorb God’s terrible wrath that was reserved for us, thus freeing us from having to suffer it and removing any reason for us to fear God’s wrath and death anymore. We don’t fear death because we know its power over us has been broken forever in our Lord’s resurrection that gives us a glimpse of what awaits us. 

And what awaits us as Christians? Resurrection and new creation. Because we have been freed from Sin’s tyranny by the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because we know the power of death has been broken by Christ’s resurrection, we no longer need to be afraid. Of course, God’s victory over the power of Sin and its partner death has not yet been fully realized. We must wait for the Master’s return for that to happen (Mark 13.35). But Advent proclaims the Master will return and God’s initial victory will be fully consummated so that we can live in this life as people with real joy and hope that is not contingent on the circumstances of this world. It is contingent on the love and power of God. When that day comes, our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and reanimated by the power of the Spirit, not by flesh and blood. God the Son will judge all things on behalf of God the Father and bring into existence a new world, the new heavens and earth, that will be suitable for our new bodies to live in forever, and where there will be no more sighing, sorrow, sickness, death, tears, alienation, loneliness, or disease. Ever. To be sure, this is a future promise and expectation, and that can drive us crazy in a world that demands instant gratification. But think of a future without this hope, where death and eternal destruction is your destiny. See how that works out for you and as you live out your mortal days. 

So what are we to do in the interim? Does our future hope and promise mean that we have to wait to have a real relationship with God? Of course not. Eternal life starts right now because God hasn’t given up on us or his creation. It involves living our lives together in righteousness and faith based on a real hope that God is good to his word. God gives us his Spirit to live and love each other as a renewed family, the people of God formed around his eternal Son Jesus Christ, who is our only life and hope. This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle lesson today. Loving God and each other, engaging in God’s word and the sacraments, all allow us to peer into the darkness and realize that the night will not last forever, that the forces of evil, including death, have been defeated and will one day be vanquished at the last judgment. This is what Advent is about. It means living with a lively and real faith in Christ, realizing that God could have chucked us and his entire creation and started over but didn’t because God loves us and wants us to live, not die. Let that knowledge heal and transform you as you peer into the darkness this Advent. Let it heal you because you know that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That’s the hope and anticipation of Advent, my beloved, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 25, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; John 18.33-37.

An internet meme that was circulating several weeks during the presidential election, a picture of Jesus Christ, the King and it said “no matter who is elected President, Jesus Christ is still the King.”  Never have we needed to hear that message more than we’ve needed it at this present time.

It’s Christ the King Sunday.  This beautiful feast emerged from a period of great persecutions.  It is not an ancient feast.   It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements in the world wide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by the government that the government was due ultimate allegiance. At that time, it was strong sense of symbolic power.  The Russian communists came to power with the Revolution of October 1917 and Italian Fascists in October 1922 with their march on Rome.  The specific instance for the pope to make it a solemn feast was the martyrdom of the Catholic priest, Father Miguel Pro, during the revolution in Mexico whose shout and gesture just before his execution,

 “Viva Cristo Rey!” rang throughout the entire church.  The institution of this feast was almost an act of defiance by the church against the dictators who at the time were seeking to make absolute their own political ideologies, insisting boldly that no earthly power, no particular political power, military dictatorship is ever absolute.  The feast was and is restate that only the kingdom of God is Absolute. And that this kingdom is everyone’s source of power.  The year 1925 was also the sixteenth century of the Council of Nicaea which in the year 325 defined, proposed and added to the Creed the words “of His Kingdom there will be no end.” 

So today our voices come alongside those persecuted for their faith in all times and places, including in Mexico in the early twentieth century and the thousands facing persecution all over the world this very day, and with them we all proclaim in many languages, “Christ is King! Cristo Rey!”

 We read in the scripture that Christ is the King.  It starts with the expression “King of Israel and extended to that of universal King, Lord of the cosmos, and of history.  The testimonies of prophets is abundant.  In Samuel, we learn part of the Old Testament definition, as Jewish Kings were expected to be different from their gentile counterparts.  Initially led by Judges, the Israelites prayed to God to appoint a Jewish King.  Saul was the first, but David demonstrated better than any other monarch of Yahweh’s care and concern for His chosen people.  David was expected to “shepherd” His people, not to lord it over them.  He was expected to be outward sign of Yahweh’s care and love.

The same doctrine of the Kingship of Christ which we find in the O.T is more clearly taught and confirmed in the N.T.   The early followers of Jesus were just as convinced that God’s care and love for them was demonstrated through Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death and resurrection.  The historical Jesus is the outward sign of God’s kingdom of love and Truth.

Standing before  Pilate in the Pretorium, the very heart of political power, Jesus bears witness to the Truth that real power is not the ability to coerce others, but the strength to love; that true control is about the self-sacrifice; that the real life is found only through death itself.  In doing so Jesus turns our human values upside down and proclaims a new and radical form of kingship. In this encounter with Pilate, Jesus Christ offers an example for all, who like Christ, are called to bear witness to the Truth through their lives.  Throughout in the Gospel of Luke’s passion narrative, no matter how much pain Jesus is suffering, he is always concerned for others.

The cross is the paradoxical sign of His Kingship, which consists in following the loving will of God the Father in response to the disobedience of sin.  It is very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of his life that Jesus becomes King of the universe.  After the Resurrection he declares to his apostles:  “all authority in heaven and on earth has given to me.” Matthew 28:18

Regardless of who is in Washing or who rules in the capitals of the world, Jesus Christ is the only one true King of the universe.  Because “Jesus Christ same yesterday, today and forever Hebrews 13:8. The Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all things belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever.” Amen.

In what does the power of Jesus Christ the King consist?

It is not the power of great people of this world.  It is the power of Love that can save the human race from evil, sin and death.    Jesus showed us his greatest humility and love. Jesus alone could justify the glory of God.  Because he is anointed one, the messiah, the true king.

Personally, I don’t like the earthly kings who made his people slaves, who were power minded and wealth minded, who ruled the people unjustly and showed prejudices.  They were the cause of violence and wars. They were the cause of death of millions of innocent people.  Of course even today we see same kind of things going on in the world with the different name tags like dictatorship in North Korea and kings in the Middle East countries; presidents and prime ministers with their discrimination based on regions, color and religions.

I want King Jesus, who loves me, who makes me rich in virtues and blesses me with His grace.  I need Jesus my king who is absolutely Truthful, absolutely Peaceful, absolutely Loving and absolutely Compassionate. I desire the king who can save me from this evil and unjust world.

If we choose the evil king he would poison us and destroy us.  Whom do you want to choose? The earthly kings, who make us slaves or the heavily king Jesus who grants you freedom and eternal life.

Jews wanted king like other nations in the beginning and when the true king Jesus came they rejected him.  They said to Piolet we have no king but Caesar.  The consequences for not accepting Jesus as the only true king will be perishing and can’t enter the kingdom of God.

When Pilate asked Jesus, Are you the King of Jews?  Jesus answered “I came into the world to testify to the truth and everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  I accept whole heartedly that Jesus is my king and my all.  He owns my life and I belong to him and I listen to His voice of love, truth and his teaching of kingdom of God.

“Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6

What does it mean to say that Christ is my King?

It means that I belong to Jesus.  I obey His commandments. I submit totally to His love. I trust in Him. I have faith and hope in Him that he would grant me His eternal life. I am convinced that Jesus is the son of ever Living God, the Messiah, who died for my sins, who utterly spends Himself in love and in Him I subject to the Mercy and love of the God the Father.

Who do I want to follow?

Choosing Christ does not guarantee success according to world’s criteria, but assures the true peace and true joy that Christ the King alone can give us.  Choosing Christ is to make one’s life into sign of the Cross, preach Christ by daily living in His Truth in mind, heart and will.  It demands loving voluntary commitment in doing God’s will. You and I have to take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ to be saved. It is your choice, your freedom to make Christ your king or not.

Let us not be Saturday or Sunday Christians.  Society without Christ is chaos. You and I can’t make any difference being namely baptized Christians. To accept Jesus is to avoid sin.

I would like to use the analogy to help us realize the necessity to make sincere efforts and importance of being practical Christians.

Let us say you want to become good musician as a pianist or guitarist, or violin. What do you do? You practice it day after day and your hands would be paining, sometimes you would feel discouraged.  You have to spend time months and years in practice and you should persuade it till you feel confidence to play well the music instrument.

In the same way to be citizen of Kingdom of God, you and I must accept Jesus as our king and keep the commandment of unselfish love till our last breath.

The church prays to the Father in every Eucharistic celebration that Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done. Matthew 6:10.  She lives in fervent expectation of an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of Truth and the Life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, peace and love.   This expectation of the Lord is our constant source of confidence and strength.

Please say with me “Viva Cristo Rey!” Christ is the King. Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe. Amen.

A Healing Faith

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Advent, November 18, 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 than the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10.11-25; Mark 13.1-8.

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

Today we conclude our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews. It is appropriate that we do so on a Sunday designated as one of our quarterly healing services because the letter’s theme is the basis for our ultimate healing as we live out our mortal days. This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

Our epistle lesson reaches a crescendo of sorts in which the writer comes to the climax of his argument about the sacrifice of Christ. Last week we considered the grim fact that we are all slaves to that outside and hostile power we call Sin, and as long as we are enslaved by its power, we can and should expect nothing but God’s judgment and wrath on us. It is truly a fearsome prospect for anyone who cares at all about his or her relationship with God. But we also saw that because of Christ, God has freed us from our slavery to the power of Sin. Now today, the writer reinforces this truth for us. He tells us that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins was and is so efficacious (having the power to accomplish that which it intends), that our Lord sat down at the right hand of God. What in the world does that mean? It means, as the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross on our behalf was perfect, that when sins are truly forgiven, there is no more need for sacrifices. Because there was nothing further for Christ to do for us to effect our salvation and reconciliation to God, he could sit down or rest because his job was complete. Mission impossible for us, but mission accomplished for God the Father. On the cross, Sin’s power over us has been broken because the powers behind it have been defeated. And because of that, our sins have been forgiven and we enjoy full reconciliation with God. God will remember our sins no more because he has dealt with them, as well as the power behind them, the power of Sin, once and for all by judging our sins in Christ’s body on the cross. As St. Paul tells us, there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ because in him, God condemned our sins in the flesh (not Jesus) so as to spare us from his holy and right wrath on our evildoing (Romans 8.1-5). To be sure, there is an aura of mystery in all this as is fitting when the Almighty acts on our behalf in such a great and powerful way. Were we to understand fully all that happened in Jesus’ death, I suspect it would not be from God at all, but rather of our own making. 

So God the Father has dealt with the vexing problem of Sin and Evil in and through God the Son. We celebrate and proclaim this accomplishment each week when we come to Christ’s holy Table to feed on our Lord’s body and blood. Listen carefully to the words of institution as the bread and wine are consecrated and you will hear once again what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished. When by faith we accept his sacrifice as completely sufficient to deal with our sins, awful as they might be, flawed and broken as we are, several things happen. First, we believe the conditions that prevent us from entering into God’s direct presence, namely the filthy rags that are our sins, have been removed and we have full access to God the Father. We no longer need to fear coming into God’s holy presence because our sins have been dealt with and God remembers them no more. We are made pure, despite who we are, to stand in the Lord’s presence. That starts here and now and will be fully consummated one day in God’s new world where we will live directly in God’s presence forever. This is a massively important promise for us to consider and accept by faith because most of us, most of the time, have something that hangs heavy on our hearts, something we’ve said or done that we wish we hadn’t, something that haunts us and makes us afraid of being found out. How wonderful, then, to know that Christ’s sacrifice has the power, if we accept it by faith and trust—and that’s the key, to accept it by faith and trust—to wash every stain from our conscience so that we can come to God without any shadow falling across our relationship. That’s what the writer is getting at when he talks about our hearts being sprinkled clean from an evil conscience by the blood of the Lamb.

But we want to protest. That’s too good to be true! No one deserves a gift like that! Where’s the justice? Surely I must make amends somehow as part of the bargain. If you think along these lines, STOP IT!! Stop it now!! That is from the devil and your own pride. To think this way means you think you can somehow effect your own salvation. Wrong. It also means you are calling the Word of God a lie and do not believe in the love of God poured out for you on the cross so that you could be his and not Sin’s, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go there. No, the writer is crystal clear about this issue. The blood of Christ shed for us is sufficient to reconcile us to God and make us fit to live in God’s presence, just like our first ancestors did before the Fall. If you are interested at all in ending your anxieties that have their root in being separated from God because of your sins and the related mental, spiritual, and bodily illnesses that flow from those anxieties, start right here with this promise and believe it, my beloved. As the writer tells us, call on the Lord and he will bless you with his Spirit and confirm to you the truth of this astonishing claim, thanks be to God. Amen? This confession of hope about Christ’s sacrifice being sufficient to deal with all your sins and free you from Sin’s power will get you through the darkest hours of your life because it addresses the heart of all our problems and the evil in this world, and it is based on the promises of God who is completely trustworthy and faithful to his promises.

Second, and related to our first point, when we put our whole hope and trust in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice for us to free us from our sins and reconcile us to God, it must change us, and for the better. Our writer tells us that we are to encourage each other, to love each other, and to do good deeds. Christ’s sacrifice is not a license for us to continue living in the darkness. If you think that Jesus died so that you can sin freely, think again and consider the following verses that follow our epistle lesson this morning. “Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth [about Jesus’ sacrifice for sin] there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire [of God’s judgment] that will consume his enemies” (Hebrews 10.26-27). Jesus did not suffer and die for us so that we could continue living in the darkness and thus face God’s ultimate condemnation and wrath. What kind of loving God would want that? And who in their right mind would want to return to being a slave of Sin after having tasted real freedom? No, Christ’s death frees us to live for him and his perfect and holy goodness, and we are promised Christ’s help to live this way in the power and person of his Spirit and each other. Being a Christian is not about trying to tough it out on our own. If we attempt that, we are doomed to failure and lose all motivation to live a good life for God. That’s why there’s no such thing as an isolate Christian. It’s an oxymoron. That’s also why we must continue to meet together so that we can encourage each other and be encouraged. When the Spirit is around, we sense it immediately because there is health, goodness, and vitality in the air, and it’s patently obvious he is with us when we gather as St. Augustine’s. I sense it and have had countless visitors tell me that. This in itself should encourage and provoke us to do good and to love each other. It also serves to remind us that the Word of God is true as we see its promises fulfilled in our life together.

And we’re going to need to draw on all this truth and encouragement because as all our lessons attest, we live in evil times and our faith is tested regularly. We hear about the awful wildfires in California. We read about mass murders on a regular basis. We are dismayed at all the bitterness and rancor in our society. We suffer hurts and setbacks and illnesses of all kinds. We lose loved ones to death, sometimes in unjust and untimely ways. We see a drift away from traditional Judeo-Christian values in our culture and it makes us angry and afraid. These things (and more) make us wonder if God has abandoned us. But all our lessons insist that God has NOT abandoned us. In our OT lesson the prophet warns of perilous times to come during which there will be great anguish as God’s people are persecuted and killed. But then he promises God’s deliverance. In our gospel lesson, Jesus warns of awful times ahead for God’s people, but implies deliverance when he talks about the beginning of birth pangs, presumably the beginning of God’s new creation. The psalmist speaks of the futility of worshiping any other god than the living God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. And our epistle lesson speaks of Jesus sitting down at God’s right hand, NT parlance for ruling, until his enemies are defeated. All these writings, and dozens more, testify and remind us that the evil we experience in our lives is under God and his Christ’s authority and are part of God’s inscrutable plan of redemption. They call us not to understand why, but to believe God is working even now to advance Christ’s victory over the dark powers accomplished on the cross and to be consummated at his return. 

So how does this relate to us as God’s people in Christ? We are called to be part of the cosmic battle to defeat Christ’s enemies! But we don’t use the weapons of the world to fight the fight because to do so means we have already capitulated to the darkness. Instead, we are to put on the whole armor of God—peace that comes from our faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us, God’s truth and righteousness, God’s word in Scripture, and prayer (Ephesians 6.1-18). Every time we refuse to repay evil with evil, every time we forgive where forgiveness is undeserved or unwarranted, every time we pray for the welfare and conversion of our enemies’ hearts, every time we refuse to slander or act maliciously or denigrate or gossip or seek revenge, to name just a few, we help put Christ’s enemies under his feet. Again we want to protest. We try doing these things and nothing seems to happen! Patience, humility, and faith my impatient, proud, and skeptical ones. Persevere and rejoice that you are called to battle for your Lord Jesus and to suffer for his Name when necessary because this is how the kingdom comes on earth as in heaven. God can and does use your suffering for his redemptive purposes. You’ve got God’s word that you’ve been rescued from your slavery to Sin and Death and from his terrible wrath on your sins. You believe this promise because you know that God is trustworthy and you know God’s love for you poured out on the cross of Jesus Christ. You have other Christians here to encourage and support you because we all need the human touch. Don’t be a proud and arrogant fool; use this precious resource! You’ve got the testimony of the prophets that God foreknew the evil that plagues his world and you, and he’s done something about it, unexpected and astonishing as it may be. And you’ve got the hope and promise of God’s new world of which you will be part, despite who you are and the sins you have committed, because of God’s great love for you made known supremely in Christ’s sacrifice for your sins. Let all that heal and transform you by believing it so that you too may stand firm in the power of the Lord and proclaim all he has done for you and his broken and hurting world, 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. 

The (Not Always So Obvious) Kingdom of God

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent B, November 11, 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: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44.

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

Today marks the beginning of the brief season of kingdomtide, where we focus on the kingship of our Lord Jesus. This season culminates in the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our church calendar year. Thus we turn to the royal color of red—I do look extra stylish in red, don’t you think?—to help remind us of this royal focus (although green is still acceptable as we are still in so-called ordinary time of the calendar). You’ll also notice the readings begin to shift their focus more to the future with the promise of the Lord making his reappearance to consummate his saving work. Now that you’ve had a brief lesson on the church calendar, we can turn our attention to the matter at hand and focus on the letter to the Hebrews. What are we to make of our epistle lesson’s strange claims about blood sacrifice to remove sin and Christ entering heaven to appear directly before God on our behalf? What can that possibly have to do with us? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

You recall that last week during our celebration of the feast of All-Saints we talked about our sure and certain Christian hope of living in God’s direct presence in the new creation. But here’s the problem with that. As Scripture makes clear, living in God’s presence can be a dangerous proposition. Just ask, for example, Korah and his followers who rebelled against the Lord in the wilderness and were swallowed alive by the earth or consumed by fire (Numbers 16), or Uzzah who was struck dead because he reached out to prevent the Ark of God from falling off its cart as it was being transported to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6.6-8). The reason living with God is a dangerous proposition for humans is because God is holy and we are not. We are sin-stained and God in his perfect goodness and righteousness cannot allow any kind of profane or sinful thing to remain in his presence. Something has to be done on our behalf.

This ought to make sense to us, at least on one level. Consider our Lord’s condemnation of the religious leaders in today’s gospel lesson. Here were the very folks charged with teaching God’s people how to be God’s people, but they were more interested in their own status and honor. Worse yet, Jesus accused them of robbing and extorting widows, people who represent the most vulnerable in society and who have God’s special attention and concern. No wonder Jesus warned of their condemnation. Or closer to home, consider the terrible events in the news this past of week. Twelve more innocent people were murdered in yet another mass shooting, with the murderer taking his own life. This on top of deadly wildfires in northern and southern California that are consuming entire communities, causing multiple fatalities and great anxiety as families wonder if their loved ones are safe. It is a heart-wrenching thing to watch. Or consider the recently completed midterm elections with its accompanying bombardment of attack ads that focus on destroying the character and integrity of one’s opponent. Never mind the pressing issues at hand. It’s all about claiming your opponent is the sorriest excuse for a human being that ever lived. I don’t know about you, but by election day, I was about ready to scream. Now tell me, could a good and right God who is absolutely opposed to any kind of evil allow that in his space? Would you, could you really believe in a good and just God if he didn’t put an end to this kind of stuff? Would you really want to live in the new creation forever knowing that there was violence, rancor, suffering, and injustice of all kinds, always wondering if you could be the next victim? I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to live forever in a world like that and if a Sin-corrupted person like me wouldn’t want that, I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet that God doesn’t want that either.

What we are talking about, of course, is the problem of Sin, that alien and hostile power that has entered God’s good world to enslave us by its power. I’m not talking about our various acts of wrongdoing or thinking, or our sins. Frankly they are not the real problem; they are the awful symptoms of the real problem—our slavery to the power of Sin. Biblically speaking, to be enslaved by the power of Sin is much worse than our various wrongdoings, heinous as some of them are. To be in Sin means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal and healing love of God. It means to be separated from God’s heavenly banquet with all its wholeness, healing, and joy, with no hope of ever being allowed in (think the parable of Lazarus, Luke 16.19-31) for reasons we’ve just seen. To be enslaved in Sin means that greed, violence, cruelty and the like will continue unabated in our lives and God’s world because we are hopelessly trapped in our own worse self and miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God created us to be. This latter knowledge can and does lead many to self-loathing and despair as many of us can attest first-hand. No matter how frequently we resolve to do better, no matter how guilty we feel, no matter how much we are determined to repent of our sins, it’s not enough. Our repentance cannot free us from our slavery to the power of Sin because it is far greater than our will and our mortal power. To repeat, the point is not about the wrongdoings we may have done, troubling and destructive as they might be. The point is that they are symptoms of a far deeper and more consequential problem for us: Our enslavement to an outside and evil power (Sin) that is hostile to God’s creative purposes and bent on destroying all that is good in God’s creation, and we are unable to free ourselves from its grip.

Why am I spending so much time on this? Well, I love calling you all miserable sinners and making you feel rotten and guilty. Plus, it irritates my wife to no end, value added. But I also have a more legitimate reason. If we are going to grasp the significance and relevance of our epistle lesson this morning, we have to be crystal clear in our thinking about the enormous gravity of the problem of Sin. When we understand we are slaves to it and are powerless to free ourselves from its grip, we begin to focus on the real problem and better appreciate God’s solution that can lead to real repentance. We understand, for example, why St. Paul would make the strange statement that our enemies are not other humans but the dark powers behind the evildoing, i.e., the power of Sin (Ephesians 6.12), so that we learn how to really call on the name and power of the Lord. A grieving mother of a murder victim in California raged that she didn’t want people’s prayers. She wanted gun control. Her anger is understandable and I can only imagine her pain and grief; my heart breaks for her. But she misses the point in her rage and grief. Until Sin’s power is broken and people’s lives transformed by the radical love of Christ crucified, acts like this will become increasingly common and no amount of legislation, however good and effective it is, will solve the problem because human solutions cannot overcome Sin’s grip on us that causes us, for example, to shoot others for no apparent reason. I am not suggesting we take no action. That would fly in the face of the witness of Scripture as seen powerfully in our OT lesson today about Ruth. What I am saying is that ultimately human solutions will be incomplete and only partially effective because of the radical nature of Evil.

Moreover, understanding our slavery to Sin actually helps us to not despise or loathe ourselves because as we’ve seen, our individual sins are not the real problem. When we understand the real problem of Sin as we’ve just discussed it, we start to see ourselves as God sees us: as victims who have become hopelessly enslaved by a power from which we cannot free ourselves, hard as we might try, and who desperately need God’s help. We acknowledge this reality every time we confess that “there is no health in us” in the General Confession. We don’t confess this so that we can self-loathe, reminding ourselves how rotten we are. We confess this to acknowledge our slavery to Sin and God’s ability and willingness to free us from our slavery. Don’t misunderstand. We are responsible for our wrongdoing and wrong thinking—the devil may have made us do it but we are still the ones who did it and therefore responsible for it—and there are some people who truly have been consumed by the power of Evil and who are past redemption. But those people, by the grace of God, are thankfully a small minority. For the vast majority of us, when we get our thinking right about the real problem of Sin and its enslaving power over us, it helps us hear the Good News of Jesus Christ about which our epistle lesson speaks and to which we now turn.

So if we truly are slaves to Sin’s power and helpless to free ourselves from its grip, what’s the solution? As we’ve seen, left on our own, we are doomed to live a hellish existence with occasional periods of respite to provide us with some distraction and relief. But break the power of Sin and everything changes. The basis for God’s healing us and freeing us from our bondage to Sin are established and real transformative change, however slowly, however idiosyncratic, is possible. That’s the punchline. So how does God accomplish our rescue? The writer of Hebrews tells us today and throughout his entire letter. That’s why we should read Hebrews regularly because it is the only NT book that focuses almost exclusively on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin. But if we don’t understand the real nature of the problem, we’ll never come close to understanding the love of God expressed for us on the cross. God foreknew our predicament and our slavery to Sin. But God did not create us to be Sin’s slaves. He created us to be his image-bearers with all its relational implications. And so in God’s wisdom, love, mercy, and justice, God acted to break Sin’s power over us because only God has the power to free us from its power. So long before we were ever aware of Sin and our slavery to its power, God moved to defeat its power over us and free us. But God did this in the most unexpected way, by becoming human, or in NT parlance, by sending his only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so as to break Sin’s power over us and reconcile us to God so that we could stand in God’s direct presence without having to fear being destroyed by his perfect holiness. his is the achievement of the cross. This is Christ’s achievement on our behalf, thanks be to God!

In our epistle lesson today, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the high priest who atoned for Israel’s sins once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The chief function of priests in ancient Israel was to mediate God’s presence among God’s people so that God could live with them without destroying them for reasons we’ve discussed. Each year the high priest would offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people who in turn would confess them and declare their repentance. But as we’ve seen this was doomed to failure because humans don’t have the power to break our slavery to Sin. Only God has that power. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice to God to atone for our sins. His sacrifice was and is perfect because Jesus is fully God and fully human and because Jesus remained sinless. He therefore could make reparations or atone for our sins once and for all that have alienated us from God and each other. In doing so, the writer also tells us that Jesus broke Sin’s power over us so that we might no longer be slaves to it. This happened long before we knew we were ever sinners and independently of any guilt we might feel over our sins. God acted before we ever did one wrong thing. The NT writers don’t spend a lot of time talking about how Christ’s death accomplished all that, just that his sacrifice was and is fully efficacious, i.e., it has the power to produce its desired results, in this case freeing us from our slavery to Sin and reconciling us to God, which was always God’s intention. That’s why it only had to happen once and was available to all before and after Christ’s atoning death. This is our only hope and chance to be freed from our bondage to Sin because only God is more powerful than Sin’s power.

But we all know that we’re not totally free of Sin’s power in this mortal life. We all still commit sins from time to time. Yet the NT writers insist that in Jesus’ death we are freed from our slavery to Sin and so we are called to accept the claim on faith—enigmatic, mysterious, and impenetrable as Jesus’ work on the cross may be. When we do, the writer of Hebrews promises that when Jesus appears again at his second coming, he will fully consummate his saving work started with his atoning death when he raises our dead bodies and banishes Evil and Sin forever. And so we live in hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come because of the Lord’s trustworthiness. As the writer warns, judgment for our sins there will be. But because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us, we will hear the verdict of not guilty because the Son of God has born God’s terrible judgment on our sins and freed us from the power behind those sins. When we realize the depth of the problem and God’s gracious and wondrous solution to it before we ever turned to Jesus in faith, it helps us bear the fruit of repentance in the truest sense of the word. God acted on our behalf to free us from that which would ultimately condemn and kill us. We certainly don’t deserve this love and mercy but it’s ours for the taking. I could talk about what that means for us in the living of our days, but I want to stop here so that we can all contemplate and focus on this wondrous love, goodness, justice, and mercy of God. Amen?

Without the blood of Christ shed for us, none of us has the hope of new creation because none of us could stand in the perfect and holy presence of God the Father. God knew the problem and what needed to be done about it from all eternity, and has God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power. God did not accomplish this by sending in the tanks and routing the enemy in a spectacular military victory, at least not this time. Instead God saved us by becoming human and dying on a cross to transform our hopeless human condition and then working behind the scenes in and through faithful humans who trust in God’s goodness and power to fulfill his promises to us. That’s one of the main points of Ruth. The Good News is that God has acted on our behalf to restore us to himself forever, albeit in a surprising and unexpected way (at least from a human perspective) just as he always intended. There is much ahead of us and many unanswered questions. But when we put our hope and trust in Jesus our Savior and let him claim us in a positive way like Sin has claimed us in a negative way, we will be transformed and healed, not completely in this world but surely in the new creation. In letting Christ claim us, we also proclaim to the world that we trust this King of kings and Lord of lords to rescue us from all that hate us and want to destroy us. I cannot think of anything more relevant to the living of our days than this, my beloved. Ponder this Good News of Jesus Christ that is yours and commit yourself to him in the power and grace of God the Father mediated through the Holy Spirit. Let it heal and transform you, one minute at a time, so that you too may be refreshed and equipped to serve the Lord who loves you and gave himself for you to rescue you from all Evil and darkness, 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. 

For All the Saints: New Creation and the Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday B, November 4, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21.1-6a; John 11.32-44.

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

Today is All-Saints’ Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate the communion of saints, those saints who have died in Christ and who are enjoying their rest with him, as well as those of us in Christ who still struggle in this mortal life with all of its joys and sorrows and everything in between. But why do we celebrate the Feast of All-Saints? Other than giving us a chance to remember our dearly departed—never a bad thing—what difference does it make if we have a robust belief in the communion of saints? To answer that question, we must look beyond the saints and see the power of God at work. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Death under any circumstance is extremely hard, isn’t it? Death is the ultimate form of dehumanization. We don’t get a do-over with death. It separates us permanently from our loved ones and tends to leave us angry and/or without hope. Death can also be the ultimate form of injustice. We’ve had people in our parish family who have lost loved ones to a drunk driver. We have folks who have lost loved ones prematurely to the wicked monster of cancer. We’ve had folks lose loved ones slowly over time to the evil of Alzheimer’s. Many of us have watched our parents or grandparents grow old and infirm and waste away, and it is heartbreaking. On a broader scale, we are bombarded with news of mass murder, horrific accidents, heinous crimes, drug fatalities and all the rest. None of these folks deserved to suffer and die the way they did, especially when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or happened to have the wrong genetic makeup. Where’s the justice in that? We can punish murderers but it won’t bring back our loved ones. We might find cures for some of the evil diseases that afflict our bodies but our loved ones are still gone. Where’s the justice, especially for violent or senseless deaths? No matter what we do, no matter how severely we punish evildoers or rage against the evil and injustice of death, our loved ones are still dead and we are still separated from them for the remainder of our mortal life. 

All this can make us wonder where God is in it all. Why does God allow such suffering and death to occur? Part of the answer is that Death reigns because the power of Sin reigns in this world and our lives (Genesis 3ff), and as St. Paul reminds us, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23). None of us escape it. We can eat right, exercise like crazy, and take very good care of ourselves. The result? We all die because we all have been enslaved by the power of Sin. But this answer is not ultimately a satisfactory one. A life-long smoker who has terminal lung cancer will not really find much help or comfort in the knowledge that his smoking caused him to develop a disease that is killing him. As Christians, we know that sin leads to death and we are going to die because we are all sinners. But in the final analysis that really isn’t going to be helpful to us as we face our loved ones’ mortality and/or our own. In fact, most of us get angry when thinking about Sin and Death. We might understand the relationship on a theoretical basis but we sure don’t want it applied to us or our loved ones and we become angry when it does. 

The ugly reality of death and God’s response to it is why All-Saints’ Sunday is so important to us as Christians because today reminds us that Sin and Death do not have the final say in this world or our lives. Now it is true that we live in a God-cursed world for our sin. God did and does judge human sin because a good and loving God cannot possibly tolerate any kind of sin that corrupts us and God’s good world. And so we live under God’s curse, but that is not God’s final word on the matter. As the rest of Scripture attests, God is faithful to his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures, despite our sin and rebellion against God. God does not intend to destroy his good world gone bad, he intends to redeem and restore it and us to at least our original health and goodness where we will once again enjoy perfect communion with God, and with it comes perfect health and eternal life. 

We get a glimpse of God’s promise to heal and restore in our OT lesson where God proclaims through his prophet that he will destroy the shroud of death—an appropriate image, don’t you think?—and swallow up death forever. In doing so God will wipe the tears from all faces and take away our disgrace. I cannot think of a bigger disgrace than death because it utterly robs us of our humanity. So let the picture of this promise take root in your mind. You are standing directly in the Lord’s presence and he raises your dead loved ones back to life. He gently takes you in his arms and wipes your tears away as he reunites you with those whom you’ve loved and lost. You know that never again will you have to worry about the possibility of being separated from either God or your loved ones and so there is no more reason to weep. Let that image sink in and strengthen you. Then give thanks to the One who will make it happen. 

Do you see what’s really going on in this OT scene? God not only deals with death, God deals with everything that corrupts and degrades, death being the most significant part of that. By removing our tears and disgrace, God promises to remove the evil behind them and free his world from all that infects and corrupts it. While the prophet never says this explicitly, that means the curse must be lifted and we must be freed from our slavery to Sin which leads to Death.

This OT promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his story contained in the NT. If the evil one has ever tried to deceive you about how God feels about death, look no further than our gospel lesson this morning to find the antidote. We see Jesus, the Son of God, God become human, snorting in anger—the Greek word for the English phrase “greatly disturbed” literally means to snort in anger—at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus as the emotions of the crowd and those he loves, as well as his own human emotions, kick in when confronted with the reality of his friend’s death. Sure, Jesus knew he was going to revive Lazarus, a preview of coming attractions when he raises the dead at his second coming, but this did not stop our Lord from being offended by death. So if you ever think that God takes any pleasure in our death, look no further than our Lord standing at Lazarus’ tomb and snorting in anger over this obscene evil. That’s the kind of God we love and worship, and thankfully God has the power to do something about it. The Son of God resuscitated his friend and then went on to die a godforsaken and terrible death to spare us from God’s just judgment on our sins and break Sin and Death’s hold over us. In bearing the weight of our sins and taking on the full brunt of God’s terrible judgment on all our sin and evil, our Lord Jesus made it possible for us to stand again in God’s direct presence because we no longer wear our filthy, sin-stained rags that got us thrown out of paradise in the first place. Yes, of course we all still sin in our mortal life. But the NT is adamant in its insistence that on the cross, God the Father has taken care of the vexing problem of human sin and the separation it causes us, and in doing so, has broken the dark Powers’ stranglehold on us forever, i.e., we are no longer slaves to the power of Sin. And in raising Jesus from the dead, God has broken the power of Death forever. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 6.3-8, those who are baptized in Christ share in his death and resurrection. Where he is, so we will be with him. We didn’t earn this and we sure don’t deserve it, but it’s ours anyway because life and death always have been about the power of God, not our own muddled ways and thinking. 

Jesus’ death and resurrection make the breathtaking scene in our epistle lesson possible. The new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, comes down to earth and everything in this world is recreated so that we get to live in God’s direct presence without the hint of any evil or corrupting force in our lives. This means, of course, that the ultimate evil of death is destroyed forever. The scene in Revelation 21 is Isaiah’s mountaintop vision on steroids because it it promises so much more and is a done deal by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and his resurrection from the dead. The new heavens and earth are not yet a reality, but they will be when our Lord Jesus returns to consummate his saving and healing work. 

Of course, the resurrection of the dead is fully integrated into John’s vision of the new Jerusalem. Without it, God cannot possibly wipe the tears from our eyes. With it, God’s perfect justice is executed and we can finally be healed. The dead are raised to live forever under the protection and power and beauty of God the Father himself. The cause of our mourning is erased forever and we no longer have to fear being harmed or being sick or alienated or being poor or growing old and infirm. We don’t have to worry about our worth or value. We are living in God’s direct presence, for heaven’s sake (no pun intended)! But death cannot be abolished in a world that still has sin and evil in it. That’s why the resurrection of the dead, while massively important, is not the ultimate hope and answer for us. To live forever in a world where there is no more sickness, sorrow, death, or sighing means that all that corrupts and dehumanizes and disgraces us is abolished forever. The NT calls this the new creation and that is the hope and promise for all the saints, living and dead.

So what does this mean for our dead saints? Where are they now? As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians and elsewhere, they are with Christ and they are enjoying his presence and their rest in paradise as they await the day when their Lord will return to this world and their bodies will be raised from the dead. The communion of saints means that we have a resurrection and new creation hope, that death is not the final answer. Jesus is the final answer because only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The saints kept their eyes on Christ in this mortal life, however imperfectly, just like we do, and they are enjoying their penultimate reward because as we have seen, they are united with Christ by virtue of their baptism and their faith in the Son of God who loves them (and us) and gave himself for them (and us). This is the Church Triumphant. Our Christian dead have triumphed because they put their hope and trust in the One who can and does rescue them from Evil and Death. In a little while, we will read the names of our loved ones who have triumphed over Death and who will one day receive God’s perfect justice be being restored to bodily life. That’s why we call it the Roll Call of the Victorious. Rejoice in that hope even as you miss them.

But what about us, who make up the Church Militant, those who live by faith and hope, but who do not yet experience the reward for our faith in the way that the Church Triumphant does? We too are called to keep our eyes on Jesus, to pattern our lives after his, to extend his love, goodness, mercy, justice, and righteousness out into his world in our own neck of the woods. Of course when we do, it means all hell will break loose and we will suffer for following Jesus, just as he predicted because the evil powers, while defeated, are not yet abolished, and they don’t want us acting like or in the power of the name of Jesus. But we don’t lose heart or hope because we keep in mind the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the new heavens and earth. We will be in that reality a lot longer than this current time of trouble. In saying this, I don’t mean to minimize our problems and suffering, my beloved. I know they are substantial. But the reality of the new creation and God’s love and power are far greater, and we must draw on God’s strength to help see us through. Without that strength, we will surely be lost. This is why it is so important for us to celebrate All-Saints’ Day today, especially in the midst of the darkness of this world. So this week as mid-term election hysteria peaks, let your resurrection and new creation hope guide and control you. As the strident voices on all sides partake in the shaming and blaming game and rely on fear-mongering to demean and disgrace their opponents to get their way, offer the joy and hope of God’s saints to those around you. A few might ask what is your secret. Most will wonder what you’ve been smoking. But that shouldn’t bother us. We believe and proclaim that God has overcome Sin and Death and opens the door to eternal bodily life and a new world equipped to sustain that life to one and all if they only have the good sense to accept the invitation. Let us always be the first to accept (or continue to accept) the invitation by keeping our eyes on Jesus our Savior and leading righteous lives. When we do, we proclaim to ourselves and others that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Jesus the Eternal Priest Who Sympathizes with Us

Sermon delivered on the last Sunday after Trinity B, October 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

We continue our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews. If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 42.1-6, 10-1; Psalm 34.1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 10.46-52.

Who can intercede for us? Who will sympathize with us?

Let me begin with a dialogue between God and a certain dead man.  When he realized it, he saw God coming closer with a suitcase in his hand.

God:  Alright Son, it’s time to go.

Man:  So soon? I had lot of plans

God:  I am sorry but it’s time to go.

Man:  What do you have in that suitcase?

God:  Your belongings.

Man:  My belongings?  You mean my things such as clothes, money etc

God:  Those things were never yours.   They belong to the earth.

Man:  It it my memories?

God:  No.  They belong to Time

Man:  Is it my talent?

God:  No.  They belong to circumstances.

Man:  Is it my friends and family?

God:  No son.  They belong to the path you travelled.

Man:  Is it my wife and children?

God:  No.  They belong to your Heart.

Man:  Then it must be my body.

God:  No, No. It belongs to Dust.

Man:  Then surely it must be my soul.

God:   You are sadly mistaken son.  Your soul belongs to me.

Man has tears in his eyes and filled with fear, took the suitcase from God’s hand and opened it. And found empty.  With heart broken and tears rolling down on his cheeks he asked God:

Man:  Do I ever own anything?

God:  Nothing. You never owned anything.

I want you to have dialogue with God now when we are alive to know to whom we belong, and realize we have an advocate and mediator who reaches us in our heart broken situations and who loves to console us and sympathize with us.  He is our perpetual priest offered his life for us that we have life in him forever.

Is there any one whom I can rely on?

How dose I relate to Jesus Christ in my need of direction and salvation?

We know from the author of the Hebrews that this letter he primarily meant for the Jews who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian faith because of persecutions.  Author emphasizing superiority of Christ as a divine son of the Living God and the new covenant to Moses, prophets and the old covenant.

Hebrews 7:23-25 deals with Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ in comparison with the priests of order of the Aaron who came, lived and died when the need of frequent replacement of priests.

Christ Jesus is eternal, having no beginning and no ending. Therefore His priesthood is unchangeable.

John 1:2-3 “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

How is Jesus the eternal priesthood? 

  He overcame sin and the death being humble, obedient and offered himself as an unblemished lamb for the forgiveness of sins of the world. (Phil 2:8-11).

And made atonement for the sin of the world as high priest.

Jesus no longer is subject to death after the resurrection.  He lives forever.  Jesus is able to save those who approach God through Him.  (John 3:16-18)  God so loved the world…..

• To be saved through Him

• One has to choose to make a decision to approach God through Jesus.

• Believe Jesus as the one sent by God.

Why it is so important that we profess our faith in Christ?

Why do we witness to Christ Jesus as the REDEEMER?

This is the reason:

John 3:18 whoever believes in him will not be condemned but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God.

Therefore dear friends let us choose light of Christ though the world chooses to accept darkness to the light of Christ.

May we reflect on the questions like what was the work of the ancient priests?

How is the priesthood of Christ differ from the Levite priest of the time?

What is the character of priesthood of Christ?

How does the Salvation possible?

What is the solution to our problem of Sin, Guilt, and Spiritual death?

Exodus 29:38-42.  The Law described daily burnt offerings of bulls and lambs to please God.

The most significant work of the high priest takes place on the Day of Atonement, when he makes the atonement for the sins of the nation. Whereas Jesus has no need to offer sacrifices of animals or do burnt offerings.  Because he sacrificed himself on the cross was once for all the time.  He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat. He endured the shame of the sin for us to bring us into the fellowship with God the Father.

One key difference is the priestly order to which they belong whereas Jesus, through God’s calling, serves as a priest in the order of Melchizedek.  The priest hood of Jesus remains forever.  Jesus’ eternal priest hood offers salvation whereas the Levitical priesthood could not achieve. Jesus and Melchizedek, a priest forever without lineage. Melchizedek was king of Salem, king of peace, king of righteousness.  So is our Lord Jesus; he by His righteousness made peace and greeted peace to everyone he met on earth. And he is the priest of most high God.  Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine to refresh Abraham and his servants when they were weary and blessed them.  Then Abraham gave him a tenth part of all. Abraham did this an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedek had done for him, as a testimony of his homage, as an offering vowed for him and dedicated to God (Genesis14:18). The Levitical priesthood was blessed by Melcheisedek for the tithe offered by Abraham. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of love and gratitude to Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favors we receive from him.  This is the time we need to be reminded of God’s blessings and gratitude to God and His people with the gift of tithes.

It is essential for every Christian to understand the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead is the guarantee our salvation if we believe it. Anyone who ignores such a great salvation for being lured away by sin and unbelief is already condemned.

Hebrews 2:3 “how shall we escape if we ignore such a salvation…?”

Hebrews 4:14-16: Therefore, since we have a high priest who has gone through heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to Sympathizes with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

This is what we see in today’s gospel Mark 10:46-52 we hear Jesus calls Bartimaeus and heals Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.

As Jesus was walking by him in Jericho, Bartimaeus heard who it was that was passing and called out to Him “Jesus, son of David, Have mercy on me” by calling Jesus the son of David, the blind man was affirming his belief that Jesus was Messiah (see 2 Samuel 7: 14 16) The people told Bartimaeus to be quiet, but kept calling out, even more loudly and persistently than before.  This is further proof of his faith.  He believed that Jesus was not like the other religious leaders, who believed that individual’s poverty or blindness or bad circumstances were a result of God’s judgement.  He knows like psalmist that our God who cares for the poor and the brokenhearted (P34:6, 18).

The creator of heaven and earth stood still when he heard the cry of the blind Bartimaeus. Jesus calls him to come to him and asks him what do you want me to do for you?  The beggar could ask for the money or food that he usually do every day from the people.  He didn’t even seek the opinion of the people but he asked for most important need that refers his faith in Jesus. He could witness to Jesus Christ that he is true messiah. He exercised his trust in Jesus as the son of God. He said “Rabbi, I want to see.” He determined to see Jesus. He desired to see Messiah.   He trusted Jesus that the merciful savior will willingly grant sight to him.  Jesus says your faith has healed you,” and the blind Bartimaeus instantly recovered his sight and followed Jesus.

By saying “your faith has made you well,” Jesus emphasizes the necessity of faith.   Jesus showed once again that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6) it is not enough that we have faith in God within our hearts, but we should be able to express it, indicate it and witness to it through our lives.

Hebrews11:1 “now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

The story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus is a spiritual icon that should make us aware of our sins, our blindness and incapacity. We may be blind to injustice and blind to discrimination of any kind and unable to see Jesus in others.

I want you reflect on the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus “what do you want me to do for you?  What is your response?  What is your most important need you have? 

 Do you ask for power, wealth, comfort, houses, health or any material things?

Be reminded of your own request and response for the request by Jesus.  Because Jesus answered the prayer of Bartimaeus but did not answer the prayer of mother of John and James.

John 11:41-42   we know from the mouth of Jesus that he prays to God to raise Lazarus. Jesus did many miracles to glorify God, the almighty.

The prayer and faith of the Canaanite woman was answered.

The prayer and the faith of the centurion of Capernaum was answered (Mathew 8:10).

Psalm 145:19 God will fulfill the desires of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry and will save them.

Luke 7:11-17 Jesus went to a town called Nain and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowed from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and said “DON’T CRY.”…..THEN HE WENT UP AND TOUCHED THE COFFIN, AND THOSE CARRYING IT STOOD STILL.  HE SAID, “YOUNG MAN, I SAY TO YOU, GET UP.  THE DEAD MAN SAT UP AND BEGAN TO TALK AND JESUS GAVE HIM BACK TO HIS MOTHER.

We can maintain perfect confidence in God’s rich promises, regardless of our circumstances, by meditating on the rock solid faithfulness of God’s workings in our lives. Because our God feels pain with us, feels sympathy for us in our emptiness, in our loneliness and in all our troubles of this material world and sickness and death.

May we receive the robe of righteousness through priesthood of Jesus Christ to enter into eternal life.  Amen.

Learning Obedience Through What??

Sermon delivered on Trinity 21B, Sunday, October 21, 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: Job 38.1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104.1-10, 26, 37; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45.

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

This morning we continue our preaching series on the letter to the Hebrews with its focus almost exclusively on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin. In our epistle lesson the writer of Hebrews makes the strange statement that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5.8). What on earth does that mean and what does that mean for us as Christians? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

As we did two weeks ago we come to Hebrews by way of Job. In the story of Job we have seen how God allowed the Satan to afflict Job with great loss and suffering of all kinds to prove Satan’s accusation that in the face of severe suffering and deprivation, Job would fold like a bad poker hand and curse God. Job didn’t and Satan is no longer in the picture, having been shown to be the liar he is. But that left all kinds of unanswered questions for Job and his “comforters,” mainly about why God afflicted Job. His “comforters” maintained that Job’s afflictions were the result of his sins. But Job adamantly denied this. He claimed he was blameless (not sinless) and therefore didn’t deserve this kind of treatment from God (and we are tempted to add, who does deserve that kind of treatment?) and demanded a hearing before the Lord himself. Well, in today’s OT lesson, Job got his wish (careful what you wish for, Job, you may get it). 

The story of Job points us to the greater mystery of suffering in this mortal life and throws cold water in our face by reminding us that we live in a world afflicted by Sin and Evil, a world and its creatures, ourselves included, that labor under God’s curse because of our sin and the evil it unleashed and continues to unleash (Genesis 3.14-19). For our purposes this morning, living in an evil-infested and cursed world can lead to two possible negative human reactions to the chaos and enigma of human suffering in which the good sometimes seem to suffer excessively (like Job did) while the wicked sometimes get off apparently scott-free. When we who actually believe in God experience this chaos and mystery we tend to think that either God has checked out on us—like when the prophet Isaiah cried out in anguish as he contemplated the unthinkable horror of God allowing his people to go into exile for their sins, “Truly you are a God who hides [yourself]. (Isaiah 45.15)—or we can fall into despair, realizing that while our own sins separate us from the love and Presence of God, we are truly incapable of breaking our slavery to Sin’s power or freeing ourselves from living in a God-cursed world. Either reaction can cause us to lose our faith and trust in God. If we think God has checked out on us, we tend to become apathetic and cynical and seek other gods like sex, power, money, security, or more recently identity politics. If we despair over our slavery to Sin and the chaos of living in a cursed world, we can fall into depression or hedonism, ultimately rejecting God because of our powerlessness. Both views have in common the notion that God is not big enough to handle our problems or the world’s. But our OT and psalm lessons emphatically reject that false notion. In asking Job if he was there at creation, the answer of course was no. God’s point to Job and us is that there are things beyond our ability to understand, but not God’s. Instead, when we are afflicted, we are to trust God to see us through the darkest valleys. But why should we trust God? Enter our lesson from the letter to the Hebrews with its focus on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin.

As we have just seen, we are enslaved by the alien and hostile powers of Sin and Death so that we are unable to free ourselves from the sins that dehumanize, shame, and oppress us. Need proof? How about those new year’s resolutions you made last January? How they working out for you? Or how about your various addictions, both great and small? Have you been able to free yourself from them by your own power? Resolve to treat your spouse better or to do that next great thing, only to be stymied? Or how about the times you really tried to help someone out only to be lambasted for your efforts? Look at your confessions. Are you confessing the same sins over and over? No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we repent, it isn’t good enough. God’s people Israel also found this out the hard way. Despite their occasional repentance, despite the reform efforts of godly kings, God sent his people Israel packing for their sins. Self-help was not enough. In fact, self-help is a delusion.

And let’s be clear about why God reacts to sin this way. It’s not because God is an angry, vindictive being who wants to rain on our parade and who works very hard to make sure we aren’t having any fun or enjoying life (as if our sins were the key to enjoying life; who in their right mind really thinks that???). No, it’s because God is good and just and holy that he detests anything that corrupts his creation or us. Think about those who ordered the extermination of six million Jews during WWII. Is it OK for God to wink and look the other way over that? Or closer to home, think about the woman who’s body was discovered burning in a local park. Can a good and just God simply ignore that? Good luck telling that to her family who grieves over her horrific death. No, a good God cannot and will not ignore sin and evil. That’s why God cursed the world in the first place: to show his utter hostility to anything evil. Not only do our sins corrupt and dehumanize us, they destroy relationships of all kinds, especially ours with God. But God did not create us to destroy us. He created us to have a relationship with him, and he will oppose anything or anyone who attempts to corrupt, pervert, and/or destroy his good creation and image-bearing creatures. The whole promise of new creation with its absence of sin and anything evil is based on the fact that God isn’t some doting old grandpa who winks at our sin and the evil it produces/unleashes. Nothing is further from the truth and we can thank God for that!

So what does that have to do with our epistle lesson and its claim that the Son of God learned obedience through suffering, or with Job’s message that the God we worship is big enough to handle all our problems and the world’s? Just this. The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God” (Hebrews 5.7). He is talking about our Lord’s struggle in Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion. Before we comment on this, let’s hear St. Luke describe what took place.

Jesus…went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to [this time of trial].” He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to [this time of trial]” (Luke 22.39-46).

Do you get a sense of what’s going on here? Jesus had been at war with the forces of evil and was tempted throughout his entire ministry to surrender to the demands of the Satan. The demons shriek as Jesus exorcised them from their victims, demonstrating that God’s power is greater than their own. As we saw in our gospel lesson, the dark powers even worked through Jesus’ disciples to tempt him to establish his rule as God’s Son in accordance with the way a cursed world defines true leadership—by lording it over others. Now here in dark Gethsemane we see our Lord struggling in the shadows of darkness with his last and greatest temptation. Both St. Luke and the writer of Hebrews want us to see that even though Jesus is God’s Son, he is also fully human and therefore subject to all the temptations and weaknesses we face. If, after all, in Jesus God really did condemn our sin in the flesh to spare us from his terrible judgment as St. Paul maintained (Romans 8.3-4), God needed a sinless body to do that, i.e., Jesus had to be fully human for God to deal once and for all with the power of Sin that enslaves us.

So now in our two lessons Jesus, being fully human and about to bear the collective weight of the world’s sins, your sins and mine, is confronted with the horror of doing that. We see our Lord somehow taking on the emotional misery our own sins produce: the shame, guilt, despair; the sense of hopelessness, total discouragement, and utter defeat we all experience over our being slaves to the power of Sin. We see our Lord beginning to understand the utter godforsakenness of the cross and somehow anticipating his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me!” as he would experience God’s wrath and condemnation of all our sins so that we would be spared from judgment. Who in their right mind would want to undergo such suffering and experience being utterly godforsaken? And what did our Lord do? He sweat blood as the full realization of what he must soon undergo swept over him like a tsunami, and he asked his Father to be released from having to endure it. Here we see the full humanity of Christ at work. As the coeternal Son, Jesus willingly agreed to give up his glory and become human to die for us (Philippians 2.6-8). In his human form, however, the horror of his mission threatened to overwhelm him and that is the scene St. Luke and the writer of Hebrews invite us to contemplate. Pay attention, my beloved because you are witnessing your salvation unfolding. 

Of course, God said “No” to his beloved Son’s request. God had to if God loved us and wanted to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death. Jesus knew that too. But in denying the Son’s request, the Father sent angels to give Jesus strength to complete his godforsaken task, and in resisting this final temptation to be spared from the cross, our Lord and his work came to its full completion or perfection. Jesus had always willingly obeyed his Father. Now in the darkest night he learned fully as a human what his obedience meant—suffering for the sake of the world. In taking on our sins and dying our death so as to spare us from God’s just and right judgment on our sins—and here’s one of the punch lines so listen up!—he understood exactly the same feeling we have (in much lesser degree) when we are angry with ourselves and so filled with shame and self-loathing that we cannot believe that God can do anything but hate us for our evil. Jesus knows what that is like. He went the whole way and took the full brunt for us. The next time you experience that self-loathing over your sins and think that God can only hate you, go back to Gethsemane with your Savior and see him sweating blood for you as he prepares to shed his blood for you to spare you from your just-desserts. Then come to his Table and feed on him by faith with thanksgiving. If this doesn’t make your heart overflow with love for God the Father for his great love for you demonstrated in God the Son’s sacrifice for your sins and made real and available to you in God the Holy Spirit, go see an exorcist because you are being totally deceived by the Evil One and his minions. No one, I repeat, no one is outside the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen?

And what does this great love cost us? On one hand, nothing. There is nothing we can do to earn it and it is offered freely to one and all. Christ’s death and resurrection witness to the fact that while we are all called to repentance, only God is powerful enough to conquer the powers of Sin and Death for us. Our repentance can’t do that; it can only open us up to God’s forgiveness. As St. Paul reminds us, in our baptism we share in a death like Christ’s so we can also share in a resurrection like his. When we are Christ’s we share in his life-giving death.

On the other hand, Christ’s death will cost us everything. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “God qualified Jesus as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him” (Hebrews 5.9). So the cost of our salvation is our obedience to Christ. But doesn’t that go against the inviolable truth that we are saved by grace through faith alone? No it does not. Faith is much more than articulating statements of belief. If we have real faith in Christ, in his saving death and resurrection, it will produce obedience to his commands. Obedience to our Lord’s teaching and way of life is the best indicator of faith we can demonstrate: to God, to ourselves, and to the world. Obedience is often very hard because we are so profoundly broken. And we will fail in our obedience because we are “cracked pots” as our own St. Augustine used to say, and that can lead us into despair. If you are tempted to fall into despair over this, STOP IT!! Stop it because as we’ve just seen, in Christ, God has broken the power of Sin over you and taken away the Father’s judgment on your own stinking sins.

Now unlike exorcising demons, the power of the cross is much less obvious to us. But we are resurrection people, my beloved. We have seen the shame and godforsakenness of the cross, but we’ve experienced the risen Lord and know the reality of his Resurrection. We believe he is our great High Priest who loves us, who intercedes for us, and who is infinitely gentle and patient with us in our weakness and infirmity. He knows all about being a human being because he was and is the only true and perfect human being. The Resurrection proclaims the truth that the powers of Sin and Death have been decisively defeated on the cross and we can joyfully await our Lord’s return to complete his work. Until then, we live by faith and this shouldn’t be so hard for us to believe. Think about it. During World War II, shortly after the success of D-Day, most observers knew the Nazis had been defeated. But the war still had to be fought for another long, hard year, including the costly Battle of the Bulge that following winter. The Nazis were defeated but not yet vanquished. Likewise with Sin, Death, and the evil powers. They are toast but they have not been vanquished. So we live by faith in the midst of all the chaos in our lives. This “already-not yet” reality also means we will suffer for our obedience to Christ because the dark powers, while defeated, are still quite active. The minute we give our lives to Christ is the minute we find ourselves at war. But we have our own D-Day. It’s called Easter and our liberation is at hand—partially now, fully when our Lord returns. So come, Lord Jesus, come. Until then be our great High Priest. Fill us with your Spirit and give us the grace to live out our faith in you by being obedient to your call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow you. We can’t do this on our own power and there will be many tears and many fears along the way. But you will strengthen us because you know first-hand what it is like. This all reminds us that we have your Good News to offer and claim, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Jesus Our Great High Priest

Sermon delivered on Trinity 20B, Sunday, October 14, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Fr. Sang is learning how to write (we think). Until then, you’ll have to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10.17-31.

But We See Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 19B, October 7, 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: Job 1.1, 2.1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1.1-4, 2.5-12; Mark 10.2-16.

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

Today we begin our preaching and teaching series on the letter to the Hebrews, a massively important but often-neglected book in the NT. We will be focusing on the assigned readings from Hebrews through Christ the King Sunday at the end of November. October is also stewardship month, where we will be encouraging you to reflect on your favorite topic—giving your money to advance the Lord’s kingdom work on earth. This will culminate on Pledge Sunday on October 28, where we will offer our pledges for the coming fiscal year starting in January. There’s a lot to do and reflect on in the coming weeks!

We begin our study of Hebrews by way of Job. What are we to make of that strange story about God assembling an angelic council, apparently to make policy for running creation, contrary to our epistle lesson’s bold claim that God subjected all creation to the control of humans? And since the Satan was among them, were those on the council actually rebellious angels? Is this an example of Scripture having a split personality and contradicting itself? Well no, because as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, humans do not exercise their God-given task of being in complete control over God’s good creation—that apparently has to wait until God’s new creation arrives—and we all know this to be painfully true. There are many things beyond our control that afflict creation and us: death, destruction, human nastiness, Sin, Evil and disasters of all kinds, to name just a few. The result? We see life riddled with anxiety and we experience disorientation and disruption. No, as the writer of Hebrews says in massive understatement, “we do not yet see everything in subjection to [humans]” and this is where the book of Job comes into play because it explores the riddle and mystery of what has happened now that we have abdicated our God-given responsibility to rule. Something or someone has to rule in our place and our abdication of that privilege by way of our sin and rebellion opened the door for the dark powers of Evil to usurp our rightful role as rulers. But how can an all-powerful God allow Evil to operate in his world so that even the innocent are afflicted by it? Why doesn’t God just fill the void? God clearly remains in charge. The Satan could only do to Job what God allowed. In presenting these mysteries, Job challenges the OT principle of retribution in this life, that God afflicts and punishes the wicked while rewarding the righteous with all kinds of spiritual and material prosperity. 

In the story we see Job, who clearly was a righteous man in God’s eyes and had indeed enjoyed God’s blessings, being afflicted with God’s permission by the Satan—and please, let’s leave behind our childish concepts of Satan as looking like some bad cartoon character and grow up in our thinking about Evil so that we see it for what it is— to see whether he will curse God. We as readers are aware of this heavenly intrigue, i.e., of the dark powers usurping our role as rulers, but Job is not. This begs the real question, however: Why does God allow the forces of Evil to operate at all to corrupt God’s good creation? Nowhere do we find an answer to this existential question. We are told that God limits the destructive power of Evil but does not banish it in his creation. Why not? Clearly God’s creative purposes for both his creation and image-bearing creatures are being thwarted, so why would God allow that? Scripture doesn’t say. To be sure, Scripture does offer us partial answers to questions about Evil. As we have seen, human sin allowed Evil to get a toehold in God’s good world so that now we and all creation live under God’s curse. A cursed world can account for a good deal of the evil in God’s creation but not all of it. Nor are we told why the serpent was present in the garden in the first place to work his evil. Further, we are told that human sin and folly are directly responsible for all kinds of evil and suffering. But we are not told why God allows the forces of Evil behind our sin to continue to operate to corrupt and destroy God’s good world and people’s lives. What the NT does answer is what God is doing about this resident Evil and we are expected to live with all the riddles, ambiguity, and unanswered questions and trust God’s good plan for the redemption of all creation and our own. Enter the letter to the Hebrews and more precisely, enter Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews starts by reminding us of a breath-taking reality, that God the Father, God the Creator of this vast universe, has acted decisively and lovingly on behalf of his weak and rebellious image-bearing creatures to rescue us from our predicament. To be sure, our ongoing sin and rebellion grieves God’s heart to its very core. But God did not give up on his creation or us. Instead God became human in the person of Jesus and entered human history, something I fear we Christians have heard so often that we’ve lost the awesome wonder of this claim, to act decisively against the outside powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. God did not act outside history to defeat these dark powers. Instead, God became human (or in NT language, God the Father sent his only begotten Son) to suffer and die for us to free us from the terrible and deadly consequences of our sin and folly, and to break the power of Evil in our lives so that we are no longer its slaves. God did this in Christ’s death and resurrection and then by sending the Holy Spirit to live in each of us to make our risen and ascended Lord’s presence real and known to us, thereby enabling us to overcome our fallen human nature and the forces of Evil who hate us and assail us on a regular basis. None of this plays out in an easy or straightforward manner as we all can attest. Sometimes we miss the mark and fall off the proverbial wagon. Sometimes we choose to be willfully stubborn and rebellious toward God. Sometimes we are just plain stupid. Despite all this, however, the writer of Hebrews makes the stunning and audacious claim that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we not only find forgiveness of our sins but real power to resist and overcome evil. That is one of the underlying points in our gospel lesson this morning. If there weren’t power available for our hard hearts to be remade into human ones, Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce would be hopelessly idealistic. But the fact remains that while some (many?) of us have succumbed to divorce, many more have struggled and succeeded in remaining faithful to their marriage vows despite great obstacles and odds. This fact alone attests to the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in God’s people. 

Moreover, the writer of Hebrews makes clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s decisive action against the dark powers and the power of Sin that corrupts us and causes death to reign. But the war is not over as we all know. Final victory awaits Jesus’ return. Until then, we won’t see humans fulfilling their God-given commission to rule God’s world, but we do see Jesus paving the way for that to happen by casting out demons, ruling over the forces of nature, bringing healing of all kinds, and finally dying a God-forsaken and terrible death for us and taking on himself all the awful consequences of our sin and rebellion so that we can ultimately live in God’s new world to fulfill God’s original creative purposes for us as human beings. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the promise to be valid and true. 

What does all this mean to us as Christians who struggle to live faithful lives? First, as we are buffeted by darkness and suffering in God’s world and our lives, we are tempted to believe that God has given up on his world and us. The reality of Jesus reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. God has not abandoned us. Neither does God hate us. The existence of Jesus Christ reveals to us the great love the Father has for his rebellious creatures and the length and depth he will go to reclaim us and his world so that we can one day enjoy creation as God always intended for us. It’s a free gift offered to us and we better have the wisdom to accept the gift of God’s good grace. If Jesus really is God, and we know him to be, then we have received the definitive revelation about who God is and what God’s intentions are for his world and us. No further revelation is needed and we are called to embrace God’s offer to us to accept his forgiveness and love made known to us in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. 

This, in turn, means we must make a decision to accept or reject the healing and forgiving love of Christ. In reality we do both simultaneously in our lives because none of us loves God perfectly like Jesus did as a human. But we see Jesus and that means we don’t bury our head in the sand or wring our hands in despair. It means that when the forces of darkness threaten to overwhelm us we look to Jesus for strength, refreshment, and encouragement. When we do, it must change us, especially when we remember that we have God’s very Spirit living in us, testifying to us the truth about God’s love and rescue of us from Evil, Sin, and Death in Jesus. So we continue to move forward, following Jesus, learning to give our lives to him completely. This means we choose to love and forgive our enemies and those who revile us. It means we are implacably opposed to evil and injustice and are resolved in the power of the Spirit to be agents of God’s goodness, love, mercy, and justice. It means that we go to Scripture to learn and be reminded of the story of the Good News of our salvation, and we struggle with God in prayer. It means we are given the power to sometimes just endure, but always with hope because if we really do see Jesus, we must be people of hope. And it means we give our financial resources to help advance the Kingdom work. God has given generously to us. Are we not to respond likewise to God? Given the importance of money in our culture, this is perhaps the best litmus test of our love for and faith in God. Of course, Kingdom work does not take place exclusively in the confines of parish ministry, although that is important. Sound preaching, administering the sacraments, and godly fellowship are critical components of worship and worship is critical if we ever hope to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But Kingdom work goes on outside our parish and is an important part of our stewardship. So, for example, in addition to giving ten percent of our income to St. Augustine’s, the Maneys give regularly to the ASCPA and to Faith Mission because we believe they engage in good and holy work. How we spend our money will give us a keen insight into the state of our faith in Jesus. I don’t say this to lay a guilt trip on you. I say it to remind you that Kingdom work involves every dimension of our lives from worship to fellowship to service to giving. Everything we have comes from God who has an egregiously generous heart. Seeing Jesus in our lives and the life of the world produces hearts that are also egregiously generous and willing to share God’s abundance to help those in need. 

Therefore, my beloved, be intentional in seeing Jesus so that you will not lose heart or hope. Be intentional in seeing Jesus so he can transform your own hard heart into a truly human one. Seeing Jesus is a sometimes challenging and difficult task that requires our constant attention along with our regular worship, persistence in prayer, and engaging in fellowship with God’s people, both inside and outside our parish family. But seeing Jesus is the only real answer to our fears and anxieties about our purpose for living as well as our own fate and the fate of this good world of God’s gone bad. It is a story with a happy and healing ending and it is offered to everyone who has the good sense to accept it as well as the One who is the main character of the story. Ask God to give you the grace and power to see Jesus and follow him more completely. Doing so will affirm or reaffirm to you that you really are participating in the Good News of Jesus Christ who has rescued you from the dark powers, 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. 

Where’s God?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 18B, September 30, 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: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5.13-20; Mark 9.38-50.

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

How can a book that never mentions God’s name end up in the canon of Scripture? That is the question the confronts us in our OT lesson this morning. The book of Esther never once mentions God by name. What are we to make of that and how does it relate to the baptism we will celebrate in a little while? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The book of Esther is unique in all the Bible because not once in its ten chapters is God’s name mentioned. Despite this curious fact, God is very much present in the lives of his exiled people. We see it in the circumstances of the story which are loaded with “coincidences,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. We see God’s activity in the lives of God’s people and even God’s enemies to bring about their rescue from certain annihilation. Consider these examples. An uppity queen who paves the way for Esther to become Xerxes’ queen. A king’s attendant who takes a special liking to Esther that is crucial to her becoming queen. Esther’s cousin Mordecai who thwarts a plot to kill the king by being at the right place at the right time, but who is a forgotten man in the king’s eyes. A wicked advisor who plots the destruction of God’s people  because of his hatred toward Mordecai and who rapidly becomes a favorite of the king. A restless night of sleep for the king that leads to his remembering Mordecai and ultimately leads to the reversal of fortune for Mordecai and Haman. The courage of Esther who risked her life for her people to expose the wickedness of Haman and his evil scheme to destroy God’s people. No, God’s name is never mentioned in the story but God is everywhere present in the circumstances and lives of his people to bring about their redemption! That is why throughout history the book of Esther has not been read as an isolated event in Jewish history but as symbolizing the final salvation of God’s people at the end of time (the eschaton).

This should be enormously encouraging to us as Christians who labor under God’s good but cursed and often-confusing world. The story of Esther reminds us that there are forces of Evil in this world that God has mysteriously and enigmatically allowed to usurp his rightful reign—but only to a degree. God is still Sovereign and ultimately in charge of his world. Despite appearances to the contrary, sometimes to an almost overwhelming degree, the story of Esther reminds us that God is in charge and is working to free his people from the power of Evil. 

St. Mark tells us essentially the same thing when he talks about casting out demons. His message? The forces of Evil and their human minions are indeed active in God’s world. We are at war and have been since human rebellion got us expelled from paradise. But the evil powers do not have free reign. God is still Sovereign. The evil powers must submit to Jesus and in doing so, God’s people find protection and respite from the havoc they wreak. Most of us do not perceive this war raging on with our human senses, but the war is real nevertheless as we all can attest because we all have experienced Evil in our lives. The story of Esther reminds us that God cares for his people, in part, through human agency, just like God did when he rescued his people through the actions of Esther and Mordecai, just like he does when we give a follower of Christ a cup of water or when we pray for healing for the sick. We want to push back at this claim because it strains against our sense of how the “real world” works. “How can that be,” we ask? “How can my small actions be of any importance to God?” Nowhere does Scripture answer that “how does it all work” question. It just reassures us that our actions do matter and are an important part in this ongoing war with Evil as God and his people fight against its forces. This claim about the importance of human agency should make sense to us, given that God created us in his image to run God’s world on his behalf. Why wouldn’t God work through human agency to help reestablish his kingdom on earth as in heaven? The forces of Evil certainly use human minions to impose their chaos on God’s good world and people! So why wouldn’t God use humans as agents to spread his goodness, love, mercy, and justice? Make no mistake. We don’t bring in the Kingdom. God does. But God calls us to do our part in the war against Evil. That is why it is so important that we order our lives according to God’s laws and God’s ordering of his creation. Otherwise, we help the enemy; and as Jesus himself warned us in our gospel lesson, that will result in God’s fearsome judgment on us. There will be no Evil and evildoers, human or otherwise, in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth (Rev 21.1-8).

This is why we must take seriously the underlying theme of the story of Esther with its proclamation that despite the presence of Evil and evildoers like Haman in God’s world, God works through the circumstances of life, chaotic as those circumstances can be, and through all kinds of people, to bring about salvation for God’s people. Every time we see Evil defeated, every time we see the sick healed, every time we see mercy extended or God’s justice carried out like we see in the story of Esther, we are reminded that these are signs meant to help us believe that God is busy at work rescuing his people from Evil, Sin, and Death. Esther reveals for those with ears to hear that life and death are determined by identification with a people—God’s people Israel in the OT and God’s people Israel reconstituted around Jesus Christ in the NT that includes both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2.14-18). We as God’s people in Christ are therefore called to embrace the promise that in Jesus Christ we are rescued from our sin and folly and ultimately from death itself because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. The eschatological reality of eternal life for God’s people foreshadowed in the celebration of Purim is fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We live because Jesus lives and because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Not even our mortal death can prevent this promise from being fulfilled or separate us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord (John 14.19, 11.25-26; Romans 8.31-39)! Amen? Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection our destiny has been reversed from death to life, this against all human expectation, and we as Christians find in Christ God’s ultimate promise to protect us from death. Those of us who are God’s people in Christ will be delivered from death and live forever, just as our Lord Jesus was, thanks be to God! 

This means that even in the darkest circumstances of our life when joy is far from our hearts and everything looks dark, just as it did for Esther and her people before she confronted Haman in front of the king, we are assured of our current good standing with God and our final destiny in God’s new world because of the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. Our sins are forgiven and we are being transformed into new creations by the power of God’s Spirit who lives in us and who makes the presence of our risen Lord a reality for us. That is why we can face even the darkest times with hope as God’s people. We live now and will live forever because Christ lives now and lives forever. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ that we profess. Without it, life is bleak indeed. With it, we have power to overcome the worst the forces of Evil can throw at us because Jesus is Lord and they are not.

In a moment we will baptize Tori into God’s family and into this breathtaking promise. She will receive the Holy Spirit and be made holy and pure to serve her Lord all the days of her life. Her parents will promise on her behalf to raise her in ways that will open the way for Jesus to be alive and present in her. We see none of this directly and we acknowledge we are dealing with a holy and awesome mystery. But we don’t have to “see” the Holy Spirit because like the story of Esther, we trust in the promise that baptism will accomplish what it promises, even when we cannot perceive its invisible reality—after all, that’s why we call it a sacrament—and our faith in the power and presence of the Spirit causes us to say, “Amen.”  Believe and trust in that promise, my beloved. Embrace your identification as a member of God’s people in Jesus Christ and be refreshed by God’s love, mercy, and grace that allows you to have membership in his holy family now and forever. Let it sustain you in your darkest hour and let it change you so that God can always use you as a force for his good in a world that desperately needs all the good it can get. When you do, you will be participating in the Good News of Jesus Christ, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

So You Wanna be a Wiseguy, Eh?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 17B, September 23, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a; Mark 9.30-37.

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

Since it is Father Bowser’s birthday today, he felt compelled to offer me some advice about my preaching now that he is an official geezer and since I’ve been out of the saddle for awhile. “Preaching,” he told me, “is like drilling for oil. If you haven’t struck it after 10 minutes, stop boring.” 

In our psalm lesson this morning we are given a stark choice. We can live our lives wisely or foolishly. The former will result in us enjoying God’s blessings while the latter will result in our ultimate destruction. Of course life is not as clear-cut as the psalmist might imply. Real life is much messier because human beings are a mess. This doesn’t negate the psalm’s exhortation for us to live wisely, however, because the love, grace, and power of God are far greater than our messiness and this notion of living wisely is what I want us to look at this morning.  

Before we look at what wise living looks like, we had better understand how the Bible defines wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Wisdom as Scripture uses it starts with a healthy fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9.10). But what does that mean? Fearing the Lord does not mean we are to be terrified of God. To be sure, there is an element of judgment to fearing the Lord. After all, our Lord Jesus told us to fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10.28). But fear of the Lord is much more than our dread of God’s judgment on us because we have seen the cross of Jesus Christ and we therefore know the great love and grace that flows from the Father’s heart for us. God’s desire for us is life and health, not death and destruction. What truly loving father would not want good things for his own children? So we have a healthy respect for God’s power combined with a grateful heart for God’s love for us and his gracious and generous heart that causes him to shower upon us his undeserved blessings. We therefore live wisely when we order our lives in ways that are consistent with God’s created order and God’s will for us as his image-bearing creatures. After all, God created us in his image so that we could run God’s world on his behalf. To do that, of course, means we have to reflect God’s generous heart, love, and passion for justice for all his creation and creatures. This is why God gave Israel his law, so that they could learn how to live as God’s image-bearers and reflect God’s goodness and blessings to the world as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 12.3). So at its very core, biblical wisdom is always manifested primarily in what we do. We see the advantages of living wisely that Psalm 1 promises in our OT lesson this morning. Rather than seeing the wife as the gold standard for which we must strive (an impossible task even for the best of us), we see the blessings that result from wise living. As a result of this woman’s noble character, her wise living brings God’s blessings to many others. Her family and community are blessed and while the writer never states this explicitly, we can safely presume she finds blessing and self-satisfaction in serving as a conduit for helping others experience God’s blessings through her noble character and work. This is how biblical wisdom is supposed to work and manifest itself.

This all sounds simple enough and it was before the Fall when our human ancestors lived in paradise and enjoyed perfect communion with God. But unfortunately we live in a post-Fall world where we are expelled from paradise and are thoroughly infected by the twin powers of Sin and Evil that make it impossible for us on our own to follow God’s laws. We all know, for example, that such a wife as we read about in Proverbs (or a husband for that matter) does not exist—well, except for my own wife; just sayin’. Does that mean we are free to ignore the biblical exhortation to live wisely? No at all! Help is available to us as we shall see shortly. Our job is to use our will (or to use the language of Scripture, to follow our heart) to choose to live wisely. This is not easy and we should be prepared for a lengthy battle to attain godly wisdom because of our corrupted nature and because as St. Paul reminds us, our real battle is not against flesh and blood but against the dark powers that hate us and have enslaved us with the sole purpose of destroying us (Ephesians 6.12; cp. Colossians 2.13-15).

In our epistle lesson this morning, St. James addresses this struggle to live wisely because of our thoroughly corrupted hearts, the center of our will. Like the psalmist in our psalm lesson, St. James is encouraging us to choose the path of godly wisdom and not worldly wisdom, in part by warning us of the dire consequences of following the latter path and holding before us the blessings of following the former path. Keep in mind that St. James was not a head-in-the-cloud idealist. He was a tough realist who knew well the human condition with all its corruption. He knew life was messy and sometimes ugly. After all, he was martyred for his faith. But St. James also knew the reality of God’s love, grace, and power in our lives, and we would be wise to take some time and reflect regularly on the wisdom he imparts to us.

He starts with a probing question. St. James asks us if we really want to seek godly wisdom, which by necessity is based on humility, or do we seek God’s wisdom just to feed our pride and ambition? Seeking godly wisdom means we seek to follow God’s order, not our own chaos-producing sin. This means we must humble ourselves before the word of God and submit to it, something none of us is particularly eager to do. We must listen and seek to understand so that we can follow God’s order faithfully. It means we embrace our role as God’s image-bearers and seek to order or lives in ways that reflect the goodness, love, mercy, and justice of God to his corrupt and hurting world and its people. Of course, human nature being what it is, there are some who seek to appear godly so that folks will look up to them when in reality they are pursuing their own selfish ambition. The scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church of late or the other horror stories that involve fallen theology and church leaders in our own Anglican Communion and elsewhere remind us that St. James knew what he was talking about, and anyone who is a leader in a church, myself included, had better take this warning to heart and examine prayerfully and consistently his or her own heart and motives in the light of God’s law. Do our actions reflect our profession of desiring God’s wisdom? There is nothing more catastrophic to our duty to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world than to act proudly and hypocritically or to pervert God’s word by making it submit to our own warped agendas and corrupted desires rather than having the needed God-given humility to learn God’s ways and laws. Scripture calls this kind of living “foolish.”

And how are we to distinguish between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom? Simple, says St. James. Earthly wisdom has its roots in rebellion and Sin and Evil. It is devilish because there are unseen and wicked powers behind wicked and evil human behavior. The result? Warfare and chaos, the defining characteristic of sin—think of God ordering the chaos of nothingness in the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2. We all know how this works because we all have engaged in it. We don’t get what we want so we go on the attack. We slander our enemies to discredit them. We see this happening in the Kavanaugh hearings right now. The enemies of Judge Kavanaugh are trying to paint him as a sexual abuser/predator to discredit him. The enemies of his accuser, Dr. Ford, are pointing out examples that call her motives and character into question to discredit her and her accusations. Both sides will be relentless until their enemy is destroyed and victory (in their eyes) is achieved. This is the evil of PC in our culture because this is how PC works. Jesus’ disciples also provide a sad example of what St. James is talking about in our gospel lesson. They were arguing about who would be the greatest when Jesus came to power as Messiah. Do you think that argument was going to produce peace? And the silence that ensued when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about is quite telling. They knew the evil they had committed in their desire to lord it over others. Shame often results in silence.

And it’s not only politics. It’s money (lying, cheating, stealing, drug dealing, embezzling to get it), fame (we all desperately want our minute of fame), power (we oppress others in various ways to impose our will over them), security (gated communities, stealing and embezzling to secure our future retirement, carrying weapons), sex (body shaming to make us feel better, adultery, any kind of sex outside marriage), you name it. We do what we have to do to satisfy our lesser, base, and sin-corrupted desires, harming or destroying others along the way, and the result is chaos. As this nation continues to lose its Judeo-Christian moorings we can expect this phenomenon to accelerate and intensify. This is the wisdom of the world at work and sadly every one of us is intimately familiar with it because we are all thoroughly sin-infected.

By contrast, St. James tells us that godly wisdom is pure, meaning it comes from God. “It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” To produce this kind of fruit of course requires humility, which is not a natural human trait. It has to be given to us by God and then cultivated by our hard work and willingness and desire to be true image-bearers. A moment’s thought will confirm the truth of how this works. If we are determined to have our way at all costs as earthly wisdom dictates (look out for yourself because no one else will), we will not yield to another person because we subordinate that person and his desires to us and our own. This is human pride at work. But when we understand we are all made in God’s image and that we and our needs are not more important to God than other folks and their needs, we are willing to yield on certain things. I am not talking about appeasement. I am talking about a willingness to help others have their needs and desires met, especially when we see that those desires reflect God and God’s laws. We might see someone in need and seek to help them. We shovel an elderly person’s walk or buy some food for a hungry person. We help Fr. Madanu buy a ticket to see his family when he cannot afford to buy one. You get the idea. When that happens, peace almost always breaks out. Think about it this way. You see two people walking toward you. One is cynical, quarrelsome, and always has to be right: a worldly-wise person. The other is gentle, humble, willing to help, ready to forgive: a godly-wise person. Which one will you try to avoid? 

As we consider all this, it is critical for us to remember that St. James was offering wisdom in the context of community, not just to individuals. We can’t very well make peace if another family member is unwilling to do likewise or is unwilling to forgive us or have mercy on us or is proud and haughty. This community dimension is critical for us as Christians because the kind of wisdom we choose to follow will result in the kind of witness we give to a watching world. When we follow our own devilish and evil desires, what are we proclaiming to the world about our faith in Christ? People will see us arguing and forming into factions and seeking our own interests over the needs and interests of others. Why would they think that the gospel of Jesus Christ has any kind of transformative power? Why would they want to be part of a family like that? So St. James is speaking to all of us here in the St. Augustine’s family, not just the leaders. 

But if we are so thoroughly corrupted that we cannot acquire godly wisdom on our own, what are we to do? It is here that the good folks who put together the Lectionary let us down once again because they omit the following verses from our lesson:

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4.4-6).

Well, it appears that the folks who choose the readings don’t have a taste for, um, “hard passages.” Adulterers? Life or death choices? Stern warnings? How very preachy and judgmental, no?! Well no, actually. There is nothing judgmental in these verses. St. James is following the biblical definition of love, which has very little to do with sentimentality and emotion and almost everything to do with the good of the beloved, which means getting it right about being human as we have seen. Here he warns us that when we follow the wisdom of the world we commit spiritual adultery against God by giving our heart to the ways of the world rather than to the ways of God in the manner God intended for us when God created us as his image-bearers. That will result in God’s awful judgment on us. So to help us stay loyal to him, God willingly and generously gives us his Spirit and the grace to be humble so that we can learn how to practice humility. St. James says the same thing later in our lesson. He asks how we can stop our incessant warfare and chaos? His answer is by self-discipline and prayer. Chaos results from pride and wicked selfishness. We think we have to provide for ourselves. But no! God provides for us if we have the good sense and humility to ask him, and to ask him for the things that bring glory to God’s name rather than to us. Jesus said much the same when he told us to ask for whatever we want in his Name and it will be given to us. As a young man I thought that was strange. Was Jesus giving me license to ask for money or a new car or sex or anything else that was important to me at the time? No, because those things would not bring God glory through the Son (John 14.13). A heart set on Jesus, i.e., God, desires the things Jesus (God) desires and is more concerned about bringing honor and glory to his Name than our own.

This then is the challenge for those of us who seek to follow Christ. It is a call to examine ourselves, especially in terms of how consistently we live out our profession of faith. It is a challenge because living wisely in the light of God’s law is not natural to us. But as with everything else involving the Christian faith, we are not called to attempt the impossible. The God who calls us to live godly lives that will reflect the glory and goodness of his Name also equips us in the power of the Spirit to give us a humble spirit and the freedom to develop it. Our challenge is not whether we can live godly lives, it’s whether we really want to at all. Examine yourselves, therefore, and ask the Father through the Son to help you develop his gift of humility so that you are empowered to live as you are called to live so that you will enjoy the great blessings God wants to give you. The Father has done the hardest work. He has sent the Son to die for you to break the power of Sin and Evil and free you from its wicked enslavement. Trust that God to help you live as he calls you to live. Doing so will make you real wise guys, my beloved. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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