Fr. Terry Gatwood: Seeds of Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3B, Sunday, June 17, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has gone completely illiterate so there is no written text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts for today are 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34.

An Easter Sermon for (Not So) Ordinary Time

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2B, Sunday, June 10, 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: 1 Samuel 8.4-20, 11.14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.5; Mark 3.20-35.

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

We recently entered “ordinary time,” the period after Trinity Sunday that runs through All-Saints’ Sunday and celebrates the ministry and mystery of Christ, God become human. During this liturgical season it is unusual for preachers to focus on resurrection because that topic is usually reserved for Eastertide. But you’re going to get an Easter sermon today because, well, I’m kinda unusual (I know, I know; you already knew that), because today’s Lectionary texts allow it, and because we live in a sin-sick world and need to be reminded on a regular basis about who God is and why we as Christians have a hope that is uniquely ours.

We would have to be utterly blind not to see that there is something wrong with God’s breathtakingly beautiful world. From natural disasters to personal illness to frustrated hopes and dreams to sudden catastrophes to living with the consequences of our sin to broken and dysfunctional relationships, we don’t have to be told that all is not right with God’s world or our lives. As we saw last week, in ancient Israel’s life as well as our own, everyone increasingly did what seemed right in their own eyes, which did nothing but bring about increasing lawlessness, anxiety, and disorder to their society and ours. When the creatures decide to tell their Creator they know better than the Creator, chaos, one of the primary signs of Sin and Evil, will surely follow.

Each of our lessons this morning speaks to this reality as well. In our OT lesson, e.g., God tells old Samuel that in demanding a king like the other nations, God’s people Israel were rejecting God, not Samuel’s leadership. And God commanded Samuel to tell the people that if they got a king, injustice and all kinds of other evil would ensue. The psalmist speaks about God rescuing him as he walks in the midst of trouble, especially from the fury of his enemies. And if we read the overarching story of Scripture carefully, we will see that our sin and rebellion against God not only results in our death, it also allows the powers of Evil to operate more freely in God’s world to corrupt and destroy it. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, our enemies are not flesh and blood, i.e., other humans, but the powers and principalities, i.e., the unseen forces of Evil, arrayed against us (6.12). To be sure, we usually deal with the human agents who cooperate with the dark powers, wittingly or otherwise. But our real enemy is the unseen forces of Evil that often control and/or manipulate sinful human behavior. As St. John writes, “…when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning (1 John 3.8a).

If we understand this dynamic and acknowledge the real presence of Evil in God’s good world, enigmatic and mysterious as that can seem, we are ready to examine what is really going on in our gospel lesson. This in turn will help us appreciate what Scripture is trying to tell us, that God is not an absentee landlord who cares nothing about his tenants and who turns a blind eye to our cries. To the contrary, our acknowledgement of the real presence of Evil in God’s world and our lives makes us want to cry out to the Lord in the manner of the psalmists: 

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! / When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. / All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. / I think of God, and I moan,  overwhelmed with longing for his help. / Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? / Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? / Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? (Psalm 77.1-3, 7-9)

Our gospel lesson testifies to the fact that God has both heard our prayers for deliverance from Evil and has acted decisively to defeat Evil be sending Jesus his Son to rescue us. That’s what this story is about and we need to have eyes and ears and minds of faith so that we don’t miss it. St. Mark never tells us explicitly that Jesus was performing an exorcism in the house but surely that was the case. We conclude this based on the exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities who had come down from Jerusalem to check him out. If Jesus wasn’t exorcising demons from an afflicted person, their criticisms of him make no sense at all, nor does Jesus’ response to their criticisms. Placing this story on the heels of previous exorcisms and healings, which in turn came after the story of Jesus’ victory over Satan during our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness (Mark 1.9-14, 21-32), St. Mark surely wants us to see that in these exorcisms, Jesus is extending his initial victory won over Satan in the wilderness, i.e., Jesus has bound the strong man, Satan, and has begun to plunder Satan’s house. Jesus, God’s Son and Messiah, is the stronger man and through him and his work, God is going about defeating the powers and presence of Evil. St. John tells us the same thing in his first epistle, except much more boldly. He states that, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8b). Of course, St. John makes this claim immediately after writing that those who still sin belong to the devil as we saw earlier. From this we can reasonably conclude that release from Sin’s power over us through the Son of God, and only the Son of God is part of defeating Evil. But how?

The cross, of course. In addition to the exorcisms and healings our Lord performed during his earthly ministry, signs that he truly is God’s Son and Messiah, the NT writers are adamant that on the cross God defeated the powers and principalities, but in a most surprising way. God didn’t send in the tanks. God sent his only Son to take on himself the full brunt of Evil and bear the punishment for our Sins, thus further breaking the power of Evil. We therefore have nothing to fear in this world or the next because we believe that in the blood of the Lamb shed to cleanse us from our sins, we are reconciled to God, our only Source of life, and freed from the power of Evil and Sin. And when we are freed from the power of Evil and Sin we are therefore freed from the power of Death because as St. Paul writes elsewhere, the wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6.23). By dying for us in a shameful and godforsaken manner, the Son of God freed us from the dark powers who hate us and want to destroy us (Romans 8.2). Even more remarkable is the fact that God did all this for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5.6-9).

All this is the Good News of Jesus Christ and is part of the Easter proclamation. But before we look at the heart of the Easter proclamation contained in our epistle lesson, let us stop and consider what this all means for us. First, a word about the unforgivable sin about which Jesus talks in our gospel lesson. I know it has caused a lot of anxiety in faithful Christians. Have we committed the unforgivable sin? The short answer is no, unless you attribute the mighty acts of healing and power performed by Jesus, exorcisms included, to Satan himself. Knowing most of you as I do, I think you all can breathe a sigh of relief and let go of this particular anxiety, because that was the context in which Jesus spoke about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. 

Second, Jesus’ claim to have bound the strong man (Satan) so that Satan’s kingdom could be plundered, i.e., that he was reclaiming God’s good world from the forces of Evil, is also meant to alert us to the reality that the world is full of spiritual dangers. “Go out there with your eyes open,” we hear him say. “Expect to be tempted. Realize that when bad things happen, evil powers may well have a hand in them. Don’t naively suppose that life ought to be like a leisurely afternoon at the beach and then blink in surprise when some sort of evil explodes into the middle of your existence.” Jesus announces that we live in a world held hostage by formidable evil powers, powers always on the prowl, but Jesus has the power to defeat them. He hasn’t defeated them completely, of course. In fact, I was reminded of this reality in a terrible way while writing this sermon. It is precisely at this point I received the news of Dawn Dunlap’s death yesterday. Now I am not suggesting the powers of Evil were behind her death, only that we live in a world where bad things can and do happen, even to good people. So while the evil powers have been defeated, they have not been fully vanquished. That won’t happen until the Lord returns to consummate his work won in his death and resurrection. This can be a challenge to our faith and it is here we must return to the psalmist who has cried out in desperation and anger, asking God where God is and why God allows evil to exist. The psalmist, of course, doesn’t receive an answer to his why questions. Instead he engages in holy remembrance. He remembers who God is and God’s mighty works on behalf of God’s people. Listen to him now:

I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” / But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. / O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? / You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. / By your strong arm, you redeemed your people. (Ps 77.10-11, 13-15a)

God’s people Israel were to remember God’s rescue of them from their slavery in Egypt. For Christians, our go-to remembrance is Jesus’ death and resurrection for the reasons we have just talked about along with the mighty acts of power like Jesus’ exorcisms and healings. 

Third, the presence and power of Evil in God’s world, combined with our utter helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and Death remind us we are dealing with powerful, alien forces who hate us and want to destroy us. If we are to be conquerors, therefore, we must rely on help from an outside power who loves us and wants to heal us, especially from the ultimate evil of Death. The NT teaches us, and we believe, that that help comes from God the Father himself who sent his only Son to die for us and free us from our slavery to Evil and Sin, and who broke the power of Death by raising Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson and elsewhere (cp. especially Romans 6.3-11), we are united to Christ in a death like his so that we can also be united to Christ in a resurrection like his. In other words, we share Christ’s reality, both in this world and the next. We did nothing to deserve it, but God offered Christ to us anyway because of God’s great love for us. Do we have the good sense to accept this most precious gift in the world? I pray we do, my beloved.

I can hear some of you saying right now, “I just can’t imagine any of that: God’s love for me, the strange way God defeated Evil, and the resurrection of the dead.” Well of course you can’t. None of us can, not even those of us who actually believe the gospel. We can’t imagine it precisely because this is about the God who raises the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist (Romans 4.17), not us. Last time I checked, none of us can do either of those things; so yes, it is unimaginable in that regard. But it’s true, despite our inability to imagine the power and mercy and love and grace of God behind it. When by God’s grace we do believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and learn to have a realistic view of Evil in the world, we are given the power to overcome that Evil and to persevere when it afflicts us as it inevitably will. 

This is what St. Paul was talking about in our epistle lesson. He had been defending his ministry to the Corinthians because it looked so weird to them. He talked about power in suffering for Jesus. He talked about dying to self and living for Christ, proclaiming nothing but his cross. St. Paul wasn’t a handsome, sexy leader. To the contrary he had suffered terribly for his Lord. And because some in the Corinthian church couldn’t imagine this is how God has chosen to rescue us from Evil, they questioned St. Paul’s legitimacy as an bona fide apostle of Christ.

In response, St. Paul tells them (and us) that he doesn’t lose hope or heart despite his immense suffering on behalf of Christ. In fact, he tells us that when we are faithful to Jesus we can expect to suffer too, and sometimes mightily! That is when we must stop and remember what God has done for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s rescued us from the enemy and our slavery to the evil powers so that even if we are killed, we have nothing to fear. Paul is not telling us he never had anxiety or fear. Read what he says in 2 Corinthians 1.8-11 about being crushed and overwhelmed in Asia beyond his ability to endure, even to the point where he expected to die. So St. Paul is not offering us some magic elixir full of happy juice that will suddenly make our troubles and sufferings disappear. No, St. Paul is offering us something much better: union with the crucified and risen Lord who has conquered the dark powers and all that can truly harm us, and claimed us as his own. That, proclaims St. Paul, not to mention countless Christians after him, is enough to help us persevere when we are afflicted by Evil because we know our eternal future is secure even if the fleeting present is still chaotic.

And what is that future? Resurrection! New bodily life patterned after our crucified and risen Savior. When St. Paul speaks of things seen versus unseen, he is not talking about the physical world versus the spiritual world (heaven), denigrating the former and exalting the latter. He is talking about the present world in contrast to the future world, the new heavens and earth, with its new type of physicality that will include us with our resurrection bodies that will be impervious to sickness, suffering, sorrow, or death. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated decisively that death had been defeated. It was the turning point in history! And Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of our own resurrection because as we have seen, as Christians we are united with Christ in a resurrection like his. We have this promise, despite our ongoing sin and wickedness and rebellion against God because we are united to Jesus in a death like his, where he broke Sin’s power over us and spared us from God’s justice being imposed on us, thanks be to God! Amen? If this future hope is not enough to sustain you in times of darkness and suffering, my beloved, I don’t know what can. Let us therefore ask the Holy Spirit, whom God gives us to strengthen and guide us, to give us the faith to believe the unbelievable (in human terms) and to imagine the unimaginable (again in human terms). Let us love and forgive and encourage each other as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and enthroned as Lord over the entire creation, to a world that desperately needs to hear it. And let our proclamation sustain us in our own sufferings because we know we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, which means we are proclaiming the defeat of all that is evil, especially Death, now and for all eternity. That proclamation, my beloved, will preach during Eastertide and any other season as well. 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 Word of the Lord Was Rare in Those Days (and Ours)

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1B, Sunday, June 3, 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: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18; 2 Corinthians 4.5-12; Mark 2.23-3.6.

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

What are we to make of the strange and intriguing story found in our OT lesson today? What can it possibly have to do with us? Much, because underneath the intrigue and the terrible act of judgment pronounced on old Eli and his sons lies a message of hope and we all could certainly use a fresh infusion of real hope.

Before we look at the actual story, some context is needed to help us interpret it correctly. This story is set in the time of the judges in Israel. Israel’s great leaders, Moses and Joshua, the men whom God chose to lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt and to conquer the land God promised to their forefather Abraham, were dead and Israel had no one to lead them. Given our corrupted human nature, the results were predictable. The Israelites did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord instead of being his faithful image-bearing people to bring God’s healing and goodness to the land, and God punished his people for their evildoing by bringing new conquerors to oppress and enslave them. The people in turn would cry out to the Lord, who in his great love and graciousness raised up leaders in Israel called judges, to lead God’s people and free them from their oppressors. Interestingly, some of the judges whom God raised up were themselves deeply flawed individuals, Samson being the poster boy, but God used them anyway to bring freedom and relief to his persistently rebellious people. This in itself should give us hope that God can use even us, deeply flawed as we are, to help achieve God’s purposes. The writer of the book of Judges sums up the period this way: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). 

We would have to live with our heads buried in the sand not to understand what the writer was saying about the darkness the enfolded Israel without a godly leader who would encourage God’s people to live truly as people of God because we too live in a land where people do increasingly what seems right in their own eyes. When we do what is right in our own eyes, darkness and chaos inevitably follow because we are hopelessly corrupted and sin-sick. So, for example, we have jihadists who murder innocents to achieve some sense of perverted justice in their own eyes. We have young people who shoot up schools, in part to achieve a sense of justice for being left out and/or ignored or bullied. We are asked increasingly to endorse sexual relationships and gender confusion in the name of tolerance and love, all the while ignoring the fact that these things run contrary to God’s created order and will surely not turn out well overall. We have folks who take to social media to say racist, sexist, and hateful things about those they do not like. We don’t argue ideas anymore. We try to shame and discredit those with whom we disagree because doing so seems right in our own eyes. We turn a blind eye to all kinds of injustice and evil in the world and come up with all kinds of rationalizations to justify our own questionable moral and ethical behavior. And Christians are not exempt from any of this. Look no further than the fiasco that has engulfed some of the old-guard leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention over their treatment of women who have been abused or raped because these men were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. This isn’t a white man’s problem. It is a human race problem because as Saint Paul reminds us grimly, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in whose Image we are created (Rom 3.25). In addition to the hopeless condition of our sin-sickness that prevents us from pulling ourselves up by our own moral bootstraps, we are a nation increasingly susceptible to this phenomenon of doing what seems right in our own eyes because for years now we’ve been told to think for ourselves. We’ve been urged to reject the wisdom and teaching of our various traditions and look what it has brought us. Not all is bad, of course, and some traditions need to be challenged, especially when they have become distorted by folks doing what seems right in their own eyes. That’s one of the points of our gospel lesson after all. But in the areas of moral and ethical behavior, we are essentially no different from the people of ancient Israel. We are more interested in doing what seems right in our own eyes than seeking to obey the word and wisdom of God as revealed in Scripture. No wonder the word of the Lord was (and is) scarce and visions far and few between.

This was the historical context for our OT story today. If that weren’t bad enough, old Eli had two sons who had apparently turned the Tabernacle of the Lord, the very place where God chose to live with his people, into a brothel (with stuff like this, who needs reality TV?). As the writer explains earlier, “Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were [having sex with] the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2.22). Eli rebuked his sons, but not in a way that got them to change their behavior, and he apparently did nothing further to stop this serious problem from occurring. It seems that even the priestly family was doing what seemed right in their own eyes. With all this in mind, is it surprising that the word of the Lord, i.e., God’s guiding presence, was rare in those days? We see the same thing happening in our country as people increasingly refuse to submit to the life-giving power of the word of the Lord and do what seems right in their own eyes.

Hey Father Maney! I hear some of you saying. You told us this was supposed to be a sermon about hope. If this is your idea of preaching hope, please stop and let us slit our wrists. That kinda seems to be what is right in our own eyes. Patience, grasshoppers. If we are not willing to take a hard look at our own reality, we will hardly be in a position to see hope when it presents itself. Despite the darkness that enveloped God’s people, despite the fact that the word of the Lord was scarce in those days (and ours), the writer reminds us that God had not totally abandoned God’s people in judgment because that is not who God is. God did not create us for destruction. God created us for relationship and life. And so we are told that the Lord’s lamp, a symbol of the very presence of God, had not gone completely out. God spoke to the young boy Samuel, who despite being dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah (1 Samuel 1.19-28), did not initially recognize the Lord was speaking to him, precisely because the word of the Lord was scarce. It was so scarce that it took a groggy Eli three times to recognize that it was God who was speaking to the boy. Once Samuel responded to God, however, I’m pretty sure he wished he hadn’t because the first word Samuel heard was an oracle of judgment against his beloved mentor, Eli, and his family. What a predicament for the youngster! God was ready to bring about the hope of a new beginning but first a terrible ending had to take place. God will not be mocked. We must realize that doing whatever seems right in our sin-sick eyes will not lead to our healing and restoration. The world, including parts of Christ’s Church, is in the mess it’s in precisely because we are not willing to submit to God’s wise leadership over us contained in God’s word. We are too busy trying to cling to equality with God and have been from the start!

But God does not abandon us because God is faithful to his created order (us included) and because God loves us, despite our rebellion and the judgment it brings. We must remember that stories like this fall under the overarching story in Scripture of how God is going about rescuing us from our death-producing sin and the evil it unleashes in the world. Even when the darkness of our sin and rebellion threatens to totally consume us and we wonder why God has abandoned us or how God could possibly love us in the first place, stories like this remind us that God is still in charge of God’s created order and is actively seeking us out to have a life-saving relationship with him. As the psalmist reminds us in our psalm lesson this morning, God is actively and intimately involved with us, even while we are being formed in our mother’s womb (listen if you have ears)!

As God’s people in Christ, we are reminded of God’s love and care for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, who died for us while we were still God’s enemies (Romans 5.6-11). Saint Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson that the light and love of God always shines in our hearts, despite the darkness that dwells in us and the world that seeks to snuff out God’s light and life-giving love for us. As the apostle also reminds us, we have life only by dying to ourselves, only by actively putting to death all that is in us that is actively opposed and hostile to God. We can’t do this on our own, of course. We do it in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and who makes our risen Lord available to us every day. The folks of Samuel’s day did not have this privilege. God only poured out his Spirit on a select few, mainly the prophets. But at Pentecost that all changed and now all believers have an Advocate, God himself, to defend us against the Accuser and his minions (and ourselves). This lifelong, difficult, and often messy process of putting to death our desire to be God’s equals so that we can do what seems right to us allows us to share in Christ’s life-saving death on the cross. And when we share in Christ’s death, we also get to share in Christ’s resurrected life, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s lesson, Rom 6.3-5, and elsewhere. We are not saved by our works, by our status or our money or our power or—I know this is hard for you who are looking at me to believe—our looks. We bring nothing to the table that gives us hope for life with God, either in this world or the next. We have this hope only in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, whose story is contained in Holy Scripture and whose presence is available to us in the power of the Spirit. Without this hope we still live in darkness. Without this hope, frankly healing services like today’s are nothing but a farce.

So here are two of many things to reflect on this week from this story of Eli and Samuel. First, God never imposes God’s will on us. God created us for relationship with God and each other and invites us to accept his invitation. If we choose to enter that relationship we must also be willing to submit to God’s authority contained in Scripture and revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. It’s never a good thing for us to think for ourselves when it comes to matters of God and God’s word. We must call on the Spirit and the collective wisdom of Christ’s Church to help us know God. Second, there are times in our lives and in our culture (like today) where it seems that God has abandoned us. The word of the Lord is scarce and visions are few, i.e. it appears that God is far away and doesn’t care about us or our plight. The story of Samuel and Eli suggests otherwise. God is always present and acts in sometimes very surprising and unexpected ways. After all, who expected the Creator of the universe to become human and die a terrible and shameful death on a cross to rescue us from our sin and its resulting death? Of course, the enemies of the cross seek to silence us and we can expect to be harassed and even persecuted for proclaiming the word of the Lord, and that can make us afraid. And in the context of our healing service, we become afraid when we come to the Lord for healing and nothing apparently happens. When we become afraid, we must ask the Spirit to reveal Jesus’ presence to us and to open our minds and hearts to God’s word, which is critical for our faith. After all, the last book of the Bible (Revelation) was written by a man exiled by the Roman authorities for his faith in Jesus. There he wrote about the eventual victory of God and his Christ over the powers of Evil and Death. God will judge all that is wrong with God’s world and that includes us. But we aren’t afraid because we are people who believe in the power of the cross and God’s love poured out for us there. That faith, that hope, and that love unite us with our resurrected Lord and remind us light and life are our destiny and present reality, not darkness and death. And that story is contained in God’s word. So hang on to that hope, my beloved. Encourage each other as you proclaim it to the world because you know you are proclaiming 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. 

Fr. Philip Sang: Celebrating the Unity of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday B, May 27, 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: Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17.

Trinity Sunday – the day when we celebrate the Father Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God – yet interestingly this is the one festival in the Christian year that does not relate to events that have happened or that will happen in time.

Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost all relate to specific events in Christ’s life on earth. But Trinity Sunday is different it refers to a reality that has no date and it leads us to ask – when did God become the Holy Trinity? Was he always the three-in-one creator, redeemer and sustainer was he always Father Son and Holy Spirit? A difficult question I don’t intend to try and answer this morning!

What we do know is that Trinity Sunday is the essential reminder, coming round once every year, that we cannot manage God – we cannot even imagine him. How can three be one? It defies both logic and understanding for if we could understand God – contain him – then he would cease to be GOD. When we are dealing with theology and faith we are always dealing with something more than we can cope with. We are dealing with things too wonderful for us to know – and we speak of things which we do not understand. God will always be beyond the capacity of our human minds. As Rowan Williams has said – we can but “let God be God”.

However this does not really let us off the hook! We live by faith as well as knowledge and it is FAITH that teaches us that God is indeed three in one, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This is spelt out clearly in our collect this morning when we pray that we may be led, ‘by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity’

We can acknowledge it by faith even when we cannot understand it by knowledge. The unity of the Trinity is what holds it together. The ‘three-in-one’, when together, makes the whole. Each part is necessary and without all three it is not whole – it is not complete – it lacks integrity. For God, in the unity of the Trinity, is the epitome of integration and completeness. So it is for us the supreme example of utter integrity, integrity meaning completeness, honesty, authenticity. And the opposite of which is dis-integration, brokenness, less than fully honest, less than whole.

And we only have to look around us to know that we live in a fractured and disintegrated world. Yet, within this world, we are called to become real and authentic, whole people, believers who live, as it were, in two necessary dimensions and to strive, with God’s grace, to integrate the two into one – the flesh and the spirit – the human and the divine – the earthly and the heavenly – within time and in eternity.

And our supreme example, our model, is of course Christ himself. Looking at Jesus we see a man – and we see God – two realities in one integrated life. The earthly and the heavenly become perfectly integrated. From his poor and humble birth to his prophetic life on the margins and ultimately by his resurrection – the life of Christ expresses the Father’s decision to make himself visible to all. So in looking at the man Jesus we see God himself, a human person who becomes a sacrament of God. Christ is the representative of the human race before God. We are promised that, by the transformation of grace, we may live in Christ as he lives in us. So we too, are to become sacraments of God to the world. We are never going to fully understand how it works because we can not have God’s perspective on it all. ALL we DO know is that, through the gift of the spirit, we are called to pray, to trust and to live with the integrity before God (to live ‘holy’ lives) that leaves the door open to let things come together so that God’s love can come through.

We believe in a God who is creator of all things visible and invisible, a God of the here and now, AND in the life that is to come. This is in fact something of deeply practical and personal meaning, it is about the possibility of an integrated life. We have seen yet again, in the stories of Easter, Jesus, in his resurrection appearances, doing what he always did, talking, eating, loving, making God present in his actual presence, in voice and touch. So God reveals himself as Trinity – from His inaccessibility in the Old Testament, where he is hidden in the ark of the covenant and in the temple and only approachable by a few special priests – to the New Testament where in the human person of Jesus, by his incarnation, He becomes accessible in one place and in one time and to a relatively small number of people and then at Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, He becomes accessible to all people, and for all time. God has breathed into his disciples, and into us, his ‘spirit’, the breath of life, so that we are equipped to do what he does – to speak with his voice to the world. So the revelation in the Trinity is complete. God is one integrated whole.

And so on this Trinity Sunday we have a renewed opportunity to look again at the supreme model of unity, integrity and wholeness – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s all very well but what, we may ask, has all this to do with our Gospel reading. How is the story of Nicodemus relevant to us on this Trinity Sunday? It’s certainly not immediately obvious! Looking at the story in more detail we learn that Nicodemus was an intellectual, a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin, not prepared to be seen coming to Jesus in broad daylight so coming by night. It appears that he couldn’t rest until he had heard Jesus first hand. We know that he came out of professional curiosity, with a willingness to learn, starting from the premise that Jesus must be genuine or he would not be preaching and healing as he did. It was a good start and Jesus built on it to such effect that Nicodemus was later, as we learn from St John’s Gospel, not only to speak out for justice in the Sanhedrin, but also later on, to give generous practical help to Joseph of Aramathea in attending the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.

So Nicodemus was a man of compassion with a legal and enquiring mind. A man used to weighing up evidence with a passion for truth and justice. His encounter with Jesus was an encounter of mutual respect and courtesy as we see from the fact that they each refer to the other as ‘Rabbi’. It was a meeting full of genuine concern with important issues. Nicodemus it seems was a man of utter integrity. And yet he was still not able to make that final leap of faith, to accept the whole of Jesus’ person and teaching. There was one part of Nicodemus that just could not understand or accept the reality and necessity, or even the possibility, of being ‘born again’, of living in both the world of the flesh AND the world of the spirit. There was a part of him that held back and just couldn’t handle what Jesus was telling him.

And perhaps many of us are in the same position. Are there parts of the gospel that we cannot handle or accept? Can we really accept the baptism of the spirit, of being born again? I would suggest that to be fully integrated Christians we must both accept it and also live it. Our readings make this clear. Jesus says ‘no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit’ and in our reading from Romans ‘if you live by the flesh you will die – but if you live by the spirit you will live’ and ‘all who are led by the spirit are children of God’.

So we are called to live not only in this world of the body but also in the spirit, in eternal life in this world and the next, in the here and now and in eternity. But what does this actually mean? At face value it seems to mean that we are to value the things of eternal life, things of God, above things of this world. To live by God’s truth rather than by worldly standards. This is certainly true.

But maybe it’s even more fundamental than that and we have to go one step further. If we are to live in the spirit, in eternal life, then life cannot end when our bodies die. Physical death cannot be the end. So in view of this we must live our earthly lives with our eyes firmly focused, not on the horizon of the death of our bodies, but always on the horizon of everlasting life with God himself whom, we are promised, we shall see ‘face to face’. If our sights are set on that eternal horizon it cannot but determine the way we live now, the decisions and choices we make, the way we relate to one another and, above all, the way we relate to God himself. It will be dictated by the long view, with bodily death an event on the way to full knowledge and life with God.

And our example of how we might try and do this is of course Jesus himself. He is our model for living in this present dimension of time and space, constricted as we are like him in an earthly body, but also with eyes firmly fixed beyond this world and on eternal life with God, beyond the grave. And if we are to live as best we can as Jesus did, we must take his whole life as our example, not just some aspects of it, the bits we find easy and comfortable. We must also take into account the example of his suffering and death. The cross, His and ours, is a necessary part and indeed to be welcomed. If we too want to live as closely as we can to Christ, we need to take to heart Jesus’ saying ‘unless a grain of wheat dies – it cannot bear fruit’ so we too must welcome the sufferings that come our way, as well as the joys, and pray that we may learn to rejoice in all things and to see them as opportunities to identify more closely with our Lord, to be enabled to worship our Trinitarian God with authenticity and integrity.

So let our prayer on this Trinity Sunday be that we might, little by little, become more fully integrated and Christ-like people, People who praise God the Father, the creator, who gave us bodies to live in this created world People who praise God the Son, who through his incarnation, his life in this world, his teaching and suffering, brought us salvation People who praise God the Spirit, who leads us beyond this world and into eternal life.

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

Father Ric Bowser: Pentecost: Being in the Direct Presence of God

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser is still working on his writing skills, hence there is no written text for his fine sermon. Listen to the audio podcast by clicking here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Romans 8.22-27; John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15.

The Ascension: God’s Power Play

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday, May 13, 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. Trust me. Listen to this one instead of reading it.

Lectionary texts: Acts 1.1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1.15-23; Luke 24.44-53.

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

Today we celebrate our Lord’s ascension into heaven. But what’s that all about? Is St. Luke trying to tell us that Jesus was the first astronaut, zooming up into space? Not at all, and if we understand our Lord Jesus’  ascension in this literalist and linear way, we miss the point and are robbed of the vital power we need to live as Christians in a broken world. This is what I want us to look at briefly this morning. What does it mean for us to participate in God’s power play?

If we are ever to understand by the grace of God what it means to be God’s people in Jesus, i.e., people with power, we must first understand what St. Luke is telling us about the Ascension in our NT and gospel lessons. He is not trying to suggest that Jesus was the first astronaut who gives his disciples one last glimpse of him by allowing them to see the soles of his feet. No, for St. Luke and the rest of the NT writers, Jesus’ ascension into heaven (God’s space) meant that Jesus was going to assume his rightful place as ruler of the cosmos. When St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson that God seated our ascended Lord at his right hand, he is telling us that Jesus is now Lord over both the visible and invisible powers, i.e., over all creation. Jesus is Lord precisely because on the cross, God defeated the forces of evil and transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins, thanks be to God. This is the wisdom and power of God: the suffering and self-giving love that rescued us from utter destruction and our slavery to the dark powers that hate us and want to see us destroyed. But none of us would ever have known the power of crucified love had it not been for God raising Jesus from the dead that first Easter Sunday. As we have seen during this Eastertide, the cross needs the resurrection and the resurrection needs the cross. Without the resurrection, the cross would have meant that Jesus was just another failed Messiah wannabe. Without the cross, the resurrection would have been nothing more than a spectacular act of power on God’s part because we would remain in our sins and unreconciled with God so that death would be our destiny, not eternal life

Based on God’s power in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Luke and St. Paul both remind us that now Jesus has returned to God’s space (heaven) to assume his rightful role as Lord of all creation and to rule until all God’s enemies have been defeated, death being the last and greatest of these enemies (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.26, 51-55). Can any of us think of a greater power than being able to destroy the power of death forever when the dead are finally raised to life? And who among us has the power to be reconciled to God given the desperately sick hearts with which we are all burdened (Jeremiah 17.9)? The answer, of course, is that none of us has this power, only God does. 

So in Jesus’ death and resurrection we see the penultimate chapter in the story of God’s plan to rescue his good creation and its creatures gone bad, corrupted by human sin and rebellion and the evil it unleashed in the world. Now that the forces of evil had been defeated on the cross and Jesus validated as the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Son returned to the Father to assume his rightful role as Lord of all and to build on the work he had accomplished in his death and resurrection. In other words, Jesus’ ascension signaled to his followers and the world that God is once again in control of things in a new and definitive way. For those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts and minds to believe, God is again demonstrating his power to save and reminding us that the good guys are in charge, not the bad ones.

But the Ascension also meant that Jesus would no longer be available to his followers in the way he had been during his mortal life. He had to return to heaven to continue the work he started on his Father’s behalf. So why does St. Luke report that after Jesus’ ascension his disciples were filled with joy? If we knew our loved one was going to be absent from us for a period of time, wouldn’t we be filled with sadness and anxiety? So why weren’t the disciples? The answer, of course, is that Jesus promised them the power of his presence with them in the coming of the Holy Spirit. While Jesus would be strangely absent from his followers, he would also be strangely present because he was going to send the Holy Spirit to mediate his presence with us. Father Bowser will presumably take up this theme next week. Or not. 

And now we are getting ready to understand what it means for us as Jesus’ followers to be part of God’s power play and what that might look like. Being part of God’s power play means we are people who have been forgiven our sins and equipped with the power to reorient our lives away from ourselves, which would mean death, to God, which means life. Don’t misunderstand. This process is not automatic or neat and clean. We are a profoundly broken people, but God’s healing power and love for us is far greater. To be part of God’s power play means we have the power and person of Jesus always available to us, even in our darkest moments of anxiety and fear, healing us, loving us, and equipping us to lead the cross-shaped lives he calls us to lead. He gives us this power because he calls us to continue his kingdom work by announcing repentance and the forgiveness of sins and bringing Christ’s love and presence to his sin-sick world. We are tempted to shake our heads about all this, of course. If Jesus is Lord, he is doing a really lousy job of it. Look at the mess this world is in! But this misses the point of the Ascension. The first Christians knew the world was in bad shape. St. Paul, after all, wrote about the dark powers being defeated while he was in prison! He certainly knew the reality of evil, but because he knew the risen Christ present to him both on the road to Damascus and in the power of the Spirit, he also knew that evil had been ultimately defeated. 

What the Ascension means for us in terms of power is that we are given the tremendous privilege of being real human beings again and doing the work that God always intended and called us to do. We are to rule the world by reflecting God’s love and goodness into it. That God did not put the world to rights with the wave of God’s hand is a testimony to the worth God assigns us as his image-bearers. In and through Christ, God did what was impossible for us to do: rescue us from ourselves and our slavery to sin and evil. Now God calls us to continue the work of bringing in God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. That’s a mighty tall order and it is impossible for us to do this on our own. We simply don’t have the power to get the job done. 

But we are not called to bring in the Kingdom on our own nor are we given the task of bringing in the Kingdom in full so that all the darkness in our lives and God’s world are totally vanquished. Only God can do that when Jesus returns to consummate his saving work started in his earthly ministry. No, the kind of power we wield is the kind of power Jesus wielded and if we get this right, it will help us better understand how the power of God works and why quest-ions about the ability of Jesus to rule as Lord of all creation miss the point of the Ascension. The kingdom will come on earth as in heaven as the Church—you, me, and all other Christians—engage the world as Christ did. It means we go out as vulnerable, suffering, praying, praising, misunderstood, misjudged, and even hated people. But we are people of power, God’s power, and that means we go out into the world as forgiven and beloved people, and therefore as people with real hope. Consequently we are always celebrating despite our setbacks and failures because we know how the story ends. As God’s people, then, we are given power to forgive where no forgiveness is warranted. We are given power to bless when cursed. We are given power to love instead of hate and to offer the same crucified love to others that Christ offered to us. We are given power to have a tender and compassionate heart, especially to those who least deserve it. We are given power to be patient and kind and gentle, even when we know this makes us vulnerable to exploitation. We are given power to resist temptation and to refuse to make and worship our own idols like the world does. It means we have power to heal all kinds of disorders and to celebrate even when confronted by death because we know we bear in us both the scars and the life of our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior. And when by God’s grace we know that we share both in Christ’s death and risen life because we are forgiven and redeemed, we have power over anxiety that the world simply cannot possess or understand because the world neither recognizes or acknowledges this kind of power.

None of this is easy or straightforward. We don’t get to waltz through life without hassles, heartaches, and defeats. It just doesn’t work that way. Therefore we have to read and study the Scriptures, and learn how to pray, worship, and engage in real fellowship with each other, all the while trusting God’s grace to produce in us the needed faith and knowledge about these things we cannot understand on our own. And when we finally start to grapple with the realization we are people who possess God’s power to love, forgive, bless, and redeem, it can make all the difference in the world for us. We should therefore never be timid about sharing the Good News of which the Ascension is a part with all and sundry, precisely because we know God’s power to heal and restore in our own lives, however imperfectly that might look. After all, God is a God who calls into existence things that do not exist and raises the dead to life. So nothing in our life is too hard for God, even if it is too hard for us when we rely on our own power. The Ascension reminds us of this reality. Despite our doubts and fears, despite the messiness of our lives and the world in which we live, we are reminded of the dignity and nobility of being human in the eyes of God and God’s promise to rescue us and all creation from all that is evil and opposed to God’s good will and purposes for us. Because we are people of power who enjoy Christ’s love and presence with us in the power of the Spirit, we can learn to find real joy in the people and events and opportunities that the Spirit puts in our path. Because Jesus is Lord we know that nothing in our lives is ever coincidental or serendipitous. We are all connected and therefore have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the love and power of God. And because Jesus is Lord and we are not, we never have to despair when our best efforts and intentions apparently do not bear any results: We pray and our prayers are not answered in the manner we hoped. We offer forgiveness but it is not reciprocated. We are bedeviled by besetting sins. We offer Truth and receive shame and derision in return. Without the power of the Lord Jesus who is with us in the presence of the Spirit, we would surely be overcome with despair. But we are crucified and resurrected people who share the King’s power, and who enjoy his real presence in the power of the Spirit given to us. And because we have this power, we are not overcome because we know even the gates of hell cannot overcome the Risen and Ascended Lord of all creation, thanks be to God! Alleluia! Christos Anesti! Christ is risen and ascended! The Lord is risen and ascended indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Fr. Philip Sang: The Fruit of the Vine

Sermon delivered on Easter 5B, Sunday, April 29, 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: Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 22.24-30; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8.

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

Greetings to you from the ADGL synod. It was a blessing to be able to meet brothers and sisters in the Lord from other parts of this diocese and beyond. I interacted with bishop Boniface from Tanzania who is here in the states visiting and hope to visit with us before he goes back to Africa. From many good things shared by archbishop Foley Beach, I have a food for thought for us this morning before I share my message for today. Archbishop mentioned that there is a somebody who researched and wrote about the worst books to read and listed number one as the Bible, asked why it is so, he said because those who believe in it, do not read it either. I will leave it at that.

Jesus is the source of life, and His life within you is for one purpose- that you might bear fruit. Today i want us to ask ourselves; Are we connected to Christ? and If we are in Christ, then how much fruit is there in our lives?

Today’s Gospel is one of the seven I am sayings of the gospel of John;

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.” John 6:35

“I am the light of the world; he who fallows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12

“I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” John 10:9

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” John 10:11

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.” John 11:25

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1

In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine which is about 1,000 years old. This grapevine has one root which is at least two feet thick, and some of the branches are 200 feet long. Despite its age the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Although some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they still bear the sweet and delicious fruit because they are connected to the vine. Life flows from that single root and throughout the vine bringing nourishment and strength to each of the branches.

Jesus promises to do the same for us. He is the “true vine” bringing life to each of the branches. The purpose of the vine is to bring nourishment to the branches in order that they might produce fruit. When separated from the vine the branches wither and die. The importance of our spiritual life is dependent upon our connection to Christ the “true vine.”

Each of us must answer two questions this morning. First, are we connected to the vine, or is the life of Christ flowing within us? Secondly, if we are connected to the vine and we are joined to Christ, then how much fruit are we producing through our lives; is there no fruit, some fruit, or an abundance of fruit?

Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the true vine.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus may have said that? Think with me a moment about what has happened and where Jesus and His disciples most likely are.

If you remember this is the night of Jesus’ betrayal, but before that happens Jesus and the disciples have been in the upper room. As they celebrated the Passover in the upper room, Jesus had washed the disciples feet and spoke with them about the events that were to take place. After a great deal of discussion with His disciples Jesus ends chapter 14 saying, “Come now; let us leave.”

I believe that it is as they are making their way from the upper room to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus continued to instruct this group who had walked with Him for the last three years. Jesus knew that time was running out, but He still had much that He wanted to share with the disciples.

Our gospel today is continuation of the teaching, Jesus was a master teacher. He didn’t talk over people’s heads; He used things which were common to those He taught so that they could understand His teaching. So I believe that as Jesus and the disciples were making their way they walked beside something familiar to everyone in Jerusalem–a grapevine.

Everyone living in Jerusalem, and even the fishermen among the twelve who walked with Jesus knew that life flowed from the vine into the branches. So Jesus uses this common sight around Jerusalem to bring further understanding to his hearers.

Jesus is showing His disciples and us that He is the source of spiritual life. Jesus is the source of life, a resource made available by the Holy Spirit when He comes to dwell within the believer. John spells it out plainly for us:

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.(1 John 5:11-12)

Jesus is the life source and His life within the believer is for one purpose–to produce fruit. The question we need to think about for ourselves is, “How much fruit is being produced, is there no fruit, some fruit, or an abundance of fruit?” Remember, Jesus is talking with His disciples. Jesus is the true vine and His disciples and those who believe in Him are the branches. So when we think about the quantity of fruit in an individual’s life we are talking about believers– that is those connected to the vine. As we said, anyone who is not connected to Jesus cannot bear fruit.

Therefore, the question as to how much fruit is being produced in your life deals with the issue of what you and I are doing with the life source that is within us.

Let’s quickly think about the Fruit. Some of you may be wondering exactly what is this fruit we are supposed to be producing.

  • Some have taught that the fruit Jesus is talking about is OBEDIENCE. This fits with the context, those who love Christ will obey His commands.
  • Others have taught that the fruit is to REPRODUCE OTHER BELIEVERS. One of the signs of life is that it reproduces itself. Fruit carries within it the seed which has the ability to reproduce.
  • Others have taught that the fruit is the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is the fruitful evidence that you are connected to the vine.

So which one is it?

Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18)

Jesus says you will recognize the fruit; we are fruit inspectors. So let’s check out the fruit.

  • Is OBEDIENCE to Christ’s word something that the life of Christ would produce within the life of a believer. YES!
  • Is REPRODUCTION of new believers something that Jesus’ life within you will yield as fruit? YES!
  • Is the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT a byproduct of Christ’s life at work within a believer? YES! So the the fruit of the believers’ life that is connected to Jesus, the true life-giving vine is ALL OF THE ABOVE! And more. Those who are Christ’s branches should desire to produce more and more of ALL His fruit.

Now the of quantity. How much fruit is your life producing; is there no fruit, some fruit or an abundance of fruit?

The gospel says there are branches that produce NO FRUIT.

“He cuts off [takes away (NKJ)] every branch in me that bears no fruit. . . If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:2, 6)

Jesus said the Father’s desire is that all who are in Christ will produce fruit bringing glory to the Father. The Father receives no glory by cutting off branches that are in Christ. The Greek word “airei” translated “cuts off” or “takes away” also means “LIFT UP.” That’s what a gardener does for the new branches; he lifts them up giving them the support and training that they need in order to produce fruit.

Left to ourselves we all would remain branches IN CHRIST, but unfruitful because we are growing in the dirt of this world. The life source is within us; God’s Holy spirit is in our lives, but God does more to make us fruitful. God lifts us up; He disciples and trains us in order that we might grow and produce fruit. How does God lift up these fruitless vines?

  • He places us in relationship with other believers. We need each other to grow effectively and be fruitful; none of us can make it alone. I believe this is the single most important thing that God does for us. Being a part of a church and sharing in loving relationships with other Christians is vital to our spiritual health.
  • He instructs us in His Word. The Holy Spirit is our teacher; through our personal devotions, sermons, teaching and interaction in small groups the Holy Spirit will cleanse and strengthen our lives through the Word of God.
  • God renews our minds so that we no longer conform to the ways of this world but pursue His kingdom; He teaches us to hate sin and desire righteousness in our lives. When we have sin in our lives we want to be restored in our relationship with God and He is faithful to forgive us.

If we don’t let God lift us up then we are in danger of becoming a fruitless branch that chooses not to remain in Christ. If we don’t enter into relationships with other believers, if we don’t apply His word to our lives, if we don’t let the Holy Spirit renew our minds, then we are cutting off the flow of Christ’s source of life that He places within us.

The branches that produce SOME FRUIT.

As a believer you are joined to the vine. The life of Christ within the vine is what produces the fruit. Therefore any fruit produced in your life, obedience, reproduction, or the Fruit of the Spirit, IT IS ALL GOOD FRUIT.

However, each of us as branches can restrict the quantity of fruit produced in our lives.

Jesus said:

“ . . .every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:2-4) What is it that restricts the production of fruit? In a word it is SELF.

We love Christ; His Spirit is within us, and His fruit is evident in our lives. But from time to time, more often for some and less for others, we stop relying upon Christ and His life within us and live our life in our own strength. Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself!”

In those times when we stop depending on Christ and rely upon our own strength and ability, it is then that the branch is unable to continue to produce fruit. Often times we may fall into sin once again simply because we didn’t depend upon Christ the source of life to help us.

“Every branch in me that doe bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Pruning is painful. But also is productive. When the branches are pruned more fruit is produced. The pain of cutting accomplishes what the Father intends–FRUITFULNESS!

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? . . . No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7, 11)

I want to conclude by mentioning the branches that produce an ABUNDANCE of FRUIT.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) These are the branches that have been properly trained through the discipline of pruning. They have crucified self and have learned that apart from Christ they can do nothing.

Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8) Those branches that remain in Him and His word remains in them will not ask selfishly. They have died to self and the passions of the world; they live for Christ. Therefore whatever they ask for is what Jesus would ask for.

Conclusion:

Jesus, the true vine is producing fruit within His branches. Christ’s fruit is good; it alone will endure. How much fruit are you letting be produced through your life? Is there no fruit, some fruit or an abundance of fruit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross and the Resurrection: Living Out Our Easter Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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