Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence and 4th of July

lincoln19In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric was suffused with a profound sense of loss. He considered it shameful national backsliding that a new affirmative defense of slavery had arisen in the South. At the time of the Founding our nation had merely tolerated slavery; now, it was an institution actively celebrated in part of the country.

In a letter in 1855 despairing of ending slavery, Lincoln wrote to the Kentuckian George Robertson that “the fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day–/for burning fire-crackers/!!!”

At around this time, Lincoln fastened on the Declaration of Independence as “his political chart and inspiration,” in the words of his White House secretary John G. Nicolay.

He made it the guidepost by which the country could return to its lost ideals. His example shows the enduring vitality and the endless potential for renewal that is inherent in the Declaration.

Some good stuff here. See what you think.

CT: You Have God’s Blessing to Say ‘God Bless America’

See what you think and feel free to comment below.

I thought back to that moment several years later, when I first encountered bumper stickers reading, “God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions.” You can see why someone might find that sentiment attractive. “God bless America”? Too narrow and chauvinistic. We’re better off not beseeching the Almighty to play favorites.

Still, the new slogan left me discontented. Why imply that there’s anything unseemly, even ungodly, about loves and loyalties less than universal in scope?

We understand this readily enough in our prayer lives. If I ask my fellow small group members to lift up my ailing grandmother, no one expresses bafflement or outrage that I haven’t asked God to heal all the ailing grandmothers. No one imagines that I harbor indifference or ill will toward any other old folks. In other words, no one scolds me for failing to remember “the whole world—and everyone in it.”

In all likelihood, my ailing grandmother isn’t the world’s most meritorious grandmother. God doesn’t love her any more, or less, than your own kith and kin. But being my grandmother, her welfare naturally lies uppermost in my mind, and weighs heaviest on my heart. So it is with nations. You cherish your homeland—you champion its cause above others—because it’s home.

To be sure, we ignore the “no exceptions” outlook at our peril. Christian faith may not forbid elevated attachment to particular places (any more than to particular people). But hopefully it enlarges our vision, sets vital boundaries, and tempers patriotic excess. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” reaffirms that nothing else—no crown, no constitution, no ballad of blood and soil—should claim our highest allegiance. It joins us to that “great multitude . . . from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

Read it all.

Today in Civil War History: The Battle of Gettysburg Ends

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate imagesGeneral Robert E. Lee‘s last attempt at breaking the Union line ends in disastrous failure, bringing the most decisive battle of the American Civil War to an end.

Read it all and read about Pickett’s charge, the battle that effectively ended the Gettysburg campaign.

Fr. Philip Sang: When God Tests Our Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3A, Sunday, July 2, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The audio podcast of today’s sermon is not immediately available. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you Oh Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

As we seek to do the Lord’s work of building His kingdom, we will sometimes face difficulties and trials which make us feel discouraged. When this happens, we must go the Scriptures to learn how to face such difficulties and trials. And what we will learn is that we must have faith in God. In fact God often allows us to go through trials deliberately in order to test or refine the faith we have in Him. This morning, we will see how this worked in Abraham.

Abraham was known for the faith he had in God. He believed God’s promise to give him and his barren wife a son, and God miraculously did this when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old! Abraham’s faith in God was therefore vindicated and all hopes of having a multitude of descendants were now going to be fulfilled as Isaac would then grow up, get married and have his own children. We can imagine how lovingly Abraham and Sarah must have doted on their precious son, taking the greatest care to nurture him with only the best food they had, and with the most comfortable environment they could provide. How well they must have watched Isaac and protected him from all harm and danger -whether of sickness or injury. This was their son, their precious miraculous son, who was their great hope and their future!

But now the very God who had given Abraham this son was about to tell him to do something quite unthinkable: to sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord. This brings us to our Old Testament lesson. The first two verses say. ‘And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, here I am. And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering up on one of the mountains which I will tell you

The command is made up of three simple verbs: ‘Take’ ‘go’, and ‘offer him’. Nothing was stated as to why this was to be done. It seemed so contrary to all that God had spoken before to Abraham. We can imagine the great shock that Abraham might have felt when he heard it.

Perhaps he might even have wondered if he heard God correctly, and said, ‘Lord, are you really telling me to take Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering?’ But surely that would mean that Isaac would have to die! I don’t understand this. I thought that Isaac is the son You promised to give me and that through Him, your promise to grant me a multitude of descendants would be fulfilled.’ The Bible does not record any response from Abraham to this commandment, except one: Complete obedience. My brothers and sisters, how would you have responded, if you had been in Abraham’s place? This was clearly the greatest faith crisis he ever had to face in his life. How would you cope if you were the one facing this crisis?

Some of us may be tempted to react to this by complaining that God’s command is too cruel, inhumane and unreasonable to carry out. How can God tell me to do that? He is not fair. He obviously does not love me nor my son. He is a bloodthirsty God who is absolutely insensitive to the agony and death of his own people.

Have you sometimes felt that way when things did not go very well for you? Have you sometimes questioned God or doubted His goodness in allowing you to experience loss or pain? Well, when this happens your faith is being tested. Faith is confident that God is always good, righteous, fair, just and loving no matter what He does. And this was true in Abraham’s situation as well. God’s Word clearly reveals that God is not unreasonable, cruel or bloodthirsty. He is most gracious and merciful. He hates any kind of human blood sacrifice. In fact when God gave His laws to Israel about 400 years later, one of the prohibitions was against human blood sacrifices. This is found in Deuteronomy 12:31 ‘You must not do the same for the LORD your God, because every abhorrent thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.’. Deuteronomy 18:10 says, ‘ No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire.’

Why then did God command Abraham to sacrifice his son if He is so firmly against human sacrifices? Was He contradicting Himself? No, He was not. Our reading from Genesis makes this clear in the very first verse. It says: ‘After these things God tested Abraham’ The word ‘test’ here reveals that God had no intention of taking Isaac away from Abraham. There is actually no thought or intention of an actual blood sacrifice, although Abraham at this time did not know it yet.

But the command was meant only to test the faith of Abraham. And Abraham passed the test very well, with unquestioning obedience. Look at v.3 ‘So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.’

Lessons from Abraham’s Faith

The Bible does not give us any details of Abraham’s initial reaction to what he heard from God. But I think we can safely assume, that as a loving father, he must have been very troubled in his heart, and must have shed tears in great anguish. Abraham had probably spent the whole night without any sleep. But finally at daybreak, Abraham took his son with him up to Mount Moriah. He built an altar and laid Isaac on it. But at the very last moment, just before the knife was plunged, the Lord sent an angel to stop him. Abraham’s faith had been proven. There was no need now for Isaac to be sacrificed. You can imagine how greatly relieved and glad Abraham must have been to receive his son back.

There are four lessons about faith that we can learn from Abraham: Firstly, we learn that the reason why we need to have faith in God in any crisis or difficulty is our incomplete knowledge of God’s plan. God does not require us to know every single detail before we obey Him. There are many things He has chosen not to reveal to us yet. But He wants us simply to trust Him. According to Isaiah 55:8,9 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

And in every crisis we face, we must believe that God has a good purpose for whatever He does, and for whatever He allows to happen in our lives. Romans 8:28 assures us that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ We ought to realize that the trials we face have a divine purpose. They are not there merely by chance or accident, but by God’s design. They have all been carefully planned and deliberately woven into the fabric of our lives for His glory. Thus we should humbly submit ourselves to whatever trial or testing that the Lord puts us through, just like Abraham did.

Beloved, are you facing a trial at present in which you are greatly perplexed? Do you wonder why God is allowing this to happen to you? Please be aware that there are things being accomplished that you do not know about, and that this gives you an opportunity to trust Him for the things you do not know. As it is said where knowledge ends, faith begins! The second lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith obediently submits to God’s will. Abraham obviously loved Isaac very much, but to him obedience to God’s will was even more important than loving Isaac. Faith makes us willing to give or offer up anything God requires from us, even the things that may be most precious to us. Faith must make us willing to surrender all, and to abandon all that we have, to God. It acknowledges that our lives and all that we have are not our own anymore, but God’s, to shape and to use in any way He wants to.

In short, our faith must be a faith that makes Him fully Lord of our lives. God must be made Lord of all, or else He will not be lord at all. Church, if the Lord should require you to give up something very precious to you for His sake, would you submit obediently to Him? Or would you withdraw and go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler? There is a way to overcome any unwillingness to submit obediently to the Lord: Focus on His power and provision. God’s requirements are not designed to deprive or destroy you, but to bless you.

Third lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith confidently depends upon God’s power and provision. Although we do not know all that Abraham felt and thought as he was preparing to offer Isaac, we have two important clues in the passage: The first is found in the reply that he gave to Isaac’s question. Isaac innocently asked him ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’

Abraham’s reply was ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ Let us not think that Abraham was telling Isaac a lie here. The truth of the matter was that if God had commanded that Isaac is to be sacrificed, then Isaac must be the lamb that God has provided. But of greater significance here, is the confidence expressed here by Abraham that God will provide. This shows Abraham’s faith in God’s unfailing provision. The other clue to Abraham’s thoughts is found in Hebrews 11:19 which says ‘Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead’ Abraham really had no doubts at all about God’s unlimited power. He can do anything. If He wants to, He can even resurrect the dead body of Isaac back to life. But it turned out that God did not choose to do that, but to provide a ram as a substitute to be sacrificed.

In the same way that Abraham depended on God’s unfailing provision and power, we too need to depend on His unfailing provision and power when we meet with adversities in life. We must believe that God will provide whatever is needful.

If we suffer any loss, we must believe that God will either sufficiently provide and return whatever it is that we have lost (as He did for Job), or that God will provide us with sufficient grace to bear the loss (as He did for Paul). But in whatever way God provides, the fact remains that He will provide! And in any crisis, we must have firm confidence that God can do anything that He wills to do. It is well within His power to raise the dead back to life if He wants to, or to remove all traces of cancer, or to provide timely material and financial help, or to change the heart of an estranged spouse, or a prodigal child.

But while all things are within His power to do, this does not mean that He will always choose to use His power the way that we would like Him to use it. For instance if I have cancer, I am confident that if God wills, He can remove my cancer immediately and miraculously. But I must not presume that He will do that in my case, as I have no right to expect Him to do that. I must simply accept whatever God chooses to do for me, as good. His ways are so much higher than my ways. He may choose to remove my cancer by the use of medical treatment, or He may even choose to let it remain. This last option does not mean that God is less powerful than what He is.

The Lord can provide and He will provide, whether by miracle or by ordinary means, whether by life or by death, whether by deliverance or by suffering, whether by gain or by loss. And when we go through any trial, we should confidently say, ‘I do not know how the Lord will provide, and I do not know what the Lord will provide, But this one thing I know by faith – The Lord will provide!’ Church, perhaps your faith is being severely tested right now. Trust in God’s provision and power, for when you do that you will find benefits and blessings!

The fourth lesson that we can learn from Abraham’s faith is that: Our faith benefits by being manifested, proven and refined through crises. This is seen in the response that God gave to Abraham’s unquestioning obedience, in v.12 ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ This verse reveals the hidden purpose of God for the strange command He had given to Abraham – it was designed to prove Abraham’s love and devotion to God. In the process it also proved Abraham’s faith, since the writer of Hebrews stated plainly that Abraham offered up Isaac by faith. Abraham’s faith was precious to God.

And it was God’s plan that Abraham’s faith should be fully revealed and refined, not for God to see (because God already knows it, being omniscient), but for Abraham and all his descendants to learn from (including us, who are his spiritual descendants) The only way in which this could happen was by putting Abraham through this severe trial.

The same thing is true about our trials. They are placed in our lives by God to reveal our faith and to refine our faith. If you feel that your faith in God is not strong enough, and you pray, ‘O Lord, please strengthen my faith,’ please be prepared to face some trials and crises. God uses them to accomplish His mighty work of changing our lives. By putting us through them, he refines our faith. We become like Christ. We develop virtues. We become less and less dependent upon ourselves and more dependent upon God. Through trials we become better than what we were before, and so we endure them patiently and willingly. We endure them now with mature understanding and with greater trust in God, who lovingly brought these trials into our lives.

As we face this coming week, and days to come, remember these four things about having faith during times of trials: 1) We need faith because of our incomplete knowledge of God’s plan for us; 2) we express faith by submitting ourselves to God’s will; 3) we exercise faith by depending confidently on God’s provision and power in times of adversity; and 4) our faith benefits by being manifested, proven, and refined through times of adversity.

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

Today in Civil War History: Day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg

imagesOn this day in 1863, during the second day of the Battle of GettysburgPennsylvania, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacks General George G. Meade‘s Army of the Potomac at both Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, but fails to move the Yankees from their positions.

Read it all.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Shall We Continue to Sin?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2A, Sunday, June 25, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

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

“Shall we continue in sin?”

This is Paul’s opening question in Romans 6:1.

It’s not necessarily the case that someone in Paul’s audience actually believed that it would be a brilliant idea to “continue in sin,” as if it no longer mattered what they were doing. Rather, this was Paul’s way of rhetorically advancing his argument forward to answer the questions that might not have been asked, but that issues that yet need to be addressed pastorally. The question derives from Paul’s claim in 5:20 (“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”).

It also arises from firsthand experience that the radical gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ led to accusations of a moral anarchy amongst the Christian communities. For he writes in Romans 3:8, Why not say, as some slanderously claim that we say, ‘Let us do evil that good may result?’” These folks’ condemnation is well deserved for completely missing the point and continuing on as if grace were a holy mulligan.

God’s grace extends to the ungodly and utterly and completely obliterates any attempts to claim justification on any other ground. God’s grace mocks silly distinctions on the basis of human ideals, ideologies, and other lines in the sand we draw to sort out the good folks from the riff-raff. This might lead to the conclusion “Well, if it’s the case that our boundaries and our laws are meaningless, dear Paul, then let’s just all be ungodly sinners all of the time.” Paul says no. Such an thought reflects an anemic understanding of what grace and justification actually are. This passage should lead to deeper reflection on both how we understand grace and justification in and through Jesus Christ.

This section of Romans is a piece of a much longer argument being made by the Apostile, the second part of which also begins with a similar rhetorical question in 6:15: “Should we sin since we are not under law, but under grace?” The present passage (which really should extend through 6:14) is difficult to isolate from 6:15-23. This will part of next week’s lectionary readings, but let me read it to you today, starting at verse 11:

 ”In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your motal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the first section, Paul draws attention to the bedrock of what it means to be a believer in Christ Jesus, what the new reality consists of. In the next section, Paul addresses what the working out of that foundational reality looks like. The entirety of Romans 6 is closely linked to Paul’s thoughts about Christ as the new Adam in Romans 5, and to the reality of freedom from the law in Romans 7. For Paul, death to sin is the necessary flipside of being united to Christ the new Adam. And it is linked to death and to the law. If we have not truly been transferred out of the land of Sin, then we have not been united to Christ, nor have we transferred from the hold of the law.

In this first section (verses 1-14), Paul makes two main moves, centered on what the community took for granted: baptism. First, Paul speaks of baptism as death. Second, Paul links baptismal death to death to sin.

Whatever we might draw from this passage about baptism, one thing is clear: baptism is more than another event that takes place in the life of a person, like graduation, where all the relatives come and celebrate. And it’s more than a religious ritual where church members commit to one another in word but not action, not taking up the ministries God is calling them to where the spiritual gifts God has given them are to be employed. Baptism is very serious business.

Death through baptism is not merely a spiritual metaphor. Throughout Paul’s letters, this “death” to old humanity is very real. The language Paul uses emphasizes that this death is a “knowable” reality. In verse 3 Paul speaks of “not knowing” to remind his audience that baptism is baptism into death with Christ: “Do you not know that all of us … were baptized into his death?” In verse 6 he writes about “knowing” that the old humanity was crucified, with the result that the body of sin is destroyed. And in verses 8-9, Paul writes, “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will live with/in him, knowing that … death no longer lords over him.”

It is this knowable experience of “death” to the old humanity that enables Paul to eschew social convention (Galatians 3:28), to dare to risk folly and persecution rather than play according to the world’s “wisdom” and seek fame (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and to actually say that obedience to the law avails nothing in terms of “marking” someone as being in or out of God’s favor (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Many Christians today struggle with the idea of being “dead to sin.” When Paul talks about “dead to sin,” is this the same thing as “sinless”? The problem might be that we operate with a moral perfectionism system of thought where “sin” refers to the individual acts we do that miss the perfection mark.

The contexts suggests that Paul is working with an understanding of sin as an operating force, something that exercises dominion over people, a mode of living in the world defined by corruption of God’s good creational intentions for humanity and the world. Given the overall context of what Paul says about Adam and Christ in Romans 5 and the law in Romans 7, it makes sense to consider that in baptism believers have died to their previous existence, of slavery in the land of Sin. They have been rescued by death, to be brought into a new land and a new existence.

The resonances with the Exodus of Israel are thick in Paul’s narrative imagination. Like Israel, those who are baptized in Christ have passed through waters, being separated from enslavement to all that was before, and they’ve been transferred like Israel by God’s delivering hand into a new existence. Does this mean that the Israelites changed? Yes and no. The important point is that they’ve been transferred from one reality to another. Paul’s concluding statement makes the point: “Consider yourselves on the one hand dead to sin, but on the other hand living to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).

The rhetorical question in 6:1 reflects a shallow understanding of the transformation that God’s grace brings about. God’s grace moves the ungodly to a new land and changes their identity and the nature of the rules that govern their lives. God’s grace is no excuse to remain unchanged. Paul is not preaching moral anarchy. Nor is Paul advocating an understanding of the Christian life as untransformed. It does not give us pardon while we keep playing in Sin as we always have, only feeling better because we believe God overlooks it. In dying with Christ, we no longer dwell in the land of Sin, we become God’s new creation in Christ. This is our new reality! Justification and grace are not only forensic or the easing of guilt; they are regenerative. Baptism is not a security; it is a reality changer. Therefore, in the newness of this life let us rejoice together, recognizing the new life given to us at the font, and feast together at the table the Lord prepares for us for our living in this new land of the redeemed.

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

Carl: On Being and Not Being Yourself

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1A, Sunday, June 18, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

One of our bright young stars, Carl, is our guest preacher today.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 18.1-5, 21.1-7; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; Romans 5.1-8; Matthew 9.25-10.23.

Be yourself, a phrase, an admonishment really, that I’m sure all of us have heard at one point or another in our lives. This phrase shows up in different forms throughout the ages, whether it is my generation’s pithy take—“you do you”; Polonius’ advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet—“to thine ownself be true”; or this great philosophical statement from Taylor Swift—“just be yourself, there is no one better.” While there is a certain truth to this idea of being yourself, the constant stream of self-affirmation that flows through the veins of today’s culture can be overwhelming and the constant pressure to find your true self and then be that person can be exhausting. On most days, we probably find ourselves more in line with screenwriter Joss Whedon’s view on this topic: “Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck.” Here, Whedon reveals a deep truth that gets obscured by the affirmative language that gets thrown around so easily today: what if I suck? What if I don’t like myself? Everyone is telling me to be myself, but if they really knew me, would they like me?

So, what do we do? If you’re anything like me, and I hope for your sake you aren’t, you start trying to make yourself better. You start with the man (or the woman) in the mirror, and you ask him (or her) to make a change—surely you can take a look at yourself and find out how to not quite suck so much! It’s that easy, right? Wrong. As preachers everywhere have taken great joy in pointing out, most of us can’t even keep a New Year’s resolution for longer than a couple weeks, so how in the world are we going to clean up the deep, ingrained dirt in ourselves? And here we arrive at the crux of the matter, and what I’m going to be taking up for the remainder of the sermon: we can’t change ourselves into the selves we would like or the selves we think we should be, but we are still called by God to be ourselves. God has called you to be you, or, as Fr. Ric likes to say, to discover your sacred why…even when you don’t like yourself.

I can already hear the questions in your heads. Doesn’t the Bible say the heart is desperately wicked? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to deny ourselves? If we are fallen, then being ourselves is a bad thing, right? Is Carl really already using the same question posing tactic that Fr. Kevin uses all the time? Yes, yes, yes, and, yes. Rest assured, I will answer these objections, real or imagined, in due time, but for now let’s get into our texts and see what they have to say about being ourselves and how God views us.

Now, I want to establish an important idea for this message up front: the notion that we have a true self and many false selves. God is calling us to be our true selves, while the world and the evil powers are desperately trying to convince us that one of our false selves will do. Heck, even we try to convince ourselves of the truth of our false notions of ourselves. In the midst of all these different pressures and expectations we experience, it can often be hard to hear the voice of the Spirit, gently guiding us toward who we are. Look at Abraham in our Old Testament reading for today. It took God a long time, in human terms, to fulfill his promise to Abraham, and with the birth of Isaac, we see God’s promise coming true. But, let’s not forget that even though God had told him directly that he would be the father of many nations, Abraham, yielding to pressures within and without, took that matter into his own hands when he had a child with Hagar. He did not trust what God had revealed to him about his true self.

God knows that we, just like Abraham, are prone to forget or doubt who we really are, but he does not condemn us for it. Rather, he provides us with material signs and gracious communities around us to remind us who we are. For Abraham and the Israelites, one of these material signs was circumcision, as we saw in today’s Old Testament reading. Circumcision served as a material reminder of God’s covenant with Abraham, the things he had promised, and his stance toward Israel. In Isaac’s circumcision, Abraham remembers God’s promises and who God has called him to be.

One last thing before I move on to the Gospel reading. In our Old Testament lesson, we see a God who keeps his promises—he may fulfill them in his own time, but he keeps them. When God tells you who you really are, he doesn’t intend to let you be anything less. Furthermore, he will use, even redeem, your past failings and mistakes in this process. Consider Sarah, who, in Genesis 18, laughs at the suggestion that she could have a child. The Lord asks her if she laughed and she denies it, afraid and embarrassed. Fast forward to our reading for today and we see Sarah saying, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” God has turned her laughter of scorn and disbelief into laughter of joy, he has turned her failure to bear a child into Isaac, and he has not forgotten his promises to his covenant people. Thus, when God tells us who we are, we know he will be faithful to those promises, even when we screw up.

In our Old Testament reading we see a God who keeps his promises, and in our Gospel reading today, we see God, in the form of Jesus, equipping and commissioning those whom he has called to make a difference in the world. Here, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, telling them to go and preach the good news of the kingdom, to go out as laborers in the harvest, and he says a couple things that I want to look at more closely. Jesus says, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” If you’ll permit me a slightly creative reading here, Jesus is telling the disciples to be themselves. He doesn’t tell them to make sure that they look a certain way or talk to certain people, all he tells them to seek out the worthy, the ones who will recognize the truth in what the disciples are doing. And if they don’t, well, just go ahead and shake the dust off your sandals as you leave—don’t worry what they think about you, because all that matters is what I think of you.

This is made even more evident in the next section of the passage, where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be brought before the powers of this world, who will try to make them conform to their ideas of selfhood. They will be flogged, persecuted, and put to death because the Lord has called them out and they have refused to continue living as a false version of themselves. How are they enabled to do this, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven? I’ll point out a couple things from this passage that lead nicely to our New Testament reading. First, Jesus tells them this: “You received without payment; give without payment.” Here, Jesus reminds them of their status in the kingdom as ones who have received an inestimable gift simply because they are loved by God. This ragtag group of men, many who were outcasts of society, have been transformed by the renewing grace of God. Knowing who they are—embraced and loved by God, but utterly dependent on his grace—allows the disciples to give without asking for reimbursement. They are telling and showing others what they have experienced: that God does not require payment, he does not require you to gain more wealth or become a better person, he only wants you…no strings attached.

Second, Jesus tells the disciples to get rid of any preconceived notions they might have of how they need to act or what they need to say to the powers that will persecute them. He says instead, “For what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” We just celebrated Pentecost a few weeks ago, where we were reminded about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and how God sent his Spirit to dwell with us. We have the Spirit, and, as a result, that relationship with God through Jesus and his Spirit forms a part of our true selves. The Spirit spoke through the disciples, and speaks through you and through me, and reminds us who we are in relationship to God. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter who you think you need to be or how you see yourself, because God sees you and speaks through you, the real you, no matter how you feel.

This brings us to our New Testament reading, where I may just finally answer some of those questions I said I was going to answer at the beginning of the sermon. So, who are we, really? How does God see us? And what do we have to do about that? Alright, let’s take these questions one at a time. Who are we? To put it simply, I’m going to default to Martin Luther—we are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinners and saints. Our identity as Christians is composed of our sinner-ness on one side of the coin, and our sainthood on the other. Now, for Luther, this meant that even though we are justified through faith, we still have a sin nature and we still are subject to the human tendency to mess things up and hurt others. And while I don’t have any problems with that idea, I want to take this in a slightly different direction.

Okay, so if we are sinners and saints, how does God see us? Does he love us as saints when we do good things, and get mad at us when we sin? It’s very, very easy for us to think that God deals with us in that manner, and even if we don’t think that, we often act like it. We have our own form of Christian multiple personality disorder, where we believe that God loves us unconditionally, yet we act as if God is sitting up in heaven doing some bookkeeping on us: “Well, today Carl gave that homeless guy some money, plus three points. Eh, but he got really angry while in traffic, so minus five. He’s got some work to catch back up.”

To put an end to all this talk of score-keeping, let’s turn to our New Testament reading, particularly verses six through eight: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” While we were sinners, Christ died for us. Before we did anything, God loved us. Before we made a move toward God, he made a move toward us. If God proved his love for us while we were still sinners, why would that change once we’ve accepted his love? And, while we’ve all heard a message about Roman 5:8, I’m hard-pressed to remember hearing about the subversive, upside-down nature of the verses that precede it.

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.” Why would God send his Son to die for sinners, and not for the righteous and the good? Because in all our attempts at righteousness and goodness, when we believe that they can save us or please God, we are creating false selves and God is not interested in our false selves. As Robert Capon delightfully quips, “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous; he came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the marginally alive.” Any efforts to be strong, to prove ourselves to God, are efforts to climb out of the weakness that lies at the core of us. But, Christ died for sinners when we were weak and when we are weak. Any attempt to shed that weakness is an attempt to raise ourselves by our own power. Those attempts are unnecessary, because God doesn’t just see us lying in the grave, throw some dirt on us, and tell us to get ourselves out…he’s the one in the business of raising the dead.

In Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of which continues to sustain us day after day, God does not see us as loathsome sinners, but instead sees us as saints, brimming with light and overflowing with glory. And here we encounter the other facet of our true selves, our sainthood. Yes, we are sinners, but we spend a lot of time thinking about that, and, often, not in productive ways, some of which I’ve tried to push back against this morning. But it’s very hard for us, or at least for me, to understand that God does not see us that way anymore…that’s what the cross means after all. Through his death, Christ was reconciling us and Creation to God, thus, we are reconciled. There is no penance for us to pay, Christ paid it, and, guess what, I’m pretty sure God threw that bill in the fire. It’s gone, forever. God keeps his promises. God wants us to be our true selves, not the ones we think we need to be. And he sees us as our real selves, just as he intended.

So, what does all of this mean for us? First of all, I hope that the knowledge that you are loved and adored by the God of the universe no matter what you do brings you some peace and joy. God sees you as you truly are, as he created you, and all the sin in the world doesn’t change that. Secondly, I think there is a great freedom in understanding that many of the ways that we think of ourselves are false, and these conceptions are not how God sees us nor are they our true selves. With this freedom comes the power to step forward boldly in the power of the Spirit, just like the disciples and discover who God has made us to be. As Abraham reminds us, God keeps his promises, and he is doing a work in us, tearing down the false selves we so readily build, gently nudging us ever forward in our journeys with him. I want to leave you with a verse from one of my favorite hymns, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” that sums up my message this morning:

“Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.”

Why the Trinity Matters

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday A, June 11, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20.

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

Today is Trinity Sunday where we focus on the triune nature of God. What does that mean, you ask? Well, let me tell you. When your priests drew straws to see who would have to preach today, I lost. I was hoping Fr. Gatwood would draw the short straw as he has a much greater propensity to make himself look foolish. But no, I am the lucky one who gets to show you the size of my peabrain. I have the unenviable task of musing on how God can exist as three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—which is what we mean when we talk about our triune God—and yet still remain one God. In other words, I am given the task of explaining to you the unexplainable. No problem, as this short video demonstrates.

Given the minefield of bad teaching about our triune God, it seems to me the best way for us to approach this subject is to look at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Scripture and experience. Doing so allows us to look at God in the various contexts the Bible speaks about God and hopefully we can gain some edifying insights about who God is and why knowing this triune God is important to us and our faith.

We begin by looking at God the Father, the Creator of heaven (God’s space) and earth (human space) and all that fills both dimensions. It is important for us to get our understanding of creation right because if we don’t, our understanding about God will not be right, precisely because God is our Creator. See the creation rightly and we will surely begin to see our Creator rightly. As the first part of the creation narrative in Genesis makes clear, God spoke into existence out of nothing this vast cosmos with its overlapping dimensions of heaven and earth (more about that in a moment). After each creative period, God looked at his finished work and declared it to be good. And then on the sixth day, God created humans in God’s own image and declared us and his creation to be very good. And astonishingly, as our psalm lesson and Genesis 1-2 make crystal clear, God in his wisdom created us humans in his image to rule over God’s good creation on God’s behalf. And please, folks, don’t treat Genesis as a book of science. Please. The writer of Genesis is not at all interested in how God created the cosmos. He is interested in the fact that God created the cosmos and all that that entails. Don’t get sucked into foolish debates over false dichotomies as some opposed to the Judeo-Christian faith would like.

So what does this teach us about creation and God the Father? Let’s start with the obvious. The first thing we must be clear about when we think about creation is that it is good. God wanted to bring his creation into existence and did so because it pleased him. For whatever reason, God values physicality, not just things immaterial or spiritual. That means we too are to value God’s creation and see it as good. This has all kinds of implications for us as Christians, from how we see the environment and interact with it to how we see and treat each other as Paul summarizes in our epistle lesson. We were created to be stewards of God’s good world, to take care of it and to reflect God’s goodness and glory out into the world by our faithful stewardship of it. God did not create this world for us to exploit and abuse it. He created us to take care of it. Faithful stewardship of this world is a good indicator of our understanding of the goodness of God’s creation and creative activity. Likewise with how we treat other humans. Given that every human being bears at least a semblance of God’s image (granted some have worked very hard to obliterate that image), how we choose to treat others (or mistreat them) will serve as a powerful indicator of our proper understanding of the goodness of God’s creation and the importance and goodness of God’s image-bearing creatures.

Second, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 1.18-20, the goodness and beauty of God’s creation give us glimpses of the beauty, goodness, and power of God so that no one has an excuse for not worshiping God or giving thanks to God for God’s good gifts. This is seen most clearly in our psalm: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers/ the moon and the stars that you have ordained/ What are mortals, that you should be mindful of them/ mere human beings, that you should seek them out?” Despite the mind-boggling size of this universe, here we are on this tiny planet, the focus of God’s attention and love. This gives us a constant insight into the importance of creation and the mind and purposes of God the Father, thanks be to God!

Last, the creation narratives remind us of the proximity and overlapping nature of heaven and earth. We see this most clearly when the text tells us that God created humans in God’s own image for the purpose of running God’s world on God’s behalf. This is temple language, which suggests God created this vast cosmos to function as a temple. Temples are temples because they are believed to house the deity for which they are built. In the case of creation, God is the builder and we are to reflect God’s image out into the world, which serves as God’s temple. In effect, we are living statues that actually have functional meaning and purpose.

This, of course, points us to the fact that God is present and active in his creation and our lives, contrary to the lie of deism that was foisted on us and that argues God is nothing more than an absentee landlord who is neither active in his creation or particularly cares about it or us. But Genesis attests God the Father does not work that way. What kind of Father would God be if God abandoned us to our own devices? Short answer: A lousy one. Indeed, before we humans rebelled against God, a disastrous event better known as the Fall, the creation narratives suggest that God was present and active in God’s creation to a far greater extent than he is today. There is nothing that happens in this world or our lives that is outside the purview and love of God our Father. Nothing. As Christians, therefore, we should not believe in happenstance or accidents or fate because of God’s active presence in his world. If God were indeed absent, this world would be utter chaos because at its heart our sin is both chaos and lawlessness. But despite the pervasiveness of human sin, God’s world is not entirely chaotic because God is a God of peace, not disorder (1 Corinthians 14.33). Just because the heavenly dimension is invisible to us doesn’t mean that God is far away. When we understand these fundamental truths about God and creation, it makes it a lot easier for us to love and obey God. What child who really loves his parents wants to displease them, especially when he knows they are always around? When we understand that God’s creation and creative purposes are good and for our good, we have objective Truth we can use to assess the goodness (or not) of our own thoughts and behaviors. And when we realize God is actively present in God’s world and our lives, this knowledge can be balm for our troubled hearts and minds when we fall victim to the forces of chaos and evil. In sum, God the Father is a good and loving Creator who created this world and us good, and its goodness, as well as ours, is of primary importance to God.

Of course, we all know that our first ancestors didn’t get the memo about being God’s good and faithful stewards over God’s creation. We weren’t and aren’t interested in being created in God’s image. That would consign us to a subordinate position to God. No, we wanted to be made in our own image so that we could run the show without God in the picture. You can read about the sad story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Our sinful rebellion caused God’s curse to fall on his good creation and allowed the forces of evil to enter and corrupt God’s good creation and creatures. We were no longer running God’s world on God’s behalf. Our sin and rebellion allowed the dark powers to usurp that role from us and enslave us to their power. This resulted not only in the corruption of God’s world and us, it also led to our death. As St. Paul reminds us, sin leads to death and none of us can escape its power because we are all enslaved to the power of Sin (Romans 6.16, 7.7-24).

Now if God were some unloving tyrant who doesn’t care about his creation and creatures, God would likely abandon his project of creation and start over. But as we have seen, this is not the case. God loves his creation and creatures and is faithful to it and us. This means that God isn’t going to start over. God is going to put things right. God intends to reverse the curse and rid his good creation and creatures of all that corrupts and dehumanizes it and us. In other words, God intends to rid his creation of the forces that hate God and his creation and to put us back in charge again. If we stopped right here (sorry, we’re not), this would tell us all we need to know about the heart and mind of God the Father. Despite our stubborn rebellion, despite our hostility toward God and God’s purposes, God loves us and wants to restore us to our full humanity. God wants us to live, not die, and so God moved in a most unexpected way to do this. God became human to die on a cross for our sins to free us from our enslavement to Sin and Death so we can become the fully human creatures God created us to be.

We, of course, are talking about the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. As St. John tells us, Jesus is the co-eternal Son of the Father, through whom the world was made (John 1.1-14). As St. Paul tells us, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became human to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and transfer us to God’s kingdom of light (Colossians 1.13-23). God became human so that God could manifest his justice by rightly condemning our sins in the flesh, our entrenched rebellion and wrong-doing, bearing his right and just judgment himself. God loves us and wants to free us from our slavery to Sin and his terrible judgment on all that is wrong with us and God’s world, and so God the Son willingly took on God the Father’s right condemnation of our sins so that we would not stand condemned (Romans 8.1-4). Once we are freed from the power of Sin, i.e., once we receive forgiveness of our sins, we are ready to start ruling God’s good world once again as God’s faithful stewards. This is the story of salvation contained in the Bible, my beloved. God did not save us to take us to heaven and abandon his creation. That is a form of the old gnostic heresy that devalues creation. No, as St. Paul reminds us,

[All] creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [at the Lord’s Second Coming and our resurrection from the dead]. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8.19-21)

This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so important. In God’s new creation, a creation that will be a physical world in the manner of God’s current creation, God’s purposes for us as his image-bearers will be fulfilled completely. Our new bodies will no longer be susceptible to or corrupted by sin and we will therefore have the ability to fulfill God’s creative responsibility God gave to us.

This has several implications for us right now. We are reminded that we are set free from our sins for a reason and a purpose. That purpose is to learn how to be fully human beings once again. We cannot possibly hope to learn this if we are still enslaved by the power of Sin, which corrupts and dehumanizes us. But we are freed from its power, albeit only partially now, because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Unlikely as it seems in this crazy world in which we live, it is the NT’s adamant insistence that by the Son of God’s death and resurrection, God the Father has broken the power of the dark forces and has begun to restore us to our rightful role as God’s good image-bearing creatures (e.g., Luke 10.18; Romans 16.20; Colossians 2.15; Revelation 20). To be sure, this requires an act of faith because we all know evil, while defeated, is not yet finished. But its day is coming and we will see it in full when our Lord Jesus returns to raise us from the dead and finish his saving work for us and God’s creation that he started in his Incarnation.

So what does this look like for us on the ground? How does our understanding about God’s eternal plan to rescue God’s good but corrupted creation and creatures and restore it and us to our original goodness affect our behavior? I offer the following suggestions to jump-start your own thinking and reflections on these things. First, it makes the Great Commission in our gospel lesson an imperative for us. If the biblical narrative of God’s salvation in and through Jesus Christ is true, it is imperative for us to proclaim it to others. Of course, human nature being what it is, many will not listen to us. But some will and therefore we must obey our Lord’s command to preach the gospel and make disciples of all different kinds of folks. If, as Scripture teaches and we believe, salvation is possible only through the Son of God, and if we claim to actually love others, how can we not be about the business of proclaiming the gospel to those who have not heard it or who don’t know Jesus? Only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. This is why we must get our understanding of God the Father and the goodness and purpose of creation right. We must proclaim the biblical gospel, not a gnostic one. This is our image-bearing duty.

Second, if God has rescued and freed us from the dark powers that have enslaved us so that we are healed to become his image-bearing creatures again, then our focus must be on practicing our redeemed humanity right now. We do this by actively imitating the Son of God in his self-giving and self-denying love for others. This means we must learn to truly love and forgive and serve. It means our center of gravity is God, not ourselves, and all that that entails. Put another way, this life serves as a training ground for our eternal life in God’s new creation. This is impossible on our own, of course. But the gospel is not a gospel of self-help, much as we want to make it to be that. We cannot imitate the Son of God without the power and presence of the third person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who makes the risen but invisible Jesus available to us, to lead us into all truth and teach us how to obey our Lord. It is the Spirit who helps us overcome the forces of evil and chaos we all have within us and who helps us defeat the Satan and his minions. From our salvation to the living of our days, we must learn that the gospel is not about self-help or trying harder. To be sure, we must put in our sweat-equity in learning how to become fully human again, e.g., we must make disciples and love one another as Christ loves us. But we must also remember that we are in the position to do this only because of what God the Father has done for us in and through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our actual salvation is based only on God’s work in Christ and fulfilled in the power of the Spirit, not ours. If we can begin to grasp and wrestle with this astonishing Truth, we will discover that we have a Power that is not our own that helps and frees us to live according to God’s original creative purposes for us. That must translate into Good News, my beloved, despite the chaos still present in God’s world and our lives, the Good News of our astonishing and loving triune God, 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.

FN Opinion: D-Day: The Greatest Day of the 20th Century

The men of D-Day knew they could not fail. There was no substitute for victory. Winston Churchill knew the price of failure too. “If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” Churchill knew that with victory, “All Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

Operation Overlord commenced at just after midnight on June 6. As British Glider troops secured Pegasus Bridge near Caen, the American airborne armada was on its way to the Cotentin Peninsula. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had orders to secure the various causeways and roads connecting Utah and Omaha Beaches to the Normandy interior.

Within minutes of crossing the Normandy coastline, the vast air armada ran into thick clouds and intense anti-aircraft fire. Many of the 870 C-47s carrying both divisions separated from their “V-of-V” formations and became lost, with each plane flying seemingly blind toward the drop zones.

As the enemy fire intensified, disoriented pilots began to unload the airborne troops. In the dead of night, many of the paratroopers landed alone, miles from where they were supposed to be. Separated from their buddies, their officers, their platoons, even their divisions, the paratroopers nevertheless began to move out to their objectives. Some of them located other soldiers from their companies. Some fought with troopers from another division. Some fought alone.

As dawn broke on June 6, the Allied fleet opened-up on the German coastal defenses with naval gunfire and rockets. Under the impression that the bombardment had killed or wounded a large percentage of the German defenders, the troops of the 4th, 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions, and the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, boarded Higgins landing craft.

Read it all.

June 6, 2017: On a Personal Note

On this date in 2010 at First United Methodist Church in Van Wert, OH we debuted the anthem commissioned in my mother’s memory, Longing to Draw Near by Craig Courtney. My grandparents Maney were married 100 years ago on this date in 1917, my dad participated in D-Day on this date in 1944, I graduated from high school on this date in 1971, and my daughter Bridget graduated from high school on this date in 2008. June 6 has been a big day for the Maney family!

June 6, 2017: General Eisenhower’s D-Day Speech

From here:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower