The “Epiphany Proclamation”

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In the days when few people had calendars, it was customary at the Liturgy on Epiphany to proclaim the date of Easter for the coming year, along with other major feasts that hinge on the date of Easter. We revive that custom here at St. Augustine’s.

“Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return.

“Let us recall the year’s central feast, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: His last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising, celebrated between the evening of the 9th day of April and the evening of the 11th day of April, Easter Sunday being on the 12th day of April. Each Easter—as on each Sunday—the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death.

“From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the 26th day of February. Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the 31st day of May. And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the 29th day of November.

“To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, forever and ever. Amen.”

Christ’s Light for Our Darkness: The Challenge of Living in the Already-Not Yet

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 3A, Sunday, January 26, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 4-12; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; St. Matthew 4.12-23.

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

We all know what it is like to live in the darkness. But do we know what it is like to live in Christ’s light in the midst of the world’s darkness? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

Every one of us is afflicted by some form of darkness, whether imposed from the outside or from within. So what forms of darkness do you struggle with? For some it is the darkness of alcoholism or drug addiction. For others it is the darkness of pornography or gambling addiction. For still others it is the darkness of loneliness or alienation or the loss of important relationships and people once held so near and dear. Others live in the darkness of fear: we fear losing what we have, be it family and loved ones, or a culture and country we once loved but see crumbling around us. We fear bankruptcy, sickness, and death. The list is almost endless. For the people of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel it was the darkness of impending foreign invasion with its resulting destruction and displacement from the promised land, a sure sign that God had abandoned them. Many of us who live today have a similar fear of being rejected by God. We look at the good we’ve done but we also see the evil we’ve committed. Every one of us knows we have the capacity to betray ourselves—our highest values and all the good that we hold near and dear—along with others in pursuit of the various idols our disordered hearts seek, even as we know we are capable of showing true sacrificial and noble love for the sake of others. To use the language of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, if we have the courage and humility to be honest with ourselves, each of us would be forced to admit that we are both wheat and tare in the field of God’s world. 

At its root, the darkness that afflicts us, whether internally or externally, finds its origins in our alienation from God that resulted when our first ancestors rebelled against God in paradise. It makes us afraid and diminishes us as human beings, God’s image-bearing creatures who were designed to reflect God’s goodness and justice and love out into his creation to nurture and sustain it. It makes us sick and causes us to die. It makes us cry out to the Lord in desperation and pain, pleading with God to do something about it, and it makes us wonder if we really matter at all to God. End our alienation from God and the various forms of evil Scripture calls “darkness” must go away. But how to do that since none of us has the power to fully extricate ourselves from the darkness? Reality notwithstanding, we keep on trying and the problem is exacerbated when we try to self-medicate and/or find healing through our pursuit of various idols, just as God’s people Israel did all those centuries ago. We try to drown our sorrows to forget them. Or we pursue the idols of power, identity politics, security, wealth, and prestige to name just a few, thinking if we just make enough money or have the right connections and/or influence we can fix our various problems. We can’t. It’s not in our spiritual DNA as fallen human beings. We still remain alienated from God and each other.

There is only one hope for ending the darkness that afflicts us and it is announced by the prophet Isaiah and realized fully in Jesus Christ, God’s healing light to the world. Despite our ongoing rebellion against God, despite our relentless pursuit of self-help and its accompanying idols, God in his great mercy, love, and wisdom has acted on our behalf to end the root cause of our alienation from him so that we can one day be fully healed and freed from the power of darkness. And how did God do this? God sent his own Son to die for our sins, for the ongoing darkness that our rebellion helps create and sustain. In the cross of Christ we see the wisdom and power of God to save for those who believe in this kind of unheard of power. On the cross, God took the collective darkness of the world, your darkness and mine along with everyone else’s over time and culture, and condemned it in Christ’s body nailed to the tree. Doing so allowed God to condemn the darkness without condemning us. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Colossians:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world.

Colossians 2.13-15, 20a, NLT

Did you catch the breathtaking promise in St. Paul’s bold proclamation? God himself has acted unilaterally on our behalf to end our alienation from him. On the cross God has broken the dark powers’ grip over us. We are no longer enslaved to the darkness because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. Death is no longer our destiny. In Christ we are set free to be truly human beings.

God used an instrument of shame and human degradation to heal our relationship with him and restore us to himself. God broke the power of darkness in this manner because to fight darkness with darkness is to already be defeated by the darkness and God could not let that happen. Shock and awe along with a final fearsome judgment will come, but not before God gives us time and a real chance to be rescued from his final just condemnation of the darkness that has plagued and corrupted God’s beloved creation and creatures. God did not wait for our approval or for us to ask him to help us in this way. In fact, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, God acted on our behalf to break the darkness while we were still his enemies, hostile and alienated from God (Romans 5.1-11). There is no greater love than this and it shows the depth of God’s love and mercy for us, along with God’s desire for real justice to be executed on all the darkness perpetrated against God and his people. This is why St. Paul was so adamant that God’s people in Christ make the cross our central focus and purpose of living. Without it we are dead men and women walking, alienated from God and utterly without hope. With and through the cross, we are forgiven and reconciled to God the Father with the expectation (hope) of being fully forgiven right now and the complete restoration that accompanies eternal life in the future. This is the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross.

But here’s the thing. While we have been rescued from eternal death and destruction, and while God has broken the enslaving power of darkness on the cross, the powers have not been totally vanquished. They are still quite active. Neither are we fully healed, even though we have been fully reconciled to God the Father through the cross of Christ. Remnants of sin still remain in us. The promise of new heavens and a new earth are yet to be fully realized. We call this living in “the already-not yet.” Christ has won the victory for us and we are no longer God’s enemies and children of hell (the already). But the victory is not yet fully consummated and won’t be fully realized until our Lord’s return (the not yet). This can create some interesting ambiguities in us and our lives, and apparently those ambiguities have been with us from the get-go as our epistle lesson attests. 

In the church at Corinth various destructive factions had formed around its leaders that threatened to tear apart the church. Christians there were reverting back to their various idols, in this context striving for the idol of human power to impose their will on their fellow Christians. This idol is often driven by human pride and St. Paul would have none of it. Don’t you know that you are emptying the cross of its power by seeking other idols, he roared? Christ died for your sins and has stripped away your slavery to the darkness. You are rescued and restored to God. It’s a free gift to you won by God himself and given to you in your baptism when the free gift was fully bestowed upon you. When you look at the cross you must see that humility and love must rule your lives, not self-gain or the delusion of self-help. The cross demands that you seek to put to death your darkness (the only darkness you have control over) in the power of the Spirit, not to win the light of your salvation, because it has already been won for you and you are freed from your slavery to sin. You must instead make the cross the focus and center of your life because it is the only way God can break the power of darkness over you and use you to be his light bearers. One day you will be fully healed and you will not be able to sin any longer because your bodies will be powered by the Spirit, not by your fallen nature. That’s in the future though. Right now, you have to fight the fight against the darkness and sometimes you will lose. But the war’s already been won for you when Christ died for you. Don’t throw away the victory God won for you. Don’t reject God’s great love and mercy for you.

St. Paul would tell us the same thing today and so did Christ in our gospel lesson when he announced that God’s kingdom was at hand, i.e., God’s promised light had finally appeared, but surprisingly in the form of Jesus. The proper response is to repent. Since our thinking about repentance is quite muddled, let us be clear about what repentance is and isn’t. Jesus wasn’t telling us to feel terminally rotten about ourselves. Why would he want us to do that, especially since the kingdom of God with its healing and exorcisms had come near? Repentance doesn’t mean a call to self-condemnation, my beloved, because self-condemnation is categorically different from feeling remorse over our sins and transgressions. Repentance is about changing our way of living and our orientation of life. Instead of focusing inward and making it about us, Christ calls us to focus again on the love and goodness of God made known in him. In other words, repentance is about doing, not feeling. Christ calls us to focus on his life-saving death and resurrection, along with the many signs of power he did in his earthly ministry. Doing so reminds us to have the good sense and humility to acknowledge our utter helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to the darkness and acknowledge that God through Christ alone has the power to free, to heal, to restore, and to save. Repentance also allows us to live with the ambiguities of the already-not yet, believing the promises of God made known in the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

And to further help us live in the already-not yet, we take another cue from our Lord when he called his first disciples. In doing so, Jesus reminds us that discipleship is always to be lived out together as his newly-formed family so that we can love and support each other. In doing so, we are helped to remain confident that the power of darkness is broken over us even as it remains abundantly active in the world. And so we continue to act faithfully, even in the face of multiple ambiguities, knowing that we are rescued and healed and loved and restored by a love that simply is beyond our full comprehension. We believe this because we believe in the power and wisdom of God. 

So what does that look like? When we keep the cross as our central focus, we are reminded that each of us has good and evil in us and that Christ died for the ungodly, for all of us. When we take this to heart with the Spirit’s help, it must change how we interact with others. No longer can we hate anyone since Christ died for those we despise and who despise us, and so we must treat them with circumspection and charity. What if Christians in this nation took that mindset into the political arena this year? Instead of posting hateful, shameful things about those with whom we disagree, we greet them with charity and a willingness to openly debate issues rather than lobbing ad hominem attacks on them. Think what would happen if instead of blaming and shaming our enemies, we seek to find real justice and solutions for them, remembering that Christ died for them as he did for us. If the Church would behave this way in the secular world, we are promised that the light of Christ will shine through us to bring God’s healing to bear. What an Epiphany proclamation that would be! As we near the end of this season of Epiphany and prepare for Lent, let us as Christ’s holy people resolve to focus on the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross of Christ by taking up our own cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Only then can we beacons of Christ’s light and not bearers of darkness. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Lesslie Newbigin on the Goal of Christian Living

Well said, bishop. Well said.

The point is that [a transformed society] is not our goal, great as that is…. Our goal is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, a perfect fellowship in which God reigns in every heart, and His children rejoice together in His love and joy…. And though we know that we must grow old and die, that our labors, even if they succeed for a time, will in the end be buried in the dust of time, and that along with the painfully won achievements of goodness, there are mounting seemingly irresistible forces of evil, yet we are not dismayed…. We know that these things must be. But we know that as surely as Christ was raised from the dead, so surely shall there be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. And having this knowledge we ought as Christians to be the strength of every good movement of political and social effort, because we have no need either of blind optimism or of despair.

A Prayer for the Truth of God

O God, we thank you for all those in whose words and in whose writings your truth has come to us.
For the historians, the psalmists and the prophets, who wrote the Old Testament;
For those who wrote the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament;
For all who in every generation have taught and explained and expounded and preached the word of Scripture: We thank you, O God.
Grant, O God, that no false teaching may ever have any power to deceive us or to seduce us from the truth.
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would encourage us to think sin less serious, vice more attractive, or virtue less important;
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would dethrone Jesus Christ from the topmost place;
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which for its own purposes perverts the truth.
O God, our Father, establish us immovably in the truth.
Give us minds which can see at once the difference between the true and the false;
Make us able to test everything, and to hold fast to that which is good;
Give us such a love of truth, that no false thing may ever be able to lure us from it.
So grant that all our lives we may know, and love, and live the truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From Prayers for the Christian Year by William Barclay

Father Carretto Waxes Eloquent on the Nature of the Revelation of God

We need loving communication, we need the presence of the Spirit.

That is why I do not believe in theologians who do not pray, who are not in humble communication of love with God.

Neither do I believe in the existence of any human power to pass on authentic knowledge of God.

Only God can speak about himself, and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us.

When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation.

The Church wants to feel able to explain about her spouse even when she has lost sight of him; even when, although she has not been divorced, she no longer knows his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.

The revelation of a triune God in the unit of a single nature, the revelation of a divine Holy Spirit present in us, is not on the human level; it does not belong to the realm of reason. It is a personal communication which God alone can give, and the task of giving it belongs to the Holy Spirit, who is the same love which unites the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is the fullness and the joy of God.

It is so difficult to speak of these things. We have to babble like children, but at least, like children, we can say over and over again, tirelessly, “Spirit of God, reveal yourself to me, your child.”

And we can avoid pretending that knowledge of God could be the fruit of our gray matter.

Then, and only then, shall we be capable of prayer; borne to the frontier of our radical incapacity, which love has made the beatitude of poverty, we shall be able invoke God’s coming to us, “Come, creator Spirit!”

—From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

The Servant’s Servants

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2A, Sunday, January 19, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; St. John 1.29-42.

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

So who is this mysterious servant about which Isaiah speaks in our OT lesson and what does that possibly have to do with us who try to live faithful Christian lives today? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In today’s OT lesson we encounter the second of the four so-called “Servant Songs” fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We heard the first song last week in Isaiah 42.1-9. So who is the servant in today’s lesson? In v.3 the Lord identifies Israel as the servant only to identify him as an individual God has chosen from birth to rescue Israel from their collective sin-sickness two verses later! To help us make sense of all this, we need to quickly review the unfolding story of salvation contained in the old and new testaments. There we learn that God created his creation and creatures, declaring it all to be good. Scripture makes it crystal clear throughout that creation matters to God. Furthermore, God created humans in his image to run his creation wisely and lovingly on God’s behalf, but our first ancestors didn’t quite get the latter part of that memo. They wanted to rule God’s world on their own; they weren’t interested in ruling on God’s behalf and we’ve followed their lead ever since. All this got us booted from paradise and resulted in God’s curse on his creation. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8.18-25, all creation groans under the weight of its slavery to the outside and hostile powers of Evil, Sin, and Death that human sin unleashed as it waits for God’s children—that would be those of us who give our lives to Christ—to be redeemed at Christ’s Second Coming. I don’t have to explain further. We all have groaned many times under the weight of our own sins and folly and from God’s good world gone terribly wrong.

But because God cares for his creation and us and wants to free us from all that oppresses us and weighs us down, especially from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death, God chose to rescue his good world and us from the clutches of the dark powers. Fittingly God chose to do that through human agency, specifically through his people Israel whom God called and formed through Abraham and his descendants. But Israel was as broken as the people they were sent to help heal; and now we return to our OT lesson. God still chose Israel as the human agents to bring his healing love to broken and hurting people and nations, but Israel had to first be healed before they could fulfill their mission. And so God called his servant to heal Israel and through Israel the world. Of course, we Christians believe Jesus Christ was and is that servant and Israel is now reconstituted around those who follow Christ, both Jew and Gentile. The NT calls this reconstituted Israel the Church but the most important thing for us to remember is that Christ is the servant who will bring healing to Israel and ultimately to the world.

And how will he do that? St. John tells us in our gospel lesson this morning when he tells us that John the Baptizer recognized Christ and declared him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John knew this because God had told him how to recognize the Messiah (or the Christ) and John proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ to his followers. As it turned out, the Servant would be God himself, God become human to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and the inevitable death that our sins produce. For his contemporaries, John’s declaration that Jesus was the Lamb of God would have had clear Passover implications. Passover, of course, was the main Jewish festival that celebrated God’s rescue of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus, as St. John and the rest of the NT writers proclaim, will bring about an even more powerful and dramatic release by rescuing his followers from our slavery to Sin and Death and reverse the curse under which the entire creation labors. 

But why does this matter? Why do we need to know about the Servant and his songs? Well, besides the obvious—after all, being rescued from an eternal death separated from God forever and the hell that that separation brings is no small gift to us—in Christ the Servant we find our ultimate healing and peace because we know that our sins are forgiven and we can enjoy a real relationship with God the Father won for us by the death of his Son. And with that forgiveness comes real healing and health so that we are made ready to be servants of Christ who engage in the ongoing work of healing and redemption in the power of Spirit. More about that anon. 

But we want to protest. That is ridiculous! We don’t feel healed! We still labor with our guilt and doubts and fears, and many of us sure don’t feel forgiven! Nor do we act the part on a consistent basis. Well, my argumentative friends, you are in good company because the promises we read today in our OT lesson were written for a people who would be living in exile, for them the ultimate punishment of God, and it would seem incredible and even arrogant on the part of the prophet to make such promises. How could they as God’s chosen people be God’s light to the nations to bring God’s healing love and relief to them when they were held captive themselves. Ridiculous!

But the promises and faithfulness of God are not to be denied and we would be wise to reconsider our protests because God’s rescue plan looks beyond what is seen and behind what may seem to be all too futile to that which is unseen and unexpected as Father Bowser preached so well last Sunday. Never underestimate the power of God to surprise and rescue and restore. After all, we worship Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead to rule forever and ever by the power of God. 

Here is where our epistle lesson can help us. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that they are God’s saints, NT code for being holy people. Being holy in the NT means that we are called by God to be his servants organized as the one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic Church to bring his healing love to the world around us. Holiness does not mean we walk around with halos over our heads or that we spend 24/7 reading the Bible and praying (although those activities must be central in our lives if we ever hope to fulfill our mission as God’s servants in Christ). Holiness means we act like Christ to show the world a better way of living. Every time we forgive when forgiveness is unwarranted, every time we work to establish justice for those who have been denied it, every time we work to help the most helpless and needy in the world around us, every time we work for peace and not for rancor, and every time we proclaim in our deeds and speaking that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we fulfill the Servant’s role as Christ’s servants. If you are doing these things, however imperfectly you do them, you are being a holy person despite being the losers you are. But here’s the thing. We cannot and will not do any of this on our own power. We do these things in the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s help and presence we are incapable of these behaviors because sin is so deeply ingrained in us. Neither are we likely to engage in this work if we think we are still under God’s condemnation for our sins and therefore feel alienated from God (those who believe this know who you are) so that we suffer anxiety and live in fear, hard as we try to suppress and deflect it. Even those of us who have accepted God’s forgiveness won for us through the blood of the Lamb want to protest from time to time along with those who haven’t. We do that stuff you just talked about (OK, not real well but we try to make a good effort) but nothing seems to happen. We’re still a hot mess emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically (the latter especially if we’re enjoying Geezerdom in all its glory). Sure doesn’t feel like we’re holy or making any kind of difference. 

To these complaints St. Paul would tell us the same thing he told the church at Corinth. Get over yourselves. It ain’t about you. It’s about the power of God working in and through you, a power made available to you by the Lamb of God. Look, I told the Corinthians they were God’s holy people and I wasn’t lying. This is the same bunch I also had to admonish for condoning a man sleeping with his stepmother, squabbling over leadership and turf, believers filing lawsuits against fellow believers, spiritual pride, and abuse of the Lord’s table to name just a few. Talk about a hot mess of a church! It almost rivals you at St. Augie’s! Despite all this St. Paul was bold to declare that they (and we) had every spiritual gift they (and we) needed to be Christ’s servants and assured them (and us) that they (and we) were and are his servants. St. Paul understood better than most that the power of God at work is not always obvious and often shows itself in unexpected ways, but it is nonetheless stronger than our folly and fears and sins and shortcomings so that we need not fear or lament when we miss the mark. We are truly beloved by the Father because we have faith in the Lamb of God who takes away our sins so that we can find wholeness and healing and life, despite the travails of living this mortal life in a fallen world. That is why we are to await eagerly for Christ to return to finish his saving work. We don’t bring in the kingdom in full, only Christ can do that, but he calls us to wage war on his behalf by being his humble, faithful servants and embodying his great love for us in our lives. We cannot give what we do not have and that is why our healing that comes from a real sense of sins forgiven, undeserving as we are to receive it, is so critical to our discipleship.

The psalmist also has some useful insights to help us overcome our doubts and fears as we live out our faith in the power of the Spirit. He tells us to remember the mighty acts of God in our personal lives and in the lives of God’s people. Do you stop to remember the many times God has answered your desperate prayers and made his presence known to you in the living of your days? Do you read Scripture to recall the new Passover of God won in Christ’s death and resurrection? If you don’t, you help close yourself to Christ’s healing love for you made known in Scripture. 

Let me close by giving you a quick example to illustrate how God’s grace works in all this. I am ministering to a woman who is dying of cancer. She is in her forties and has a family who is shell-shocked and angry at this massive injustice that has been inflicted on their beloved mother, wife, and daughter. I have prayed ceaselessly for a mighty act of healing but it did not come and it is utterly heartbreaking to watch. I don’t know why God allows it or why God won’t answer our prayers. Here’s what I do know. Without Christ’s help in and through the power of the Spirit I could not bring myself to even visit her, let alone be her pastor. Whenever I feel overwhelmed and/or despondent, I remember God’s mighty power made known in Christ’s resurrection. I remember that if God can call into existence things that did not exist and give life to the dead, God will surely heal this woman when she enters his glory at her mortal death. And when Christ raises her on the Last Day and welcomes her into the new heavens and earth made possible by his death and resurrection, justice will be fully served. She will have new life, a new body impervious to illness and death, and she will be fully restored to God the Father who loves her and sent his Son to die for her so that she could ultimately live. She will also be restored forever with those whom she loves who died in the power and peace of Christ. Justice will be fully restored and the evil of cancer that resulted in an unjust and wicked death will be vanquished forever. None of this makes the work any easier and we will all grieve her death when it comes. But here’s my point. When I feel inadequate in ministering to her, when I feel helpless that I cannot heal her, when I feel anger at the injustice and evil inflicted on her, when I am weighed down by my own great sin, I remember the power of God and I am strengthened to do the work Christ calls me to do on his behalf. That same power is available to each and every one of you, my beloved. As we walk through our dark valleys and the messiness of our lives and faith, rejoice that we have a God who loves and honors us enough that he has acted decisively in and through his Son on our behalf to restore us to himself so that we can be his people and do the work he calls us to do. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Ric Bowser: What Do You Expect?

Sermon delivered on the Baptism of Christ A, Sunday, January 12, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser has retained his swagger for 2020 and steadfastly refuses to give up a written sermon for you to read. I mean, what do you expect? Click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 42.1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10.34-43; Matthew 3.13-17.

Hans Küng on the Eucharist and Baptism

So much is clear: the Lord’s Supper is the center of the Church and of its various acts of worship. Here the Church is truly itself, because it is wholly with its Lord; here the Church of Christ is gathered for its most intimate fellowship, as sharers in a meal. In this fellowship they draw strength for their service in the world. Because this meal is a meal of recollection and thanksgiving, the Church is essentially a community which remembers and thanks. And because this meal is a meal of covenant and fellowship, the Church is essentially a community, which loves without ceasing. And because finally this meal is an anticipation of the eschatological meal, the Church is essentially a community which looks to the future with confidence. Essentially, therefore, the Church must be a meal-fellowship, a koinonia or communio, must be a fellowship with Christ and with Christians, or it is not the Church of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper it is stated with incomparable clarity that the Church is the ecclesia, the congregation, the community of God. In the Lord’s Supper in fact the Church is constantly constituted anew. If the Church owes to baptism the fact that it is a Church, and does not have to become a Church through its own pious works, the Church owes to the Lord’s Supper the fact that it remains a Church, despite any falling away and failure. From God’s viewpoint it means that while baptism is the sign of electing and justifying grace, the Lord’s Supper is the sign of sustaining and perfecting grace. From the human viewpoint it means that while baptism is above all the sign of the response of faith and obedience, the Lord’s Supper is the sign of the response of love and hope.

—From The Church by Hans Küng

Abraham Joshua Heschel on Reading Scripture

Heschel has it exactly right and why so many of us read Scripture so wrongly.

The divine quality of the Bible is not on display, it is not apparent to an inane, fatuous mind; just as the divine in the universe is not obvious to the debaucher. When we turn to the Bible with an empty spirit, moved by intellectual vanity, striving to show our superiority to the text; or as barren souls who go sight-seeing to the words of the prophets, we discover the shells but miss the core. It is easier to enjoy beauty than to sense the holy. To be able to encounter the spirit within the words, we must learn to crave for an affinity with the pathos of God.

To sense the presence of God in the Bible, one must learn to be present to God in the Bible. Presence is not a concept, but a situation. To understand love it is not enough to read tales about it. One must be involved in the prophets to understand the prophets. One must be inspired to understand inspiration. Just as we cannot test thinking without thinking, we cannot sense holiness without being holy. Presence is not disclosed to those who are unattached and try to judge, to those who have no power to go beyond the values they cherish; to those who sense the story, not the pathos; the idea, not the realness of God.

The Bible is the frontier of the spirit where we must move and live in order to discover and to explore. It is open to him who gives himself to it, who lives with it intimately.

God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2020 (3)

Christ is God, for he has given all things their being out of nothing. Yet he is born as one of us by taking to himself our nature, flesh-endowed with intelligent spirit. A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and the Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge.

For surely the word of the Law and the Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.

The great mystery of the divine incarnation remains a mystery for ever. How can the Word made flesh be essentially the same person that is wholly with the Father? How can he who is by nature God become by nature entirely human without lacking either nature, neither the divine by which he is God nor the human by which he became one of us? Faith alone grasps these mysteries.

—Maximus the Confessor, Five Hundred Chapters 1, 8-13

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2020 (2)

Matthew 2:1-12

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity was now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of this divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi would recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).

—Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 5.1

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2020

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

—Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

In this way marvel was linked to marvel: the magi were worshiping, the star was going before them. All this is enough to captivate a heart made of stone. If it had been only the wise men or only the prophets or only the angels who had said these things, they might have been disbelieved. But now with all this confluence of varied evidence, even the most skeptical mouths are stopped.

Moreover, the star, when it stood over the child, held still. This itself demonstrates a power greater than any star: first to hide itself, then to appear, then to stand still. From this all who beheld were encouraged to believe. This is why the magi rejoiced. They found what they were seeking. They had proved to be messengers of truth. Their long journey was not without fruit. Their longing for the Anointed One was fulfilled. He who was born was divine. They recognized this in their worship.

—Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7.4