The Foundation for Real Healing

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13C, Sunday, September 15, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 4:11–28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-10.

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

Today we hold our quarterly healing service. But what is the basis for our healing? Obviously the power of God but are there other factors involved? Our lessons today give us some insight into this question and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

Our hard-to-hear OT and psalm lessons remind us in a graphic way that we are a sin-sick lot. God tells his prophet Jeremiah that his people Israel are stupid and lack understanding. Why? Because they are skilled at doing evil and do not know how to do good. Likewise the psalmist makes the stark observation that there is no one who does good, not one single person. To the contrary God sees that many increasingly refuse to believe that God even exists! The result? God’s people and the human race in general are alienated from God and ripe for God’s terrible judgment on our wickedness. This is tough stuff because it refers to you and me. Not only that, our rebellion against God’s perfect and good ways corrupts the land. God created us to care for his creation, land included, and when we refuse to reflect God’s goodness out into the world, the land suffers along with us (strip mining and pollution-caused catastrophes, anyone?), this on top of the fact that creation already suffers under God’s curse for the sin of our first ancestors. 

Not only do our sins result in God’s judgment on them (if you haven’t figured it out yet, God detests any form of evil, even as he loves us), our sins make us sick: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally because they separate us from our only source of life and health: God our Creator who sustains us. End our sin-caused alienation from God and every kind of illness, malady, and land corruption go away (new creation, anyone?). So today you get the punchline to the sermon’s title right away. Value added. You can nap in peace now and still pass the quiz at sermon’s end. But here’s the problem. if we believe the OT (which we should), we are powerless to heal our sin-sickness by ourselves. Our sin destines us to wander in the wasteland of the wilderness even as we live in our million dollar mansions and grow fat on our sumptuous diets and enjoy the glut of consumer goodies produced by our economy. Human knowledge and technological advancements may allow us to overcome the corruption of the land and to an extent heal many of our sicknesses, but we cannot cure the root cause of all illness: our alienation from God.

But it is to the glory of God our Father that the grim message about Sin contained in the OT is not the final word, that the OT was always a story awaiting its completion, and that final word is the coming of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. To be sure, the human condition about which I have just spoken did not change from the OT to the NT periods. Neither has it changed today. We are more sophisticated in hiding, rationalizing, and dressing up our alienation from God, but the psalmist’s charge about the wickedness of the human race remains true and valid today. So what changed?

The Good News, of course, with its proclamation that God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham to address our sin-sickness and heal us through Abraham’s family. God has accomplished that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God become human, to rescue us from our slavery to the power of Sin that has bound us ever since our original ancestors got booted out of paradise. We get a glimpse of the heart of God in our gospel lesson this morning and it is the key to our healing at the deepest level of our being. In response to his opponents’ criticism that he was always partying and hanging out with folks who were most despised in his culture, our Lord told two parables about the relentlessly loving heart God the Father has for his image-bearing creatures.

In the first parable, we see the shepherd (God through Christ) leaving his flock behind to search for the one lost sheep. What kind of sheep was that? Was it the cutest one? The one who nestled up to the shepherd to sleep? The one with the finest wool? No, the shepherd went after the sheep because it was lost. No prerequisites, no qualifications except disqualification (sin). No structure of personal piety, no good sense (it got lost), no obedience. This was the one that got a ride home on the shepherd’s shoulder. This one is you and me in all our inglorious chaos and vanity and baggage we carry around. The message here is that there is nothing we can do to get a ride home; it is entirely up to the Shepherd searching for and finding us, and the Shepherd is willing to search us out! And here we need to be clear about what this parable isn’t saying because too often it has been used to excuse ongoing sin which fosters ongoing alienation from God. Christ was not saying that God accepted the people he hung out with as they stood. Sinners must repent so that God can heal us. The sheep didn’t run away from the shepherd once found; it let the shepherd carry him back home. God searches for us and calls us to repentance, not because God hates us but because God loves us and wants to heal us. He searches for us as we are (rebellious and hostile toward him, skilled at doing evil and not knowing how to do good without the help of God), but God doesn’t expect us to stay as we are. The folks who hung around Jesus had to resolve to give up their lifestyles that made them sick so that God could thoroughly heal them. Likewise with us. The old Scottish preacher, George MacDonald, put it like this:

I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance. It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect..Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin.”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

None of this negates the power of the parable in which our Lord tells us about the great love the Father has for us; in fact, it reinforces it. That is why there is rejoicing in heaven. God has brought another lost sheep back into the fold and the Father’s heart overflows with joy because he loves each and every one of us in all of our disarrayed glory! Imagine you are that lost sheep our Lord finds. What would be your reaction? Would it not be one of instant relief and healing? Would you not be rejoicing and want to please the One who loves you despite your hostility toward him and wants you to be his forever?

Elsewhere the NT tells us a definitively about the Father’s great love for us made known in Jesus Christ. We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us. Our sins have been put away. God’s desire for justice and mercy has been accomplished on the cross so that we are spared of God’s terrible judgment on our sins because God took it on himself; and our slavery to the power of Sin has been broken. We know this because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and we have been given God’s Spirit to help us lead new lives when we have the good sense and humility to let the Shepherd carry us home on his whipped and crucified back.

So why aren’t we all healed? There are many reasons (as well as a great enigma surrounding it all), but I only have time to explore one of those reasons with all its complexity. Some of us are self-loathing. Like David in Psalm 51, we know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us. We can’t believe that a good and righteous God could ever love us, let alone have mercy on us. We read about God’s hatred of all things evil and we conclude that because of our sins, we too are evil and therefore outside of God’s love and mercy. The Good Shepherd would never come looking for us. We are beyond saving. But our self-loathing comes from the world, the flesh (usually from within ourselves), and the devil. It ignores the truth about the love and mercy of God made known in Jesus Christ and him crucified for our sins and for our sake. When our self-loathing prevents us from accepting God’s love for, and mercy upon us, we effectively run away from the Good Shepherd or refuse to let him put us on his shoulders to carry us home. Our self-loathing is a subtle form of pride and alienation against God, all dressed up in pietistic language and thinking, and it distinctly goes against the parable of the lost sheep, which is all about the love and mercy of the Shepherd, who seeks out the least, the lost, and the self-loathing. As a result, our alienation from God continues because we falsely believe God can’t and won’t love us and we never are open for the core healing that comes when we are reconciled to God our Father through Christ. If you are one of those self-loathers, STOP IT!!! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!! I plead with you to take this parable to heart and give your Father a chance to show his love for you. You will not be disappointed.

And here is where the parable of the lost coin comes into play because it speaks as much about God’s perseverance as it does about rejoicing over finding the lost. As we saw, Christ implicitly calls us to repentance in the parable of the lost sheep, and many of us consciously seek to repent but often find ourselves failing miserably. This is especially bad for you self-loathers; it just adds fuel to the fire. Does that mean we really haven’t repented and remain lost? The parable of the lost coins suggests otherwise. Repentance is not a one time deal or event. Neither is our relationship with God a one time event. We are a work in progress. St. Paul recognized this when he made the astonishing claim in Romans that we will share in a death and resurrection like Christ’s because we are baptized in him (Romans 6.3-5). He then immediately acknowledged that we are not done with sin until we die (Romans 6.6-7). That means we will sometimes fail to miss the mark but that in no way negates the power of the cross and Christ’s victory over Sin and Death for us. The cross is the eternal sign of God’s great and relentless love for us, that God is patient and perseveres in his pursuit of us, despite our flaws, weaknesses, self-loathing, and rebellion. This is because God created us for life and creation, not death and destruction. God’s love for us means the Father wants the best for us and has acted as only God could on our behalf to bring us safely home to him where there will be no more sickness or sighing or alienation or death. 

St. Paul also serves as a poster child for this mind-boggling promise. He wasn’t just a lost sheep. He was a wolf who actively devoured the sheep by persecuting God’s reconstituted people in Christ out of a sincere but mistaken belief that Christ was not the real deal until Christ got a hold of him. St. Paul’s story reminds us that sincerely held beliefs about God, wrong as they can be when we do not humbly submit to God’s word, cannot rescue us. Only God can rescue us. St. Paul, chief of sinners because he actively persecuted God’s people in Christ, is saved by the One who pursued him relentlessly and patiently until he repented of his evil. The message? Nobody is beyond hope. Nobody is beyond the healing love and mercy of God. We simply have to accept the gift offered to us unconditionally. The extent to which you have accepted the gift is the extent you will find healing.

In a few moments we will invite you to come for intercessions and anointing to be healed. As you come forward, do so with a thankful and believing heart and mind, imperfect as both are. Your faith and resolve to follow Christ, however imperfectly you might live it, is evidence of God’s love for you and his willingness to heal you. Therefore, don’t be afraid. Continue to examine your heart and your life and resolve to ask the Lord Jesus to heal you of anything that causes you to remain alienated from God. Give thanks to the Great Shepherd, the one who pursues you relentlessly because he loves you beyond your ability to understand—not because of who you are or aren’t, but because of who God is—and let this God heal you to your very core. The Good News of Jesus Christ is this: You are created in the Father’s image to reflect his goodness and love, but you rebelled against that purpose. Despite your rebellion, God loves you and has acted on your behalf to end your stupidity and skill at doing evil so that you are freed to do what is truly human, good, and life affirming (i.e., it’s not about you, stupid, it’s about God). In giving you this great gift you will find both his peace and your healing, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection: The Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on Friday, September 13, 2019 in Deshler, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15.1-26, 35-38, 42-44a, 53-58; John 11.17-27.

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

Good morning. I am Father Kevin Maney, rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican located in suburban Columbus, OH where my wife and I live. I am preaching today because Bob asked me to. He told me that my sermons reminded him of the peace and mercy of God. Flattered, I asked him what he meant by that and he said my sermons reminded him of God’s peace because they pass all understanding, and God’s mercy because they seem to extend forever. 

Bob and I go back over 30 years and we spent a lot of time talking about faith and life and death, among other things. I also had the joy and privilege of teaching his two daughters when they were in high school, and because Bob and I had such a unique and tight relationship, Susan and Baby R. didn’t have a prayer. If you are expecting me to eulogize Bob today, you will be disappointed. I do not come to eulogize the dead because even the most eloquent eulogies will not bring the dead back to life. Instead I come to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life. 

For those of us who knew and loved Bob, especially his family, these last several months have been grueling to say the least. He was afflicted by a host of illnesses that caused him and those of us who love him to suffer and grieve. His death, while a blessed release from an astonishingly rapid decline, is the ultimate form of evil because it robs us of our human dignity as God’s image-bearers and can leave survivors stunned and angry. Death ends permanently the relationships we cherish most about being human in this mortal life. We can no longer see our beloved, hear them, touch them, smell them or interact with them. Our Lord Jesus also knew this about the evil of Death because he snorted in anger at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him to life (John 11.38). Death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). It entered God’s good world as the result of human sin and has inflicted its evil on us ever since. Like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air in desperation and ask why God allows this to happen.

But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about a breathtaking hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, not wishful thinking—as he gave Martha and us an ultimately more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about Evil and Death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while Evil and Death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us, which he did, at least preliminarily, in his death and resurrection.

That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ, Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those like Bob who are united with Christ are promised a share in his resurrection when he returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new world. Jesus’ new bodily existence attests to the fact that we as humans—body, mind, and spirit, the total package—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity. This is what resurrection is about. This is what we celebrate today.

St. Paul talks about the nature of our promised resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is worth our time to see what he has to say. St. Paul tells us that unlike our mortal body that is subject to disease, decay, and death, the resurrection body with which we will be clothed will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. It will be a spiritual body, that is, it will be a body animated and powered by God’s Spirit instead of being animated and powered by flesh and blood. This means that our new body will no longer be subject to all the nasty illnesses and decay to which our mortal body is subjected. Whatever our new body looks like—and surely it will be more beautiful and wonderful than our minds can comprehend or imagine—it will be impervious to death and suited to live in God’s promised new world, the new heavens and earth. 

When Christ returns to raise the dead and usher in the new creation, the dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively, and which currently only intersect. Instead, as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, the new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation so that all forms of darkness and evil will be banished and we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or suffering or pain or death or evil of any kind. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and get to live forever with our new body and limitless new opportunities to be the humans God created and always intended for us to be. To be sure, this promise of new heavens and earth has not yet been fully realized and so we must wait in hope and faith for our Lord Jesus to return to usher it in. But even if we must wait, the promise of new creation is the only solution that will ultimately satisfy our hunger for justice and life because only in God’s new creation will all the injustices and hurts be made right and evil vanquished. In this case, Bob’s life will be fully restored (what better justice for the injustice of Death?) and severed relationships caused by death will made whole and complete again, a life of perfect health and happiness that will last forever, thanks be to God! What can be more just and awesome than that?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t love a person for an entire lifetime and then not grieve his loss when he dies. But as St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all. It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth, that we claim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Bob’s life, because without union with Jesus, none of us have life in this world or the next.

I want to close by telling you a story that powerfully sums up our Christian hope. 

In 1989 Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Emperor Charles of Austria died. She was the last Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and Queen of Bohemia—one of the last members of the storied House of Habsburg. Her funeral was held in Vienna, from which he had been exiled most of her eventful life. After the service in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, her body was taken to the Imperial Crypt, where some 145 Habsburg royals are buried. As the coffin was taken to the Crypt, an ancient ceremony took place. A herald knocked at the closed door, and a voice responded, “Who seeks entrance?” The herald answered, “Zita, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary.” From within came the response, “I do not know this person.” The herald tried again, saying, “This is Zita, Princess of Bourbon-Parma, Empress of Bohemia.” The same reply was heard: “I do not know this person.” The third time, the herald and pallbearers said, “Our sister Zita, a sinful mortal.” The doors swung open.  

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha and us in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? If you do, then act like the resurrection people you are! I don’t know why God allows all the suffering and bad things that happen in this world. I don’t know why Bob had to deal with the illnesses and the evil of cancer that he did. I don’t know why he declined so rapidly. I don’t know why his daughters, especially Cathy, had to be subjected to the heavy burden of caring for their failing father. None of it had to go that way, yet it did. 

But I do know this. Bob has been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for him on the cross and made fit to stand in God’s holy presence forever. He will be clothed one day with a new body patterned after the body of his Lord Jesus and set free to love and use his talents in spectacular new and old ways that honor God and others forever. I know that on the cross, his sin, along with ours, has been dealt with once and for all. I know that Death will be abolished in God’s new world because Sin will be abolished and Death is the result of Sin. Both will be absent in the new heavens and earth. I know all of this because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. 

The promise is mind-boggling. But the God we worship is mind-boggling. After all, we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Romans 4.17). Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours, not because we are deserving, but because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That is why we can rejoice today, even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. Because of his faith in Christ who loves him and who has claimed him from all eternity, the doors of heaven have swung wide open for Bob and he is enjoying his rest with his Lord Jesus until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full. And that, of course, is Good News, not only for RLR, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity. 

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

Faith, Ministry, and God’s Sovereignty

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12C, Sunday, September 8, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 8.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14.25-33.

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

In one way or another, today’s lessons confront us with the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. If God is sovereign over us and the events of his world, how can God hold us responsible for our actions? God is in charge, right? Everything is fixed. We’re just doing what God predestined us to do so why bother? Why try? What’s the point? And given that today we have blessed our various ministries, how does the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility come into play? These are some of the confusing things I want us to look at this morning (and hopefully not get you or me even more confused than we already are as we do)!

We start with our OT lesson from Jeremiah. God tells his prophet to visit his local potterer and there God schools Jeremiah (and us) about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God likens the potterer to himself. God created us and can therefore choose to do whatever God pleases to do with us; after all, God is our Creator and sovereign. And God is good. In the context of our lesson, of course, God is referring to his upcoming judgment on his rebellious and idolatrous people who live in Judah. The Lord reminds Jeremiah that all people (the nations) are his because God created everything and everyone, and now God is going to use one of those nations to bring destruction on his people Israel living in Judah for their ongoing and stubborn rebellion against God (the northern kingdom of Israel had already suffered the same fate at the hands of the Assyrian Empire about 125 years earlier). The message? God is sovereign. He can do as he pleases, just like the potterer Jeremiah was observing. Judah’s goose was cooked. It was a done deal.

Not so fast, my friends. Don’t try to become little Calvinists quite yet because after declaring his sovereign right and power to summon a nation to enact God’s judgment on his people for their sins against him, God makes the astonishing statement that we his creatures can actually have a say in God’s sovereign decision-making. If God’s people abandon their false gods along with the false and dehumanizing practices that accompany the worship of them, the one true God, the sovereign Lord over all that is, will relent in imposing his judgment on Judah. But if they repent and then think they are in the clear and start worshiping all things false again, they will once again bring upon themselves God’s fierce judgment. God can and will change his sovereign mind depending on how his people decide to live (or die). There you have it. The enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, two seemingly contradictory realities. Nowhere does Scripture try to explain how it works, just that it does. God created us in his image and gave us moral capabilities and the will to use those capabilities (or not), and God expects us to act morally to reflect his goodness, love, justice, and mercy out into his world so that the world and its peoples will come to know, worship, and praise their Creator, not get sidetracked with all things false and death-dealing.

Now of course Jeremiah was written BC—before Christ, and so things have changed a bit. In Christ God has reconciled us to himself on the cross. God did this on his own initiative while we were still God’s enemies and hostile toward God (some of us sadly remain so today). But God’s love and justice can be seen clearly in the cross of Christ. Again, Scripture does not tell us how this all works, only that it does. It’s called having faith and trusting in the veracity of God’s word contained in Scripture and in God’s Word become flesh. And if God really is God, if his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55.8), then we should expect to be confronted on occasion with enigmas and things we do not fully understand or can’t adequately explain, things like the sovereignty of God vs. human responsibility or how Christ’s blood shed for us broke Sin’s power over us and reconciled us fully to God despite our lingering sinful behavior. It’s simply above our pay grade. We are asked to accept it by faith because we believe it truly comes from God our sovereign and is grounded in history. So we believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3), i.e., we believe in the sovereign power of God to reconcile us to himself in the way he chose to do that. But we also believe that we have the power to choose, i.e., we must choose to believe in Christ and follow him (human responsibility) before God will relent in imposing his fierce and right justice on us and our sins. 

We see this theology being worked out in our epistle and gospel lessons. St. Paul reminds both slave and slaveholder about the good they can do when they share their faith. They both have an incalculable debt they owe Christ. In his death they have new life and are reconciled to their Creator so they no longer need fear his judgment on them. Elsewhere St. Paul has reminded us that there is no longer any distinction for those who have a real relationship with Christ. It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, slave or free. We are Christ’s and we are to behave accordingly. For Philemon and Onesimus this meant perhaps doing the hard and detestable thing: freeing a slave and returning to a slave owner respectively. Do that, says St. Paul, and you and the world will see the good you do and how effective your faith can be. Put another way, St. Paul might have said do the hard but right thing (take responsibility for your actions) and then marvel at how the sovereign God will use your efforts to bring about further reconciliation and his kingdom on earth as in heaven. Was God going to destroy the institution of slavery whether Philemon and Onesimus did the right thing? Of course. God is sovereign. But when God’s image-bearers behave in ways that mimic God become human (Christ), how much more can God do! There is a great (and enigmatic) dynamic at work here but it should be tremendously comforting to us that God is in charge and that God actually invites us to work with him as he heals his good creation and creatures gone bad. Let’s be clear about this. Only God can bring about the final healing (salvation) of the world and its peoples, but God honors us by inviting us to cooperate with his sovereign rule. This means we aren’t so concerned about the results as we are about cooperating with our Creator and Sovereign.

In our gospel lesson, we see our Lord telling his followers the same thing. Do you want to follow me? You’d better consider the costs and benefits before taking the plunge. If you decide to follow me, you must make me your number one priority. Christ’s use of the word hate is startling here and needs some clarification. In this context, hate can (and probably does) mean a lesser secondary attachment, and there is biblical precedence for this meaning. We are told, e.g., that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. This didn’t mean God detested Esau; it means Jacob held priority over Esau by virtue of having secured the Lord’s blessing through Isaac’s blessing. Moreover, given Christ’s high view of marriage and family and his stern condemnation of adultery, he surely doesn’t call us to detest our family and love only him. Why would he tell us to love the one who beats us and despise the ones who nurtured us? St. Matthew probably convey’s Christ’s intentions better when he tells us that Jesus said whoever loves family more than him couldn’t be his disciple. Here again we are confronted with human responsibility. If we expect to enjoy the saving benefits of Christ won for us in his death and resurrection, we have to make him the top priority in our lives, even over those whom we love. This notion of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility also argues against universal salvation. God is willing to relent or change his mind about his fierce judgment on human sin and has acted on our behalf to do so because he knows we are powerless to break our slavery to Sin without the cross and help and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But God gives us the freedom to choose to follow Christ and honors our choices. Some will choose badly, others will choose wisely. God is still sovereign but requires that we have skin in the game.

So how does this apply to the blessing of our ministries today? When we believe in God’s sovereignty we can engage in those ministries with great joy and perseverance because we know that when we do the work God calls us to do, both inside and outside our church family, God will bless that work, no matter how meager or average or dysfunctional our work might be. Having said that, God calls each of us to ministry and gives us a choice. If we engage in ministry, we are doing what God calls us to do. If we refuse, then we effectively thumb our nose at God and tell him we have other priorities in life greater than God. Each decision has consequences. Statistics, e.g., tell us  that about 20% of members do the work of the parish. For those who do the work, they get tired and resentful and God is not glorified in this. But the minority need to remember that God is sovereign and will bless their work no matter how tired or incomplete they and their work are. For the 80% who choose to let others do the work, while Christ died for you to reconcile you to God the Father, the notion of human responsibility suggests that Christ will be questioning your faith and discipleship. How does your refusal to have skin in the game proclaim your faith in Christ? How does your non-commitment increase the perception that the gospel has the transformative power to do good as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson? It is God who saves and it is God who expects a thankful response to his free gift, not to earn our salvation but to acknowledge his love, mercy, grace, and sovereignty displayed in Christ crucified. God never calls us to do that which we are incapable of doing, but God gives us gifts and expects us to use them in his service and the service of others, no matter how great or small.

Likewise with our homelessness. As I spoke two weeks ago, this has become an intolerable burden for me and I pray God will make it an intolerable burden for you. God will find us a home (think Exodus) and God wants us to have a home (think the New Jerusalem). But God is waiting to hear our collective cry. It won’t do for any of us to sit on the sideline on this and so starting next Sunday, I am calling us to a 40 day period of prayer and fasting. I will be sending out a letter to the parish this week that includes a prayer for you to use if you don’t know how to pray thusly. I have charged the vestry with taking leadership in this effort and to interact with you during this 40 day period. To be sure, a parish is more than a building. But we need a home that we can turn into our own sacred space to worship God. We need a home so that new ministries can be birthed and new educational and fellowship opportunities can be offered. Homelessness is never a good thing, especially for God’s people, and we are a homeless people right now. I thank God for the love and graciousness of CCPC. But this is not our home and we dare not be content to see our participation in God’s family here at St. Augustine’s as a Sunday morning frozen chosen experience. As we have seen, that simply will not do. God will overcome our sloth and indifference but he will not reward or honor it, and this is not who we are as God’s people at St. Augustine’s Anglican. 

Let me be clear. I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you, nor am I being judgmental. We all fall short of the prize and when I preach a sermon like this, which is not often, the first person I look at is the one in the mirror. I simply want us to work through together some of the ramifications of the enigma of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility. I therefore encourage you to view this sermon as an invitation for you to do some deep self-reflection about your theology and discipleship. We worship a great loving and merciful God who honors us as his image-bearers and who has given himself to us to rescue us from his judgment and eternal death. Let us show God and the world that we are a thankful and energetic people who answer God’s call to us to do the work God calls us to do, confident that God will use our work to help achieve his purposes for us and for the people whom we love and serve on his behalf. We need a home to best answer that call, so let’s ask God to show us his sovereign power on our behalf. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Marks of a Believer

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11C, Sunday, September 1, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 2.4-13; Psalm 81.1, 10-16; Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16; Luke 14.1, 7-14.

To be faithful to the proposal by our Rector, Rev. Dr. Kevin Maney to preach on the series from the book of Hebrews, my sermon or rather teaching today is based on our epistle reading from Hebrews and I am honored to go last on these series. If you will not remember all we have preached on this book of Hebrews you can always go back and read the sermons or listen to podcasts on the website. The conclusion is most of the time the climax of everything. I hope as we conclude on these series that we will be blessed together as we learn and grow to maturity as christians.

How do we go about living as Christians in a society where we find ourselves increasingly on the margins?

Our need to answer that question places us close to the original congregation that received the message of encouragement that we read today from Hebrews, these believers struggled to hold on and hold out in the face of pressures from the broader society as well. In listening to the word addressed to them, we may also hear a word for ourselves.

In the last chapter the writer of Hebrews rounds out his sermon with a set of ethical teachings. These words form an interconnected series about how to live as a community of faith in an indifferent or even hostile world. They provide practices that set our community apart from its broader culture. To return to the image of the Christian life as a race as the writer calls it, these words of exhortation function as marks of the trail. They keep us on the path and on our way to the goal. The goal set for us as believers.

The first mark of a believer, which forms the foundation for all the rest, is love. The writer focuses our attention in two directions. First, he points us to the love of fellow believers in community: “let mutual love continue” (13:1). The word used here is philadelphia, the Greek noun expressing the love between brothers and sisters. We are family, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen that bond if we are to find our way.

But love also has an external dimension. As we show love to our brothers and sisters, we do not wall ourselves off as members of a distinct tribe. We are also to show love to the stranger through the gift of hospitality (13:2). In the first century, hospitality was a practical virtue because inns were disreputable places. There were no Ramada Inns or Motel 6s.

Though our circumstances are different, hospitality—paying attention to the stranger— remains a vital demonstration of love. We must become welcoming and inviting congregations. We are reminded that when we are hospitable, we too receive gifts because we may entertain “angels without knowing it” (13:2). Perhaps the writer was thinking about Abraham (Genesis 18) or Gideon (Judges 6) or Manoah (Judges 13). For all of these characters, hospitality led to new stories of good news, new possibilities, new life, and new avenues of service.

A second mark of a believer being on the trail is to show care in times of distress. Our lesson today mentions two crises in particular: those who are in prison and those who are being tortured (13:3). In both cases, we are taught the depth of compassion in its sense of suffering-with-others. Our life is a life in the body, and just as Jesus as our great high priest identifies with our tests and shares our vulnerability, so we should also identify with those of our sisters and brothers undergoing crises.

The third mark our epistle lesson puts across to us today is in the area of fidelity: we should honor marriage, and we should be faithful to our marriage covenants. Such faithfulness sets us apart from the broader culture and strengthens the bonds of the community. Infidelity is not a private matter. It weakens the fabric of community, and those who are faithless bear responsibility for the wreckage their lack of steadfastness produces.

Contentment with what we have is the fourth mark of a believer being on the trail as the epistle says (13:5). We do not greedily seek more to secure our lives. Rather we are to trust in God’s promises of presence and protection. Quoting first from Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 (see also Joshua 1:5), we are reminded that God will not leave us or forsake us (13:5). Yet, God is not simply present. As Psalms 118:6 demonstrates, God is our helper, so we need fear no human action or institution (13:6).

A fifth mark is loyalty and constancy. We should remember those who have spoken the word of God to us, for their faithfulness stands as an example for us (13:7). The ultimate example of faithfulness, of course, is Jesus (12:1-3), who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).

The final mark is proper worship, and, in particular, proper sacrifice. That advice is no surprise, since worship has been central to this sermon. We are to make an offering of thanksgiving in response to the blessings we have received under the new covenant. First, we are called to offer a sacrifice of praise as we confess Christ’s name. But acceptable sacrifice moves beyond the arena of worship and confession. As those who have received grace and trust in God’s provision, we are called to extend such grace toward others through doing good and by sharing what we have. We honor our generous God by living with open hands. We do not cling to our resources in order to secure our own lives in the face of an uncertain future. Instead, we share what we have as divine gifts entrusted to us as stewards of God’s bounty.

This final mark, with its focus on acceptable worship, underscores the unity of all these admonitions. Having called us to give thanks and offer our acceptable worship to God (12:28), the writer of the book of Hebrews now spells out the various dimensions of that worship. Acceptable worship does not find expression solely in ritual acts in the assembly or sanctuary. It infuses all of life.

Thus in our love for each other or for strangers or in our care for those in crisis, we are worshipping God. In our sharing that reflects our trust in God rather than possessions, we are worshipping God. In our faithfulness to our covenants and vows and to the example of those who have gone before us, we are worshipping God. We embody this way of life, not on the basis of our guilt or in any effort to secure God’s favor, but because God’s grace transforms and empowers us. Jesus, whose constancy knows no end, has opened for us a new way to God so that we may approach God’s throne with confidence. In response, we offer both our praise and the witness of all of our lives with thanks and praise.

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

St. Augustine’s Parish Dedication Festival: Why We Celebrate Our Parish

Sermon delivered at St. Augustine’s annual Parish Dedication Festival, Year C, Sunday, August 25, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Chronicles 29.6-19; Psalm 122; Ephesians 2.19-22; John 2.13-22.

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

Today we celebrate the founding of our parish eight years ago on May 1. I remind you that we transfer our celebration to the Sunday in August closest to the feast day of our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, which falls on August 28, marking the anniversary of his death in 430AD. What does it mean to be part of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? What are we really celebrating today? What privileges do we as people of God enjoy and what responsibilities must we bear? These are some of the things I want us to look at this morning.

What do you think of when you hear the word church? Chances are you think of a building (let’s go to church today) and at first blush, our OT lesson seems to reinforce this notion of church as a place to worship. But not so fast, my friends, because what we get a glimpse of in our OT lesson is the Lord’s promise to dwell with his people; and before Christ’s arrival that place was the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where most of God’s people Israel believed that heaven (God’s space) and earth (humans’ space) intersected. To be sure, as King Solomon would later acknowledge, no place could hold God, the Creator of heaven and earth. But God’s people believed that God would be true to his promise to dwell with his people here on earth. So the Temple was a place for God’s people to meet with God. The Temple was important to be sure, but it was more important that God would dwell with his people on earth because God had called Israel, Abraham’s descendants, not a building, to bring God’s healing love and blessing to a sin-sick and God-cursed world.

And as our gospel lesson makes clear, the Temple in Jerusalem came under God’s final judgment when Christ cleansed the Temple and accused those who dwelled there of turning it into a den of thieves rather than using it as house of prayer where all the nations could come to find healing and refreshment in the presence of the Lord, cf. Mark 11.17 (the Temple was destroyed almost forty years later, never to be rebuilt). From now on, said our Lord Jesus, I am the new Temple, the place where heaven and earth intersect, the place where people come to meet God and find healing and refreshment and reconciliation of all kinds. And as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson and elsewhere, we are connected to Christ, the head of his body, the Church, in the power of the Spirit and through baptism. Now God makes his presence known on earth through his people in the power of the Spirit, people who have faith in, and give their lives to, Jesus Christ. It is a staggering promise if we allow ourselves to think about it and begin to wrestle with the full implications of the promise.

It means first and foremost that the Church is not a building but a living, breathing organism linked mysteriously and organically to its head, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, in the power of the Spirit, i.e., it is a family. It means that you and I are family members and part of Christ’s body, the Church, with all our flaws and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. It means we are called to live our lives in ways that embody the Spirit of the living God who loved us and gave himself for us, imperfectly as that might look to outsiders. It is a call that is fitting with our human dignity as God’s image-bearing creatures and with God’s original creative intent for humans to run God’s good world on God’s behalf, reflecting his image out into the world and receiving and reflecting back to God the world’s thanks and praise for the goodness, generosity, and love of God the Father and Creator.

We who are God’s people in Christ (AKA, Christians) are a people who enjoy the gift of God’s grace. Without the love and intervention of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we deserve nothing but God’s terrible wrath and judgment on our sins and wickedness because no one can live up to the moral perfection of God nor can God tolerate any kind of evil because it flies in the face of God’s perfect goodness and good intentions for his world and its creatures. God wants the very best for us and the only way we can accomplish that is to live as his creatures rather than trying to live as God’s equals. But the history of the human race demonstrates sadly that we are incapable on our own to live as God’s creatures. We want to be God’s equals or to live as if God didn’t exist at all. It is our terminal sin-sickness and without God’s help, mercy, and grace, we are all destined for God’s terrible wrath on our sins. 

But this too is intolerable to God because God did not create us for destruction. He created us for relationship with him and as we’ve just seen, to be his image-bearing creatures. So God did something on our behalf to end our grim standing with him and to bring about our reconciliation with him so that we could once again be the human creatures he created us to be. God did this, of course, by becoming human and taking on himself the weight of our sins and his own terrible judgment on them. There is now no longer any condemnation for those who have a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Having broken the power of Sin over us on the cross, God then broke the power of the ultimate evil over us, Death, by raising Christ from the dead, thus vindicating his saving death. Why does this matter? Because in baptism we are united with Christ in his death and risen life (Romans 6.3-5). Where Christ is, so will we be. Despite our ongoing rebellion against God, God has chosen to rescue us anyway. This is why the story of Christ is called Good News. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, at the very right time, while we were still sinners and God’s enemies, God sent his Son, i.e., God became human, to die for us and reconcile us to himself. That’s why we are no longer aliens and strangers to God. God has ended our alienation from him and reconciled us to himself so that we have a real hope and a future. None of us deserve this love or grace. None are worthy of this mercy and forgiveness, but God offers it to us anyway. We just have to have the good sense and grace to accept God’s invitation to us.

Why am I spending time with this? Because this defines us as God’s holy people and it had better change us, otherwise our membership in God’s family is suspect. Hear me carefully. I am not suggesting we must live perfect lives to qualify as God’s people. We don’t. We aren’t God’s people by what we do or don’t do. We are God’s people because of what God has done for us in Christ. Let us be very clear about this. But God did not rescue us from the power of Sin and his terrible wrath on our sins to allow us to keep doing business as we did before we knew Christ or as the world does business. You don’t help rescue someone from destruction by imitating their behavior. No, if we have a relationship with Christ, we seek to become like him with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. St. Paul makes the bold claim that our Spirit-mediated union with Christ transforms us into the image of Christ, which allows us to do business in ways that are pleasing to God rather than the world. Again, we don’t imitate Christ perfectly because none of us are done with sin until we die (Romans 6.7). Having said that, we strive to be like Christ and this is how we become the Church, the embodiment of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

Christ’s presence with us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit means we realize like David and his people realized, that all we have comes from God. Yes, we are called to use our time, talents, and effort to help sustain ourselves, but nothing comes to us, especially life, without the Father’s permission. This knowledge must humble us and motivate us to please the Father by imitating his Son. This in turn means we forgive when wronged, are generous with our time, talents, and resources for the sake of the Lord and his people, not to mention the world. It means we are to park our egos and selfish ambitions and listen to God’s call for us as his people. It means we work for peace, not rancor. All this is inherent in our mission statement here at St. Augustine’s, that we are “changed by God to make a difference for God.” It means we love God enough and hate our sins enough (not ourselves, but our sins) that we want God’s word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people to heal and change us. It means we learn the story of salvation contained in the Bible and have faith that in so reading, learning, and inwardly digesting God’s word in Scripture, God will use our efforts to heal us, edify us, and equip us to do the work he calls us to do. If you do not have a burning desire to learn and be changed by God’s word in Scripture, you might want to take a hard look at what kind of faith you really have (or lack) and then turn to Christ to help you get where he wants you to be. You are his beloved and he died so that you can live. Why would he not help you grow to his full stature if you really desire to get there?

Being healed and transformed by God’s word and through prayer and fellowship allows us to roll up our sleeves and go into a hostile world to minister to it and preach the Good News of Christ and him crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended. We do this by word and deed. People should look at us and see humans interacting and operating in fundamentally different ways than the the secular world does. Of course we are going to have disagreements on how best to do this, but we learn to work through them and we never let our disagreements poison the well or our love for each other. When we find that we must have our own way, it usually means we are in need of repentance because we are looking out for ourselves rather than others. Christians are no different from non-Christians. We have our own perspectives and peccadilloes, our own broken history and fears. We are not immune from the world, the flesh, or the devil. But we have Jesus Christ as our head who is present with us if we will give him the proper attention and effort. When we do, we will find our troubles and disagreements can be transformed and healed, just like us, to the glory of God the Father. I think overall we do a pretty good job of loving each other and bearing each other’s junk that we all bring to the table. That’s one sure sign that our head is here and active among us. 

This is what and why we celebrate. This is what it means to be the Church. Together we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, trusting him to heal and transform us according to his good will for us. And here I want to say something that may surprise you given all that I have just said. For us to let Christ heal and transform us to the fullest extent possible, we need a building we can call our own. It simply won’t do to be satisfied with a nice chapel in which to worship, massively important as worship is. We have no place to call our own, to call home. Why does that matter? For starters, we have a group of young people who need to study God’s word together and learn to love each other as they grow up physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To do this they need a place to meet and discuss and plan and dream. We don’t have that for them now. Neither can we offer adults a full set of opportunities to grow and be enriched, or for all of us to use as a base of operation to serve God’s world, or to rejoice and mourn together when we need to do so. The Spirit lives in us to be sure and Christ is present among us. But we are a homeless people and that is never good for anyone, especially God’s people. This has become an intolerable burden for me and I pray it becomes an intolerable burden for you all because only then when we show God we really are ready to end our homelessness will God give us our heart’s desire. This fall I am going to give you a chance to show God your holy desire and impatience for a home. More about that in two weeks.  

In the meantime, we have much to celebrate as God’s people here at St. Augustine’s. We also have much work to do. We are a healed and reconciled people who have been given the best gift of all, eternal life. We are given the spectacular privilege of engaging in God’s kingdom work in the power of the Spirit. We have been given this, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s great love and mercy for us. Let us therefore show our love for him by seeking to grow in Christ and fulfill our call to bring his healing love to a hostile world that desperately needs to be healed and loved. May we always answer Christ’s call to us to be his people and may he bless us with a home to better help us answer his call. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Perseverance in Life of Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 9C, Sunday, August 18, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang cherishes Kenyan Time™. He runs on it alll the time (no pun intended). That’s why his manuscripts always follow his podcasts. So take your (Kenyan) time reading his sermon below or click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 5.1-7; Psalm 80.1-2, 9-20; Hebrews 11.29-12.2; Luke 12.49-56.

Last week Father Kevin preached on Faith focusing on what a genuine biblical faith looks like on the ground. In today’s Epistle lesson, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to persevere in our life of faith, no matter what difficulties we face. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” The writer says, you have begun a good thing in becoming Christians. I want you to finish strong in what has been started in you.

It happens that I come from a community that is 0.1 % of the world’s population but holds 80% of the worlds marathon. I myself am not a good runner as bishops Dobbs and others are but I like watching the sport. Those who run marathons, be it boston, new york or chicago marathon all runners are lined up at the same starting line including runners who hold the best marathon times in the world and they all ran the same course and pass the same cheering crowds.”

“But I suppose it’s the finishing that really makes the difference. The elite runners are crossing the finish line when others are about half way through the course. The elite have about two hours to enjoy refreshments and rest, while others are still having more than ten miles to reach the goal, However the beauty of the event is that for many, just finishing the race is the accomplishment, it is the goal.”

Very few have to run a marathon — participation is for fun. But the author of the letter to the Hebrews asks us a similar question: Will we finish the race that is our life with faith? Will we persevere? Or will we run off course, or give up? And the race is hard. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us, if we follow him, if we stand up for what is right, we will experience conflict.

The writer of Hebrews, like a good coach, gives four pieces of advice about how to finish the race. To finish the race: recall who surrounds us. Remove what ways down on us. Rely on strength within us. Remember who goes before us. Recall who surrounds us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The epistle writer wants us to picture ourselves as athletes in an arena. As we strive toward our goal, to finish with faith, in peace and holiness, we run surrounded by people. The people in the stands are people who have demonstrated faith — faith that persevered, people who by the grace of God overcame great obstacles, and finished the race. These are people of the Bible, the men and women of the Church throughout the ages, people known personally by you and by me whose witness encourages us.

The writer says they are witnesses, not just spectators. There is a huge difference. A spectator watches you go through something. A witness is someone who has gone through something herself someone who knows, and the root meaning of the word witness, from which we get the word “martyr” is someone who may have given his life going through it. We have witnesses cheering us on, not just spectators, people who have gone through what we struggle with, people whose testimonies of the strength God gave them can, in turn, give us strength and courage. We have witnesses rooting for us, weeping with us when we stumble, calling to us when we wander, urging us to finish the race.

The writer of Hebrews, our coach, tells us also to remove what weighs down on us. Have you ever seen a track stars running a race wearing winter boots, or with weights tied to their ankles, or carrying a backpack full of weight? “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” says our coach. What attitudes and actions, what past behavior and present entanglements weigh us down? What weights of sin and brokenness do we carry that cause us to stumble rather than sprint? We can set those weights down. God is ready to take them from us. God is ready to forgive and heal whatever we let get between us and God, whatever has come between us and other people, whatever wrongs we do to ourselves.

Our coach also tells us to rely on the strength within us. We are told to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” When the going gets tough, when the road is difficult, when the miles drag on, obstacles come up around every bend, when every stretch of the road seems like another steep hill to climb, we can rely on spiritual resources within us — spiritual resources we develop in training: in gathering with other Christians, in hearing and reading God’s word, in participating in the life of the church.

The word “perseverance” has also been translated as “patient endurance.” Endurance is one thing. We can endure and whine and complain all at the same time. Patient endurance looks like praying without ceasing for ourselves and others. It looks like encouraging others even in the midst of difficulty. It looks like saying something kind, or saying nothing at all when something unkind comes more readily to mind. It looks like giving of ourselves generously, even when we’re not sure what’s ahead of us and our inclination may be to think of ourselves first.

Most important of all, remember who goes before us. We can look “to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can and will finish the race strong in faith if we look to Jesus, if we keep our eyes focused on him, not being distracted by other things along the way that can cause us to lose our direction or footing and stumble. Jesus has gone before us, has shown us the way that leads to victory. If we keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him, we will not only make a good beginning in faith we too will finish and win the race.

In the race of our life, we have people cheering us on. We have someone willing to take on our burdens. We can train for patient endurance. We have a guide who leads us and will not leave us. Let us keep running until the prize is ours and we hear God say to us, “Well done faithful servant!”

In the name of God the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

Remember V-J Day 2019

vj-day pict

Today marks the 74th anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). Stop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.

Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.

From the History Channel.

On this day in 1945, an official announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies is made public to the Japanese people.

Read it all.

Also read the text of President Truman’s radio message broadcast to the American people on September 1, 1945.

From here:

My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:

The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.

Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.

Read it all as well.

Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8C, Sunday, August 11, 2019 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 1.1, 10-20; Psalm 50.1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40.

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

In our epistle lesson this morning, the writer of Hebrews speaks about faith. Given that the NT writers claim that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, it is vital for us to understand what genuine biblical faith looks like on the ground. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

“Faith,” says the writer of Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” St. James tells us that faith without works is dead and useless, and St. Paul tells us in several of his letters that we are only made right with God by having faith in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. But what does that all mean? To answer this question, we start by looking at what faith isn’t. When the biblical writers speak of faith, they didn’t have in mind some kind of spirituality that is an entity unto itself (she’s a person of faith). Neither did they have in mind some kind of resolute belief that their faith would guarantee them wealth (gee, I’ve got faith so God will surely make me rich). Nor did the biblical writers define faith as a blind leap against known facts. Atheists and other critics of the Christian faith often parrot this latter understanding of faith when ridiculing those of us who have faith. But these criticisms are patently false and inaccurate because this is not what the Bible means when it speaks of faith.

Faith, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews articulates, involves confident action in response to what God has made known to us through his word in Scripture and through his involvement in his created order. Faith is closely related to hope in Scripture, with both terms often used synonymously. And before we go any further, we need to be clear as to what the biblical writers meant by hope. Hope in Scripture is not wishful thinking or whistling through the graveyard. No, hope as the biblical writers use it, means a sure and certain expectation that something is going to happen in the future based on what has happened in the past. Our Christian hope of forgiveness of sins and new creation, a future hope, is based on the death and resurrection of Christ, past historical events. Without these past events, we really would be fools to believe in a future new world made perfect as well as the resurrection of the body. There would be no historical basis on which to pin our hope on God’s promised new world. But because we believe that Christ was raised from the dead, we believe that instead of judgment for our sins after we die, we will find mercy and new bodily life when Christ returns to finish his saving work because in baptism we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. We weren’t witnesses to these latter events but we believe the testimony contained in the NT of those who were. This is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. We have faith in the power of our baptism to bind us to Christ and have the hope of bodily resurrection and new creation because the word of God promises such, both in the story of Christ and the subsequent testimony of those who witnessed these saving events. And because we trust God’s character, we trust God’s word and believe it to be truthful. Obviously if we do not know God, we will have a hard time knowing God’s character and trusting God’s word. But if we know the story of God’s salvation contained in Scripture, if we have a robust prayer life, if we are firmly ensconced in the household of God, i.e., the Church, even with all its warts, if we pay attention to how God works through human agency, then we have the basis for trust. This is why we have the assurance of things hoped for and why Christian hope is always a sure and certain expectation. 

Faith therefore is never blind because it is always based on the promises of God contained in the OT and NT, nor are we called to have a blind faith. If we do not know God, it is impossible to have a mature biblical faith because there will always be doubt in our minds as to whether God is really trustworthy, especially when things go south for us or our world. It would be really easy, e.g., for us to look at the chaos of the seemingly never-ending mass shootings and conclude God’s promise to heal and redeem his broken and sinful world and its creatures is false and unbelievable. But this mindset is present- and human-oriented. True biblical faith by contrast is always God- and future-oriented because it is based on known instances of God’s mighty power, goodness, mercy and justice at work. That is why when faith is threatened by doubt—always a threat to us, especially in the ever increasingly chaotic world in which we live—Scripture exhorts us to remember, just as the writer of Hebrews does in our lesson. Listen to these following examples taken from the psalms:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? / Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. / Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. / Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. / They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced (Ps 22.1-5, NLT).

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! / When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. / All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. / I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help./ And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” / But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. / They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works (Psalm 77.1-3, 10-12, NLT).

Do you see faith in action here? The psalmist is riddled with doubt. It feels like God has abandoned him and he is in danger of giving up and losing his faith. But then he remembers. He remembers God’s mighty intervention on behalf of his people at the Red Sea. In God’s dealing with his people, the psalmist is reminded of God’s character and trustworthiness. We aren’t told how the crisis the psalmist faced turned out. We simply see him working to maintain his faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. When things are desperately dark in your life or when news of current events threatens to overwhelm you with its reporting of new evil and perversity, seemingly every day, do you keep your eyes on God by remembering his mighty works on your behalf (Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit to name but two examples) to help you maintain your faith, or do you let the darkness overwhelm you by focusing on it? 

Notice carefully in these examples from the psalms that the focus of biblical faith is on God’s promises contained in the story of his rescue of his good world gone terribly wrong. God created this world. Our faith tells us this is true because Genesis proclaims that God is our Creator and the psalms reinforce this belief. Consider Psalm 19, for example: 

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. / Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. / They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. / Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world (v.1-4).

This same God, Creator of all that is, is perfect, good, loving, just, merciful, and holy. God created humans in his image to run his good creation on God’s behalf and when we failed that call and our sin allowed Evil and Death to enter and corrupt God’s good world and us, God declared he would rescue us through a human family, Abraham and his ultimate descendent Jesus Christ! This totally unexpected plan is fitting for the dignity of human beings and is another sign that God honors us and wants us to return to him. Along the way, Scripture tells us the story of how God repeatedly came to his people Israel’s rescue, requiring them to choose between the old covenant’s blessings and curses outlined most notably in Deuteronomy 27-28. Covenant curses are God’s judgment on his people’s lack of faith; they chose not to submit to his way of living, in part, because they don’t believe God’s promises to them. Covenant blessings, on the other hand, result from God honoring right living which is indicative of faith in the God who promised his people to be their God and commanded them to live by his laws (more about that anon). This is what was going on in our OT lesson today. The Lord through his prophet Isaiah exhorts his people to faith by living righteously according to his laws. If God’s people Israel really had faith in God, the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen, they would have behaved accordingly. But Israel didn’t have faith in God because they choose to worship and follow false gods. This is why true worship of God the Father requires faith. Nothing else will do in God’s eyes. By worshiping false gods, Israel in Isaiah’s day showed where their faith really was focused, and it wasn’t on the God who called them out of their slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land as a base of operation for their saving mission. They could therefore expect nothing but exile and death, the ultimate covenant curses, just like we can expect nothing but judgment and death when we fail to put our hope (faith) in Christ.

The NT modifies and completes the OT theme of covenant blessings and curses by proclaiming that Jesus Christ ultimately rescued us from exile and death, even after we had fallen away. Jesus Christ was and is the game-changer because lack of faith cannot fully explain human rebellion against God. We all know that from personal experience! We rebel against God, in part, because we lack faith and, in part, because we are held captive by the power of Sin and unable to break free from its grip. So God broke Sin’s power over us on the cross and accomplished his justice. We believe this because we believe God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so, vindicated his death. And while God has not consummated his rescue of his sin-sick world and creatures, we know it’s coming because we believe in the efficacy of Christ’s saving death and resurrection and are convinced it comes from God. With St. Paul, we believe in the God who creates things out of nothing and who raises the dead; therefore we have hope against hope (God’s hope vs. human hope) that our salvation is assured. As St. Paul also reminds us, our life with Christ is hidden with him in heaven (Col 3.3). We cannot currently see him, but we will see him one day when he returns and so we have the sure and certain expectation (hope) that he will finish what he started. In having this hope in Christ and trusting he is God incarnate because the NT writers proclaim him to be, we demonstrate our faith in the power of God and his revealed word. Simply put, our faith is based on Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Only God is capable of doing this as the whole story of Scripture attests. Our future is linked to God’s power and we are gradually transformed by it.

As we saw earlier, St. James reminds us that faith must be actionable because our actions are usually consistent with and based on our beliefs. Our faithful actions are always consistent with God’s clear commands to us to live rightly, both as individuals and as communities. That is why we forgive when wronged, are generous with our resources, show grace where none is deserved, advocate for families and life, demonstrate love for all, and pursue real justice based on God’s laws. We will live like that in God’s new world and are given a chance to show our faith in our future citizenship there by how we act in this present world. Much of faithful living is counter-intuitive and runs against our natural grain because we are all sin-corrupted and self-centered by nature. That’s the sad outcome of the Fall that Genesis 3ff describe, so faithful living does not come naturally or easily for us. But God the Father is greater than our sin-sickness and gives us his Spirit to help us answer his call to us to be truly free to live as fully human beings made in his image, a life patterned after the perfect life of Jesus Christ our Lord. And here again we must be clear that living faithful lives, however imperfectly that may manifest itself, does not guarantee us health, wealth, and prosperity. God’s blessing there will be for our faithful living, but that blessing does not guarantee or automatically lead to health, wealth, and power, even if the ancient Israelites often saw it doing so, a mistaken notion that our Lord himself repeatedly had to correct (see, e.g., Mk 10.17-27; Mt 16.24-27). No, living faithful lives can (and often does) result in ridicule and persecution as our actions and words challenge the fallen and death-dealing ways of our culture and the world. Even the writer of Hebrews admits that the exemplars of faith he cites died without seeing the promise of their faith fulfilled; and barring Christ’s return before we die, we too will not live to see the promise of our faith in Christ fulfilled. But we believe it nevertheless because we believe in the God who creates things out of nothing and raises the dead to life. Nothing is impossible for this God and he has the track record to prove it. 

Having said this, we must also acknowledge that God promises to reward faithful living and this promise of reward makes many of us very uncomfortable. Our reluctance to count the importance of rewards as a motivator for faith stems from a mistaken notion that real Christians shouldn’t desire a reward for faithful living, that doing so is selfish. But that thinking would have surprised the biblical writers and our Lord Jesus himself (think for example about our gospel lesson this morning or about the parable of the ten talents found in Mt 25.14-30). Why then should we blush or apologize for seeking to be rewarded for our faith? We seek all kinds of lesser rewards in the things we do, things that will pass away. Why not seek the ultimate prize of living with and loving God forever as our most desired-reward? 

With all this in mind, we can see that the theme of faith runs through all our lessons today. For example, when we look at Christ’s parable in our gospel lesson through the lens of faith, we see him calling us to faith. Be ready for the Master’s return (Christ himself), he tells us. Demonstrate your faith by doing the things that show God and others where your true riches are, by demonstrating your hope and trust in God’s love and power. It gives the Father great pleasure to give you the kingdom where you will have light and life forever. Don’t let the darkness of this world lead you astray so that you follow its values and dehumanize yourself. If you live faithfully, you will find your reward. The master will serve you when he returns (think Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper in St. John’s gospel). So demonstrate your assurance of things hoped for and your conviction of things not seen by living in ways that are consistent with the Father’s great love for you. Don’t make money or sex or power or security your gods. Make me your God by following and imitating me for I am God become man. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Don’t let the darkness of this world fool you. I am going to die to rescue you from God’s terrible judgment on your sins and reconcile you to the Father, and my Father will raise me from the dead to prove to you that this unbelievable promise is really true. And what do we require from you? Faith made manifest in your living according to our will for you. My Father loves you and wants to rescue and restore you to your rightful place in his creation and has sent me to accomplish what you cannot accomplish for yourself. Please have the wisdom and humility to accept our gracious gift to you. 

 This is what real faith is all about, my beloved. As with all things from God it is rich, multifaceted, complex, and often challenging because we are mere mortals with limited understanding who live in a dark and challenging world in the midst of our own conflicting fallen and noble desires. So do what the biblical writers tell you to do when your faith is challenged. Remember, so that your assurance of things hoped for and your conviction of things not seen—forgiveness of sins and your place in God’s new creation—will not be overcome by people or forces who hate you and want to destroy you. Remember that it is the Father’s pleasure to give you his kingdom, so focus often and regularly on this God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. This is the God who creates things out of nothing and gives life to the dead. He is the same God who wants to give you a place in his kingdom forever, starting right now and culminating fully when he raises you from the dead at his Son’s return to finish his saving work on your behalf. That’s a faith worth living and dying for, even as we live constantly in a world of uncertainty and enigma. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

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

An Ancient Theologian Defines the Christian Rule of Faith

From Tertullian, who died in the early third-century (ca. 225AD). Notice the emphasis on the resurrection of the body. Is this your faith?

Now, with regard to this rule of faith—that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend—it is, you must know, that by which we believe that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, sent forth before all things; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in various ways by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles, was crucified, and rose again the third day; then having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent in his place the Power of the Holy Spirit to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both good and evil, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than to those which heresies introduce, and which make people heretics.

On the Prescription of Heretics 13: CCL 1, 197-198

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The Parable of the Rich Fool

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7C, Sunday, August 4, 2019 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: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9,43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21.

Luke 12: 21 “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God”.

In the world we have a day devoted to fools called April fool’s day where we trick someone into falling for something to make them appear to be a fool. Have you ever been tricked into being a fool?

Psalm 14: 1 says “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  The fool in the parable was deceived into thinking and living like there was no God. God blessed him with abundant harvest but he failed to give thanks to God.  His life became self-centered and based on things and his pleasures.  He thought his struggle in this life is only over material things.  I pray through today’s message we may not be struggling only over material things but to learn to struggle with God.  That we learn to bring our hearts to God and offer up the things God gave us.  So that we become rich toward God.

Verse 13-15A man in the crowed says to Jesus “Teacher, Tell my brother to divide the inheritance”.

During those days it is customary that the older brother received double the inheritance and rest is divided between the other siblings. However, this man seems to have received nothing.  Perhaps it was this sense of unfairness or injustice that prompts this man to come to Jesus.  Struggling with this sense of injustice or unfairness must have so consumed this man that first is able to get the attention of Jesus; secondly that he dares ask such a personal question in the midst many thousands of people.

When we look at this man’s plea to Jesus, it reminds us of our children coming to us seeking parents to take their side in the dispute to share the property. This makes the parents go insane.

Jesus replied,  to “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you ? Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  Jesus response is not surely the response he expected to say to his brother.  However Jesus immediately turns to this man’s heart problem.

Proverbs 4:23 states “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” 

Life is not fair but we must know and live by spiritual truth.  By not fixing his heart his entire life will be affected.  When people place their priorities on material things rather than on eternal things, they are doing the foolish thing.  People affected by similar experiences often play the role of victim their entire life, holding on tightly to whatever they have and living in self-pity. And blame God saying God doesn’t help them out.  Though the life is not fair but Jesus is fair.

Romans 10:11-13 states “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.  For every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In Jesus, the weak will be made strong; the poor will be made rich.  Whatever injustice or pain you are suffering from the hurt of others bring it to Jesus and he will heal you and make you a new creation.

What was man’s heart’s problem?

The selfish desire or the greed and thinking that everyone exists for him. The greed will blind the person.  The material possession will never satisfy person.   The most valuable things are of eternal joy, eternal life and loving relationships with each other.

Jesus goes on to tell the rich man as fool.  Because his purpose of life involves nobody but himself.

The Rich man says to himself, I will do this, I will store up my grains, I will say to my soul.  He is preoccupied with himself.

This man thinks his wealth can buy him the security for the rest of his life.  However he is extremely short sighted.  Jesus says in verse 20 “this very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? A few years ago in China there was a billionaire who worked hard all day and night accumulating his vast amount of real Estates and wealth.  Then one day in his late 30’s the man suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack. Soon after, his wife re-married to his driver.  The driver had one word to say to everyone “all of these years I thought I was working for my boss, it turns out he was working for me.”  This is the tragedy for many, many politicians, businessmen, chief ministers and prime ministers and presidents. Most of them amass lot of wealth at the cost of some ones hard work or by cheating. They left their wealth for government or for others.  They are all foolish ones who think the money helps them to control every one and have their way in their lives.  Since this parable should help us that we become rich toward God.

First, we must know that God is the source of all riches. We need to store up many treasures in heaven.

1 Cor 8:6 “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live.”

1 Timothy 6: 17-19 says  “command those who are rich in this present world not to arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but put their hope in god who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share…. So they may take hold of the life that is truly life.’

Our secular society has become enamored with having more and becoming more. Our kids want more toys and nicer clothes.  As adults we may desire the new car, the new/bigger house, that nice boat for the lake, or to be able to take that vacation to the Caribbean. But, to what end? The point is not that material things by themselves are bad.  The issue is that we get obsessed and become a slave to these things. 

Rather than using our time, talent, and treasure to glorify God and become rich spiritually, we become slaves to material things. Before we know it, we are making excuses and thinking how we really need that new pair of shoes when in reality we don’t and the $50 could buy several cases of food for the local soup kitchen or bedding for the homeless shelter. We have to work those long hours in order to keep the high paying job that pays for the nice house at the expense of spending time with our families or at Church. We skip Church on Sunday so we can take out the new boat on the lake that we just bought.  We focus so much on the house we need, the cars we need, and how much money we need for retirement 20 years from now that we don’t stop to think, “what if I’m not here?”  “What if I am called to God before then?” “Will I be able to say I fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, or clothed the naked?” Or, will I have an excuse that is rooted in my own desire to have more? 

We have all heard the saying “live like there is no tomorrow”, but it’s time to think about this in context of our eternal life. Even if our earthly time comes to an end, are we ready for eternity? There is going to be a tomorrow, but are we prepared for it? How about, “live like your eternal life starts tomorrow!”

I am as guilty as anybody here. I pray that Sacred Scripture helps me make better choices and maybe for you as well.

The lesson here is that God doesn’t care about our earthly treasures and riches.  Having lots of money, lots of possessions, and lots of things that we think are going to make us happy mean nothing to God, and don’t help us get into Heaven.