Eastertide 2022: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Bishop Emmanuel Chemengich: Effective Sharing of the Gospel

Sermon delivered on Easter 6C, Sunday, May 22, 2022 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: Acts16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; St. John 14.23-29.

Introduction

I greet you all in Jesus’ name!

It is a joy to come back to St. Augustine Anglican Church. I congratulate you on acquiring new facility to worship God. And praying for your transition to new Rector, and also for a blessed retirement of Fr. Kevin. 

Thanks for supporting the Diocese of Kitale with scholarship for theological students. God bless you for it!

I will use the story of the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16, the first European to accept Christ, and highlight lessons we learn from it on effective ways to share the gospel of Christ. 

I present this message in 2 parts:

  1. Why Sharing the Gospel is Important?
  2. Three Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel Sharing

Let me introduce this sermon by sharing the story of Lydia, the first convert to Christian faith in Europe to help give us the context and prepare us for this sermon.

Paul and Silas, and now Luke and Timothy have crossed the Sea from Troas to Neapolis, which marks change of direction from Asia to Europe. The Holy Spirit had forbidden them to preach in Asia (16:6-8). So, they went to Philippi because it was the leading city in the colony of Macedonia. On Sabbath day, they sought a place to pray by the riverside because there was no synagogue in this Gentile city. Here they could baptize those who had accepted Christ and believers went there to pray.

Lydia was a Gentile woman of means, and she was god-fearing having left paganism, but had not heard the Gospel of Christ nor baptized. But after hearing the Gospel, Lydia believed, she was baptized, and started serving God by hosting apostles and the first Christian home in Europe. 

I – Why Sharing the Gospel is Important for Christians? 

  1. It is the only way for God to save the world!

It is the only way and means to save the world from the consequences of sin or evil. The Bible tells us that sin and Devil comes to steal, destroy, and kill (Jn.10:10), and that all who are in sin will be destroyed (Jer.6:21 & Rom.6:23). 

After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost in Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus went to different directions as eyewitnesses in preaching the gospel of Christ as mandated by Him Matt.28:16-20.

Today, this remains the urgent mission for the Christians and the church. To be a Christian and follower of Jesus we affirm the fact that each one of us is called to share what we have received and experienced from Jesus (Luke 24:39, Luke 24:42-43, Acts 1:4, Mt 28:9, John 21:9) and become the basis for the preaching. Disciples could not keep it to themselves!

  • It demonstrates God’s love to the World!

Sharing the gospel displays God’s nature of love and mercy. John 3:16 shows how God in His love send Jesus to die on the cross to save us from perishing from sin. 

Several Parables of Jesus reveal God as a ‘Searching Father’, looking for the lost, actively seeking them, and rejoicingwhen they are found.  

An important part of Character of God is His mercy to the undeserving – not only those who we stumble upon, but an active mission and outreach programme of seeking out the hurting and oppressed, the blind and the imprisoned (Luke 4:18-19). That is the message of the cross, the message of active love! 

The disciples must become like the Master, who was driven by love and passion for the lost: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). We share the gospel because it reveals God’s nature of love to restore the lost humanity from perishing. 

  • It is the reason You and I are Christians today!

It is because of sharing the gospel that you and I are Christians today and live with the hope of life now and into eternity. By Paul sharing the gospel, Lydia got converted which opened the doors for Christianity of Europe. And when Europe shared the gospel, North America and Africa got salvation. And faithful believers, generation after generation, have handed over the gospel until you here at St. Augustine Church are worshipping Jesus today. 

We would not be Christians if it were not for God to reach out to me and you by sending Jesus to die on the Cross, instead, we would be lost and perished in sin!

All these 3 reasons are critical for a young, newly planted congregation like St. Augustine, and ACNA at large. Your church will grow like the Early Church by intentional sharing of the gospel so others can come join you. Sharing the gospel is not an option, but a mandatory obligation and strategy that the Holy Spirit uses to grow Christ’s church! 

II – 3 Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel

Let us look at 3 ways for effective sharing of the Gospel we learn from the conversion of Lydia:

  1. Involve God at Every Stage of Sharing the Gospel!

Like all God’s mission work, God is the alpha and the omega, He begins it and completes the work of gospel sharing. God begins by sending Paul and also preparing Lydia’s heart. He was the One who directed Paul and his team to Philippi from Asia to Europe. And it is God who opens the heart of Lydia to accept salvation.

 We see how God convicts and prepares the listener in John 1:12-13, Rom.9:16 and Phil.2:13.

To succeed in gospel sharing, we must be prayerful to invite God to start and end well the sharing of the gospel. No human being can take credit or glory for evangelism work. Ours is only a little part of being available to be the mouthpiece of God, but God makes it work out successfully.

  • Proclaim the Gospel by Personal Evangelism!

The second effective way to share the good news is to proclaim the gospel truth personally, one-on-one. Lydia would never have heard the gospel if Paul and his team did not accept the call to proclaim the gospel truth to her. 

Apostle Paul makes this truth clear in Rom.10:14-17, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news’”. See also, 1 Cor.9:22

Since creation to our day, God’s plan remains using the human means to achieve divine ends. Every believer is an apostle, ‘the sent ones.’ For others to be saved, you and I must tell them the gospel, or at least get them to somewhere where they can hear it. But because most don’t want to come here, so you must tell them out there.

Let us not be mistaken, my brothers and sisters, it is not just the priest who should share the gospel, but believers. That is why once Lydia was baptized, she went and shared it with her family, and they were all baptized (16:15a). She was probably a widow and head of her family.

Lydia was effective in personal evangelism to her family and are we to our families and to our friends. There is no better effective evangelism than personal evangelism. 

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor.5:11, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God and I hope it is known also to your conscience”.

A good mark of true conversion is when one has a strong desire to immediately share with others their new faith. 

We are all commanded to share the gospel with our families, friends and personal contacts and make sure they know and obey the gospel! 

Don’t let the day or week go without sharing the gospel in your household and family members. 

  • Invite New Believers to Personal Transformation!

The third effective way of sharing the gospel is to invite the new believer into personal transformation of living like Jesus and serving like Jesus. Sharing the gospel is not complete until the believer conforms to the lifestyle of Jesus and becomes a disciple. 

After receiving the gospel, Lydia shows her true conversion by expressing her desire to serve. The text shows how she pleaded to host and support Paul and his team. She began serving in the Kingdom immediately.

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new come.

Salvation demands transformation of our lives. For some it is dramatic, for others it is less so, but desires will be transformed. If you have no desire for Christ or His kingdom, you may be deceived. 

The early believers in the Book of Acts were so obedient to Jesus and His teachings that other people knew for certain they were His followers. There was something distinct about the way they spoke, acted, and lived that showed others they were followers of Christ. It’s something to think about when considering our own lives.

Do I love like he does?  Jesus’ own words tell us “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”(Romans 5:5). We have His power to love and serve others in His name. Jesus’ love was pure and sacrificial. Likewise, our love should cost us something. It may be in the form of material goods, but it also may be the sacrifice of extra patience, our time, etc. Each of us should ask self – (i) Is my life lived humbly and in humility as Jesus did? (ii) Do I forgive like Jesus? (iii) Do others see Jesus through me?

The key mark of the Christian when they bear fruit of the Christian faith. The extent to which we bear fruit of the Spirit is the extent to which we are a Christian or not.  So, our identity as a Christian is depended on whether we bear the fruit of Christian faith or not. We shall be judged by the fruit we produce, not by the spiritual gifts we had, or church activities we performed (1 Cor.13:1-3)! 

A WhatsApp message circulating recently states it well this way, “Many Christians grow up in the church, but never grow in Christ. They know hymns, but they don’t know Him”. 

My brothers and sisters the effective way to share the gospel is by calling people to be transformed and to live and serve like Jesus!

Conclusion

I end this message with the way Jesus sought the lost and a story to cement it!

During his earthly ministry, Jesus searched for two different kinds of people: 

(1) those who had never known him and were alienated from a life of faith.  These included, the taxi collectors & sinners. 

Question: How many non-believers, unchurched and alienated people are out there that need us to evangelize to?  

Is St. Augustine reaching people who live in neighborhood around this church building? Are you reaching out to them so they are not lost? Are you reaching those living in immoral lifestyle of corruption, alcoholism, prostitution, drugs, etc.? In other words, ‘Who is seeking the lost’?

(2) those religious leaders, like Pharisees, who did not want to associate with sinners so they don’t compromise their faith. For us, this could me some of us church goers who are believe we are too holy and set apart to reach out to others.

Remember that Lydia was religious or god-fearing, what Acts 16:14 calls, “worshiper of God”, but was not a Christian!  

Question: Are there categories of people we are not sharing the gospel with because they don’t fit our category?

Are you sharing the gospel with the religious category? Those who are regular attend worship but have not known Christ? 

To religious leaders, Jesus said elsewhere in Matt. 21:31, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”. They were not happy with Jesus for attacking their integrity and their faith.

As today’s church, we must follow the example of Jesus and His apostle in having passion to find the lost and share the gospel.  So, the most important thing we Christians and the Church should do is to reach out to those who need to hear the good news about Jesus. Everything else is secondary. We are told in 2 Peter 3:9 that, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

And in reaching out to the sinners, personal and persistent contact is a key factor. This is illustrated by a story told by one preacher: 

There was once a young man who courted a young lady in a very unusual way. Every day for one full year he sent her a special delivery letter. And so every day for 365 days she received a letter that he sent to her. Finally, one year later, she married. But she didn’t marry the young man who mailed all those letters. She married the postman who delivered them. After all, personal persistent contact makes all the difference!

LET US PRAY!!

Family Duties on Memorial Day Weekend 2022—Early This Year

This year our nation will observe Memorial Day on the same day we traditionally observed it until 1971—May 30. Thankfully our family did not lose anybody to war, although my grandfathers and dad fought in World War I and II respectively. So in addition to remembering those brave men and women who fought and died to preserve our country’s freedom, I have made the weekend a time for both remembering those in my family who have died and honoring them.

Since they are no longer living, I have decided that on my watch their graves will be well kept and in good repair. So my beloved wife and I go out and trim around the tombstones, rake the graves, clean them up, and put flowers on them for the summer. Doing so is a way for me to continue to honor them, both for being such a good family and for their service to our country. We are doing it early this year because my beloved will be recovering from surgery over the Memorial Day weekend.

It also reminds me of how fleeting and transient this mortal life is. When I was a kid, we’d spend Memorial Day at the lake at my grandparents Shaffer’s cottage with my extended family. It was a grand time and I have great memories of those halcyon days. Now I only have their graves to visit and I confess I liked it a whole lot better when I was able to be with them at the lake.

So Memorial Day is a bittersweet time for me. But as long as I am able, I will continue to honor my family on this holiday, in part, by caring for their grave sites. It is the least I can do considering all they did and sacrificed for me.

May you too find ways to honor and love your loved ones, especially if you are blessed enough to have them still be living.

Father Jonathon Wylie: The Gospel is for All

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 15, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is a slug and gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest, especially during Eastertide, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; St. John 13.31-35.

Father Philip Sang: Manifestation of Christianity In Action 

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 8, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 9:36-43; Psalms 23 and John 10:22 – 30.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. In the name of God the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This morning I want us to see how Christianity in Action is manifested in our reading from Acts 9:36-43, and i will include verse 32-35 

Luke shares three great events that can only be explained by God’s power and authority working in the lives of His Disciples. Overall, we see Luke sharing story after story of how the power of the Resurrection is affecting the greater world around Jerusalem. Faith in Jesus is spreading and lives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit in amazing ways. In our particular passage, Luke reveals to us these three great examples of what Spirit-filled Authentic Christianity looks like in action.

This morning, let’s see firsthand how God’s power is being displayed:

  • in the sacrificial life of Tabitah/Dorcas,
  • in the faith of the disciples at Joppa and
  • in the courage of the Apostle Peter.

Let’s understand that the same power and activity that we see here is readily available to us today. In our individual lives and in the life of our church we can experience so many things that can only be attributed to God’s power and authority working within and through us.

I. We see God’s power displayed in the Sacrificial Life of Tabitha
In verse 36, Luke tells us that this amazing lady was known by two distinct names; Tabitha and Dorcas. Those who spoke Aramaic as their native language called her Tabitha, while those who spoke Greek called her Dorcas. Both names mean “gazelle” signifying that she was to be a woman possessing the characteristics of awareness, agility, beauty and grace.

Why two names? While we don’t know for sure, it seems rather obvious that Tabitha was already working with both Jewish and Gentile women in Joppa. Well before the Early Church officially commissioned Paul and Barnabas to evangelize both groups, it seems that Tabitha was already sharing the message of Jesus and meeting the essential needs of both Jews and Gentiles. She had already successfully bridged the gap between the two camps and was well known and loved by both groups. To her Jewish friends she was called Tabitha. To her Gentile friends she was called Dorcas.

Tabitha’s story was a familiar one in the Early Church. She believed that the best way to show her faith in Christ was to put it into action. Jesus had gone about doing good and in like manner, Tabitha devoted her life to taking care of those in need around her. In Tabitha, we find a concrete example of what it means to live out a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life. She bore the fruit of the Holy Spirit through her service to the poor; especially to the Jewish and Gentile widows of Joppa. She sacrificially gave her time, her resources and herself to meet their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.

Over the years Tabitha has been given the title of “God’s Dressmaker” or “Queen of the Needle”. For Tabitha being good meant doing good. She knew what she could do and she did it. She would have whole heartedly agreed with the Apostle James when he later wrote to the Jews in Diaspora.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17) or with Apostle John when he wrote the following words to the members of his church at Ephesus:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 2:16-18)

For Tabitha, Easter Faith meant Christian service. For her that meant she would sew clothes and do her best to meet the financial and physical needs of the poor and needy around Joppa. While the Roman Empire was renowned for its ability to create a society of peace, it was not renowned for its abundant social welfare programs. The Empire provided very little material and social help for the aged, the poor, the widowed or the physically disabled. Each person pretty much had to fend for themselves. Coming from Africa, i know what this means. 

That meant that a lot of people fell through the cracks. Many had to beg, hire themselves out as servants or even some would turn to prostitution to provide for themselves and their families. Sadly, many died due to starvation, exposure and lack of medical care. That is where Early Church Christians like Tabitha made such a positive impact. Her grace of providing money, food and clothing not only kept many people alive and kept families intact, it greatly promoted the cause of Christ. Around Joppa, Tabitha was known both as a spiritual and physical life saver.

However, we see here in our passage that working with destitute people commonly means that one is also able to be exposed to all kinds of dangers. From what Luke shares here, if it was for example time like this of COVID-19 pandemic I believe that we could say that either through an accident or simply by working around the disadvantaged, Tabitha picked up an illness that led to her abrupt death. I say abrupt because it doesn’t appear that there was much time between her illness and her death or else we would have seen her friends reach out to the Apostle Peter much earlier. If she had been suffering from a long term illness I believe that he would have been summoned much earlier. And it is in speaking of the Apostle Peter that we see the second point

II. We see the Power of God displayed in the Faith of the Disciples of Joppa
Again, I believe that it was a sudden illness that overtook Tabitha. It was only after she passed away that someone made mention that the Apostle Peter was only 11 miles away in the city of Lydda. They had faith that Peter could come to Joppa and do the impossible – raise their friend Tabitha from the dead.

Before Tabitha story Luke in Acts 9:32 – 35 tells us that Peter had been busy evangelizing around the city of Lydda. He also tells us that living there was faithful disciple who had been suffering from palsy for the last eight years named Aeneas. At that time palsy was a debilitating disease that caused a person to suffer from wild tremors and paralysis. Verse 33 tells us that Aeneas was now completely bedridden. It appears that his friends had contacted the Apostle Peter in the hopes that he could come and heal Aeneas in the name of Jesus.

“And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose.”

News of Aneneas’ miraculous healing became the catalyst of an immediate Revival. All around that area, people saw Aeneas and began to believe in power and message of Jesus. The kingdom of God was being advanced.

Luke tells us that news of Aneneas’ miracle had gotten back to Tabitha’s friends in Joppa and we see that it greatly influenced how they handled Tabitha’s dead body. First of all, according to custom, the ladies present washed her body. Then they placed a cloth around it and carefully placed it in an upper room. That way they could both isolate and protect Tabitha’s body.

What is important to realize here is that while they had washed her body, they had not wrapped her body for burial as was the usual custom of that day. Normally, a body was buried within just a few hours of a person’s passing.

In Tabitha’s case however, her family and friends had not began the process of wrapping and places spices all around her. Nor had they made plans for her burial. Everything had been put on hold. They had simply washed her body, placed a cloth around it and placed it in an upper room. They were not ready to bury Tabitha yet.

It is here that it all gets exciting. We know that those disciples loved Tabitha. Her life had meant a great deal to them and her death had meant even more. For with her death there was now a huge void. Who would now take care of the widows? Who would make their clothes and provide for their needs? Tabitha’s sudden death had revealed just how valuable this lady was to both the Jewish and Greek community. Her sudden death was a major blow to everyone. So, they decided that they would go for a miracle beyond imagination. In what looks like impossible faith, they sent two men to go as quickly as they could and get the Apostle Peter. Now, the city of Joppa is located 11 miles north west of Lydda. Round trip would mean a total of 22 miles. That’s a lot of walking.

Depending on what time they started, most likely most of the day was spent getting to Lydda and locating Peter. Travelling at night was extremely dangerous so the men would have had to stay overnight. They would have gotten as early as possible the next morning and started back with the Apostle Peter, if he had agreed to go with them.

What we need to see here is the tremendous love and faith that these Joppa disciples possessed. Some have theorized that they only wanted Peter to come and speak words of comfort but when you look at the whole passage that doesn’t seem to be what Luke is trying to tell us. It seems that Luke wants us to understand that these early Christian disciples of Joppa were praying, hoping and had the faith to believe in the impossible. They had faith that Peter in the name of Jesus could bring Tabitha back from the dead.

They did not have any assurances that Peter could do anything. But, after hearing about Jesus’ resurrection and the miracles that the Apostles were doing they decided to hold on to their faith. They decided that it was at least worth a two day walk to see if Peter could do anything. Their love for Tabitha was so great that if there was a chance for her to be raised from the dead they were going to take it.

This kind of faith that these disciples had in Jesus and in the Apostle Peter sounds crazy and it is. But they were crazy enough to believe in the impossible and God reached down and answered their prayers.

III. Finally, we see the power of God displayed in the tremendous Courage of Peter

How would you have liked if you had been Peter the day those two men showed up? I am sure he was glad to greet some disciples from nearby Joppa. I am sure he was overjoyed to hear about all the good things that were going on in Joppa. I am sure he rejoiced in the truth that the Great Commission of Jesus was coming to reality.

However, once they started sharing what they wanted the Apostle to do, I am sure Peter was taken back. He had to be energized by the healing of Aeneas but bringing someone back from the dead, well that’s another story. It’s one thing to heal someone of a debilitating disease its quite another to bring breath back into a person’s dead body.

There was a great deal at stake in the Apostle Peter going back to Joppa with these men. What would happen if he got there and no miracle happened? What would happen if he got there and attempted to raise Tabitha from the dead and nothing happened? Would the cause of Jesus be harmed and would people think him foolish? Would everything positive that had happened over the last few days be lost?

It is so easy to read these stories and forget that they involve real flesh and blood people. Peter’s pride, his reputation and the ongoing mission of Jesus was at stake. If Peter goes and nothing happens then the whole movement of Jesus might could have been greatly hindered and Peter could have been discredited.

Verse 39 tells us that Peter filled with faith ( and no doubt some anxiety) goes back with these two men to Joppa. I wonder what they talked about during that five hour walk back. I imagine those men did their best to tell Peter all about Tabitha and how much she meant to both the Jewish and Greek communities. I am also sure that Peter did a lot of praying and seeking God’s will as they walked along. This was no time to be putting God to the test.

Once they got to Joppa and dispensed with all the nice things, they all settled down to the real issue at hand. Taking Peter upstairs they showed Peter some of the clothes that Tabitha had made them. The room was filled with people grieving over the loss of their friend.

It is here that we see the Apostle’s courage and genius in action. He takes a page of out Jesus’ miracle book. Back in Luke 8:49 – 56, Luke records the story of Jesus’ raising Jarius’ daughter back to life. Luke tells us that when Jesus got there no one believed that He could raise the girl from the dead. Luke tells us that Jesus put everyone out except for Peter, James and John and the parents. Jesus then takes the little girl by the hand and raises her from the dead.

In very much the same way, Peter puts everyone out of the upper room. He wants some time alone with the LORD. He kneels and down and begins to pray. How wonderful it would be to have those words that he spoke that day. Peter is then given permission and is led to speak to the body of Tabitha. He only says two words, but they are powerful words – TABITHA ARISE.

Immediately Tabitha begins to open her eyes and when she sees Peter she sits up. The Apostle then helps her off the table and calls for friends to come and take care of her. Suddenly, instead of weeping and sorrow the house was full of surprise, joy and praising the name of Jesus.

All over the city the news of Tabitha being raised from the dead quickly spread. And just like the miracle of Aeneas, the miracle of Tabitha was the catalyst for a mighty Revival. People hearing and seeing Tabitha understood the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. They began to believe in the LORD.

Does God still raise people from the dead today like we see in our passage? Are there miracles happening today that we can only attribute to the power and authority of God? In all that happens as we do what we do as Christians the focus is on what God does in and through his people.

Focusing on Jesus and bringing people to faith was the reason the LORD allowed Peter to bring back Tabitha. Bringing her back to life was the start of a Revival all around Joppa. It was not a miracle for the sake of a miracle. We read that after the miracle, the Apostle Peter stays around the city of Joppa for awhile. 

This morning, 

  • I believe that the LORD is calling us to experience the same Holy Spirit power that we see present in the lives of Tabitha, the disciples of Joppa and in the Apostle Peter.
  • I believe that many of us are called to serve those who are less fortunate. The LORD has given us the necessary time and resources to reach out to them in the name of Jesus. The LORD has called us to impact the lives of these individuals materialistically and spiritually.
  • I believe that the LORD has called many of us to possess deep faith. Faith that will pray and fast for the impossible. Faith that can lead to great miracles along with people coming to Jesus. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Today, we need people who possess and practice faith like these disciples of Joppa.
  • I believe many have been called to possess great spiritual courage. Peter went to Joppa with a lot of faith and courage. It took courage to go to that upper room and pray for a miracle. It took great faith and courage to believe that the LORD would work through him, a man who had once denied Jesus.

Our churches and our communities desperately need people like Tabitha, like the disciples at Joppa and like the Apostle Peter. We need people who are willing and ready for something to happen around them that they can only be attributed to the power and authority of the LORD. We need people who have completely surrendered and are willing to accomplish the impossible for cause of Jesus. We need people who will courageous seek God’s Holy Spirit anointing and to then go in that anointing and share the message of Jesus at work, at home and everywhere.

This morning, as we come to a close let’s ask ourselves some questions:

  1. Are we willing and ready to sacrifice like Tabitha? Will we obey the call to give of the time and resources the LORD has placed in our hands?
  2. Are we willing and ready to possess the faith like the faith of those disciples of Joppa? Are we willing to believe in the impossible and then set out to make it happen?
  3. Are we willing to be filled with the Holy Spirit’s anointing and courage that we see being displayed in the life of the Apostle Peter?

More than ever today we need God’s power and authority unleashed in our lives and in the life of our churches. We need to see things happening that can only be attributed to the LORD.

This morning as we close let us open up our hearts to the LORD committing to Him that we will take up the mantle of Tabitha, the disciples of Joppa and the Apostle Peter. Let us surrender to the Father the son and the Holy Spirit and be the catalysts God needs to bring about a Revival here in our church and in our community.

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

V-E Day 2022

Today marks the 77th anniversary of V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945, in which the Allies celebrated the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany the day before. Take a moment today and thank God for bringing us victory over evil. Remember the brave men and women who fought against Nazism. If you know a veteran who is still alive, take time today and thank him (or her) for his service to our country. Ask that person to tell you his story and remember it so that you can pass it on to your children and others. Nazi Germany may be a thing of the past, but unspeakable evil certainly is not. #VEDay77

May 7, 2022: Happy Birthday, Mom

Today would have been my mama’s 100th birthday, something I simply cannot fathom; where has the time gone?? My mother was an exquisite role-model of motherhood. She loved me, spent time with me, loved me enough to instill what it meant to be a Maney, and disciplined me when I did not live up to that standard. I hated it at the time, but am grateful for it today. She allowed me to have a childhood that was second to none because she insisted that I be a kid and worked sacrificially to make that happen. In that regard, I have missed her presence these past 14 years. But I cannot be sad because I would rather her be where she is than to be here with me and struggling with illness and infirmity like she did in her last years (check out this reflection on grief and consolation over parents who have died).

Thank you mama, for being the mother you were. Thank you for all your sacrifice for me and for our family. Thank you for allowing me to grow up in a timely manner and not before it was my time to do so. Thank you for personifying sacrificial love for me. And thank you, dear God, for blessing me with the best parents a person could ever want or dream of having.

Happy birthday, mama. I love you. Enjoy your rest with the Lord who loves you and has claimed you from all eternity.

Rest eternal grant unto Margaret, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May she, with the rest of God’s saints, through the mercy and grace of God, rest in peace and RISE IN GLORY. Amen.

And for those of you whose mother is still living, make sure you remember your mama on Mothers’ Day this Sunday. Better yet, treat her like every day is Mothers’ Day. I know my mama would surely approve.

Christ’s Resurrection: Making All Things New

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, May 1, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; St. John 21.1-19.

Today is my last regular Sunday to preach to you, my beloved (ignoring the fact that many of you consider that my preaching is enough to make any Sunday irregular). Fourteen years ago today I was ordained to the priesthood. Eleven years ago to the day, we started a home Bible study/eucharist that would eventually become St. Augustine’s. I don’t quite know where the last fourteen years have gone, or more precisely, how they have passed so quickly. But here I am on the verge of retirement, feeling very much like a washed-up old man and hot mess, and so I am resolved to pack fourteen years worth of sermons into one today. I’m guessing that will only take a few hours given my superb skill of summarization. I’m sure you are thrilled at the prospect. I see Father Bowser twitching already in giddy anticipation.

What are we to make of St. John’s strange story of Christ’s appearing to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee? What is St. John trying to tell us? How is this story relevant to us today, both as individuals and the Church? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Hearing St. John recount Christ’s third resurrection appearance to his disciples, we get the distinct impression that something new has been accomplished, that things have really changed, and for the better. Jesus is the same, yet he is somehow different. Despite appearing to his disciples twice before (Jn 20.19-29), they still don’t recognize him at first. They knew it was him but yet there was something different about him, so no one dared ask him who he was. As one theologian has wryly observed about the nature of these appearances, after the resurrection you don’t find anyone casually slapping Jesus on the back and saying with a grin, “We’re so glad you’re back, Jesus!” No, Christ was alive and had carried his wounds into God’s new world, remaining the same. But he was different and because he was alive and transformed, everything else was new. But were things really new? St. John doesn’t tell us the disciples were busy proclaiming that Christ had risen from the dead and working enthusiastically to build his Church. No, they had apparently returned to their original vocation of fishing, and the story gives us the impression they had done so because they were either depressed and/or bored. Nothing new there. Where was the excitement from the Octave of Easter we read about last week? In our NT lesson, St. Paul was still breathing threats and violence against the fledgling church. Nothing new there. The world still scoffed at the disciples’ proclamation that Christ was risen from the dead. Nothing new there. So what was really new?

Before we answer that question, it is critical to our resurrection faith that we again pay careful attention to the bodily nature of Christ’s appearance in this story (cf. Luke 24.33-42). He stands on the shore and has cooked breakfast for his weary and discouraged disciples. He eats with them and talks with them. They can see him, hear him, touch him. Despite his transformed appearance they know it is Jesus because they recognize him primarily in his bodily form, not to mention his gentle kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. And here is the answer to our “what’s new” question. St. John, masterful and brilliant storyteller he is, is telling us in story form what the early Church proclaimed and what Jesus himself had told his disciples at the Last Supper—that in his Death our sins are forgiven, our wounds are healed, and we are made whole again. We are reconciled to God our Father and freed from our slavery to the power of Sin and with it, from Death’s tyranny. Yes, death will come to us all barring Christ’s return in the interim because all have sinned, but we will live and conquer Death because Christ lives and has conquered Death through his own Death and Resurrection, thanks be to God! Easter anyone?

How do you get all that from this story, you ask, and with a bit of snark? I’m glad you ask, despite the fact that I just told you. But it wouldn’t be right if you stopped arguing with me during my sermons after all these years. That would mean you have stopped being the quirky people that make up this nuthouse of a parish, the people I love so much. So to repeat, while St. John does not tell us these things in exposition, he tells us in personal stories. In other words, we see Christ’s victory over Sin and Death in the transformative power it has on those who belong to him. Take his encounter with St. Peter, for example. There is much to love about St. Peter because he is us. He had shot his mouth off on the night before Christ died, boasting of his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to deny him three times in a spectacular act of cowardice of which we are all capable, especially in the context Peter’s denials occurred. And afterwards he had rightly wept bitterly over his profound failure. Imagine now for a minute that Christ was not risen from the dead, that there was no possibility for reinstatement, for forgiveness, for personal reaffirmation after catastrophic failure. How would St. Peter have felt? Utterly devastated and remorseful, no doubt, with no chance of his failure being put to rights. We all know this because we’ve all lapsed in our resurrection faith on occasion. There’s no worse feeling in the world than knowing a massive wrong/injustice cannot be made right because of our sins and/or failures. But this is exactly the situation we would find ourselves in if Christ really is dead. We may love God and others, but we’ve all let God and others down. We’ve betrayed and denied God and others and failed to live as the holy people God created us and calls us to be, and if Christ is not alive we are still dead in our sins with no hope of resolution or forgiveness. 

But Christ is not dead. He is alive and now confronting St. Peter about his past sin. “Simon, son of John, do you agapao me more than these?” Agapao is the verb form of agape, the Greek word that means the highest form of love, the kind of love that is self-giving and seeks the absolute best for the beloved, the kind of love with which Christ loved his disciples and loves us. “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you,” St. Peter replied. Phileo is another Greek word for love, but it can refer to a lesser kind of love, a brotherly, affectionate love that is not always self-giving. Back came the response: Feed my lambs (take care of my followers, the Church, Simon). A second time Christ asked his wounded and hurting disciple: Do you agapao me?, receiving the same answer. Yes Lord, you know I phileo you. Back came the response: Tend my sheep. A third time, matching the number of times St. Peter had denied his Lord on Holy Thursday, Christ asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you phileo me?” St. Peter was hurt by this third question, or perhaps the subtle change in it. We aren’t told why. “Lord, you know all things. You know I phileo you.” Back came the response: Feed my sheep. Now while there is much scholarly debate over the significance of Christ using St. Peter’s word, phileo, to ask a third time if St. Peter loved him, count me among those who believe St. John was too good a storyteller to have this be simply about semantics. Here we see our crucified and risen Lord meet St. Peter where St. Peter was emotionally with Christ at that moment. Surely St. Peter had learned from his unfounded bravado that he wasn’t the stud he fancied himself to be, nor did he love his Lord as he thought. He had failed catastrophically the man he loved more than anyone else, the man who had turned his whole life upside down. In telling us this tender and compelling story, St. John is surely telling us that this is how Christ and his resurrection are making all things new. Without forgiveness of sins on the cross, without a newfound freedom to resist Sin’s power, there could have been no real forgiveness. St. Peter, like us, would have remained dead in his sins and alienated from God the Father, doomed to utter destruction. But here was Christ, meeting his wayward and sorrowful disciple where he was, forgiving him and inviting him to take up the victory Christ had accomplished for him in his Death and Resurrection, and Christ does the same for us. St. Peter would accept Christ’s invitation by giving his life for the Son of God and so can we.

In telling us this story, St. John is surely telling us that the power of Jesus is typically not made known in stunning ways, in ways the world recognizes as spectacular, although there are notable and numerous exceptions to this rule. Christ making all things new is not about razzle-dazzle or eye-popping special effects that we love to see at the movies. Instead, it is about the quiet way of Christ with his people, with St. Peter, with you and me, agapaoing us in all our unloveliness, forgiving all our failures and betrayals and denials, recognizing our limitations, but also seeing our potential and putting us to work for him, despite who we can be, out of his sheer grace and love for us. There is nothing we have said or not said, thought or not thought, done or not done that is beyond the healing love and forgiveness of our crucified and risen Savior, nothing that will not eventually be put to rights, even if we must wait for it to be put to rights in God’s new heavens and earth. If you cannot find real hope, real comfort, real healing in this reality and promise, my beloved, surely you are to be pitied most of all. St. Paul found it on the road to Damascus, St. Peter found it in our gospel story today as have countless other Christians across time and cultures. Let us join this happy and forgiven throng so that like the psalmist in today’s lesson, we too can make the bold proclamation of conquering death through Christ our own!

And how does this apply to Christ’s body, the Church, to us together? It is quite appropriate that today’s gospel lesson was the appointed text because it is the promise and power of Christ making all things new, even with all its ambiguity and perplexities, that allows me to leave the people I love so much. Make no mistake. Human leadership, good leadership, is massively important for any family. But human leaders come and go and I am no different from anyone else in that regard. We are a healthy, thriving parish with a bright future, and while I have played some small part in that, the fact remains that we are this way because we make Christ our true Head and Leader. We believe in his promise to meet us where we are in all our changes and chances of life, in all our fears and hopes and dreams and failures, and he promises to lead us through even the valley of the shadow of death. This is what allows me to retire with confident hope for you our beloved family, because I know Christ lives and is present here among us, making all things new, transforming the old.  

My dearly beloved, don’t ever lose sight of this reality and promise. Christ seeks you out, no matter who or where you are, and promises to bring you home one day to a world where there will be no more sorrow or sighing or sickness or alienation or madness or folly or separation or death. We can stake our individual and collective lives on this promise if we continue to respond faithfully to the means of grace that make Christ available to us in real and living ways: Bible reading and study, prayer, confession, sweet fellowship of all kinds (don’t forget to party and enjoy the blessings Christ showers on you), and regular partaking of holy communion. All these things open us to Christ’s risen reality and Presence in and through the Holy Spirit. We have all died and been raised to new life in Christ in our baptism, and we are yoked to him forever, thank God. In Christ is our hope, our present, and our future. In him we find comfort in our sorrows, God’s tenderness, forgiveness, new life in our failures, and a deep abiding joy in all things because we belong to Christ. Imitate this great love as he commands us. Beloved, make this old man happy and proud by responding to Christ’s love with boldness and courage and hope. Remain faithful to him who delivers you from Sin and Death, and never abandon the faith once delivered to the saints, the true apostolic faith. Don’t be worried about your future as God’s family here at St. Augustine’s without the Maneys because you have Christ and he will never abandon or desert you. He is busy making all things new, yourselves included, both now and in God’s new world to come, a world that Christ’s resurrection announced and inaugurated. God bless you, my beloved. I thank God for blessing me with the massive privilege of being your rector for all these years. Toots and I are thankful to have been part of this holy and very quirky family and I am thankful to be yoked to you in Christ forever. We love you more than you’ll ever know. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Upon A Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another holds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Still find the Christ
Beside them on the tree.

—Miriam LeFevre Crouse

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Resurrection Boldness

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 24, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Romans 6.3-11; St. John 20.19-31.

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

Who is Peter? Who is this man we just heard about in our reading from the book of Acts? Surely this is not Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus. The man brought before the Council who boldly proclaims the good news about Jesus seems quite different from the man we heard about on Passion Sunday, the man who fearfully denied Jesus three times. This Peter seems like a completely different person. But of course, he’s not. The man who once stood outside the home of the high priest and lied about even knowing Jesus now stood before the same high priest and testified about Jesus as the Savior. How can we account for this change? Why is Peter so different?

Before we answer that question, let’s set the stage with a bit of background about what’s going on here. This is actually the second time Peter has been brought before the Council, also known as the Sanhedrin, this ruling body of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Acts 4, Peter and John had caused quite a stir around the temple complex by healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10) and by “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They are arrested and brought before the Council—rulers, elders, scribes, and the high priest—to be questioned and tried (Acts 4:3, 5-6). Council threatens Peter and John, admonishing them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Their warning could not have been clearer, but as soon as they left, they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness” and to give ‘their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:31, 33).

And so, Peter, John, and all the apostles are again arrested, thrown into prison, and brought “before the Council” (Acts 5:27). This second meeting would have much higher stakes. We should note that this is the same Council and the same High Priest that tried Jesus after He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:54, 66-71). These are the same religious leaders sat into motion the plot to kill Jesus, the same assembly that took Jesus to Pilate that he might be condemned and crucified (Luke 23:1). Peter ran the risk of suffering the same fate as his Lord. He had already been given a warning by the Council “not to teach in [Jesus’] name” (v. 28) and presumably they would not be so lenient a second time. But even in the face of possible execution, Peter is unwavering. Not only does he refuse to stop proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but he makes it clear that the Council is responsible for putting to death the Messiah, the Savior God had sent for His people Israel.

Is this really Simon Peter? It was just a few weeks prior that Peter had stood by a fire in courtyard of this same high priest so overcome with fear that he refused to acknowledge he had ever even met Jesus. And now, here he was, standing before the same body that handed Jesus over to be crucified, and knowing that he might be next, is adamant that he will go on proclaiming the gospel, no matter the consequences. What has changed? How can we explain this 180-degree turn in Peter’s demeanor? Where did this courage, this boldness, come from?

The answer is the Resurrection, the momentous event that changed the course of human history and transformed Peter’s outlook on the world.

At the beginning of our gospel reading, we see a much more familiar Peter. On that first Easter night, Peter was hunkered down somewhere, huddled together with the other disciples behind a locked because they were “[afraid] of the Jews” (v. 19a). But all of a sudden, in the midst of their fears, the Resurrected Jesus appears among them (v. 19b) and shows them the wounds in His hands and side (v. 20). They witnessed with their own eyes that the same Jesus who had been crucified, died, and was buried had risen from the grave and lived again!

Did you notice the words Jesus repeated to his disciples throughout the gospel reading?  Three times Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” This phrase, shalom aleichem, was (and is) a common Hebrew greeting. But this is much more than a hello. This is a resurrection promise. 

In the Upper Room, shortly before He was arrested, Jesus had warned His disciples that like Him, they would be persecuted (John 15:20); they would be thrown out of synagogues and threatened with death by those whom think they are serving God (John 16:1-2). It is in this context that Jesus assures them, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In John’s writings, “the world” is the unbelieving world, the powers, both human and demonic, who oppose God, Christ, and His people. It was through His death and resurrection that Jesus had overcome the world. Sinful people inspired by Satanic powers had conspired to kill Jesus, but He rose again in victory, foiling their plans and triumphing over even death itself. Jesus’ resurrection had brought peace to those who belong Christ—assurance that God’s plans and purposes cannot be stopped and hope for eternal life.

This is how Peter was able to stand before the Council with such boldness. Peter recognized an important truth that Gamaliel, a member of the Council, later voiced: “If [this plan] is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them” (Acts 5:39). God’s work cannot be stopped! And if they put Peter to death, so what? Through His resurrection, Christ swallowed up death in victory and had taken away its sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55). He knew He would be raised just as Christ had been raised.

Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of Jesus brings us peace and gives us boldness to face the many trials that we face as we live in a fallen world. Jesus’ words in the Upper Room ring just as true for us as they did for His first disciples— “In the world you will have trouble.” None of us need to be reminded of this; it’s our lived experience every day. I see it in my work as a hospital chaplain as I witness people living with debilitating illnesses, suffering from chronic pain, and dying from horrible diseases. I see it in my family as we face the mundane difficulties and challenges that daily life brings. I see it in my own heart as I wrestle with sin and try to live faithfully. I see it, and I know you see it too.

But may we not forget that the second half of Jesus’ statement is just as true as the first. Yes, in this world, we will have trouble. But Jesus encourages us, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” And so, Christian, when you or those that you love are plagued by disease, when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, remember that sickness and death don’t have the final word; Christ does. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, [they] will live” (John 11:25). When darkness overshadows you and evil seems to surround you, remember that God is making all things new, that His purposes and plans cannot be stopped, that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

The Resurrection brings us peace and gives us boldness. But we should notice that there was something else at work that had changed and emboldened Peter: He had received the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 22).

Peter tells the Council, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts. 5:32). In our gospel reading, Jesus breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This symbolic act anticipates the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the apostles at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). 

Just as Jesus connected peace to the resurrection in the Upper Room Discourse, He also connects peace to the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words immediately after He promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide them when He returns to His Father. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). On another occasion, Jesus told His disciples that when they “delivered over to the courts” and “dragged before governors and kings for [His] sake,” they did not have to be anxious about what speak, for “what you are to say will be given to you at that hour” and “the Spirit of the Father” will speak through them (Matthew 10:17-19). This is exactly what we take place when Peter is before the Council. The Holy Spirit fills Peter with peace and gives Him boldness to face the very men who had handed over Jesus to be crucified.

In the same way, the Holy spirit empowers and emboldens us today. As we navigate the challenges and trials that life brings, God does not abandon us to do it alone. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who grants us wisdom, “guides us in all truth” (John 16:13), and reminds us of God’s Word (John 14:26). We are also not left to our own devices in our struggle against sin. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), empowers us to put to sin to death (Philippians 2:13), and changes our hearts so that we can walk according to God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through the resurrection of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us peace and grants us boldness to face the trials life brings.

This morning, we are privileged to stand alongside Evan and Marlene as they receive the sacrament of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we see a portrayal of both the hope of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our epistle reading (Romans 6:3-11), we learn that through baptism, we are identified with Christ; we die with Him and are raised with Him. Baptism signifies that those who are united with Christ have died to sin, have been raised to “walk in newness of life,” and that death no longer has dominion over us. Likewise, Scripture connects baptism with the indwelling of God’s Spirit. In His sermon at Pentecost, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Indeed, as our priests pray over the water, they will ask God to “send the Holy Spirit” on those who are being baptized and to “bring them to new birth in the household of faith.” So now, as we come to the baptismal font, may we see in its waters God’s promised peace—signed, sealed, and delivered by the work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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

Easter: Seeking the Living Among the Living Instead of the Dead

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 17, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; St. Luke 24.1-12.

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

In our gospel lesson this morning, St. Luke tells us the women followers of Jesus, the same ones who witnessed his burial on Good Friday, went to his tomb to finish anointing his dead body. There they are confronted by two angels who ask them why they seek the living among the dead, why are they looking for Christ in his tomb? The question reverberates throughout history and applies equally to us as Christians today. Are we seeking the living among the dead or the living? This is what I want us to look at this Easter morning.

At first blush it is understandable why the women were looking for Jesus in his tomb. They knew, like we know, that dead people don’t come back to life. We, like they, still go to cemeteries to mourn our dead and think about them. In recounting this story St. Luke is reminding us that none of Christ’s first disciples expected him to be raised from the dead. The men were in hiding, afraid of being arrested by the Jewish authorities and sharing the fate of their crucified Lord. The women were braver but they weren’t coming to Christ’s tomb expecting to find it empty. They all knew, like we know, that death has the final say. That’s why so many of us, sadly including some Christians, seek the living among the dead. We desperately seek human solutions for the problem of Death in an effort to find some meaning and purpose in life or to discover what it means to be human because we all know dead people don’t come back to life. But in the end our efforts are utterly futile. 

What does this seeking look like? Some seek life by accumulating wealth. We work our brains out to make as much money as possible so we will have enough when we retire. Some seek the living among the dead by trying to acquire power and influence, either socially, economically, and/or politically, thinking that will satisfy us. Some seek the living among the dead through drugs or booze or porn or gambling, anything to take our minds off the real problem of the human condition with our sin-sickness and alienation from God. Some of us pin our hopes on medical and technological advancements, hoping they will save us. Then of course there are identity politics of all kinds, where we are encouraged to find ourselves by identifying with our race or gender (fluidity) or sexual preferences or political party or ideology. Doing so will help us find our true inner selves we are told. All of this, of course, is in direct contradiction to the biblical testimony and truth that our sin-sickness has made our hearts, the center of our will and being, desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair (Jer 17.9). Simply put, we are slaves to the power of Sin and where there is slavery to Sin, Death must follow. None of us can escape this reality and it shows. We are more alienated and isolated from each other than ever before. With all of our fantastic technology and medical advancements, we are more anxious than ever. We are afraid and angry, not to mention dazed and confused. We are this way because we seek the living among the dead, human solutions to our problems with no real hope or future. So this morning as we celebrate the living among the living, the Risen Christ, I ask you: Are you seeking the living among the dead or the living? Are you looking to human solutions and/or trusting yourself to be the solution to the root problem of human sin and the alienation from God and each other it causes? If you are, you are most to be pitied.

St. Paul was not among this crowd, at least after the Risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus. He stopped looking for the living among the dead, stopped trusting in his own Jewish pedigree and rich theological knowledge. No, he looked for the living among the living. He kept his eyes on the Ultimate Prize of Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, the one and only way to the Father. Why is this important? Because only God has the power to defeat the power of Death and as St. Paul also reminds us, it was through Christ’s saving Death on the cross that God chose to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death. Christ died for us so that we might have our relationship with God restored and therefore live, imperfect as that restored relationship is in this mortal life. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, Death came through a human and therefore God chose to fix the problem through a human, but in the most unlikely way, by becoming human and dying for us to reconcile us to himself. Even today Christ’s cross remains scandalous to many, Christians included. None of us likes to think we are totally reliant on God’s love, mercy, and grace to heal and restore us to God, but we are and that’s exactly how God chose to free us.

St. Luke tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. The angels rebuked the women, not because they were afraid, but because they didn’t believe Christ when he was alive and told them about the necessity of his saving Death and Resurrection. This was all firmly rooted in Scripture and the events of the past days were no accident; they were foretold. God wasn’t taken by surprise. No, this was God-ordained, the Father working with the Son to rescue us stubborn and rebellious people from our slavery to Sin and the universal power of Death that results from our sin. The Father and the Son didn’t wait till we got our act together. They acted preemptively to rescue us out of their great love for us. This is why Christ’s Death and Resurrection are the turning point in history. Until that time, we were all helplessly and hopelessly lost. Death and Hell were our final destinations and this was intolerable to God our Creator and Savior because God did not create us to destroy us. What good parent does that?? And so Christ came to die for us as the Scripture foretold, and in raising Christ from the dead, God vindicated his Death on the cross and destroyed the power of Death in the process, God be thanked and praised! The women should have known this (as should have the men). But they didn’t for whatever reason. And so they sought the living among the dead. They never anticipated that first Easter Sunday. 

Many of us still don’t and like them we remain afraid. But we needn’t be if we keep our eyes on the prize of Resurrection and new creation. And let’s be clear about the nature of our Ultimate Prize. Resurrection is about the continuity of bodily existence, albeit in radically new way. We’ll look at this more in two weeks. For right now, when the angels spoke of Christ being raised from the dead (as did Christ’s first followers) they had in mind bodily, physical existence, not some ephemeral disembodied state, the stuff of gnosticism and other new age religions. As St. Peter proclaimed in our NT lesson, the disciples ate, drank, and spoke with the Risen Lord. You don’t do that with a disembodied spirit. And as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson, Death is not finally destroyed until Christ returns to finish his saving work and the dead are raised. Our loved ones who have died in the faith of Christ are safely in Christ’s care and protection in heaven (Phil 1.21-23), but they are still dead and remain so until the time Christ gives them their new bodies patterned after his own. Resurrection is emphatically not about dying and going to heaven. It is about new bodily existence where we have bodies that are fitted to live in God’s new heavens and earth, a world that will surely be inexpressibly beautiful because God our Father is inexpressibly beautiful, a world where sickness and sighing and alienation and fear and anger and sorrow and madness and incompleteness are no more. More importantly, whatever that world looks like it will be a world where Death is abolished forever and we will never be separated from our loved ones who have died in the peace and love of Christ, no matter how hard their mortal death might have been. Best of all, we will never be separated from God our Father again the way we are now. As our first human ancestors enjoyed intimate fellowship with God in a way none of us can ever experience because of the Fall as we saw last night, so God promises to live directly with us in all his glory and we will be allowed to live in his direct Presence, all because of Christ’s saving Death on the Cross. It is the prize above all prizes, a prize that makes the prizes we strive for pale in comparison; it is worthy of our best striving, labor, and efforts to follow Christ and his Way. Nothing else will do because nothing else ends in life. This promised new world is made possible only by the love and power of God. None can attain it on their own, only by the mercy and grace of God manifested through Christ. When we keep our eyes on this prize, we are truly looking for the living among the living because we are looking at the only Power who can give us eternal life, Jesus Christ, our Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord. Resurrection is not a concept, my beloved, it is a person, and his Name is Jesus Christ, the only Son God. Without him we have no hope for real life, either in this world or the next, and all our other efforts to find life and meaning and purpose are utterly futile. When we seek the living among the living, i.e., when we seek to give our lives and ourselves totally to Christ and live as he calls us to live, it is imperative that we keep our eyes on this prize of Resurrection and new creation. I cannot speak for you, but whenever I have taken my eyes off this prize, my search for the living invariably results in me looking for the living among the dead instead of the living. Listen if you have ears to hear.

But how are we to experience the Risen Christ today? Nobody witnessed the Resurrection. Like many Christian interpreters, I am convinced this is because the Resurrection is beyond our ability to see or understand. As we have just seen, it comes from the realm and power of God. And God in his perfect wisdom has ordained that not everyone in Christ’s day would be able to see the risen Lord as St. Peter attests in our NT lesson. Only a select few were allowed to see Christ after his death and even those experiences stopped after awhile as St. Paul attests in 1 Cor 15. So how are we to believe that Christ is raised from the dead? The angels and the rest of the NT tell us. So does the collective and shared experience of the Church. The Resurrection was foretold in Scripture; it is the result of the power and promise of God and that is how we can experience the Risen Christ today. Whenever we read and study and meditate on what Scripture has to say about Christ and believe it, he becomes available to us in the power of the Spirit. He is here with us this morning, God be thanked and praised! Do you sense his Presence? I do! Christ is also available to us when we come to his Table each Sunday and eat his body and drink his blood. We literally take Christ into our own bodies for him to do his healing will and work. This of course requires faith on our part, but that is how God has ordained it and we should not shrink from the Faith or feel compelled to apologize to scoffers for it. When the women told the disciples that Christ was raised from the dead, the disciples considered it an “idle tale,” pure nonsense. They weren’t ready to seek the living among the living because they did not believe and trust in the power of God. The same thing often happens to us when we proclaim Christ crucified and raised from the dead to those who do not know him. Many will consider our proclamation an idle tale, pure nonsense—until they meet Christ in the Scripture and sacraments and see how he works in and among his people. They will know him by our love, our hope, our fearlessness, and our bold faith in Christ, i.e., our faithful seeking of the living among the living, not the dead. 

Let us therefore resolve, especially during this Eastertide, to seek out the living among the living by keeping our eyes fixed on our Ultimate Prize of Resurrection and new creation. Let the world see how we love each other and take care of each other (not to mention what a grand party we are having in the process). Let others see the joy that radiates from our reading the Scriptures and receiving our Lord at Table, in our celebrations and yes, in our mourning and lamenting. We are a people with a real hope and a future, the only hope and future, the kind the world does not know and cannot have until it surrenders to Christ. We all must choose, my beloved. Do you know fully that Scripture is the word of God with its proclamation of Christ crucified and raised from the dead and trust it so that you stake your very life on it? Do you experience Christ in the Eucharist and in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us and collectively? How we answer these questions goes a long way in helping us decide where we seek the living and our zeal for proclaiming Christ to the world. May we always seek the living in the Risen and living Lord. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Easter 2022: An Ancient Account on How Those Who Were Baptized at Easter Were Instructed

The season of Lent has always been a time when the Church prepared new converts to become full members by instructing them in matters of the faith and preparing them for baptism. Here is a description from how this was done in the 4th century in Jerusalem.

I must also describe how those who are baptized at Easter are instructed. Those who give their names do so the day before Lent, and the priest notes down all their names; and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here. When the priest has noted down everyone’s name, then on the following day, the first day of Lent, on which the eight weeks begin, a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church, the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward, in such a Way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers.

Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring; “Does this person lead a good life? Obey parents? Is this person a drunkard or a liar?” And the bishop seeks out in the candidate other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters concerning which the bishop has questioned the witnesses who are present, the bishop notes down the candidate’s name. If, however, the candidate is accused of anything, the bishop orders the person to go out and says: “Let such a one amend their life, and when this is done, then approach the baptismal font.” He makes the same inquiry of both men and women.  If, however, some are strangers, such people cannot easily receive baptism, unless they have witnesses who know them.

Ladies, my sisters, I must describe this, lest you think that it is done without explanation. It is the custom here, throughout the forty days on which there is fasting, for those who are preparing for baptism to be exorcised by the clergy early in the morning, as soon as the dismissal from the morning service has been given at the Anastasis. Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Martyrium. All those who are to be baptized, both men and women, sit closely around the bishop, while the godmothers and godfathers stand there; and indeed all of the people who wish to listen may enter and sit down, provided they are of the faithful. A catechumen, however, may not enter at the time when the bishop is teaching them the law. The bishop does so in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning.  In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of faith. This is called catechetics.

When five weeks or instruction have been completed, they then receive the Creed The bishop explains the meaning of each of the phrases of the Creed in the same way as Holy Scripture was explained, expounding first the literal and then the spiritual sense. ln this fashion the Creed is taught.

And thus it is that in these places all the faithful are able to follow the Scriptures when they are read in the churches, because all are taught through these forty days, that is, from the first to the third hours, for during the three hours instruction is given. God knows, ladies, my sisters,  that the voices of the faithful who have come to catechetics to hear instruction on those things being said or explained by the bishop are louder than when the bishop sits down in church to preach about each of those matters which are explained in this fashion. The dismissal from catechetics is given at the third hour, and immediately, singing hymns, they lead the bishop to the Anastasis [the cross], and the office of the third hour takes place. And thus they are taught for three hours a day for seven weeks. During the eighth week, the one which is called the Great Week, there remains no more time for them to be taught, because what has been mentioned above must be carried out.

Now when seven weeks have gone by and there remains only Holy Week, which is here called the Great Week, then the bishop comes in the morning to the major church, the Martyrium. To the rear, at the apse behind the altar, a throne is placed for the bishop, and one by one they come forth, the men with their godfathers, the women with their godmothers. And each one recites the Creed back to the bishop. After the Creed has been recited back to the bishop, the bishop delivers a homily to them all, and says: “During these seven weeks you have been instructed in the whole law of the Scriptures, and you have heard about the faith. You have also heard of the resurrection of the flesh. But as for the whole explanation of the Creed, you have heard only that which you are able to know while you are still catechumens. Because you are still catechumens, you are not able to the those things which belong to a higher mystery, that of baptism. But that you may not think that anything would be done without explanation, once you have been baptized in the name of God, you will hear of them during the eight days of Easter in the Anastasis following the dismissal from church. Because you are still catechumens, the most secret of the divine mysteries cannot be told to you.”

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 45-46

Easter 2022: St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!