On Keeping Our Means and End Straight

Sermon delivered Sunday, August 30, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear an audio copy of the sermon, usually somewhat different from the written text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

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

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we finish our series of sermons on fellowship. I am sure that after hearing sermons on this particular purpose of our church for two months you are all bitterly disappointed by that bit of news, no? Regardless, you recall that we define fellowship as living life together in intimate relationships in the context of small groups so that Christ can use us to help each other grow to his full stature, which we define as Christian maturity.

“For it is from…the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:22-23). With these words, Jesus cuts to the heart of the human condition, wouldn’t you say? Have any of you been guilty of one or more of the above “dirty dozen” that Jesus lists? I know this will come as a shock to you, but I am a multiple repeat offender, much to my shame and dismay. And if any of you are thinking at this point, “Well, I have only committed one or two of those sins,” or “I look like a saint compared to Fr. Kevin,” if your particular sin isn’t pride, you just might want to add that to your list because only pride drives us to compare our righteousness and shortcomings with others.

Jesus, of course, was responding to criticism lodged against his disciples by the Pharisees. To our ears, and with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, this criticism sounds trivial and petty. But to the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, among whom were the Pharisees, this was no trivial matter. For them, the issue of ceremonial washing had nothing to do with hygiene. Instead, it was a human tradition that had developed centuries before to help remind the Jews that they were God’s elect, God’s chosen people, and therefore they had to keep themselves separated from others to avoid being defiled or contaminated by them. Ceremonial hand washing was one way to do that. It seems that they had forgotten the second part of God’s promise to Abraham, that God would bless them so that they could be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2-3). Now before we get all uppity about this, I would remind us that we as Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church have not always been a blessing to others despite enjoying his many blessings. You see, the beat of the human condition goes on.

And true to the human condition—which usually gravitates toward getting it wrong or taking something good and distorting it into something bad, like ceremonial washing—came the mistaken notion that holiness, being God’s called out people, was a result of doing external acts. In other words, one’s works made one holy and righteous. Consequently, many of the traditions and ceremonies practiced by the religious authorities in Jesus’ day had been turned upside down. You see, the religious leaders had confused the means (the various traditions) and the end (personal holiness), and Jesus called them on it.

In challenging the Pharisees and their traditions, Jesus was not condemning religious traditions and practices as such. What he was challenging was the notion that engaging in the traditions makes folks holy. In other words he was telling them (and us) not to confuse our means and our ends. Jesus reminded his adversaries (and us) that our root problem is internal (who we are), not external (what we do). When Jesus said that evil intentions come from the heart he meant that they come from within our very core personalities. Folks in the ancient world used the term, “heart” to refer to both mind and the essential person, not just feelings. The problem, Jesus tells us, is us. Change the heart and you will change what you do. But here is the catch: We cannot change our heart by our own power! We’re trapped!

Where is God’s Grace?

Now despite the claim of some that we humans have made much progress over time, the truth is that while our science and technologies have gotten more sophisticated, the human condition has essentially remained unchanged. Want proof? Who among us does not know folks, either personally or vicariously, who collectively have committed each of the “dirty dozen” Jesus listed? A quick read from last week’s news can just about cover the whole list. We may be more sophisticated in how we commit our sins these days, but the fact remains that we all still commit them, and that hasn’t changed since the Garden of Eden.

At this point some of you might be saying to yourselves, “Wow, Fr. Kevin! What an uplifting sermon! Preach it, baby!” Hang with me, please, because Good News is on the way. For you see, what is impossible for humans to fix is not for God (Mark 10:26-27). God knows that we humans cannot fix ourselves, even though we spend a lot of time trying to fix each other, and from all eternity has had a plan to address the problem of our sinful hearts. He has taken on our flesh, lived among us, died a terrible and cruel death on our behalf so that his holy and perfect justice could be satisfied, and given us our one and only chance to live with him forever. In Christ’s death, we are declared as “not guilty” in God’s eyes. This is what the NT writers mean by being “justified.”

But the Good News doesn’t stop there because Jesus has promised to send us his Holy Spirit to help us in our daily struggles and to transform us to become more like him as we await his Second Coming to finish the redemptive work he started on the cross (see, e.g., John 14-16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:14). All of this is a free gift of grace and it is ours for the taking if we but accept it by faith. For you see, God knows we cannot make ourselves holy; the problem of sin is too deeply rooted in us, it is an inoperable cancer so to speak, and so he has acted decisively on our behalf to do something about it.

If we understand this simple but profound truth, that sin is deeply rooted in us and we are helpless on our own to overcome it except by the help of the Holy Spirit living in us, we are beginning to get our means and end in proper order. If we want to live with God forever, we must first accept by faith his free gift to us in Jesus Christ and then be humble and open enough to allow his Holy Spirit to live and work in and through us to help us put to death those things which defile us and make us unacceptable in God’s sight.

So what would be an appropriate response to this free gift of God to us? Imagine you got the gift of your dreams. What would be your response? It would likely be one of profound gratitude toward the giver and you hopefully would want to do anything in your reasonable power to please that person for giving you the gift. This is precisely what James is telling us in today’s Epistle lesson. He reminds us that God is unchanging and ever Good. He tells us that God has given us a priceless gift of Jesus Christ so that we can live with him forever, even when not one of us deserves it. And what should be our response according to James? It should be a changed life, a life pleasing to God, a holy life.

Here is the critical point I want you to see. James is telling us (and Paul and our Lord Jesus himself would agree) that our faith must translate into action, by what we DO. But our DOING does not make us holy. God has already done that in Christ and is even now working in us to root out our sin and transform us into his likeness. We DO out of love and gratitude for God for what he has done for us. For example, if we profess to love our spouses, that love would not translate into beating them every day, would it? Instead, we would seek to make our spouses happy by doing things we know that are pleasing and wholesome to them. Likewise we should live our lives for the One who loved us and gave himself for us out of love and gratitude for what he has done for us.

This emphasis on holy living, is very Anglican, BTW. If you go back and read any of the great Anglican theologians’ works, you will see this common thread of holy living running through their writings. Like our Lord and James, they understood we are far too corrupt to ever earn God’s favor. Instead, they understood that God has already taken care of the problem of human sin. For those of us who have accepted God’s free gift, our gratitude should be manifested in changed lives and good works, i.e., in a life that is pleasing to God.

In today’s world of anything goes, this, of course, is not an easy thing to do. For example did you notice in the “dirty dozen” that three of them were related to sex? Given the increasing permissiveness of our society, it doesn’t take too much of an imagination to predict the kind of reaction we will get if we profess publicly a biblical standard of sexuality, one that advocates abstinence outside the context of marriage. Try it sometime. You will likely be branded as being narrow-minded, a prude, or worse. But if we intend to live a holy life, one pleasing to God, we must be prepared to live counter-culturally and according to God’s standards, not our own, something that is never easy to do in any day or age.

Where is the Application?

So what does all this have to do with fellowship, you ask? Just this. While it is true that only God can transform us and heal our  hearts inclined toward evil, the fact is we are flesh and blood and need human support as he does so. Thankfully God understands this and has given us small group fellowship as a means of grace to help him work in and through us to transform us into the beings he created us to be.

When we submit to small group fellowship we allow ourselves to be held accountable to one another and God can use this accountability to help us grow in grace. For example, are we encouraging each other to read our Bibles and pray daily so that we have a better understanding of what it means to live a life pleasing to God? If we are, then we do not pray and read the Bible daily because we “have to,” but because we want to so that we can better understand the mind of God for us and our lives Are we teaching each other and learning the principles of holy living? Are we helping each other in our struggles and temptations and celebrating our victories together? Are we consoling each other in our defeats and losses? Are we asking each other what God is calling us to do in our daily lives, and whether we are following his call? These are some ways that can help us keep our means and end straight and grow in grace. And an even more fundamental question to ask ourselves is this: do we love God enough to even want to do any of this? The extent to which you answer this latter question honestly will give you keen insight into the nature of your relationship with the Living Lord.

In a few minutes we are going to baptize three persons. Baptism is a visible and outward sign of God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ and we will seal the newly baptized as Christ’s own forever. But it doesn’t stop there, does it? Because you see, like the rest of us, these three people have hearts out of which darkness will come. Will you be willing to help them live holy lives as tangible signs of their love for God? I suspect most of us would say, “yes” to this question but it won’t happen if we only see them on Sunday mornings.

However, if we invite and welcome them and their parents into our small groups, and develop real and intimate friendships with them, Christ will use our fellowship to help them—and us—to grow in grace. For you see, there are seven days in a week, not just one, and our hearts are always dark without the love and presence of God. This is why we need small group fellowship in addition to weekly worship. As group members, will you be there to help them live holy lives? Will you be there to encourage them to advocate a Christian lifestyle? Will you support them when they speak out for the Christian faith and advocate a standard of holy living that is met with scorn and derision elsewhere? If are willing to do that, you can do so with the confidence that Christ will be with you as you do, because as he reminded us, where two or three of us are gathered together in his Name, there he is amongst us (Matthew 18:20). This is what it means to live life in fellowship. This is power to live in Christ. Will you embrace it? I pray you will!


Make no mistake. It is Christ and Christ alone who has the power to heal and transform us. There is nothing we can do that will change our  hearts inclined to evil except to appropriate the free gift that is given us in Jesus Christ. He has taken care of our future by taking on our flesh, dying for us, and giving us his Holy Spirit to be with us so that he can help us become more like him. He has also given us small group fellowship to help remind us that he is doing all that for us so that we can keep our means and end straight. That’s good news folks, now and for all eternity.

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

Fellowship as a Means of Grace in Helping Put On the Full Armor of God

Sermon delivered Sunday, August 23, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear the audio version, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69.

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

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we continue our series of sermons on fellowship. You recall that we define fellowship as living life together in intimate relationships in the context of small groups so that Christ can use us to help each other grow to his full stature, which we define as Christian maturity.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus asks one of the most lonely, existential questions in the entire Bible. After having lost many of his followers because of his “difficult teaching” about himself and his Gospel, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks them this question: “Do you also wish to go away?” It is enough to break the heart, isn’t it, and we are left wondering why it is so hard for many of us to accept the Good News that is Jesus Christ and him crucified. Why do so many of us, even the most devout among us, sometimes (or even often) struggle to accept God’s free gift of grace in Jesus Christ? Why do we sometimes (or even often) struggle to believe our Lord’s promise to send us the Holy Spirit to live with us until his coming again so that we can open up ourselves and our lives to him and thus be transformed by his Presence?

Paul provides part of the answer to this bedeviling (no pun intended) question in today’s Epistle lesson. He reminds us that we are at war, not with other human beings or earthly powers, but with the Evil One himself, and he is a formidable and powerful enemy. In the book of Job we are reminded of the destruction Satan can heap upon our bodies, our homes, our wealth, and our families and friends. The writers of the NT call him a tempter (Matthew 4:3), a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), a serpent (Revelation 12:9), and the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our Lord himself called Satan a murderer and a liar (John 8:44), and who had to deal with him all his earthly days. Whatever your conception of Satan, it is a terrible mistake not to take him seriously and a deadly one not to believe he exists because that is exactly what Satan himself wants; you become easy pickings. If our Lord Jesus, himself God Incarnate, believed in Satan’s existence and took him seriously, we had better do likewise.

Paul goes on to remind us that Satan is not alone in this war, that he has demonic helpers to carry out his evil plans and murderous intentions for us. And because Satan is a deceiver and a liar, he will not stop at anything to bring us to ruin. Now we must not be too quick to ascribe all evil and suffering in this world to the devil, but we must take him seriously because as Paul reminds us, we are facing a powerful enemy who is hellbent on our destruction, and who will stop at nothing to get us to fall away from the faith.

What is Paul’s solution to this mortal danger that is Satan? It is to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) because left to our own devices, none of us has the power to withstand Satan and his evil minions. When Paul  urges us to put on the whole armor of God he is reminding us that our spiritual growth and our ability to withstand the wiles of the devil come from God and we must call on God, who is stronger and more powerful than Satan, to be our defender. In other words, Paul is reminding us that it is God alone who can and does protect, defend, and transform us. It is not of our own doing.

Where is God’s Grace?

Now if you read today’s text carefully, you will see that God’s armor is mostly defensive in nature, and that makes perfect sense because Paul is reminding us that we are the ones under attack, and consequently we are to call upon God every day of our lives to help us defend against the Evil One. We are to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. All of these metaphors would have been quite familiar to Paul’s readers because they would have seen the armor worn by Roman soldiers.

What’s more, Paul tells us that we are to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, because as good warriors for Christ, God’s Word can help us defeat the wiles of the Evil One, much like Jesus did when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. This latter weapon is the only offensive one in Paul’s arsenal, but it is a powerful one because it refers not only holy Scripture, but to Jesus Christ himself.

In fact, Jesus’ struggle with Satan provides us with a perfect example of how Satan works (see, e.g., Luke 4:1-13). When Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that God could rescue him (thus tempting God), he is quoting (or rather misquoting) from Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus responds to Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” For you see, what Satan wanted our Lord to do, in part, was to test God, to “triple-dog dare” God to be good to his word when it was not necessary for Jesus to do so.

In this case, we see Satan using God’s Word, albeit incompletely and out of context, to tempt Jesus. Had Jesus not known God’s Word intimately, he could have been lead astray, and these days we do not have to look very far into the mainline Christian churches to see how the devil perverts God’s Word and darkens our minds to lead us astray. As we look at the whole armor of God, we see how much is dependent on us having a thorough knowledge of Scripture.

For example, how do we know what God’s truth is? How about God’s righteousness? If we do not know what living a righteous life means, we cannot attempt to live one and thereby help the Holy Spirit in his transforming work in us. If we are going to have the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as the foundation on which to stand, how well do we know it? A flimsy gospel will provide a lousy foundation for our lives, but God’s true Gospel will give us a solid, stable, and unshakable foundation on which to build our lives. If we do not know what the Gospel is and how it has impacted our lives, we cannot possibly stand on it in our dark hours or share it with others. What about the helmet of salvation? Do you know God’s salvation, really know it? If you do not, how can you ever gain an eternal perspective on life? How about the shield of faith? Paul is not talking about a saving faith in Jesus Christ here but rather about having a faith in the Lord’s ability to sustain, comfort, nurture, and transform us daily, even in the midst of all that can go so terribly wrong in our lives. Do you have that kind of faith? If you do, you have the power to stand against all that life can throw your way. In other words, if we are not intimately familiar with God’s Word, we cannot use it fight Satan and the multiple temptations we face every day of our lives.

What I want you to see is that when Paul urges us to put on the whole armor of God, he is most certainly not telling us to kick back, relax, pop open a cold one, and let the Spirit do all the work in resisting the devil while we do nothing. Yes, it is true that we must ultimately depend on God’s power to help us in our struggles, but like a good soldier we must be familiar with our God-given spiritual tools of warfare so that we can use them effectively in the fight against Satan. Make no mistake. Satan will not hesitate to use any and every weapon at his disposal to lead us astray. We must likewise be willing to use every God-given tool at our disposal to resist his attacks.

Where is the Application?

So what does all this have to do with fellowship, you ask? Just this. While Paul rightly reminds us that our spiritual victory must come from God alone, it is important to remember that fellowship is a critical means of grace to help us put on and wear the whole armor of God. A soldier who fights in battle by himself is easily defeated. Likewise when we attempt to put on God’s whole armor and fight the battle by ourselves without the help of other faithful Christians, we are more likely to be overcome than if we put on his armor and fight along side other Christians.

For example, when we enter into the accountability of a small group, we allow the Lord to use us to help each other in our faith journey. Are we helping each other to read the Bible each day so that we become increasingly familiar with God’s word and recognize when it is being misquoted or misused? Are we helping each other in our struggles with difficult biblical passages? Are we teaching each other how to study God’s Word contained in Scripture? Are we praying for each other every day as Paul commands us in today’s lesson? Are we worshiping God together every week so that we can enter into his glory and be sustained by feeding on his body and blood as our OT and Gospel lessons remind us? Are we helping each other be good evangels to our neighbors and other folks in our daily lives? Satan likes to darken our minds so that we forget about God’s mighty acts in history and in our own lives. Are we telling each other about our “God moments” so that we remember he is alive and well and working in his world? These are just some of the ways that God can use our small group fellowship to help us put on his full armor so that he can help us successfully resist Satan’s attacks.


We live in a broken and fallen world and life is often hard. That’s the bad news. The Good News is that in Jesus Christ, God has overcome the world (John 16:33) and promised to redeem it and those of us who believe in his promises. As we await our final redemption and attempt to live the days of our lives faithfully, we can do so with hope and courage because God has given us spiritual weapons to use to help us in our struggles and in our infirmities. He has also given us fellowship to help us more effectively put on his full armor so that he can better transform us in the living of our days. And because he has given himself for us in a terrible and costly act on the Cross, he has also made it possible for us to live with him forever.

Are you willing to put on the whole armor of God so that he will help you in your struggles? If you do not think you need God’s armor you are deluding yourself and setting up yourself to become a victim of Satan’s wiles. If, however, you are willing to put on the full armor of God, you are promised the ultimate victory, not only over Satan but over death itself. Fighting the war will not be easy, no war ever is, but if together in the context of small group fellowship you are willing to humble yourself, roll up your sleeves, and let God work in and through you as you do battle with Satan and other forces of evil, including your own fallen nature, God has promised you victory, both in this life and the next. That’s good news folks, now and for all eternity.

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

Notable and Quotable

All Christ did, all he taught, was the will of God. Humility in our daily lives; an unwavering faith; a moral sense of modesty in conversation; justice in acts; mercy in deed; discipline in morals; refusal to harm others, and to be able to bear a wrong when done [to us]; to keep peace with one another; to love God with all one’s heart; to love Him because He is a Father; to fear Him because He is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ, because He did not prefer anything to us; to cling tenaciously to His love; to stand by His cross loyally and with courage whenever there is any conflict involving His name and honour; to exhibit in our speech the constancy of our profession [of faith]; under torture, confidence for the fight; in death, that patience whereby we are crowned;—this is what it means to want to be a fellow-heir with Christ; this is what it means to do the commandment of God; this is to do the will of the Father.

From On the Lord’s Prayer by Cyprian, Bishop  of Carthage and Martyr, d. 258

An Open Letter of Response to Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Over at Stand Firm, there is a thread dealing with the sad comments made by Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori of the Episcopal Church regarding her views of Christ being the only way to salvation. In that thread, Rabbi Arthur Waskow asks the following question:

I take it that “Stand in faith” and most of your comment-posters would prefer a theology and a statement of it that Jews—even let’s say Martin Buber & Abraham Joshua Heschel—do not have a chance of salvation? That Gandhi does not? That God will not (cannot??) save anyone who does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was (a) Messiah and (b) fully God in a way that other human beings are not?

—-  Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom center http://www.shalomctr.org

The response to Rabbi Waskow’s question has been strangely muted and I am both puzzled and distressed by it. There are many talented and devout folk who comment on SFIF and I am at a loss to explain the overall non-response. As of this writing there have been 240 posts to that thread but only 2 or 3 have bothered to try to answer Waskow’s question directly. I am sure there are others who answered obliquely but none really caught my attention. Since I do believe that faith in Christ is literally a matter of life or death, I want to respond directly to Rabbi Waskow’s question.

Dear Rabbi Waskow,

I read with interest your comment/question on a recent thread on Stand Firm. I was distressed to see that only two comments, Andrew A’s and Deacon Synder’s, directly addressed your question and I am at a loss to explain why more did not. Be that as it may, I would like to address your question because I believe it is literally a matter of life and death. As an Anglican priest, I am also charged to be a servant of Christ and to be an evangel of his Good News so that all may be exposed to it.  In answering your question, I will assume you asked it in good faith rather than out of cynicism or snarkiness.

I cannot speak for any commenter on Stand Firm other than myself. Your question implies that there is a general desire on the part of most Christians to exclude others from living with God forever, i.e., from being “saved.” Perhaps you believe this because Christians believe that Jesus is the one and only way anyone can live with God forever (John 14:6). Unfortunately, there are some Christians who out of some misplaced and sinful sense of pride have used this passage to beat others over the head, and that gives all Christians a bad name because we are consequently painted with broad strokes to reflect those among us who use this passage in perverse ways. I do not speak for those folks.

For me, the issue is not one of exclusion but rather one of God’s gracious love toward all people. The root problem, of course, is the sin that separates us from God. God, being Holy, cannot and will not tolerate sin in his Kingdom and New Creation when it is fully established and none of us on our own can solve the problem of sin, hard as we might try (and we must keep trying, I might add). As Genesis reminds us, humans chose to sin against God and when we did, we became separated from God. Despite those who claim that we moderns have made much progress as a race of people, I see no evidence to suggest that the problem of sin has left us. We humans are still quite sinful and broken, unable to fix ourselves, and today’s technologies unfortunately exacerbate the problem.

But thanks be to God that he has taken on our flesh, entered his world as Jesus of Nazareth, and died a horrible and cruel death for us, thereby bearing the punishment himself for our sins! In doing so, he has allowed his holy and righteous justice to be satisfied and given us our one and only chance to live with him forever. This is what John 14:6 means. We Christians are not saved because we are morally superior to others (or superior in any way for that matter). We are saved because of the Cross of Christ and because we believe that God’s promises to us in Christ are true, promises that are a logical extension of God’s covenental promises made to Abraham and David. Without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, I have no legitimate hope of ever living with him forever. Neither do you and neither does anyone else.

Does that mean God cannot or will not save those who do not believe? I cannot answer that because salvation is from God alone and for him alone to decide; it is not for his creatures to decide. But if the New Testament is true, and I believe it is, then the picture is bleak indeed for those who do not accept the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ because we cannot make ourselves holy so that we can live in God’s Kingdom and New Creation at Christ’s Second Coming. That is why I think faith in Christ (or lack thereof) is an issue of life and death, and I do not want anyone to die.

What I have just written you is more than just an apology. I have a relationship with the Living Lord that validates, in part, what I have written. I know he lives and that he is with me (and all believers) through the Power and Presence of his Holy Spirit that he promised to us. He walks with me and talks with me, and I walk and talk with him. Even now he is at work in me, cleansing me and purging my sin so that I will some day be able to live with him forever. I do not know how this will finally be accomplished but I know from experience (and from the experience of countless other Christians across time and culture) that Christ lives, and through his Holy Spirit is working on me each day to make me holy and ready to live with him forever. He has born the terrible punishment for my sins, a punishment I rightly deserve, so that I am declared “not guilty” in God’s sight, and is now working to make me holy, to purge my sin from me entirely. That is what I mean by salvation. It is not easy and it is costly because I am having to give up my sinful nature to become more like my Lord and that is often painful. But it is life-saving and that is why I have taken the time to write this letter to you because it is my heart’s desire that everyone believe in Christ so that they too can live with this awesome and gracious God I (and countless others) know.

Since God acted decisively once and for all in Christ, i.e., since God’s invitation is extended to all, and since Christ himself commanded Christians to make disciples of everyone, I do not understand how this is “exclusivity” on the part of Christians or represents a Christian desire for some to be permanently separated from God. To the contrary, if the Christian faith is valid and true, then it would be singularly unloving on our part not to want to share this Good News with unbelievers. Why would any Christian wish permanent death and separation from God for someone else? You, of course, are free to accept or reject the Good News. However, if I love others as Christ has commanded, I have no choice but to proclaim the Gospel because there will be consequences for both of us in what we choose to do or not do.

And lest you think this is just a theoretical issue or discussion, let me make it personal. My own children have rejected the Christian faith, hopefully temporarily, and have thus placed themselves in mortal danger if they were to die before coming back into the fold. My heart breaks over this each day that I live and I pray fervently and in anquish that God will not give them up permanently in judgment to their own sinful nature. Make no mistake. I love my kids and think they are fine young adults. But they are still sinful beings like me, and like me, they do not have the power in themselves to deal effectively with their sins so that they can live with God forever. Only God can do (and has done) this through Christ. The thought of living an eternity apart from my kids is one of the most heart-wrenching fears a father could ever have and it most certainly is NOT my desire that this should happen. Again, it is not a matter of me being better in some way than my kids or morally superior to them. I will be living with God forever because I believe his promise to redeem me through Jesus Christ, and I am living in that promise right now by living a new life in Christ. It is a promise available to everyone. But we have to embrace it through faith; it will not be thrust upon us because no real relationship works that way.

So to summarize, Rabbi, the Christian faith has never advocated excluding anybody, especially not the Jews. Yes, unfortunately some have perverted the faith and used it in wicked ways, especially against the Jews, but that is not the true Christian faith delivered once to the saints. When folks really understand what God has done for them in Christ, the reaction is never some haughty sense of pride or presumption; rather, it produces a sense of profound gratitude and humility for God doing the impossible for us.

In closing, I still cannot understand why God has called me to the priesthood, let alone why he wants to have a relationship with me, because I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3). However, it is to the glory of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that he loves us enough to be willing to deal with the problem of sin himself, once and for all, so that we could have our one and only chance to become like him and live with him forever. It is a free and life-changing offer, starting right here and now, and open for anyone to accept. May God help you (and everyone) find that truth too and accept his gracious invitation.

Whether you agree with what I have written, I trust you know I wrote it in charity and not out of spite, anger, or haughty pride.

Blessings to you,

Fr. Kevin Maney+