An Eye-Opener for the Uninitiated

For those of you who have not had much exposure to the brave new world of religious revisionism that is killing off huge chunks of Christian mainline churches in this country, check this out. Make sure you read the entire piece on which Canon Harmon is commenting before you read his gracious analysis, otherwise you’ll miss the punch line. Alice in Wonderland indeed. Choose this day…

Hat Tip: T19

Update: The original author has weighed in on the discussion thread. Check it out.

From the Methodist Hymnal

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
and make me love thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.

Has thou not bid me love thee, God and King?
All, all thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see thy cross; there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek thee, and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love thee as thine angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame;
the kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
my heart an altar, and thy love the flame.

—p. 500

The Resurrection Hope: Our Mandate for Obedience and Evangelism

Sermon delivered on the seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26.

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

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter and we are nearing the end of the Easter season. Can you believe it? During the past six weeks of Easter, we have been looking at why the Resurrection of Christ changes everything for us as his disciples. Today I want to continue looking at this theme by reminding us why our future hope should have an impact on how we live our lives now. In the context of today’s lessons, I want to look specifically at why our resurrection hope can give us the needed motivation to live obedient lives and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a broken and hurting world that desperately needs to hear it.

How many of you, after having been unjustly imprisoned and beaten to within an inch of your life over matters pertaining to your faith (or anything else), would be up late in the evening that same day praying and singing hymns to God the way Paul and Silas did in today’s NT lesson, presumably in thanks for having been deemed worthy of the honor to suffer for the Name (cf. Acts 5:41; Philippians 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)? In my better moments, I would like to think that I could do this, but in my secret heart of hearts I know better. Left to my own devices—and that’s the key phrase—I would likely fold like a bad poker hand. And I suspect I am not alone among those of us who call ourselves Christians. So what did Paul and Silas have that many who claim to be Christian today don’t? What was their secret? Have you ever stopped to ponder this? Have you ever wanted to have what they had? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve come to the right sermon because today I am going to remind you of their secret. Thankfully, Paul and Silas’ secret to living life with joy and power under any circumstance is the same as ours.

Where is God’s Grace?

That secret, of course, is our resurrection hope made possible by God himself in Jesus Christ. In today’s Epistle lesson, our Lord alludes to our hope and promise when he tells us that he is coming soon and his reward is with him, where he will repay everyone according to his or her works. We will return to this shortly, but for right now we do not want to miss the fact that the reward Jesus is talking about is admittance into the New Jerusalem. John talked about this in the last two Epistle lessons and I would encourage you to reread Revelation 21-22 again to remind yourselves of the hope and glory that is yours in Christ.

When Christ returns and ushers in God’s New Creation, of which the New Jerusalem is a part, our mortal bodies will be raised and transformed into new resurrection bodies like our Lord has (see, e.g., 1 John 3:2). In God’s New Creation, we will get to live directly in God’s Presence and he will wipe away all of our tears. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or loneliness or alienation or any of the awful things that afflict us in our mortal lives. We see this poignantly illustrated in today’s Epistle lesson when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they will have the right to the tree of life.” The verb John uses for wash implies the need for continued washing, which likely alludes to our constant need for confession, repentance, and obedience in this life because we are so heavily weighed down by our body of sin. But in Revelation 7:14, an elder tells John that the saints in heaven have already washed their robes with the blood of the Lamb and do not need to do so any longer. In other words, life here is a constant struggle because we are fallen creatures. But those who die in Christ are released from their struggles because of God’s great grace and mercy toward us. That is the hope and promise of the New Creation.

Moreover, we will be reunited with those in Christ we have loved and lost for a season and sin, death, and evil will be abolished forever. In the interim, those in Christ who have died are safely with their Lord awaiting his return like Christians here on earth who are still living in their mortal bodies. None of this is speculative; it is all biblically based and it is offered freely to anyone for the taking.

Our hope is made possible for us through the cross of Jesus Christ. We are cleansed by his blood and offered our one and only chance to live with God forever. We know this is true because God raised Jesus up from the dead and validated who he said he was—God’s Holy and Anointed One, the coeternal Son who is One with the Father. Jesus ascended into heaven, an event we celebrated this past Thursday, where even now he intercedes on our behalf and serves as our High Priest, by whose blood we are made holy and fit to live with God, both now and forever.

But the Good News doesn’t stop there because while Jesus has returned to the Father to serve as our great High Priest, he as promised us that he would never leave us alone. Consequently, he has sent us his Holy Spirit to help us in our weaknesses and build us up in the faith. This reminds us that we do not have to live life alone or try to lift up ourselves by our bootstraps, something that none of us can do when it comes to ridding ourselves of the sin that has so deeply infected us. This is the hope that Paul and Silas had. This was their secret. This is what enabled them to sing and pray and give thanks in the midst of severe suffering and persecution. It was real for them because they believed the promise and knew the Risen Lord. They knew that no matter what happened to their mortal bodies they were safely in God’s care because Christ had claimed them and lived within them. And where God is, there is life, not death.

Where is the Application?

The same power that enabled Paul, Silas, and countless others to live life with joy and power is available to us as well. The Good News of Jesus Christ is offered freely to everyone and we make it ours through faith. But what about Jesus’ word in today’s Epistle lesson that he is coming soon and his reward will be with him so that he will repay each one of us according to our work? Does that not suggest that we must earn our Easter hope instead of accepting it by faith as a free gift offered to us by the sheer grace of God?

Not at all. As James reminds us, our faith is made manifest in our deeds and a faith without works is dead (James 2:14-18, 26). You recall that this echoes the words of Jesus in last week’s Gospel lesson when he told his disciples that those who love him will do more than pay lip-service to him. That is why he tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that there will be those who call him, “Lord! Lord!” but who will hear the terrible words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23) because their faith was never made manifest through their obedience to his commands.

No, our works done in obedience to Christ’s commands are the unmistakable evidence of the loyalty of the heart. They express either belief or unbelief, faithfulness or unfaithfulness. This is essentially what Jesus was praying for in today’s Gospel lesson when he prayed for the unity of all believers, a unity that was based on obedience to his word and commandments. That would make a difference and the world would take notice of it. Instead of seeing business as usual, the world would see Christians really love each other. As Jesus loved the Father perfectly and came into this world to obey the Father’s commands, so we are to be like Jesus in our obedience to his commands. By our obedience we show both our love for him and our faith in his saving act for us on the cross.

And this should make perfect sense to us because we see it in action in every other aspect of our lives. Take, for example, two lovers. Remember when you first met your beloved how eager and anxious you were to please him or her? In effect, you were saying, let me show my love for you in how I treat you. Or perhaps you get a new job and are blessed to have a boss whom you really like and admire. How will you react toward that person? You likely will work hard to please him, in part because you are trying to build job security, but also in part because you are trying to please him because you like and admire him, and want to do a good job because of that.

Likewise with our faith. When the Spirit opens our minds and hearts to the reality of our Easter hope, we are freed to joyfully obey our Lord, not because in doing so we think we can earn our salvation, but because we want to obey Christ in loving response to what he has done for us and promises to us. By faith we believe we are made holy and worthy to live in God’s direct Presence in his New Creation because of what Christ has done for us on the cross.

We can see this joyful obedience illustrated plainly in today’s story from Acts. Both Paul and Silas were doing what God had called them to do and Paul showed his obedience to the Risen Christ in his actions toward the jailer. In Paul we find a man who actively persecuted Christ’s church before the Lord claimed him on the road to Damascus. Now we see a radically different Paul who shows love and mercy toward a man who had treated both Silas and him cruelly. By the standards of the world, Paul had every reason to let the jailer kill himself. But by the standards of Christ, Paul did not want that to happen. Instead, he wanted the jailer and his family to discover the Christ he knew and really begin to live. This same joyful obedience also led Paul and Silas to pray and sing to God in the midst of their extreme suffering.

They did so (and we do so) because they believed the Good News of Jesus Christ and developed a living relationship with him so that they would have strength to do the work Jesus called them to do. Their Easter hope was real for them and it motivated them to live obedient lives. And because they were obedient, they had a joyful and confident expectation that their faith made manifest by their obedience would be rewarded. It is the reward Jesus speaks of in today’s Epistle. A reward has a positive worth for a person and usually causes us to work hard to attain it.  We see people doing this all the time in their daily lives. Some work to become rich or famous. Others work to become powerful or influential. Whatever the nature of the reward, it motivates us to do what is necessary to achieve it.

In the context of today’s lessons, because Paul and Silas knew and loved the Lord, they wanted to be with him forever but they also knew that they had work to do while they lived out their mortal lives. Yet their Easter hope also led them to believe that when their work was done, they would get to live with Christ forever in the New Creation. That was their reward because Christ was the desire of their hearts. Their faith and desire were made manifest in their obedience and found a reward by being able to live with Christ forever. Not so, however, for a person who does not love Jesus or want anything to do with him. How can being with One you do not like or want anything to do with be a reward? Why would you want to obey someone you did not believe or in which you did not trust? It just doesn’t make sense.

And so because Paul and Silas had their Easter hope, the hope of eternal life lived ultimately in God’s New Creation, and made possible by the blood of Christ, their faith was made manifest in their obedience to Jesus’ call. Consequently, they were eager to share the Good News with others because they believed it and had experienced it. Again, this makes perfect sense because we naturally want to share good news of any kind with others. And so we see that our Easter hope leads us naturally to live obedient lives to Christ and share his Good News with others.

So how are you doing in these two areas? Here are some questions to help you assess your faith and the state of your relationship with God. As I described the Easter hope to you earlier in the sermon, and assuming I did a halfway decent job of it, did it excite you and fire your imagination? Did it evoke a sense of love, gratitude and awe in you, this promise of eternal life lived ultimately in God’s New Creation? Did the promise of being able to live directly in God’s Presence make you happy and anticipate it eagerly? Did the wondrous grace of being freed from your body of sin by the blood of Christ fill your heart with a sense of thanksgiving and praise? Did it want to make you love and obey him in response?

What about your willingness to share this hope with others, not by banging on people’s doors but in the context of your everyday relationships? Are you willing to share with others how Jesus helps you in your joys and struggles? Can you articulate your Easter hope and how it motivates you to live faithfully as a Christian, even when you do not always get it right? Or are you more worried that you will be branded as a “religious nut” or “fanatic”? How you answer these questions will give you great insight about the state of your faith and relationship with God. Without a solid Easter hope you will likely have trouble with these questions because in all likelihood, you are still laboring under the delusion of self-help and works righteousness and there is no Good News to be had in either.


Our Easter hope provides us not only hope for the future but motivation to live obedient and joyful lives starting here and now. When you begin to understand the wondrous Good News that is in Jesus Christ, it will certainly make you want to give your life to him in joyful obedience for all that he has done for you, and you will naturally want to share your secret with others as opportunities arise. You will also find hope, joy, and purpose beyond that which you ever dared hope for or dream of, Good News that will sustain you now and for all eternity. Therefore, embrace your Easter hope and live it. Ask the Lord, the giver of life, to help you and you will find help for any and every situation.

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

Another Prayer for the Easter Season

O Lord Jesus Christ, who after your resurrection from the dead gloriously ascended into heaven, grant us the aid of your loving-kindness, that, according to your promise, you may ever dwell with us on earth, and we with you in heaven, where, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign one God for ever and ever. Amen.

The Gelasian Sacramentary

John Stott: The Choice We All Must Make

For those who are not familiar with him, Dr. John Stott is one of Anglicanism’s premier evangelical scholars. I have profited greatly from his faithfulness and insights. One aspect of his ministry is to provide daily email commentary on various books of the NT. Below is an example in which he has been commenting on the Sermon on the Mount. If you are interested in receiving his daily thought and daily bible study, click here. In the meantime, I encourage you to take seriously Stott’s observations about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.  Or the Christian counter-culture.

A Commentary by John Stott.

Matthew 7:21-27 A Christian’s commitment: the radical choice.

Thus the Sermon ends on the same note of radical choice of which we have been aware throughout. Jesus does not set before his followers a string of easy ethical rules, so much as a set of values and ideals which is entirely distinctive from the way of the world. He summons us to renounce the prevailing secular culture in favour of the Christian counter-culture. Repeatedly during our study we have heard his call to his people to be different from everybody else. The first time this became clear was in his commission to us to be both ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. For these metaphors set the Christian and non-Christian communities over against each other as recognizably, indeed fundamentally, distinct. The world is like rotting food, full of the bacteria which cause its disintegration; Jesus’ followers are to be its salt, arresting its decay. The world is a dark and dismal place, lacking sunshine, living in shadow; Jesus’ followers are to be its light, dispelling its darkness and its gloom.

From then on the opposing standards are graphically described, and the way of Jesus commended. Our righteousness is to be deeper because it reaches even our hearts, and our love broader because it embraces even our enemies. In piety we are to avoid the ostentation of hypocrites and in prayer the verbosity of pagans. Instead our giving, praying and fasting are to be real, with no compromise of our Christian integrity. For our treasure we are to choose what endures through eternity, not what disintegrates on earth, and for our master God, not money or possessions. As for our ambition (what preoccupies our mind) this must not be our own material security, but the spread of God’s rule and righteousness in the world.

Instead of conforming to this world – whether in the form of religious Pharisees or of irreligious pagans – we are called by Jesus to imitate our heavenly Father. He is a peacemaker. And he loves even the ungrateful and selfish. So we must copy him, not men. Only then shall we show that we are truly his sons and daughters (5:9, 44-48). Here then is the alternative, either to follow the crowd or to follow our Father in heaven, either to be a reed swayed by the winds of public opinion or to be ruled by God’s word, the revelation of his character and will. And the overriding purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to present us with this alternative, and so to face us with the indispensable necessity of choice.

That is why the Sermon’s conclusion is so appropriate, as Jesus sketches the two ways (narrow and broad) and the two buildings (on rock and sand). It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the choice between them, since one way leads to life while the other ends in destruction, and one building is secure while the other is overwhelmed with disaster. Far more momentous than the choice even of life-work or of a life-partner is the choice about life itself. Which road are we going to travel? On which foundation are we going to build?

The Ascended Christ Still Suffers

Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Christ is now exalted above the heavens but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food.” [Jesus says] I have ascended to heaven, but I still remain on earth; here I sit at the right hand of the Father, but there I still hunger, thirst, and am a stranger. I am the Head; my Body still lies beneath. Where does it lie? Throughout the whole earth. Be careful that you do not strike it, that you do not hurt it, that you do not trample upon it.

—Augustine, Sermon for the Lords Ascension; Treatise 10 on 1 John 9

A Very Early Explanation of the Eucharist

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers of his body. It was with his own blood that he redeemed us. We are his members and we are nourished by his creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life?

The slip of the vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature with immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

—Irenaeus (late 2nd century), Against Heresies 5

Did you notice the wonderful element of hope running through this ancient writing? Did you take note of God’s continuing care and providence for us, especially in our days of weakness? If not, go back and reread Irenaeus again.

The Reign of Life Now Begun

The reign of life has begun, the tyranny of death is ended. A new birth has taken place, a new life has come, a new order of existence has appeared, our very nature has been transformed! This birth is not brought about “by human generation, by the will of humankind, or by the desire of the flesh, but by God.” On this day [of the resurrection] is created the true human, the one made in the image and likeness of God. For “this day the Lord has made” is the beginning of this new world. The day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.

—Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, Oration 1 on the Resurrection

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Let us, then, take care not to quench the Spirit. All evil actions extinguish this light: slander, offences and the like. The nature of fire is such that everything foreign to it destroys it, and everything akin to it gives it further strength. This light of the Spirit reacts in the same manner. This is the way in which the spirit of grace manifests itself in Christians. Through repentance and faith it descends into the soul of each [person] in the sacrament of baptism, or else is restored to him [or her] in the sacrament of repentance. The fire of zeal is its essence. But it can take different directions according to the individual.

The Art of Prayer

The Whole Story of Salvation

God presents himself to us little by little. The whole story of salvation is the story of the God who comes. It is always he who comes, even if he has not yet come in his fullness. But there is indeed one unique moment in his coming; the others were only preparations and announcement.

The hour of his coming is his Incarnation.

The Incarnation brings the world his presence. It is a presence so complete that it overshadows every presence before it. God is made human in Christ. God makes himself present to us with such a special presence, such an obvious presence, as to overthrow all the complicated calculations made about him in the past. “The invisible, intangible God has made himself visible and tangible in Christ.” If Jesus is truly God, everything is clear; if I cannot believe this, everything darkens again.

—Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

Learning From Christ

Consider how Christ validated his words through actions. “Learn from me,” he said, “for I am gentle and humble in heart.” He commanded us to love our enemies and taught this lesson on the cross, when he prayed for those who were crucifying him. He bid also that others teach in this way. Therefore Paul also said, “as you have an example in us.” For nothing is more insipid than a teacher who shows his wisdom only in words, since he is then not a teacher, but a hypocrite.

—John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 1

The Christian Hope of the Resurrection (6)

Today we conclude our series of brief excerpts from N.T. Wright’s book, For All the Saints. I encourage you to pick up a copy and read the whole thing. It is a short little book and well worth your time and effort.

Nor do I think, as some have suggested, that it was just the First World War that caused the rise of the modern doctrine of a creeping universalism, which then necessitated a kind of purgatory-for-all. True, the fact of tens of thousands of young men  many of them at best nominal Christians dying in the trenches probably did strain to breaking point the charitable assumption the army chaplains wanted to make at their funerals, that they were all in fact true Christians. But people had died in their thousands before, in wars and plagues, without precipitating this theological reevaluation. Rather, what seems to have happened is a steady erosion of belief in hell during the nineteenth century, preparing the way for a more explicit change occasioned by events like the great wars of the twentieth century.

Where does all this take us? We have witnessed a sad sight in the theological climate of much mainstream church life during the last century. So many have been afraid or embarrassed to utter the clear warnings of the New Testament about the peril of neglecting the gospel that they have become unable to articulate, either, the clear promises of the New Testament about the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, to read what some have written, and observe what some see fit to do liturgically, we have to say that the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life has been replaced, for many Anglicans at least, by the vague and fuzzy possibility of a long and winding journey to somewhere or other. And at that point my taste for Anglican fudge disappears entirely.

I therefore arrive at this view: that all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place.

—N.T. Wright, For All the Saints