Fr. Ron Feister: Healing Lord–Healing Church

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 17B, September 30, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124.1-8; James 5.13-20; Mark 9.38-50.

As we began this month of September we heard in the Gospel reading from Mark, the 7th Chapter, two stories of healing – both radically different.

In the first case, we have a mother pleading with Jesus to free her daughter from a demon. It may be useful  that we understand that to free one from a demon can be understood in that time to mean either an actual satanic being or some other disorder that today we might describe in more scientific terms like depression or paranoia.

In this  first situation, Jesus just speaks the word and the child is healed and delivered. Simple, direct and no fan fare.

In the second case, a deaf man is brought to Jesus for healing. He cannot hear and as a result even his speech is effected. Jesus, in what must have been very dramatic gestures,  places his fingers into the man’s ears, spits and then touches the man’s tongue calling out : “Be Opened.”

The Scriptures are full of stories like these. It seems that wherever Jesus went, people were being brought to him or came on their own to be made whole.

They came to be restored.  Jesus did restore them to physical health, but he did more –  he restored them in relationships – to their community and to their God.

We have the story of the Woman with the Bleeding Problem in Luke, the 8th Chapter,  who sought out Jesus –  hoping that by touching his garment she might experience relief from a burden that caused her pain for many years and the

10 Lepers who sought Jesus to be freed from their illness.  For these, the healing given by Jesus restored them not only physically, but it also restored them to a life in the community, for in those days, a bleeding problem or a skin disorder, would mean that you would have to keep to yourself – you were a social outcast but even more – such people were denied access to the Temple and Temple Worship – they were being denied an important opportunity to have a relationship with their God. Jesus healing restored them to that relationship.

These healings performed by Jesus are often described as some of the signs and wonders by which he could be understood as the Messiah or a foretaste of the Messianic Reign.

For me, I see these as Signs of the greatest healing of all – the healing of the broken relationship between mankind and  God.  These healings gave a hint of the love that the Father wanted to show his people, of how He wanted them to be  freed from their personal burdens,  how God wanted his people restored in community with one another, and how our Creator wanted to renew his relationship with his Creation.

In today’s second reading from James, the 5th Chapter,  we see that the early church understood that healing had a regular place within the Life of the Believers.

James, in today’s New Testament reading, lays out a particular practice of having those in need of healing  coming to the Elders who would then pray for them and anoint them with oil.

The anointing of the ill with oil may have been a common practice in those days, but with this early community of Christians it went beyond the merely physical.

This anointing is seen not only as useful for physical healing, but spiritual as well freeing the person from sin and restoring them to wholeness – a renewal in their relationships in the community and with their relationship with God.

The actions of the Elders of the Church were perceived as a work not only of God but that of the whole church expressed through its ministers.  It was the whole church that sought healing for those needing prayer and anointing. This practice has continued in the Church through the years, in various forms, until this very day.

The Practice of Prayer and Anointing  however, is not the only way that the Church is a Healing Church.

As Jesus used a variety of forms and styles of healing ,some simple and others dramatic, so the Church has always used a variety of healing forms. Some very formal in ritual and others that are not the least bit formal –  in some cases just a simply spoken word or a touch.

In the Sacrament of Eucharist we are not only spiritually fed but also brought into the presence of the one who is the great healer; we receive not only  spiritual nourishment, but the Eucharist is a tremendous source of spiritual medicine, that can bring both physical healing and spiritual as well.   In the practice of confessing our sinfulness, whether individually or corporately,  we can experience the forgiving love of the Father and with such forgiveness often emotional and spiritual healing and sometimes even physical healing is experienced.

When sisters and brothers speak an encouraging word to one in need – physically, emotionally or spiritually – there is Christ’s healing touch.  Not only does it ease the immediate burden, but it assures them of the Love of God.

When we encourage someone to seek professional care when fear or anxiety makes them hesitate, or when we provide needed transportation for them, we are like those who brought the deaf man to Jesus that he might experience healing.

When we visit someone confined to a nursing or retirement home, we often bring healing in the form of distraction from physical pain or loneliness but in that ministry we also make tangible the presence of our Lord

When we hold a brother or sister up in prayer, it can be in formal intercession or just because we have been asked personally to keep them in prayer or because we simply know their need, there too is the healing touch of our Lord.

How do we see or experience this healing. In many ways it looks like the healings that we are most familiar with in the area of medical science.

First the person needs to become aware that he or she needs healing. Sometimes this happens when there is great pain or loss of function so that they seek out the medical doctor or dentist.   So it is that often times people only seeking healing within the Church when their pain, whether physical, spiritual or emotional,  become so great that they are forced to seek healing wherever it can be found. Some times we seek professional help because of a problem, which while not extreme, is chronic. The cough or headache or backache that just won’t go away.  Likewise we can and should seek healing in the church with those things that are chronic problems especially when those chronic problem interferr with our relationships with others or with God.

Physicians know that many problems can only be treated by using several different medicines or different approaches to treatment.  Often the person seeking healing in the Church needs to be encouraged to take advantage of  several approaches, for example frequent reception of Communion, Prayer and Anointing, and seeking prayer from brother and sister in the Church.

Scientific medicine is not in conflict with the healing found in the Church. The two are complimentary. For example, scientific studies have shown that individuals being treated by modern medicine, but who also seek spiritual healing, have less pain and tend to recover quicker. It may be interesting that to know that the first hospitals and modern schools of medicine were the direct result of committed Christians or the institutional church itself.

Like physical medicine, the healing found in the Church can be slow and gradual requiring much time and effort or it can be instantaneous.  Some people may be prayed with on a single occasion and experience relief immediately for others they may need to experience the long term care of the Church for many years to support them in their need.

Modern Medicine has its unexpected favorable results or remissions; the Church continues to have its Miracles. Not surprisingly for both medical science and the Church these occurrences are both unexplainable and rare.

Why some people experience miraculous healing and others do not is something we can never understand, but we need to accept that in God’s eternal plan he gives to his children that which they need.

There are three things that open one to the healing found in the Church. First, as Fr. Kevin pointed out in his homily that first week in September, that a living and active Faith is extremely important as is helps us to personally encounter the Lord of Healing.  Through involvement in the Church and by study of the Scriptures and by living a life faithful to the teaching of Jesus,  we are made aware of the desire of out Lord to bring healing the and opportunities to experience such healing.

The Second is humility –  the realization that we are very limited  and cannot do it by ourselves – that we need the help of others and that we need a relationship with God. It is in Humility that we get a real picture of ourselves. We get to notice that those parts of us that need to be strengthened it we are to fully be restored  so that we can fully participate in the life of the Church Community and fully experience Christ’s love.

Third, we need courage. It is not easy to admit we need help. It can be very difficult  for some to seek out the healing available in the Church whether to ask for formal prayer or to confide to others such a need. Courage it took for the Syrophoenican to beg of Jesus a healing for her child, even after He challenged her commitment. Had she not had courage strong enough to persist, what may have been the result, but she did have such courage. Courage will also allow us to risk seeking such healing in our lives.

Jesus appeared to place no restriction on those he would heal.  Though his ministry was first and foremost to the Jews as God’s Chosen People.  He still healed many who were not from that chosen group. He healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, he healed the servant of the Roman Centurion and  He healed the Samaritan Leper, the only Leper of the 10 who were healed, to return and give praise to God.  So it is that the Church must offer its healing not only to those chosen to be part of it, but to reach out to others with the healing touch of Christ. We need to continually look for the opportunity to bring the healing Love of Jesus to all that we meet – that some experiencing that healing, may themselves return and give praise to the One who heals.

It should not come as a surprise that the Church continued a ministry of healing for the Church from its earliest days saw itself as the continuation of the physical presence of  the Christ.

Jesus may no longer be physically walking the streets of the Holy Land or our Land, but His Body the Church is doing so.  Jesus may not be physically  performing acts of healing, but through his Church He continues to heal those in need. Amen.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Michael and All Angels

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted
the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There’s more from here. In my mind, and as the writer points out below, it’s important to remember that the term angel refers to a function as much as it does a person. Besides, my great aunt Adah swore she saw one when she was around the tender age of 100. Who am I to argue?

On the Feast of Michael and all Angels, popularly called Michaelmas, we give thanks for the many ways in which God’s loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and we are reminded that the richness and variety of God’s creation far exceeds our knowledge of it.

The Holy Scriptures often speak of created intelligences other than humans who worship God in heaven and act as His messengers and agents on earth. We are not told much about them, and it is not clear how much of what we are told is figurative. Jesus speaks of them as rejoicing over penitent sinners (Lk 15:10). Elsewhere, in a statement that has been variously understood (Mt 18:10), He warns against misleading a child, because their angels behold the face of God. (Acts 12:15 may refer to a related idea.)

In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is occasionally reported that someone saw a man who spoke to him with authority, and who he then realized was no mere man, but a messenger of God. Thus we have a belief in super-human rational created beings, either resembling men in appearance or taking human appearance when they are to communicate with us. They are referred to as “messengers of God,” or simply as “messengers.” The word for a messenger in Hebrew is MALACH, in Greek, ANGELOS, from which we get our word “angel” [ Digression: ANGELION means “message, news” and EUANGELION means “good news = goodspell = gospel,” from which we get our word “evangelist” used to mean a preacher of the Good News of salvation, and, more narrowly, one of the four Gospel-writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.]

By the time of Christ, Jewish popular belief included many specifics about angels, with names for many of them. There were thought to be four archangels, named Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. An alternative tradition has seven archangels (see Tobit 12:15 and 1 Enoch 20). Sometimes each archangel is associated with one of the seven planets of the Ptolemaic system (the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). Michael is associated with Saturn and Uriel with the Sun. The other pairings I forget, but I believe that you will find a list in the long narrative poem called “The Golden Legend,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (I believe that a pairing is also offered in the opening chapters of the Proof of The Apostolic Preaching, by Irenaeus of Lyons, but I have not the work at hand.)

Michael (the name means “Who is like God?”) is said to be the captain of the heavenly armies. He is mentioned in the Scriptures in Daniel 10:13,31; 12:1 (where he is said to be the prince of the people of Israel); in Jude 9 (where he is said to have disputed with the devil about the body of Moses); and in Revelation 12:7 (where he is said to have led the heavenly armies against those of the great dragon). He is generally pictured in full armor, carrying a lance, and with his foot on the neck of a dragon. (Pictures of the Martyr George are often similar, but only Michael has wings.)

Gabriel (the name means “God is my champion”) is thought of as the special bearer of messages from God to men. He appears in Daniel 8:16; 9:21 as an explainer of some of Daniel’s visions. According to the first chapter of Luke, he announced the forthcoming births of John the Baptist and of our Lord to Zachariah and the Virgin Mary respectively.

Raphael (the name means “God heals”) is mentioned in the Apocrypha, in the book of Tobit, where, disguised as a man, he accompanies the young man Tobias on a quest, enables him to accomplish it, and gives him a remedy for the blindness of his aged father.

Uriel (the name means “God is my light” — compare with “Uriah”, which means “the LORD is my light”) is mentioned in 4 Esdras.

It is thought by many scholars that the seven lamps of Revelation 4:5 are an image suggested by (among many other things) the idea of seven archangels.

What is the value to us of remembering the Holy Angels? Well, since they appear to excel us in both knowledge and power, they remind us that, even among created things, we humans are not the top of the heap. Since it is the common belief that demons are angels who have chosen to disobey God and to be His enemies rather than His willing servants, they remind us that the higher we are the lower we can fall. The greater our natural gifts and talents, the greater the damage if we turn them to bad ends. The more we have been given, the more will be expected of us. And, in the picture of God sending His angels to help and defend us, we are reminded that apparently God, instead of doing good things directly, often prefers to do them through His willing servants, enabling those who have accepted His love to show their love for one another.

What Historical Jesus Research Sometimes Looks Like

HT: Ben Witherington.

This is hilarious (and brilliant). If you know anything about some of the goofy stuff biblical “scholars” have produced (with a few notable exceptions like Witherington and Tom Wright), over the years, you’ll begin to appreciate these, um, scholars for what they are worth. Let the reader understand. Lord have mercy.


Ben Witherington: Here we Go Again—Karen King Unveils ‘Jesus’ Wife’

If you prefer text over video (see my previous post), here is Dr. Ben Witherington on the latest fiasco regarding the supposedly scandalous life of Jesus in which he was really married. Our Lord’s life was scandalous alright (Paul says so himself in 1 Corinthians 1.18-25), but not exactly what those who think Jesus was married have in mind. Dr. Witherington takes this baloney to task. If you want to see what a serious biblical scholar looks like, check it out.

I enjoy fairy tales as much as the next person (see the picture on the right), and some of the best fictional early Christian stories from the late second through the early fourth century are Gnostic fairy tales. It would appear that someone has found a fragment of such a tale and handed it to Harvard Professor Karen King.

Read it all.

What’s in Your Wisdom?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 16B, September 23, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1.1-6; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8; Mark 9.30-37.

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

This morning I want us to look briefly at the biblical notions of humility and wisdom, and why they are so essential for us if we really want to call ourselves Christian and be living signs of God’s love and new creation for the rest of the world. First, I want us to look at what Jesus said about humility. Then I want us to look at how James and the writer of Proverbs apply their understanding of humility for their respective audiences to see what we might learn from them.

We can all relate to the disciples in today’s gospel lesson. If Mark wants us to know that the disciples’ elevators didn’t go to the top floor when it came to understanding Jesus’ radical redefinition of what greatness is all about in God’s kingdom, he does a splendid job. Here Jesus has told them a second time that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. As outside observers who already know the punchline, we know he is telling them that he is going to Jerusalem to die because that is what God’s Messiah had to do to rescue God’s people from their sins and usher in God’s promised new creation. Jesus didn’t get that specific with them, of course. As we saw last week, things got pretty tense between Jesus and the twelve when Jesus dropped this bombshell on them and I am convinced that after that interchange, Jesus basically stopped trying to explain the nature of his mission to his disciples (other than to tell them the obvious) because they could not come to grips with the concept of a crucified Messiah. And now once again we see they don’t understand and are afraid to ask. Their reluctance is understandable, especially when we remember that Jesus called Peter “Satan” after Peter protested Jesus’ fate and urged him to rethink his plan. Surely none of them wanted that kind of exchange to happen again!

Then to top it all off, they start to argue among themselves about who is going to be the greatest after Jesus ushers in the kingdom. It’s like they hadn’t heard a thing Jesus said about his impending suffering and death and how God’s kingdom comes on earth as in heaven. They were stuck in their own flawed preconceptions of what power and glory in the kingdom look like and they wanted to know what was in it for them. Forget that suffering and dying stuff. If Jesus was going to Jerusalem to proclaim that he was God’s true Messiah, they didn’t want to be left out of the action and we can relate to all that. So when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they responded in silence. Just like we do when we are caught in our own selfishness and asked to defend the indefensible, they remained silent so that their petty and self-centered thinking would not be exposed any further. In other words, the disciples got caught with their pride showing and when that happens, we can be assured that strife, anger, and conflict will not be far behind because unfortunately the rest of the world does not see itself as being our oyster, even if we do. Instead, Jesus tells us we must be like one who has no power to exert.

And of course it is our pride that caused our relationship with God to blow up in the first place. Being the proud creatures we are, we’ve never been satisfied that we cannot be God’s equals, even when it is impossible for us to be God’s equals. But that didn’t stop us and things have gone downhill ever since. Our pride got us kicked out of the garden and pride is the essential reason for Israel’s chronic rebellion and disobedience. It is also the main reason why there is so much conflict in the world today. We do not want to be told how to run the show. We want to run the show. We want the best seats in the house, the fanciest cars, the most money, the biggest houses, the most important titles, the sexiest mates. The list is endless. And to make matters worse, we will usually stop at nothing to get what we want because after all we are the most important person in God’s world and that is where strife and conflict inevitably come into play.

But the wondrous news about the gospel is that despite this, despite our animosity and hostility toward God, God still loves us and wants us to be reconciled to him because he created us for relationship, not to destroy us. That is why Jesus came to be a crucified Messiah so that God could condemn our sin in the flesh without condemning us as people. As James reminds us in today’s epistle, God is jealous of the spirit he put in us. In other words, God made us in his image so that we could love, worship, and enjoy him. He longs to be near us and be our friend if we will simply return the favor. And because God loves us, he never forces himself on us. Instead he keeps inviting us back into a relationship with him, a relationship made possible by Jesus’ atoning death. But if we do not have the needed humility to want that kind of relationship with God and to acknowledge God’s terrible and costly gift to us in Jesus’ death, we don’t have a snowflake’s chance on water of enjoying the kind of relationship God created us to have with him. Our pride will prevent us from seeing how grievous any sin is to God so that we really do not see the need to put our whole hope and trust in Jesus’ blood shed for us. This, in turn, will prevent God from being able to truly forgive us, precisely because we refuse to accept the sole basis that God has established to offer us real forgiveness, and we will therefore remain hostile toward and alienated from God.

That is why James is so adamant that we learn to develop humility in the power of the Spirit. And let’s be very clear about this. We only develop humility in the power of the Spirit. Of course we have to work at it, to put in our sweat equity. But if we try to develop humility on our own we are immediately defeated. Our pride has already convinced us we do not need help! If we do not learn humility we will never learn to fear the Lord and develop the kind of wisdom that flows from our reverent respect for, and trust in, God. Instead, we will develop a wisdom that is based on ourself, which James calls earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Fortunately we can test the nature of our wisdom (and the needed humility or lack thereof) by looking at the fruit of our behavior. Do we love peace and work for it or are we more interested in having our own way and doing whatever it takes to make sure we get it? Are we more interested in showing mercy or being “strong”? Are we considerate of others or just of ourselves? Can we submit to the wishes of others in a healthy way or do we insist on having our way all the time? These are some of the things we can look at to measure what kind of wisdom we have and from whence it comes.

This helps explain some of James’ vivid language that follows. He tells us that when we take pride in our ability to get our own way, when we love a good fight rather than seek a costly peace, (which is not the same as appeasement, by the way), when we gossip and backbite and stir up strife so that we can get our own way and then turn around and call ourselves Christians, we are adulterers. The Bible often compares the relationship between God and his people to marriage. In saying this, James means we commit spiritual rather than actual adultery by being unfaithful to God in our pride and arrogance which produces these kinds of behavior. We can’t claim to be Christian while rationalizing our proud behavior. James calls that being double-minded. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we must follow his example by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. To do that, we must work hard in the power of the Spirit to kill off all vestiges of pride. Otherwise, we can never hope to be Jesus’ salt and light to a world that desperately needs to be shown a better way, God’s way, the way of the cross.

But what might this look like? We see an idealized version of real wisdom made manifest in the wife portrayed in our lesson from Proverbs. The writer of Proverbs is not telling us that women are only good for endless work. Rather, in light of Lady Wisdom who always manifests a fear of the Lord, we see in the housewife a person who works tirelessly for the sake and betterment of others. She does this not to be a doormat, but because the Lord commands us to live in this manner and in doing so she advances peace. There is no place for sinful human pride in this dynamic and we notice the absence of that vice in the housewife’s work and spirit.

All this suggests we had better take the needed time to engage in serious self-examination if we want to manifest real wisdom and humility. That is what James is talking about when he tells us to wash our hands and purify our hearts. What kind of wisdom are we producing? What are its fruits? A good place to start is James’ list in verses 8-10: purity, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Part of the problem is we do not want to spend much time on this because it is so uncomfortable and distasteful. We have to look at all the ugliness in us and that is always unpleasant. Looking at our ugliness will make us grieve, mourn, and wail. But it is necessary if we ever hope to become truly humble and wise so that we can follow our Lord and be his living signs of healing, hope, and new creation as he calls us to be. God cannot transform us in the power of his Spirit if we will not give him our time and effort. To do so would be to impose himself on us and true love simply does not work like that.

But when we are willing to undergo this thorough and ongoing self-examination, James makes the most remarkable promises to us. When with the Spirit’s help we are willing to root out our pride so that we are not sowing the seeds of discord and conflict but instead show a willingness to draw near to God (itself a sign of humility), God will draw near to us. When we humble ourselves, God will lift us up. When we say yes to his offer to be our friend, God will indeed be our friend and his friendship is a far better thing than being friended on Facebook, which so many of us want! James also reminds us that we will have resisted the devil, who is somehow intricately involved in all the disordered desires that bubble up within us and cause us to behave in ways that are unfaithful to God. When that happens, we will know real wholeness and peace.

This is the ultimate basis for real happiness and true blessedness, and that is why God encourages us to undergo the difficult process of looking at all the ways our ugly pride manifests itself. To be sure, God wants us to be happy. But he wants us to establish the only real basis for our happiness, which is grounded in our reverent obedience to his will (which the Bible defines as loving God), not our own disordered desires. And when by God’s grace and our own effort, we develop the humility needed so that we are wise enough to follow Jesus in all dimensions of our life, we will know what it means to have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Mark Galli: Movie Purgatory–A Review of the Movie, Hellbound?

From Christianity Today online.

Never heard of this movie (Hellbound?), but I guess it’s out there. Check out Galli’s review and see what you think.

In juxtaposing Westboro Baptist protesters and an angry Mark Driscoll with calm universalists, the film suggests that those who believe in hell as conscious eternal torment are basically tormented themselves: fearful and judgmental. It never seems to have occurred to the filmmaker that there are thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelicals who believe in hell and may have some pretty strong reasons for doing so.

Given such problems and many more (which space precludes exploring), a viewer begins to wonder what the film is really about. This is my take: First, the film condemns the self-righteousness of many conservative Christians. While I heartily cheer that effort, I’m afraid it does this so well that as we mentally condemn the boorishness of these people, it tempts viewers into their own self-righteousness.

Read it all.

Fox News: Harvard Scholar’s Discovery Suggests Jesus had a Wife

From Fox News.

A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.

Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.

King helped translate and unveiled the tiny fragment at a conference of Coptic experts in Rome. She said it doesn’t prove Jesus was married but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.

…The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using “the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships.”

Read it all and check it out here as well.

I wish I could be as gracious as Ben Witherington about sensationalist stuff like this. I really do. But I can’t. I have no patience for it anymore. It is precisely this kind of baloney that has made me lose confidence in the state of biblical “scholarship,” with a few exceptions, Witherington being one of those exceptions. I am grateful that Karen King is not making grandiose claims about this. But let’s get real about this “discovery.” There are no other texts that record Jesus was married, the document dates from the 4th century, and like the other Gnostic texts which seem to fascinate so many people, appears to have very little to do with the biblical story of God’s plan for dealing with the twin problems of evil and death that human sin has caused.

Any biblical “scholar” (I am trying to be generous here by even using the term, scholar) who works to dismantle Scripture so that people lose confidence and trust in it, and operates with the assumption that the ancient texts of Scripture cannot be trusted (the so-called hermeneutic of suspicion) has no credibility in my mind. It is a mystery to me why such people would even pursue biblical studies in the first place.

What folks in the pulpit and pews and on the streets need are scholars who take the text at its word and seek to help the rest of us better understand those texts, folks like Tom Wright+, Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight, and Richard Bauckham.  As for the rest of them, may God have mercy on their sin-sick souls.

Jesus to You: Who Do You Say That I Am? Your Reply Is…?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 15B, September 16, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19.1-14; James 3.1-12; Mark 8.27-38.

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

In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus, ever the master teacher, gives a two-part exam to his disciples. Part one is easy. “Who do people say that I am?” he asks. This, of course, allows for non-committal, theoretical answers. No costs involved and it allowed the disciples to speculate a bit on all the remarkable things that were happening around them. But part two of the exam is much more difficult, much more personal. “But who do you say that I am?” he asks. Uh-oh. Now you are getting personal, Jesus. What’s that all about? But like it or not, every one of us is eventually going to have to give an answer to this question (cf. Philippians 2.5-11).

Peter, of course, always the brash one, jumps right in. “You are the Messiah!” he says. Well done, Peter! At first blush he gets an A on his exam. He has correctly identified Jesus as God’s Messiah, his anointed one. But then Jesus begins to teach his disciples (and us) what kind of Messiah he really is and what that’s going to look like, and we quickly discover that answering Jesus’ question and passing the exam is more than just using the right titles for him. Peter did that and soon found himself being called Satan. What’s going on here?

While Peter correctly identified Jesus as God’s Messiah or anointed one, he clearly did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus had come to be. Now there certainly wasn’t a unanimous opinion about what the promised Messiah would look like and do. But generally most of Jesus’ contemporaries believed that when the Messiah came he would defeat Israel’s enemies (at that particular time, the Romans), rebuild or cleanse the temple, and establish God’s justice in both Israel and the world by vanquishing evildoers and establishing God’s righteous rule.

But here was Jesus, telling Peter and the rest of his disciples that he wasn’t going to be that kind of Messiah. He wasn’t going to Jerusalem to raise an army to defeat the Romans and thereby reestablish God’s righteous rule over Israel. Neither did Jesus give them any indication he was going to cleanse the temple, although he would eventually do that. Instead, he told them he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified! Whatever it was Peter believed about the promised Messiah, it would not have included the notion of a crucified Messiah because crucified Messiahs were failed Messiahs, i.e., impostors, and surely Peter would not have wanted to believe that about Jesus or see his friend suffer and die like that. In other words, the kind of Messiah Jesus told Peter and the rest of his disciples he had come to be violated Peter’s expectations and Peter took Jesus to task over it. Here we see why simply getting Jesus’ title right does not qualify us to pass the exam. We have to know what the title stands for. In rebuking Jesus, Peter demonstrated that he clearly didn’t understand how God’s true Messiah would accomplish his work and Jesus saw Peter’s rebuke as being satanic in its origin. Surely Peter would have understood James’ observation in today’s epistle that the tongue is a world of evil among the parts of the body because he spoke hastily and without much forethought. Peter doubtless had nothing but the best intents in rebuking Jesus. But in doing so, he demonstrated that he was not yet ready to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Jesus. He in effect wanted Jesus to follow him and many of us have been trying to get Jesus to do likewise ever since!

To make matters worse, Jesus also made it clear to Peter and his disciples (including us) that he expected his followers to imitate him in his costly work. Our Lord came to bring peace and reconciliation between God and humans, to end the alienation that exists between God and his human creatures that our sin has caused. On the cross, God condemned sin in the flesh and brought an end to our exile from God so that we could enjoy real healing and life. We know this to be true because God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead to give us a preview of the promised new creation. Our Lord invites us to be living signs of his new creation by giving our lives to him and imitating him in his costly love for us by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. This doesn’t mean we have to engage in some weird practice of self-hatred or self-rejection. It means we put Jesus at the center of our universe instead of ourselves so that we imitate him in all that we do. If we really are going to call Jesus “Christ” and join our voices with the first Christians in calling him “Lord,” it means we are going to have to give him everything we have—our time, our talents, our service, and our money. It means, for example, that we extend mercy instead of exacting revenge. It means we work for healing and reconciliation even when it is personally costly to us. It means we move to alleviate want and need of all kinds where we see it and can do something about it, all in the power of the Spirit. If you want a non-example of what Jesus is talking about, look at what is happening today in the Middle East because what we are witnessing there, the rage and all the malevolence that accompanies it, is antithetical to the way of the cross and no healing and hope can ever come from those kinds of behavior.

In a few minutes our senior warden is going to present to you our vestry’s vision of where we would like to take our parish this next year. We have tried to allocate your generous gifts in ways that are consistent with our Lord’s command to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him so that we can be real and tangible signs of his healing love and hope that are based on his death, resurrection, and ascension. This ongoing work is reflected in our mission statement, Changed by God to Make a Difference for God. 

The biblical standard for giving, of course, is the tithe because Scripture teaches that all we have comes from the generous heart and hand of God and we are simply stewards of his many gifts. This scares a lot of folks, especially when times are tough as they are now. But this mindset reflects what was going on between Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel lesson. We are convinced that we know better than God how to use his gifts and it is often based on fear. But  with Jesus we have nothing to fear. My beloved and I have tithed since we were married and I can tell you that even in our finances Jesus has demonstrated his Lordship. During that time, we have both lost jobs and we are now both retired, which has resulted in our income being reduced by half. But through it all—and I really can’t explain it, I just know it is true—we have always been blessed with abundance and our testimony is consistent with countless others who have decided to tithe. Of course, some of you cannot tithe right now and so I encourage you to consider what you can do to establish a habit and spirit of giving generously as part of your commitment to following Jesus and calling him Lord. Even if it is a dollar a week, get into the habit of giving and more importantly know how and why your giving reflects your discipleship.

None of this means that we are asking you to give entirely to St. Augustine’s because the Lord’s work is not confined to his church. In fact, Dondra and I give to other charities, which is above and beyond our tithe. So as you listen to the presentation, keep in mind two things. First, does this work seem consistent with our Lord’s command to follow him as well as our mission statement? Second, how does your giving reflect your answer to Jesus’ question to you: Who do you say that I am? However you initially answer his question, when by God’s grace you have been given the courage and faith to take up your cross every day and follow Jesus in all dimensions of your life, you will know what it means to be truly blessed. And you will also know what it means to have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

St. John Chrysostom: Bishop of Constantinople and ‘Doctor of the Church’

From Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Picture of John ChrysostomSt. John, named Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) on account of his eloquence, came into the world of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a model of virtue. He studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age. In 374, he began to lead the life of an anchorite in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest.

In 398, he was elevated to the See of Constantinople and became one of the greatest lights of the Church. But he had enemies in high places and some were ecclesiastics, not the least being Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who repented of this before he died. His most powerful enemy, however, was the empress Eudoxia, who was offended by the apostolic freedom of his discourses. Several accusations were brought against him in a pseudo-council, and he was sent into exile.

In the midst of his sufferings, like the apostle, St. Paul, whom he so greatly admired, he found the greatest peace and happiness. He had the consolation of knowing that the Pope remained his friend, and did for him what lay in his power. His enemies were not satisfied with the sufferings he had already endured, and they banished him still further, to Pythius, at the very extremity of the Empire. He died on his way there on September 14, 407.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of St. John Chrysostom

God of truth and love,
who gave to your servant John Chrysostom
eloquence to declare your righteousness in the great congregation
and courage to bear reproach for the honor of your name:
mercifully grant to those who minister your word
such excellence in preaching,
that all people may share with them
in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.