Making God’s Story Your Own

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Epiphany 3, January 27, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19.1-14; 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a; Luke 4.14-21.

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

In this morning’s OT lesson, we read the poignant story of God’s people being reintroduced to God’s Law. We also see Jesus reading God’s word from the prophet Isaiah to make his dramatic announcement to the hometown folks in Nazareth that in him they were witnessing the coming of God’s long-awaited Messiah. And so I want us to look briefly at what this all might mean for us who struggle to live faithful lives in the 21st century.

Have you ever wondered why stories like our OT lesson end up being read on a regular basis as part of the lectionary? I know when I was younger and still finding my way around Scripture, I wondered that a lot. After all, what did it matter to me as a Christian what Jews in the late 6th century BC did? But as I discovered years later, it had plenty to do with me because they were God’s people and like us, they too are part of God’s story. Consequently we need to pay attention to these stories because they have much they can teach us.

But before we can learn anything from our OT story, we must first look at the broader context in which it takes place. The immediate setting for today’s lesson is Jerusalem shortly after Israel’s return from their Babylonian exile. However, the writer surely wants us to see more than the immediate setting because he tells us Ezra is reading from the Torah on the Feast of Trumpets, both tangible reminders that the people are God’s people and are part of a larger story than just their deliverance from exile. As the people gathered to hear the Torah read and interpreted for them, they would have remembered how God called them to be his people through the patriarch Abraham to help bring God’s healing light and love to a sin-sick and broken world so that ultimately all people, Jews and Gentiles, could be freed from their slavery to sin and death. They would have remembered how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert by the pillars of cloud and fire to the promised land, routing their enemies along the way. And of course they would have remembered that God’s glorious Presence came to dwell in the temple at Jerusalem, the very place where heaven and earth intersected so that God’s people could draw near and enjoy being in God’s Presence.

But those days of God’s mighty acts and Presence among his people were now long gone. The unthinkable had happened. As the prophets had warned, God had withdrawn his Presence from the temple so that the invading Babylonians were able to burn it to the ground and drive God’s people into exile. All this had happened because they had been disobedient to God’s call to them to be God’s light to the nations. Instead they had become haughty and proud and had suffered the terrible consequences of God’s wrath against them.

Now they were back home in Jerusalem, itself a sign of God’s grace toward his stubborn and rebellious people. But the glory of the Lord’s Presence had not returned to the rebuilt temple nor were there any tangible signs of God’s spectacular power and Presence as there had been in the days of old. There were no pillars of cloud and fire or manna from heaven. They didn’t hear God’s voice thundering from Sinai. There were no spectacular victories over God’s enemies on the behalf of God’s people. In fact, the story the book of Nehemiah tells us is just the opposite. Those who had returned from Babylon were living quite ordinary and mundane lives, and were generally fearful of the hostile people who surrounded them. In other words, God’s people were living in between the times of God’s past glory and God’s future glory when he promised to return to fully heal and restore his people. So what’s up with that? Had God simply abandoned his people and left them to their own devices? Or perhaps the stories of God’s Presence and mighty acts on behalf of his people just weren’t true. Sound familiar?

The answer, of course, is none of the above. The stories of God’s mighty acts of deliverance are true and God had not abandoned his people. Instead, God had given his broken and fearful people his word to sustain them during this interim period. With that in mind, we are now ready to see what lessons this holds for us today.

The first thing we notice is not so much what God’s word is, but what it does for God’s people. The writer tells us that all who could understand gathered together to listen to God’s word read to them. This reminds us that God’s word is able to attract people make them long to hear it because God’s word does not disappoint, providing we do not attempt to place ourselves over it but rather resolve to listen humbly to what it has to say. This ought to make sense to us if we think about it. If Scripture really is God’s word, who would know better than our Creator what is needed to sustain us and make us experience real joy, peace, and fulfillment?

Second, we see that God’s word needs to be interpreted to help us better understand God’s story. To be certain, the meaning of God’s word is often plain so that we need no help interpreting it. But there are times and passages that are more difficult for us to understand for a host of reasons so that we need the help of expert commentators to help us make sense of the text and see how it fits into the bigger picture of God’s story of creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Unlike you, who get brilliant and incisive interpretation each week so that you know how to fit individual stories into the Big Picture story of God’s plan to rescue his good but fallen creation and creatures and to apply its lessons to your lives (I blush at my modesty; isn’t it just awesome?), some folks have sadly used and abused Scripture for their own purposes (think slavery for example) and this always gives God and his people a black eye. Precisely because we are so broken and fallible, it is critical that we learn Scripture together in the context of God’s assembled people, the Church, and this is where Paul’s insights in today’s epistle lesson are so valuable. We will never learn the wisdom of Scripture without the help of others and those who try to do so alone are doomed to failure.

Ezra. of course, fulfilled this critical role of teacher/interpreter in today’s lesson as did Jesus in our gospel lesson. In Ezra 7.10 we are told that while in exile, Ezra devoted much time and effort to learn and observe Torah so that he could teach it to God’s people on their return from exile. Likewise with Jesus. While Luke does not explicitly tell us this in today’s passage (although he implicitly does in the passages and stories leading up to today’s story), Jesus had spent much time in prayer and the study of Scripture preparing for this moment. After all, one cannot be a teacher if one doesn’t have content to teach and being fully human, even God’s own Son had to do the hard work of preparation for his vocation as God’s Messiah.

Third, and related to the point above, we see that with proper interpretation, the word of God can bring grown people to tears because it can cut straight to the heart. In hearing about the life and death of Israel, the people were not just listening to some remote and distant history lesson. They were listening to their story. They were listening to the story of their life and their death. They heard the story of God’s infinite and merciful love for them despite their own sad rebellion against God and it brought them to their knees in tears. When we have the wisdom and humility to listen to God’s word properly interpreted, there will always be an element of “bad news” in it because our hearts are desperately wicked (cf. Jeremiah 17.9). But the bad news is never intended to punish or shame for its own sake. Instead, God wants to redeem us from our slavery to sin and death. But before he can do that, we must come to realize that we need to be redeemed! Otherwise, we are not likely to listen to God’s pleadings and warnings and change our disordered ways. God’s desire to rescue us is why Nehemiah told his people to stop their weeping and rejoice instead. God’s story is never about us. It is about God’s faithfulness, mercy, and mind-boggling love for his wayward and rebellious creatures. When we accept God’s gracious gift to us in Jesus, the only appropriate response is to throw a party and celebrate with the finest food and drink! This, of course, is exactly what we do each week when we gather together to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. We hear God’s word and come to his table in anticipation of the day when we will drink wine anew in the new heavens and earth, celebrating all that God has done for us in Jesus to make that hope a reality. Do you know God’s story well enough so that it moves you in these ways? Do you come to Jesus’ table with this wonderful resurrection hope and anticipation combined with the sobering knowledge that you do not deserve to be there with your Lord, but thankful that he invites you anyway because he is who he is?

And of course, we as Christians today find ourselves in the position that Nehemiah’s people were in. We live in between the times of glory, between Jesus’ resurrection and return. Like the returning exiles, we find our lives to be mundane and ordinary for the most part. There are no resurrections. Miracles are far and few between and we struggle to live faithfully in an increasingly hostile culture. Like God’s people of old, we too wonder if God has not abandoned us. And like God’s people discovered, we too learn that he hasn’t because we have God’s word to remind us that in Jesus, God has defeated the powers of evil and freed us from our slavery to sin and death. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s proof of this and a tangible reminder that God’s project of new creation has been officially launched. And until that project comes in full with Jesus’ return, we are also given the power of the Spirit to help us live as God’s people and to interpret God’s word, just the way the Spirit helped Jesus do likewise in today’s gospel lesson.

All this reminds us of the importance of reading and studying God’s word, both individually and together, because God’s word read in the power of the Spirit has the ability to transform us into the fully human beings God created us to be. Is God’s word a regular part of your life right now? If it is, is it sustaining you and are you telling others about that? If it is not a regular part of your life, why isn’t it? Lack of time is not a legitimate excuse because we all make time for the things we value most. It very well may be that if we are honest with ourselves, we might have to admit we just don’t believe that God’s word has the ability to do what it advertises—to sustain, convict, heal, and transform. It’s a vicious circle kind of thing. We don’t believe because we haven’t tried and we haven’t tried because we don’t believe. But I can testify to the fact that systematic reading and studying does have the power to transform, heal, and sustain. So could Nehemiah’s people. So can countless Christians across time and cultures. If you are struggling with your faith or wondering if God has abandoned you, then I encourage you to pick up a good study Bible, pick a reading plan that you can handle (or learn to pray the daily office), join a Bible study group, and get to work. This won’t be a short-term fix and you will not likely notice sudden and dramatic transformation (then again you might). But if you stick with it and prayerfully submit to God’s word humbly and with faith, you will eventually discover that because the Bible is good to its word you are changed and so have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Family of Christian Pastor Held in Iran Asks: Where is State Department?

From Fox News online.

Pastor Saeed Abedini, a Christian minister and American citizen who lives in Boise Idaho with his wife and two young children, has been held in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison since September for allegedly evangelizing in his native country. Despite being held for months before formal charges were revealed at his trial this week, the State Department has not issued a statement or made any public demand that Iran release him, say his supporters.

“Every day counts. He is being tortured. They (State Department) can do so much more,” said Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini. “I’ve been so heartbroken. It’s as though we are letting the Iranian government lead with their interpretation of what he’s done wrong instead of protecting our American ideals.”

This is shameful if the allegations are true and it certainly represents the active persecution Christians around the world suffer. Please keep pastor Abedini and his family in your fervent prayers. Read it all.


Courtney Reissig: Death is in the Details

From Christianity Today online.

A provocative article with which I couldn’t agree more. As a culture we have sanitized death, and I think that is not coincidental to the general abandonment of the Christian faith alongside the generally awful job of teaching about death and our Christian hope the Church has done of late.

100847We live in a culture that runs from true death. Sure, we see death all of the time in our movies, television, and video games, but rarely are we confronted with the actual death of another human being. Death has become more conceptual to us than physical. Even shootings on the news or military death counts can seem like faceless, bodiless numbers. They are deaths we too often don’t and can’t picture.

It takes great tragedy for us to come face-to-face with the physicality of death. There are our personal experiences, watching a loved one pass away or saying goodbye to their open casket. For us as a country, there was Sept. 11. We followed on TV as rescue workers searched for bodies in the rubble. More recently, of course, there was the Sandy Hook shooting, when horrific details emerged about the slaughter of 20 children and 6 adults at the hands of a mad man.

One victim’s mother, Veronique Pozner, has come forward to give voice to the grieving, describing her son’s body after he was shot multiple times in his first-grade classroom. This embodied, physical description of death is difficult for us, and the Jewish Daily Forward got complaints over the details they chose to publish in the story, including injuries to 6-year-old Noah Pozner’s face and left hand. We owe it to this mother to listen to her description of identifying her son, some say.

Check it out and see what you think.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of the Conversion of St. Paul

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have  caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world:Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: What Kind of Wine are You?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Epiphany 2, January 20, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 62.1-5; Psalm 36.5-10; 1 Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11.

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

Today we celebrate the Third Major Epiphany Feast —  the working of Jesus’ First Public Miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana. We started this Church season with the Feast of Epiphany itself — the coming of the Wise Men to pay homage to the King of the Jews and in doing so to acknowledge that Jesus did not just come to bring salvation to a small group of people but to bring salvation to the whole world. The term Epiphany in the Greek means to experience a sudden realization or breakthrough. Indeed the coming into this world of God in the person of Jesus as a human being was such a sudden breakthrough. In the early church and in the Eastern Church today the Feast of Epiphany included the celebration of both the Birth of Christ and his Baptism as well and in some places the Wedding Feast of Cana.

In the Western Church we have separated  these occasions that we might spend a little more time reflecting on each aspect of God’s revelation of himself to us. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus by John and  we reflected on how the Father proclaimed Jesus as the true Son of God and the Spirit of God was seen in physical form like a dove showing that the Power of the Spirit is indeed with Jesus. We are reminded that through our relationship with Jesus celebrated in our own baptisms that we too are empowered by the Spirit. We signed our selves with blessed water as a sign of renewal of our own baptismal commitment. We can be thankful that we do not follow some of the traditions of the Eastern Church were believers will often renew their baptismal commitment by jumping into nearly freezing waters that are blessed by the priest.

As we look at the first reading  chosen for this day, we start with Isaiah Chapter 62. This reading speaks of God’s desire to have a relationship with his people, symbolized in this reading as the nation of Zion. It speaks about how God wants to crown his people with splendor and fill them with righteousness and glory. God wants to be in a relationship with his people that is as strong and intimate as marriage. When this relationship exists, it is so pleasing to God, that it describes God as rejoicing. With this special understanding of God’s love of his people, we can understand why the Church sees this as a perfect introduction to the incident outlined in our Gospel reading. Marriage and the weddings that celebrate their beginnings have always been a sign and symbol of God’s special relationship with his own.

So now let us turn to the Gospel reading from John. You may already know, but if you don’t, the celebration of a wedding in much of the middle east is and was a major occasion. It was not just something that lasted a couple of hours with a relatively short service followed by a little longer reception. Rather, it was a community wide, social event that lasted days. You invited your family and friends, of course, but you also invited most, if not all, of the community and if you were invited, it was considered very poor taste not to come. As with society weddings of today, the quality and grandeur of the occasion was often seen as a reflection of the social status of the couple. This was especially true of the groom and his family. Failure to provide for the guests was an extreme embarrassment. Into this special moment, we find  Mary, Jesus and Jesus Disciples being invited.

Sometime during the festivities the wine has run out. Some estimate that this was probably on the 3rd day. Mary, learning of this situation, asks that Jesus help them solve this problem. No doubt Mary cared for this family and did not want them embarrassed. Jesus it seems at first resists. He is not yet ready to reveal himself fully, but when Mary insists and instructs the servants do as Jesus directs. He gives in. Many of us know well the persuasive effect that a mother can have on our actions.

Jesus actions are simple. No pomp and circumstances. No magic wands or fireworks. He simply tells that servants to draw water from the six stone purification water jars and take them to the chief steward who is amazed and a little dismayed that such good wine would be brought forth at a latter point in the feasting and not earlier when it would have been enjoyed even more.  This was the first of his signs and revealed the glory of Jesus, the Glory of God, and helped his disciples be strengthen in their belief in him.

As I read this story, I am always struck by the fact that Jesus was at the wedding having a good time, that he turned the water into wine that others could have an enjoyable time, yet so often there are those who believe that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ you must always take life seriously — that enjoyment is not for this life, but only heaven. This telling of this event shows us otherwise.

This was the first on many signs but it was also a pattern for those to follow: Jesus throughout his ministry would work many signs and wonders but all without fanfare. He would say to the lame man — Your sins are forgiven take up your matt and walk — and he would. He would place mud on the eyes of a blind man and have him simply wash it off and the man would see again. He would place his fingers into the ears of a deaf man and say be opened and the man would hear. He would allow a woman to be healed by the mere touching of his garment.  He would take two fish and five loafs of bread, say a simple blessing and feed thousands. Even today, Jesus, through a simple human institution, that we call the Church uses simple things to make himself present. Through basic items like bread and wine, he makes himself tangible and real. Through words of promise, he takes two and makes them one. Through words read from a book, he teaches, corrects, encourages and inspires. Through poured water, he brings a person into membership in a special family.

Speaking of water, I  cannot help but wonder just what kind of excellent wine that water became. There are all types of wine, sweet, dry, desert, cooking, and in the time of Jesus wine was often used as a medicine. It really does not matter, of course, the wedding feast was saved, the bride and groom were not embarrassed, and the Glory of God in Jesus Christ shown forth.

The reading  from I Corinthians, points out that there are many spiritual gifts that are given to members of the Church from those who are able to share the wisdom of experience, those who are equipped with knowledge, those who can bring healing, and those who are able to speak a prophetic word. This list is not mean to be a full listing of such gifts, but to give the believers and understanding that ordinary people, like ordinary water, can be transformed and through their life in Jesus Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit. Some time these gift will be like a dry wine that on its own may not be very pleasant, but with a meal, brings delight, some of these gifts are like a desert wine that lightens the burdens of others and brings a sense of joy into their lives, some of these gifts are like healing, medicinal wine  that brings relief from injury and pain.

We need to ask ourselves, are we ready to become something other than Ordinary water — good as that may be? Are we ready to become transformed into that most excellent wine, that causes the world to ask why did it take so long before it became present? Ask yourself what kind of wine are you  — that by allowing yourself to be changed from the ordinary that you, like the transformed wine of Cana, may show forth the Glory of God in Jesus Christ.

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

Ruth Bell Olsson: Why I Offer Clean Needles in Jesus’ Name

From Christianity Today online. A thought-provoking piece, to say the least. Check it out and see what you think.

Not long ago, Michigan Public Radio interviewed me about our needle exchange. What, really, is the value of harm reduction programs like needle exchanges? Aren’t we just giving drug paraphernalia to users? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to stopusing drugs? Is there something sort of backward-seeming about the whole enterprise? What does a needle exchange do?

Read it all.

Christine Jeske: The Myth of the Christian Nut Job

From Christianity Today online.

An interesting perspective on how to talk to others about Jesus and the Christian faith. Check it out and see what you think.

We have to be clear about what we believe, and the Bible does call truth a weapon. The gospel is called an offense and stumbling block, and thus we have to expect that some will reject it, and us. But we also have to speak truth fully expecting that some people will agree with it. Truth isn’t a pedestal we stand on to set ourselves apart. And we can’t go throwing truth in anybody’s face like a grenade.

Read it all.

Remember Your Baptism to Remember Your Hope and Future

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Epiphany 1 (The Baptism of Christ), January 13, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 43.1-7; Psalm 29.1-10; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22.

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

Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord and will have an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows later in the service. Accordingly, I want us to look briefly at why we should care about Jesus’ baptism as well as our own. In this context, I also want to address a serious question that I was asked last week concerning the new creation theology about which I regularly preach. Specifically, is the hope and promise of new creation just another form of advocating a live-to-die or escapist theology?

To understand the importance of Jesus’ baptism, we have to go all the way back to the creation narratives in Genesis 1.1-2.25. (Don’t worry. This is not indicative of how long it’s going to take me to preach this sermon.) There we read that God created his world and its creatures good and that he created humans to be his image-bearers so that we would be God’s wise and loving stewards of his good creation. In other words, God has always intended to rule his world through his human image-bearers and this was possible as long as we were content to allow God to be the Creator and we his creatures.

But as Genesis 3.1-19ff makes painfully clear, humans were not content to be subordinate to our Creator. We wanted to be God’s equals and when that happened, things went south in a hurry for God’s creation and creatures. Our refusal to live under the conditions God set for us caused us and the entire creation to be cursed and we have lived with the terrible consequences ever since, death being the most severe of those consequences. Just this past week, for example, there was another school shooting fresh in the aftermath of Newtown, CT and the CDC announced we now officially have a flu epidemic in this country. Closer to home, Governor Kasich signed a puppy mill law into effect, a sad indication that our stewardship of God’s creatures is woefully inadequate that make laws like this necessary in the first place. And a quick look at our ever-growing intercessory list reminds us that all is not well with us and our families and friends. We all know that we live in a world that, while full of beauty, is just not quite right.

But even in the midst of the darkness and despair that human sin and rebellion have caused, God remains gracious and faithful to his human creatures and creation, and intends to put things right again. Yet Scripture also makes it clear that God has always intended to use human beings to help him do that and that is why God called Israel to be his holy people through Abraham. That is what the rest of the biblical story is about—how God called Israel to bring his healing love and redemption to God’s broken and hurting world. But we know that Israel was as broken as the people God called her to help God redeem. And so as we saw during Christmastide, God became human himself in the person of Jesus to do for Israel what Israel could not do and be for the world so that God’s plan to rescue and heal his world could proceed as he always intended.

This, of course, brings us to today’s gospel lesson where we see Jesus being baptized by John and anointed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his work and mission as God’s Messiah (anointed one) to bear the sins of the world and bring about God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. In submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus, while sinless, was nevertheless identifying himself with the people he had come to rescue and he was doing it in a powerful and symbolic way. Whenever we read Scripture we must pay attention to signs and symbols and the symbolism they represent because the writers intend for them to speak to us as loudly and clearly as words. Luke (and the other gospel writers) want us to see that in Jesus’ baptism we are witnessing the commission of God’s Messiah so that in his ministry, death, and resurrection, God was doing what was needed to restore his good but fallen creation and bring salvation to those with the good sense to accept God’s offer to life and new creation in Jesus.

And because Jesus’ baptism signaled the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan to defeat the powers and principalities that are corrupting God’s good creation and to rescue us from sin and death, our baptism becomes massively important because it represents our entrance into God’s family so that we can live with a hope and a future. Scripture makes it dreadfully clear that there will be nothing but judgment and death for those who are implacably opposed to God’s rescue offer to us in Jesus; and for anyone who claims to love God and others, this is grievous to ponder. But for those of us who are baptized into Christ, judgment and death is not our destiny, not because we are better or more deserving than others, but because we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (cf. Romans 6.3-11; Colossians 2.11-12). When we are baptized into Jesus’ death we acknowledge by faith and in the power of the Spirit that not only are we freed from our slavery to sin and death, we also believe with the NT writers that through Jesus’ death on the cross, God has defeated decisively the powers and principalities and will one day consummate that victory, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind.

But this would be impossible to believe if God had not raised Jesus from the dead to launch his promised new creation and give us a preview of our future as Jesus’ people. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that it is God who rules over creation, not the dark powers and principalities. It reminds us that despite how bad things might appear to be—and there are days when things appear to be plenty bad—we worship a God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence things that are not. This is not a live-to-die theology because our resurrection hope is meant to sustain us right now for the living of our days. When in the Spirit we believe in the resurrection of the body, we have reason to celebrate and rejoice right now, precisely because the resurrection reminds us that it is God who is sovereign in all creation, not the powers and principalities, and because we know that we who were dead are now alive, lost but now found, and that there are celebrations going on in heaven right now over this (cf. Luke 15.1-32)! Our resurrection hope is meant to equip and sustain us here on earth so that we can be the people God calls us to be—God’s people called in Jesus the Messiah to help participate in God’s task of healing and putting to rights his broken world. More about that in a moment.

Baptism in itself does not guarantee that we will live faithfully as people with a real hope and a future. Baptism is simply the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible reality that God has graciously accepted those of us who live in the Messiah as members of God’s family. And like earthly families, once we are born into God’s family in the power of the Spirit at our baptism, we will have to spend the rest of our lives learning how to act like a family member. It goes something like this. When I was a teenager my mom would tell me to “remember who you are” before I would go out. In other words, she was telling me to act in ways that would uphold our good family name and not bring shame and dishonor to it. Likewise at our baptism. When we are brought into God’s family, God reminds us through his people, through Scripture and the sacraments, and through the power of the Spirit to remember who we are and Whose we are, and to begin to act accordingly. In biblical language this is called repentance and it is one way we can celebrate our resurrection hope and future as we remember our baptism. We learn to say no to a world of dark pagan immorality—a world of lust and loneliness and despair and greed and self-centeredness—and dare embrace an alternative lifestyle in the power of the Spirit, a lifestyle characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5.19-25). We dare believe that these character virtues are possible to develop because we develop them with the help of the Spirit, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, who brought order and life to God’s creation, and who will raise our own mortal bodies. Of course it is impossible for us to develop these character virtues on our own, but that’s part of the beauty of our resurrection hope! We don’t have to try to do the impossible. We are promised the abiding presence and help of the Spirit! That is the whole point behind our NT lesson from Acts today. It is the Spirit who gives us the power to live as members of God’s redeemed family and who assures us that Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished what the NT writers claimed they did. All this reminds us that we have work to do right now in the power of the Spirit. Our mission statement sums this dynamic up perfectly. We are changed by God to make a difference for God. We are to be God’s beacons of light and love and hope to his dark and frightened world. We are to do this because in Jesus’ resurrection, God reminds us that his world and its people are important to him and so it should be important to us as well. This isn’t escapist theology. To the contrary, it focuses our work here on earth and brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

Of course we are not always going to get things right. We humans are easily distracted and profoundly broken. But just like it is with our earthly families at their best when we misbehave, so it is with God’s family. When on occasion I misbehaved as a teenager, even after my mom reminded me to remember who I was, I could expect to suffer the consequences. But one of those consequences was not expulsion from the family. For that to have happened, I would have had to consciously thumb my nose at my family and all the values for which it stood and walked away, steadfastly refusing to ever consider returning or asking to be readmitted as a family member. Just so with those who are in Jesus the Messiah and God’s real family.

So when we invite you to come up and renew your baptismal vows in a few minutes, I hope you will do so with the words from Isaiah on your mind and lips. Don’t be afraid for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters I am with you, and the rivers shall not overwhelm you. When you pass through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame will not consume you. As you renew your baptismal vow, splash the water all over the place and let your mind come to grips as best it can with the wondrous love that is behind these awesome and gracious promises so that you can have a hope and a future, precisely because you have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Going to the Dogs?

If you have been wondering if Governor Kasich is going to the dogs, here is proof positive that he is. Well done, on this bill, governor! Humans are supposed to be wise stewards of God’s creatures and creation and this bill will surely help toward that end.

Governor John Kasich signs the puppy mill bill with a little help from his friend.

Governor John Kasich signs Ohio’s new puppy mill bill with a little help from his friend.

Source: Columbus Dispatch.

Douglas Groothius: Six Enemies of Apologetic Engagement

Below is an excerpt from Douglas Groothius’ article on apologetics (the art of explaining to others why we are Christians and why we believe the Christian faith is true). I know a lot of faithful Christians who are reluctant to share their faith and hope with others. I used to be reluctant to do so myself and that always puzzled and bothered me because it brought into question my love for and commitment to Jesus.

Groothius is spot-on in his analysis about why many Christians are reluctant to give an account of their faith and I can’t help thinking that the root for all of his reasons is that the church for the most part has stopped believing in (and therefore teaching about) the resurrection of Jesus and the breathtaking hope and promise of new creation that it signals. The first Christians and early church certainly didn’t diminish the importance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and it set them on fire because they understood that God’s promised future had broken in on them now. Consequently, they went out and changed their world despite massive resistance and active persecution. The same power is available to us today (so is the resistance and persecution) and we should always be ready to tell folks why we do what we do.

See what you think. Hat tip: Daniel S.

The evangelical world today suffers from apologetic anemia. Despite the fact that Holy Scripture calls believers to give a rea­son (Greek, apologia) for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15; see also Jude 3), we sadly lack a public voice for truth and rea­son in the marketplace of ideas. We do not have a strong intellectual presence in popular or academic culture — although some evangelicals influence some areas, such as philosophy and politics, more than others.

The reasons for this anemia are multidi­mensional and complex. Three recent books explore the lack of a “Christian mind” in contemporary evangelicalism, and I highly recommend them. Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1994) explores the historical roots of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Os Guinness’s Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Baker Books, 1994) discusses some of the historical problems and also outlines what a Christian mind should look like. J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All of Your Mind(Navpress, 1997) explains why Christians don’t think theologically, develops a biblical theology of the mind, and offers helpful apologetic arguments and strategies to empower the church intellectually.

My purpose here is briefly to lay out six factors that inhibit apologetic engage­ment. If these barriers were removed, our apologetic witness could grow into what it should be in Christ.

1. IndifferenceToo many Christians don’t seem to care that our culture routine­ly ridicules Christianity as outdated, irra­tional, and narrow-minded. They may complain that this “offends’’ them — just as everyone else is complaining that one thing or another “offends” them — but they do little to counteract the charges by offering a defense of the Christian world­view in a variety of settings.

Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: The Greatest Gift: The Love of God is for Everybody

Sermon delivered on Epiphany Sunday, January 6, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary Texts: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12.

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

Happy New Year St. Augustine’s! This is the day that the Lord Has made we will rejoice and be Glad in it.

As Anglicans and as Liturgical as we are, I believe we know better that today is Epiphany. It is a privilege and honor for me to bring the word of God to us today being my birthday.

For the past two weeks we have been in the mood of celebrating Christmas and, yes, we are still in the mood of Christmas today as well, as we celebrate Epiphany.

The word Epiphany comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” and means to show or reveal. Epiphany became the festival celebrated to commemorate the coming of God in Christ to the Gentiles and thus to all people. Epiphany became the festival in the life of the Church to celebrate the universality of the Gospel. By sharing in worship in the season of Epiphany, we are joining ourselves with disciples of Christ all over the world who are offering thanks and gratitude to God for becoming a human being and dwelling among and with human beings as one of us.

The birth and manifestation of Jesus are significant aspects of the incarnation — the en-fleshment of God, or rather how God came to dwell as completely as possible in a human being.

Thus the worship season of Epiphany developed within the life of the Christian Church to highlight the revelation of God through Jesus of Nazareth. The biblical story that served as the focal point for this was the visit of the Magi to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in search of the one born king whose star the Magi had seen rise in the East.

The early church found in Matthew’s record some aspects about the life of Jesus that it felt should be emphasized. Thus Eastern Christianity developed a strong emphasis on the birth of Jesus and highlighted the visit of the Magi as an event rich with symbolism. It came to be called the celebration of Epiphany. Actually it is an older celebration than Christmas. By the fourth century, Epiphany had come to rank with Easter and Pentecost as one of the three great festivals of the Eastern Church and its vigil was a day commonly chosen for the baptism of converts. Indeed, Epiphany meant the good news of God’s love was for everybody.

Isaiah prophesied of the manifestation of the light to the world. In our first lesson today, the chapter read;

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

Isaiah’s prophesy about the light to come was that the light was going to be the center of attraction not only to the Jews but to the whole world as well. The world was to come to the light. And the psalmist also says:

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts. All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall do him service.

This part of the psalm has come to be associated with the coming of the wise men or rather the magi to visit the new born king Jesus, and presenting gifts to him

Let us focus a little bit on the Magi and gifts they brought. who are the magi? We know some information but not a lot about the magi. What we do know is interesting. We are told that the magi are from the East. These magi were not Jews but Arabs from the land of Babylon or ancient Persia which is modern day Iran / Iraq. They were probably followers of Zoroaster.

We have been accustomed to calling these magi, kings, or wise men but Matthew calls them Magi. Calling them kings probably came from Psalm 72:10, which speaks of the kings of Tarshish rendering tribute and Sheba bringing gifts. Isaiah 60:6 speaks of the people of Sheba bringing gold and frankincense which are two of the three gifts the magi bring when they visit Jesus.

These gifts would seem inappropriate for a human child…we would expect clothes and toys. These gifts are for a King. Gold is one of the few acceptable gifts for a king. Frankincense is a gift for a priest, and myrrh is used as an anointing oil, and is also used for anointing bodies for burial.

These gifts tell us who Jesus is to us; He is our king, He is the High priest and he was anointed to die on our behalf. The greatest gift we have ever had has Christians.

Paul offered himself as an instrument of God to the Gentiles. In his letter to the Ephesians 3:1-12 says, I am a prisoner of Christ for the sake of you the Gentiles. He unfolded the mystery hidden in former generations and was not made known to humankind, this mystery had now been revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: the mystery is that, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Church, Epiphany and the beginning of the new year is an excellent time to give.. The irony of what happens to so many of us during the Christmas season is that we busy ourselves so much with shopping, buying, wrapping, and decorating that we give little or no time and energy to giving to God.

The big gift that God gives is Himself and we are invited to give ourselves to God in kind. Epiphany is a time to worship the God who poured Himself into a baby born in Bethlehem. Think about the Magi, despite the fact that they brought gifts, they worshipped King Jesus. Epiphany is the time to continue and carry through the Christian year what we began in Advent. With eager anticipation we awaited the greatest gift, the coming of God to us. God has acted. Paul too acted by taking the good News to the Gentile and becoming a gift to them. We are invited to respond, how do we respond to this act of God? We are the big gifts that matter, offering ourselves to God to become His representatives in the world.

Behold! The manifestation of the King of Kings who shall be the path to salvation and eternal life has come! The joy is ours as we each reflect and joyfully accept Jesus into our hearts!

He has been Revealed, he is being proclaimed, and he is being believed by the whole world!

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