From the Archives: Learning to Trust God in the Midst of Our Trials: Some Practical Suggestions

Fr. Kevin did not preach today (please mute your applause). The following sermon was delivered on Sunday, June 27, 2010.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62.

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

This morning I want to talk about how to develop a trust in God that will help sustain us in our darkest hours. Specifically, I want to focus on offering some practical suggestions on how to improve your Bible reading skills and prayer life. The suggestions I offer are certainly not comprehensive or exhaustive. It is impossible to be comprehensive in 20 or so minutes on a topic that takes a lifetime to try to master. That’s why I will be preaching extra long today—for hours in fact. You can kiss that early breakfast (or lunch) goodbye.

This sermon is aimed at those of you who are looking for ways to improve your devotional life or are just getting started. For you veterans out there who have been doing this for a long time, please be patient and consider this sermon to be (hopefully) a confirmation of that which are currently doing.

Like last week’s sermon, the genesis for today’s sermon started as a suggestion which resonated deeply with me. But I struggled with it because at first blush today’s texts really didn’t seem to fit with the topic. I kept asking God to give me some direction on this and then about midweek he opened my eyes to read the texts differently and showed me how I could use them in today’s sermon.

How did he do that? By giving me a new insight into the texts as I was reading them and trying to figure out how to fit them into the context of how to develop trust in God. As I gained the new insight I also received a deep impression on my mind that it was right, this is what I was supposed to do. It was the same kind of impression that I have received many times before and I have learned to trust it as God “speaking” to me, even though I don’t hear an audible voice. I tell you this because this is one of the ways we learn to trust God—experience. I have had these kinds of impressions before and I have learned to trust them as being from God because they are also accompanied by a sense of assurance and peace.

So how to we learn how to trust in God? We take our cue from today’s Gospel and OT lessons because they offer us a “how to” and “how not to” lesson. In today’s Gospel lesson, we are given three examples of how not to learn how to trust in God. Luke tells us of three would-be followers of Jesus and our Lord’s response to each of them. In each instance, the person approaching Jesus indicates that he or she is only willing to be a part time follower of Jesus and that simply won’t cut it, either in terms of being his disciple or learning how to trust in him. Jesus does not want part of us; he wants all of us.

Likewise, if we are going to learn to trust in Jesus we must give it our best and sustained effort, the kind of effort we see Elisha give in seeking to become Elijah’s successor as the Lord’s prophet. Elisha would not be sidetracked or denied. He followed Elijah tirelessly and relentlessly during Elijah’s last hours on earth and in the end his perseverance paid off. The Lord appointed him as Elijah’s successor.

So the first and prerequisite lesson we must learn is this. As we saw last week, in learning to trust the Lord when bad things happen to us we must be ready to give it our best shot and to be prepared to do so over the long haul. And this ought to make sense to us, shouldn’t it? What athlete is going to excel without a rigorous and regular training regimen? What business is going to succeed without the necessary planning, hard work, and perseverance? What relationships are going to grow if either of the parties are only willing to give it a minimum effort? No, if we want our relationships to grow, we must give them our best efforts and do so over the long run. The same is true for our relationship with God. When we signal our willingness to do what is necessary on our part to learn how to trust God, it is both the biblical witness as well as the consistent testimony of Christians over time and culture that God will not disappoint us.

So how does this apply to reading the Bible and our prayer life? Just this. If you ever intend to learn to trust God during your darkest hours, you must become disciplined in doing both because prayer and Bible reading represent the main means of grace by which we learn to develop our trust in God. This means that we must set aside some time every day and stick to that appointed time as closely as possible. This is what it means to become disciplined in your devotional life.

If you are just starting to develop this holy habit of disciplined devotions, I suggest you start out by giving our Lord 15 minutes of your time at the start of each day and try to work your way up to at least an hour. There are 1440 minutes in a 24 hour day. If you cannot give God 1% of your time each day, then you really do need to question your willingness to have any kind of meaningful relationship with God. And to help keep things in perspective, even if we spend an hour each day in devotions, we are only giving about 4% of our regular time to God. What do you think would happen to any of your relationships if you only dedicated about 4% of your time to them on a regular basis? And yet many of us do not give this much time to God each day. Is it any wonder that many of us never learn to fully trust in God? The point is not to become a bean counter, but to intentionally give part of your day to God on a regular basis.

“But” you say, “I don’t have time to do this. I have work and family obligations,” to which I respond by asking you to look at your priorities. We all have busy lives, but if you want to grow in your trust and relationship with God, you must commit a regular part of your day to God and stick with it to the best of your ability. For some of you that means doing your devotions in the morning. For others, it means doing them in the afternoon or evening, as your daily schedule permits. Whatever the time and for however long you do devotions, get on a schedule and stick to it. If you are trying to establish a time for your morning devotions and are finding yourself getting sidetracked, consider getting up 15 minutes earlier or not doing email until after you have finished your devotions, or wait to do email when you get home from work. Email can wait. Your relationship with God cannot. Establishing a regular time for devotions is hard but if you are successful, you will soon find that you want more time with God. I cannot explain it but I know it is true. God will reward your efforts by making you want more of him.

Once you have established the discipline of having a regular time for devotions, you need to focus on the task at hand. There is no magical formula to reading the Bible or saying prayers. I prefer to start by reading the Bible because I have found that it helps get my mind right to pray. For example, you might find that your hope in God is failing and you need to read some Scripture that will help restore it, but you don’t know where to look. Many Christians find help in the psalms and an online Bible concordance can help you find psalms that relate to hope. A good place to start is Bible Gateway’s topical index ( While it is not a concordance in a strict technical sense, the topical index will help you find desired topics [show hope search screen shots and read appropriate passages from Psalms 9, 23, 27, 31, 38, 56].

On a broader scale and to help you learn to read the Bible systematically, there are several good tools for you to use. The BCP has devotionals for individuals and families starting on page 136. If you are just beginning to establish a regular time for devotions to help build your trust in God, I would encourage you to start there. If you are looking for something a bit more robust, check out the Daily Offices starting on page 39. There is an Office for morning, noon, and evening, and they come in modern or Elizabethan English (Rite II or I), depending on your preference. Both use the Daily Office Lectionary starting on page 936 as the basis for which to read most of the Bible over two years.

If you find the Daily Office confusing, or if you don’t know how to use the Office’s Lectionary, there are other resources available. Again, Bible Gateway ( offers a variety of reading plans [show reading plans screenshot] and you can tailor them to fit your needs. Whatever plan you use, the important point is to start reading your Bible regularly. Doing so will help you gain a better understanding of God’s plan of salvation for his people and how he deals with us right here and now.

As you get to know your Bible better, there will be certain passages that speak to you. Memorize them and recall them when things go wrong. For example, during the dark days immediately after my second divorce, I memorized God’s promise to his exiled people in Jeremiah 29:11— “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (NRSV). I repeated that verse constantly—still do— and I believe God used it to help me persevere. It was not easy—I almost committed suicide—but it helped sustain me in my most desperate hours. Memorizing and recalling your favorite passages can do likewise for you.

In addition to your regular reading schedule, you can also use the concordance to help you find passages about a particular topic. Here again, if you don’t have a Bible concordance, use the topic index tool on Bible Gateway to help you find what you are looking for. Once you find passages that speak to you, stop and ask yourself what the passage is saying. Scripture is a historical document in the sense that it was written for and by a people living in a particular period of time. Don’t let that get you sidetracked. For example, the anxiety that the Israelites felt in the desert before they entered the Promised Land was every bit as real as the anxiety you feel when you are about to embark on something unknown, like a new job or new marriage. They worried about their property just as we worry about ours, even though our property (houses, cars, etc.) looks different from theirs (livestock, etc.). Read Scripture in this way. Ask what it meant to the original audience and what it means to you now. Don’t be surprised if you find new meanings in the same passage. The depths of God are limitless and we should expect God’s Word to continue to speak to us in new and fresh ways even though it was written thousands of years ago.

But most importantly, when you read the Bible, read it to learn the story of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no better way to learn to trust God than to learn his story of salvation because here you begin to understand the depths of God’s love for you. When we consider the terrible, terrible price God paid to give us our one and only chance to live with him forever, it is hard for us to believe that he would ever abandon or forsake us. But because we are so easily distracted, we must continuously keep this knowledge in the front of our minds. Otherwise, we will forget what he has done for us and lapse back into fear and distrust. And Satan will be only too happy to use our fears to try to drive us further into the darkness and away from the Light.

And of course you should always read the Bible in conjunction with your prayer life. If you are having problems praying about something, use a passage from Scripture as a basis on which to pray. For example, if you are seeking to develop your trust in God, find relevant passages in Scripture and then pray about that. In Psalm 56, for example, the psalmist says this: “O most high, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (v.2-3). Ask God to show you had to do that. Lay out the specific situation about which you are anxious and ask God to give you a wise and discerning eye so that you can learn to trust him more. Find some relevant Scripture that talks about how God has demonstrated his trustworthiness to his people. If you don’t know where to look, use a concordance to help you.

To summarize, then, reading the Bible creates knowledge in us—knowledge about God’s trustworthiness, his plan of salvation for us, and how we can expect him to deal with us as his people—and knowledge is power. Let us never hesitate to let God use our knowledge of him to help sustain us in our trials. If we do, we will never be disappointed.

After you have finished reading Scripture—and here I would encourage you to get a good study Bible to help you with difficult passages—then move into your prayer time. Again, if you are having difficulty praying or don’t know how to pray, find a psalm or psalms that are appropriate for your mood and pray them. Ask God to accept them as your prayers.

When you pray, you must always pray with humility. Humility, you recall, is the understanding that God is God and we are not. In other words, we understand and acknowledge that God is eternal, omnipotent, and unchanging, and we are none of these. Humility means that we acknowledge God knows better than us, and that he knows us better than we know ourselves.

Consequently, it is always a good idea to start your prayers by acknowledging this fact to God and asking him to help you accept his will over yours. Before you bring your concerns to God, stop and offer him your praise and thanksgiving for all that he has done for you. Doing so will help give you some much needed balance and perspective about your life because it will force you to focus on his blessings instead of exclusively on your problems, and this should remind you that God has indeed not abandoned you because you can still count your blessings—literally.

If the words just are not coming to you in prayer, consider using the prayers of others. Here again the Internet can be a useful tool and I would encourage you to explore the Christian Classic Ethereal Library (, another free resource. Take, for example, this prayer from Hannah Whitall Smith from her book, Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (

Lord Jesus, I believe that Thou art able and willing to deliver me from all the care, and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe thou didst die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe thou art stronger than Satan, and that thou canst keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into his snares or yielding obedience to his commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust thee to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed most grievously. I am absolutely helpless; so now I will trust thee. I will give myself to thee; I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to thee, a worthless lump of clay, to be made into anything thy love and thy wisdom shall choose. And now, I am thine. I believe thou dost accept that which I present to thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by thee, and thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. I trust thee utterly, and I trust thee now!

Here we see humility and trust illustrated at its finest. The prayer acknowledges God’s strength and our weaknesses. It acknowledges that life can be a struggle and we are up against the powers and principalities. There is a determination to trust God immediately because of all this.

Here are two other examples of a prayer for humility and utter dependence on God by Charles de Foucauld.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

And this one:

You give your help, not in proportion to our merit, but to our needs. You came for the sick and not for the healthy. How true I feel this is. I feel your love as you hold me to your Sacred Heart, my Beloved Jesus, my God, my Master, but I feel, too, the need I have of your tenderness, and of your caress because of my infinite weakness.

As with our first example, in these two prayers we see an abiding trust in God, a trust that can only come about from the belief that God is greater than us and that he is indeed for us, not against us. If you are struggling with humility or trust in your prayer life, consider praying these prayers, or ones like them, to help you in your weakness

After you have offered your prayers of praise and thanksgivings, confess your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. Ask him to help you bear the fruit of repentance and to give you an assurance that he has indeed forgiven your sins, and then trust that he has.

Next, pray for the needs of others. Keep a list and pray for these folks regularly. Praying for others before your own needs helps you develop a sense of selflessness and reminds you that you are not alone in your trials.

Finally, pray for your own needs and here simply lay them out before God. Talk to him as you would to another person. Tell him what you are feeling and what you fear most. Ask him to help or heal you, but do not try to pigeonhole God by demanding that he answer you in a given way. God will answer prayers, but not always as we expect him to answer them nor on our timeline. Ask God to help you with your struggles with this and to give you a clear and discerning heart and mind to help you see how he is moving in your life. If, for example, you are struggling with financial catastrophe not of your own making, ask God what he would have you learn in the midst of this difficult time. Many people report that they grow most in the midst of their struggles and God can use our trials to help us become the people he created us to be.

Or it may be that you simply ask him to help you persevere, to use your trials to help you grow in your own dependence on God. Whatever it is you are asking, do so in an honest, real, and straightforward way and then take time to listen for God to speak to you. Here again, do not be eager to pigeonhole God by expecting to hear an audible voice. God speaks to us through Scripture, through the advice of Christian friends, and by impressing thoughts and insights on our hearts and minds, the way he does with me on occasion. Keep an open mind about how God will speak to you and always be ready to hear him speak. When he does, write it down and review it often so that you do not lose his guidance in the midst of your distractions! If you are patient and persistent and are willing to hear the answer he has for you, you will not be disappointed.

Last, I would encourage you to pick up some devotional readings and make that part of your time with God. Here again, the CCEL can provide a useful and free resource for you. For example, one of my favorite writers is Francois Fenelon and some of his writings are in the CCEL, including this on how to grow in your spiritual life [show Fenelon screen shot].

Or pick up our own John Kasich’s new book, Every Other Monday. It is a compelling and readable story about his own struggles with growing in the faith. I like it because it is real. John doesn’t pull any punches regarding the ups and downs he has experienced in his faith journey. Reading real stories like John’s reminds us we are not alone and it opens our eyes to the realities of our spiritual growth. Here again, knowledge is power that God can use to help us build our trust in him.

Learning to grow in our trust in God is not easy or automatic. But there are proven ways in which we can do so. I have chosen to look at two of those ways today: Daily Bible reading and constant prayer. We have seen that to use these means of grace in effective ways requires humility, effort, and discipline on our part. We will surely struggle in our attempts because we are broken and fallible creatures. But it is the consistent testimony of Christians that the struggle is worth it because we will learn to grow in our faith and trust in God.

And as Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle lesson, we are not left to guess whether we are maturing as Christians. We have evidence. We simply have to look at the desires of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. As Paul reminds us in Romans 7, the two are at constant war with each other, but if we are faithful in reading the Bible each day, and praying regularly and with great humility in which we seek God’s will over ours, we will begin to see the fruit of the Spirit take hold in our lives and we know then that he is living and active in us. As his Presence and Power continue to grow in us, so will our trust in him to deliver us in our trials. He will also remind us of our eternal destiny, a destiny prepared for us by Christ and sealed by his very blood, and when that begins to happen for you, if it has not happened already, you really will have Good News, now and for all eternity, and nothing can ever rob you of it because you are clothed in Christ.

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

Two Responses to Evil

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, June 23, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalms 42.1-43.6; Galatians 3.23-29; Luke 8.26-39.

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

In today’s OT and gospel lessons, we see some of the various effects evil can have on us when we are confronted by it and it is worth our time to see what these stories have to say to help us when we are likewise confronted by evil. We can all relate to Elijah in today’s OT lesson because we all know what it’s like to fail in our work, to be depressed, to feel isolated, to be afraid, and to suffer the exhaustion that often accompanies these other emotions. Elijah has had a literal mountaintop-to-valley experience. This story comes on the heels of his dramatic defeat of Baal and the slaughter of Baal’s prophets. And as we saw three weeks ago, it was none other than Ahab’s wife Jezebel who introduced Baal worship into Israel’s religious life and practices so as to arouse the Lord’s jealous anger for his people and now she promises to kill Elijah.

You also recall that when we looked at that particular story and the God of shock and awe contained in it, we noted that while spectacular at the moment, shock and awe demonstrations don’t tend to stick with us very well so that we are prone to forget them. We see this illustrated plainly in today’s lesson. Of all the people who should have remembered God’s power to save and deliver, it was Elijah. God had demonstrated a dramatic display of fiery power to vindicate both God’s name and his prophet, and had allowed Elijah to slaughter hundreds of Baal’s prophets. Given all this, we have to wonder what made Elijah so afraid of Jezebel’s threat to take his life. After all, if God is capable of vindicating his name in such dramatic fashion, why couldn’t he protect his prophet from wicked old Jezebel?

But apparently the shock and awe experience had not been enough to assure Elijah of God’s power to protect him from Jezebel’s threat. Perhaps Elijah thought that God’s shock and awe power would not necessarily protect him as God’s prophet because he later complained to God that other prophets had been killed. Whatever the reason, the prophet fled for his life because as we saw last week, he knew that Jezebel had a track record of violence and wasn’t afraid to use her husband’s powers to get what she wanted. We understand this kind of evil, even if most of us have thankfully not experienced it firsthand. We understand it because we know the human heart and we know there are those who have a track record for breathing out threats of violence and delivering on them, just like Jezebel did. And if that weren’t bad enough, we also know that often the bad guys get away with murder—literally, and that makes us even more afraid of human evil because we see that it often goes unchecked or unpunished.

We also see in Elijah’s response to God’s question about what he is doing on Horeb the terrible effect Jezebel’s threats had on him and we can relate to this as well. Elijah complains to God that he has worked very hard as God’s prophet and laments how little he has to show for it. He rails against the prevailing culture, telling God that God’s prophets have been killed and there are no loyal Israelites left in the land, a curious complaint given the support he receives after his dramatic victory over the Baals on Mt. Carmel. He starts feeling sorry for himself and is not a little egocentric in his complaint, lamenting that if he is killed, there will be no one left who is loyal to God, another curious complaint given God’s spectacular demonstration on Mt. Carmel of his ability to deliver what God needs to prevail. In fact, Elijah could have very well made our psalm lessons with their cry for God’s help, mercy, and justice his very own! And earlier Elijah prays to God to take his life because Elijah is no better than his ancestors in his ability to advocate for God. All this is uncomfortably familiar to us because we do exactly the same thing when we are confronted by evil, failure, and disappointments. Like Elijah, we tend to get depressed and start to feel sorry for ourselves as we whine about our bad situation or rotten luck. We mope around and act like either God doesn’t exist or he is powerless to intervene on our behalf—or worse yet, that God doesn’t care that we are in a precarious situation.

Turning to our gospel lesson, we see a different kind of evil on display, the evil of demonic activity and power. This very topic makes us immediately uncomfortable because as 21st century people, we want to see ourselves as too sophisticated and enlightened to believe in things like the dark powers and principalities. However, Jesus, God incarnate, had no such reservations about the existence of demonic power and its attendant evil, and we had better pay attention to this fact. Luke assumes its presence in his story as evidenced by the fact that he does not try to build a case for its existence, he simply reports it as fact. Moreover, in telling us that the man was possessed by multiple demons, Luke surely wants us to see that in this story we are given a glimpse of the greater war that is going on in the cosmos between God and the forces of evil. As Paul would remind the Ephesians, we do not wage war against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities who are stronger than us but who are still under the sovereign rule of God. That is why we must put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6.11-13).

Whatever we think about the dark powers and principalities, we surely understand the awful effects of madness and it makes us extremely uncomfortable. We don’t know what to do with it, and so like the demoniac in today’s story, we want to isolate those who suffer from it, whatever its root cause, and keep them as far away from us as possible. We notice the other kinds of effects this particular type of evil has on us. We see how the demoniac has repeatedly broken his chains. This makes us wonder if evil has the same effect on us, promising us freedom from our own chains but actually enslaving us further. We see the man’s alienation from his people which leads to his social isolation. We see his unwillingness to submit to any lawful authority and awful chaos that results. And of course, we see the fear that evil causes and we understand that as well. Nothing makes us more afraid than when human behavior becomes terribly unpredictable as in the case of this poor possessed man.

What our two lessons therefore point to is this. When we are confronted by evil in whatever form it takes, from the spectacular to the more subtle, if we try to deal with it on our own terms we are sure to be defeated because evil and the powers behind it are stronger than we are. Elijah tried to run away from the evil that confronted him and found himself exhausted, discouraged, and depressed. He was on the verge of losing his very identity as God’s prophet. And the folks who tried to deal with the demoniac were certainly powerless to control him so that they eventually cast him out from among their midst, consigning him to deal with his own problems.

But it is to the glory and grace of God that we do not have to deal with evil and its effects on our own and we also see this clearly illustrated in all our lessons this morning. In Elijah’s case we see God graciously dealing with his discouraged prophet by providing him food and drink for his journey to Horeb, the very place where God appeared to Moses in a great theophany. We are not told why Elijah wanted to go to Horeb, but it certainly wasn’t at God’s behest. Was he expecting another theophany in the manner of Moses? Was he hoping God would offer to make a new covenant centered around Elijah the way God had offered to make a new covenant around Moses? Whatever the reason, all Elijah got from God was a demand to stand before God and answer a question repeated twice to him. What are you doing here Elijah? In other words, why aren’t you back doing the job I called you to do, to be my mouthpiece?

It is curious that Elijah did not obey God’s command to stand before him until he heard a still, small voice (what the NRSV translates as sheer silence). Whatever it was that made Elijah respond to the quietness of God instead of spectacular displays of power, the story tips us off to two things that can help us deal with evil when we are afflicted by it. First, we are to wait for God to guide us and show us the right path to take rather than trying to forge our own path the way Elijah did. Second, and related to the first point, one way God reminds us of his faithfulness in the midst of evil is to call us to get to the work (or back to the work) God calls us to do. We do not have complete freedom in choosing how we feel about things. We do have complete freedom in choosing how we do or don’t respond to God, and here we see God calling his prophet to get back to work so that God can demonstrate he is still in charge of his world despite the fact that he mysteriously allows evil to operate in it, albeit in a constrained way. It is as if God is saying to Elijah, “I know you are feeling depressed and defeated. But don’t listen to those feelings because they are based on the false assumption that I have either abandoned you are am not really in charge of things. So get back to your work of being a prophet and you’ll see that I’m still your go-to guy.” When you are faced with failures and disappointments, do you ask for God to show you the way and wait for him to respond? And in the interim, are you at work doing the things God calls you to do as a Christian so that you might see God’s power at work?

And of course we see God’s sovereign power over the forces of evil on display in our gospel lesson. Despite the fact that the odds are 6000-1 (the number of men in a Roman legion), the fight is over before it starts and we notice some interesting things in Jesus’ confrontation with the legion of demons. First, they ironically know who he is and never question his sovereignty over them. They do not and cannot worship Jesus, but they acknowledge who he is, even before Jesus’ own followers do. Do you have a problem in acknowledging who Jesus is? I don’t ask this facetiously. I ask it with great urgency because we are once again confronted with the same question we have been confronted with the last three weeks. Do we believe this story actually happened and that Jesus is sovereign over even the forces of evil?

Second, we notice that once Jesus acts, he restores order from chaos. The demons have been consigned to the watery abyss. The man is clothed and in his right mind. He is sitting at Jesus’ feet, a position that indicates he now wants to learn from Jesus and be his disciple. If you have ever wondered what utter and thorough healing looks like when one encounters Jesus, look no further than this story. Again, Luke uses the word sozo for this, which can mean healing or salvation. But salvation comes at a cost. A herd of pigs is lost and this creates fear among the man’s fellow citizens. This reminds us of an even more costly act that Jesus would endure for us on the cross. Defeating evil is a terribly costly matter for God and often for us.

Third, both stories remind us of God’s sovereignty. In addition to exorcising the demons, both stories show us in their  own way that God’s power is often at work on a level we cannot readily see. In Elijah’s case, God reminds his prophet that he has reserved 7000 in Israel whose knees haven’t bowed to Baal, a fact previously unknown to Elijah. In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells the healed demoniac to stay at home and tell his people, a Gentile people, what God has done for him. Despite the fear that caused the people to demand Jesus leave them, God has planted a seed. A voice for Jesus will remain and testify. These examples suggest to us that even when things look hopeless, they never are because God is sovereign, not evil or evildoers, and we simply do not have God’s knowledge or perspective to see his world the way God sees it.

This brings us back to the lesson we learned from Elijah’s encounter with God. God typically chooses to work through his people to help bring about his kingdom and that means we have work to do on behalf of God’s kingdom in the power of the Spirit, the kingdom built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Make no mistake, sometimes the work gets hard and sometimes we are confronted with what seems like insurmountable odds. But we are called to build, not complete, and as our lessons remind us, we are to look to Jesus for power and strength to do the work he calls us to do, trusting that God will ultimately use our work for his good purposes.

All this requires faith on our part to be sure. As we have seen, each of us must decide if we really do worship the God who heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons, and has defeated the powers and principalities on the cross of Jesus Christ. If we believe this, we must also believe that same power is available to us today to help us deal with evil when it confronts us (and at the very least, each of us will be confronted with the ultimate evil of death so this is more than a theoretical or rhetorical exercise). What our lessons remind us to do is this. When we are confronted by evil, sometimes we must wait and listen for God’s guidance, but always with the faith and knowledge that God is sovereign and God always acts in our best interest, even when we cannot see that clearly. Once we get our marching orders, we are then called to get to work on Jesus’ behalf so that we can see his power at work in his world and take hope. So what is confronting you right now? As you struggle with whatever it is, this week ponder the lessons we’ve learned this morning so that you will learn by God’s grace that Jesus is Lord, even in the midst of the evil that exists in this world, and that by the power of Jesus name, you are even now being equipped to overcome it. As you learn this truth, you will surely know what it means to have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Janet Parshall: When Sin Demands Civil Rights

A thought-provoking article for all Christians to consider and one which evoked much vitriol. See what you think and check out the comments that follow to see what I mean.

We live in a day and age when sin is demanding civil rights. God has not changed His position on immorality and those of us who desire to live by His word and honor His commandments are finding ourselves more and more at odds with the culture. I will admit it would be very easy to subscribe to the “minority spy” report and truly believe “there are giants in the land”– and we, who believe in biblical Truth, are no more than grasshoppers. But Joshua’s battle cry must ring in our hearts. The time for courage is now.

Read it all.

The King, the Pharisee, and the Sinful Woman

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3C, June 16, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 21.1-21a; Psalm 5.1-8; Galatians 2.15-21; Luke 7.36-8.3.

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

The past two weeks we have looked, in part, at Jesus’ amazing power to heal and the role faith plays in that. Two weeks ago we saw Jesus healing the centurion’s slave through a great demonstration of faith on the centurion’s part, while last week we saw him raise the widow of Nain’s dead son without asking for a demonstration of faith. In today’s gospel lesson we see how grace and forgiveness work and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning because I think this is a real problem and ongoing issue for many of us. I want to do this by way of contrast, first by looking at the story of King Ahab in our OT lesson and then by looking at the actual dynamics of the story as it unfolds in our gospel lesson.

If we are looking for how not to interact with God, we need look no further than King Ahab in our OT lesson. We first met Ahab two weeks ago and learned that he married a Gentile woman who promptly introduced Baal worship into Israel’s religious life by way of her husband the king. And we saw this provoked an immediate response from God because God is always jealous for his people and wants the best for us.

Now in today’s lesson, we see Ahab and Jezebel acting very badly again. In a story that would be outright comical if it didn’t turn out so badly, Ahab asks one of his subjects, Naboth the Jezreelite, to sell Ahab his vineyard. At first blush we see nothing wrong with Ahab’s request and are puzzled at Naboth’s vigorous rejection of Ahab’s offer. But closer examination exposes the root of the problem underlying Ahab’s request. Naboth refused to sell Ahab his vineyard because he knew what the law said about who was the rightful owner of the promised land (God) and that Naboth had no right to sell Ahab his land permanently because that was expressly forbidden (Leviticus 25.23). Ahab is so upset by Naboth’s rejection that he literally takes to the bed in utter depression. This causes Jezebel to call Ahab’s manhood into question. She tells him to man up and start acting like a real king. She also informs him she will fix his problem, Sidonian style. Jezebel promptly arranges to have Naboth murdered and this invokes God’s judgment on Ahab and his house through the prophet Elijah because Ahab and Jezebel have acted evilly to get what he should not have desired in the first place.

In this sad story we see very clearly why there could be no forgiveness of Ahab and Jezebel. In the first place, to understand the severity of God’s judgment on Ahab and his house (in addition to the fact that God hates all evil), we must understand that Ahab was king of Israel and as such should have been an example to God’s people. We remember that God had called his people to bring God’s healing love and salvation to the world and Israel’s kings were supposed to act accordingly. Ahab clearly did not do so (contrast his heart to God’s heart seen on the cross) and the very fact that he was either ignorant of the law regarding property ownership or simply ignored it, alerts us to the fact that Ahab, like many of us, was willing to take matters into his own hands to secure his own selfish ends. Perhaps there was a place for God in Ahab’s economy, but that place was not of the first order and as a result Ahab acted predictably badly.

To make matters worse, when confronted with the wickedness of his deeds, instead of repenting and asking for forgiveness the way David did when Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba, Ahab got belligerent toward Elijah, a sure sign of sinful pride, the root cause of the other evil deeds he committed. (Although it is worth noting that after hearing God’s judgment pronounced on him, Ahab did apparently repent, at least temporarily, which earned him a reprieve; God’s judgment would come, but on Ahab’s descendants [1 Kings 21.27-29]. Apparently God holds those whom he calls to lead to higher standards than the average bear, a sobering thought for any Christian leader in any position of authority). All this helps us understand why God would not and could not forgive Ahab without Ahab first acknowledging his evil (confession) and turning away from it (repentance). For God to do so would be condoning evil and consigning Ahab to an eventual permanent separation from God, and God’s heart and mercy are too deep and wide for God to act in such an unloving manner. Just so with us.

We see a similar dynamic in the Pharisee in our gospel lesson today, although certainly not to the degree we see it in Ahab. Like Ahab, sinful pride seems to be the root problem for Simon. He too had apparently forgotten that God had called him and the rest of God’s people to be the means to bring healing and reconciliation to God’s sin-sick and broken world. But this mission had gotten very badly distorted and many of God’s people (us included) seem to have confused the means versus the ends. As a Pharisee, Simon surely went to great lengths to be properly “religious” so as not to become unclean and incur God’s wrath. But of course his emphasis was on following the rules rather than developing a healthy relationship with God and others. It is difficult to see how one can bring the healing and redeeming love of God to others by resolutely ignoring them or looking down one’s nose at them, but this is precisely what Simon was doing in our story today. Although he apparently was not as outright hostile toward Jesus as some of his brethren were, when push came to shove, he wanted nothing to do with this woman whom Luke only calls a sinner. We don’t know the exact nature of this woman’s sin. She might have been a prostitute or an adulteress or even the wife of a disreputable businessman. The sin is not important in this case. The point is, Simon, the good and zealous religious person, wanted nothing to do with this woman. Like Ahab, this was another sure sign that Simon’s pride was showing. Accordingly, Jesus indicated there was more work to be done on Simon’s part if he ever hoped to receive the kind of forgiveness and healing the sinful woman received, namely recognizing his sin and believing that Jesus has the power to save.

So what is the difference between Ahab, Simon, and the woman? Why did she receive salvation (the term for salvation, sozo, also means healing) where the other two did not? Is this just another indication that God is capricious and unpredictable? Hardly. God’s heart is tender and merciful and kind, and God’s desire is that everyone receive his healing love and forgiveness. Instead the answer lies in how the woman responded to Jesus. The first thing we notice is that there is not the hubris and pride in the woman as there was with Ahab and Simon. The woman knew she was a sinner and her sin weighed her down as all sin does. Luke doesn’t tell us how this woman met Jesus or what prompted her to seek him out so that she could experience real forgiveness and healing. But something in Jesus was so compelling that she desperately sought him out. She risked scandal and accompanying scorn by letting down her hair in public and kissing and anointing Jesus’ feet, a courageous act in addition to showing great faith in Jesus. When we truly find healing in Jesus’ great love for us, we are usually willing to take great risks for him!

The second thing we notice about the woman is her tears as she tends to Jesus. As Luke implies, these were surely tears of sorrow over her many sins (and the terrible burden they produced) mixed with tears of joy after receiving God’s gracious forgiveness. The term Luke uses to describe her tears is also used to describe rain showers and this alerts us to the depth of the woman’s sorrow and her desperate need to receive God’s forgiveness. Both these things illustrate the woman’s great humility and faith in Jesus, and this is the key to our understanding why she received forgiveness while Ahab and Simon did not. Simply put, the woman had the kind of heart the psalmist praises in today’s psalm. Her faith and the needed  humility to acknowledge her desperate need for God’s forgiveness were all it took to receive it, and with it salvation. As we have seen, the term for salvation, sozo, also means healing. This is a powerful reminder that if we want to be ultimately healed, we must first seek and accept God’s great love and forgiveness for our many sins. As the psalmist reminds us, God never despises a humble and contrite heart and we see this powerfully illustrated in today’s story. And as Jesus points out to Simon, the great love that drove her acts was indicative that her many sins had indeed been forgiven. Receiving God’s forgiveness allows us to love and the extent of our love for Jesus and others is the true measure of how forgiven and healed we really are.

All this confronts us as Christians with the need to make fundamental decisions about who Jesus is and our relationship with him. As Luke makes very clear, we cannot remain neutral about Jesus. So to help us decide who Jesus is, we can ask a series of questions that require honest answers. First, do we believe that these stories are true and that they actually happened, i.e., do we believe that Jesus really healed the sick, raised the dead, and offered God’s healing love and forgiveness to those who eagerly and humbly sought it? If we do, we must then decide whether we believe God raised Jesus from the dead and whether he is alive and well and interacting with us through the Spirit and his people. If we believe this, then we must ask why Jesus would not do the same for us today if we seek him out and ask him to forgive us, just like the woman did, albeit through her actions, not words. And if we conclude Jesus is indeed capable of healing us today, why would we not confess him as Lord and give our entire life to him once he does so that he can thoroughly transform us into his likeness?

I raise this issue because it seems to me that many Christians go through life acting like none of this is true! Every one of us, if we are honest with ourselves, knows deep down how burdensome and deadly unforgiven sin can be. It is literally killing us. Likewise, many of us are in need of all kinds of healing but here again we act like there is no effective cure for what ails us. Oh sure, we might go see a doctor or psychologist or family counselor (or worse yet, seek to alleviate our pain through booze or drugs or what have you). But how often do we first and foremost pray to our risen Lord to really forgive and thereby heal us, and expect him to do so? In some cases, we don’t pray because we are too proud. In other cases we don’t pray because we really don’t believe these stories or believe that Jesus is alive and available to us today in the power of the Spirit and through his people. But some of us really don’t believe we are worthy of God’s healing and forgiveness because, well, we think our sins are just too awful or we are convinced that when push comes to shove, God really cannot love someone the likes of us.

Of course this latter excuse flies in the face of consistent biblical witness to the contrary (remember God even forgave Ahab when he repented, even though Ahab was a murderer and unfaithful king of God’s people, who led them to Baal worship as well)! And so for those of us who are in this boat, we are confronted with this fundamental question: Do we really believe the Good News or not? If we do, we cannot help but act like the sinful woman. Tears of remorse will inevitably flow when we bring our filthy rags to our holy Jesus because we know we are not worthy to stand before him. But when we decide that Jesus really is the only way to deal with God and receive his tender love and saving forgiveness, those tears of sorrow will immediately  turn into tears of joy as we accept his tender love and are healed. This healing may be instantaneous or it may take a lifetime. Whatever the timeline, the important thing is that Jesus has the power to heal and no one is beyond help if they truly seek it!

And like the sinful woman who found forgiveness in the Lord who loved her and gave himself for her, just as Paul tells us he knew Jesus in today’s epistle lesson, we too will show the proof of that forgiveness by how well we offer the same love and forgiveness to others that Jesus offers us. This is why it is possible to love the sinner without loving the sin. Jesus abhorred sin but hung around sinners, not to condone their sin but to show them the wonderful healing power of God’s love and forgiveness that always comes when we confess our sins and repent of them, giving our whole life and being to Jesus our great Lord and healing Savior. All this, of course, requires a faith that Jesus has the power and desire to forgive our sins and save and heal us.

So today, as you come to the Table, if you are in need of experiencing Jesus’ healing love in your life, ask him for that and then come in faith and with a joyful heart that your prayer has been granted as you feed on Jesus’ body and blood. After all, being invited to Jesus’ Table is a tangible reminder of the very forgiveness you seek! Then this week, if you know the healing love and power of Jesus in your life, stop and give thanks each day, making sure to share his love with others! But if you are one who is still struggling with the need to be healed or forgiven, then reread today’s gospel lesson and see yourself in the sinful woman’s shoes. As you come with her humbly and reverently to Jesus, weep over his feet with her and acknowledge your unworthiness to come to him. But by all means, don’t stop there! Instead, accept his forgiveness and accompanying healing/salvation, just like she did. Then go and make a difference for Jesus in his world by offering that same healing love to others who, like you, desperately need it. As you do, you will surely know what it means to have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Atheism Has Failed. Only Religion Can Defeat the New Barbarians

Spot on, with a couple of exceptions. See what you think.

I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.

Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.

Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?

Read it all.

Got Power?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2C, June 9, 2013 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 17.8-24; Psalm 146.1-10; Galatians 1.11-24; Luke 7.11-17.

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

Our lessons today, especially the OT and gospel lessons, cut right to the heart of the human condition and how it relates to the gospel. As such, both invite and challenge us. We all know what it is like to be afraid and what it feels like to lose loved ones to death. But do we know the power of the gospel to rescue us from evil and heal us? Do we live as people with real hope and power to transcend all that life sends our way because we know the loving and healing power of Jesus is always available to us? Or do we live merely as impostors and actors who talk a good game about our faith but who really live in fear and powerlessness because we are convinced that when push comes to shove we are left to our own devices to deal with all that life can throw at us? It is these questions I want us to explore briefly this morning.

Our OT lesson is part of the broader narrative that contains last week’s story involving the prophet Elijah, King Ahab of Israel, and the prophets of Baal. Today’s story precedes last week’s but the issues remain the same. Baal worship has infected Israel, compliments of Ahab’s Sidonian wife, Jezebel, and this has aroused God’s jealousy for his people. God therefore sends a drought on Israel to dry up the crops, not because God is some kind of ogre who delights in punishing his people when they screw up, but to demonstrate the impotence of Baal, who was believed to be a god of fertility, and expose him for the real fraud he is. Very much like we saw last week, today’s stories are about a convincing demonstration of power so that folks will recognize who is the real God at work and give their lives to him in faith and obedience.

Now in today’s lesson, we see God sending his prophet directly into enemy territory to the village of Zarephath in Sidon to demonstrate his power there. We are also seeing an early manifestation of God’s ancient promise to Abraham that God would use Abraham’s descendants to bless and heal the nations. This helps us understand why God sent Elijah to bring relief to a Gentile people rather than his own. As the OT makes quite clear, God’s people Israel often forgot they were blessed so they could be a blessing for others. They typically got all selfish about God’s promise and wanted to keep the blessings for themselves. And before we get too uppity and judgmental about this, we must ask ourselves how willing we are to share the blessings of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with others, especially those whom we consider our enemies.

The two stories in our OT lesson are pretty self-explanatory and don’t need much further comment. There are, however, several useful insights about the nature of God and our faith that are worth our time and consideration. The first thing we note is God’s care for the most helpless in his world. In the ancient near east, widows and orphans had no support structure beyond their families and when a husband or parents died, they were dependent on the charity of others. This was especially true for women because women had no inheritance rights, which made them especially ripe for exploitation. But here we see God sending his prophet to a widow, and a Gentile one at that. God’s concern for the most vulnerable is reflected not only in this action but also in the law God gave Moses. The heart of God is compassionate and merciful. God wants all his human creatures to have life and have it abundantly. Do you believe this?

The second thing we note is the role of faith on our part. As we saw in last week’s gospel lesson, the centurion’s faith allowed him to transcend his fears about God so that he didn’t need a God of shock and awe. He simply observed the deeds of power that Jesus performed and responded accordingly. We notice the same interactive dynamic in today’s lesson but in an even more powerful way. The widow had to risk her remaining food by giving it to Elijah. It was as if God were speaking to the woman through his prophet and saying to her, “Take a chance on me, girlfriend. I am the God of life and power, the one whom the psalmist talks about in today’s psalm. I created all things and am sovereign over all things. I love and care for all people, not just my own, and want everyone to experience true life by having a real relationship with me through faith. I brought this drought about and it is I who will sustain you through it. But you have to take a chance. You have to act and obey. You won’t be disappointed if you do.” We don’t know why the widow ultimately consented whether it was out of desperation or a “nothing-to-lose” attitude or something else. But whatever the motive, at a deeper level there was an element of faith involved. And of course God came through; the widow’s means of support never ran out. God intervened in a powerful way to make sure that didn’t happen and as a result, God’s act of power both validated Elijah’s work as a prophet and reinforced the widow’s faith.

But God was not finished demonstrating his power to conquer evil and heal our own brokenness. That came ultimately when God raised the widow’s son through his prophet. We see all the elements in this story that make it historically credible. The widow’s only son, her only remaining means of support, dies unexpectedly and the widow is both highly distraught and angry at Elijah. The prophet had powerfully demonstrated his legitimacy as God’s mouthpiece and a person through whom God worked his mighty power, and so the widow naturally thought that Elijah was responsible for her son’s death by exposing her sins to God. (This is one of the reasons prophets were so feared, cf. 1 Samuel 16.4-5, e.g., where the elders of Bethlehem came out to meet Samuel in fear and trembling). Now the widow angrily confronts Elijah. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me and this is the thanks I get? You’ve killed my only son and eliminated my only remaining means of support so that I am now totally ruined.” We can relate.

Elijah too seems to have been surprised by the son’s death because he echoes the widow’s complaint to God in prayer and God responds by resuscitating her son. The widow gets to see first-hand the wonderful healing power of God actively at work in her life, restoring what evil had destroyed and what sin had torn apart, just like the centurion in last week’s gospel lesson. The author clearly wants us to see that there is nothing too great for God and here is the definitive answer in the God-Baal dispute. Baal can’t even end the drought let alone raise someone from the dead (nor did the worshipers of Baal ever claim that power for him). When will God’s people wise up? In raising the widow’s son, we are reminded in a most dramatic way that God’s power not only overcomes the evil and brokenness that our sin has caused but God can even swallow up the power of death, the ultimate evil. In seeing this demonstration of God’s love and power, the widow’s nascent faith is sealed and she is truly a transformed person. And here we must state very clearly that God did all this for the woman, not because she was somehow more worthy than others who were suffering from the drought, but because God is a gracious and loving God for all, not just some. These acts of power simply demonstrate God’s character and that same character is available to us today as well. The God who loves you enough to become human and suffer and die for you so that you will not have to be separated from him or his healing love and power is a God who can be trusted in any circumstance.

All this gives us a compelling reason to pause and reflect on our own life experiences. What is our response when God calls us to acts of costly obedience, like he did to the widow at Zarephath? What is our response when catastrophe strikes us or our loved ones? The same challenges that existed for the folks in our lesson remain for us today. To whom will we turn? Will we seek the power of false gods and idols like money, sex, power, or booze/drugs for relief and remedy or will we seek the power of God, the God who raises the dead, who calls into existence things that are not, and who can heal our hurts and brokenness, sometimes in spectacular fashion?

We see the same dynamics and God’s power to heal and transform in our other lessons this morning. In our epistle, I only have time to point out that Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus utterly transformed him so that he went from being a proud, self-reliant Jew opposed to Jesus to a totally Jesus-reliant apostle who worked tirelessly and faithfully for his Lord. This kind of transformation simply doesn’t happen based without a real basis for it.

We also see God’s healing power on display in our gospel lesson, but with an interesting twist. Whereas in our OT lesson, God required a display of faith before acting with power in the widow’s life, here there was no faith asked for or demanded. Jesus simply acted out of compassion for the widow. We note again that Jesus acted on behalf of a Gentile woman who had found herself in dire straights economically, just like the widow of Zarephath in our OT lesson. Jesus’ compassion led him to risk ceremonial defilement because Jews taught that touching a dead body would make one ceremonially unclean for a period of time. But instead of defiling himself, Jesus’ touch brought the ultimate healing and restoration to the boy and his mother, just as God had done through Elijah. It is also important to note that the boy was resuscitated, not resurrected. Like Lazarus, whom Jesus also raised, and the widow of Zarephath’s son, the boy would die again one day. But in our Lord’s resurrection, we are given a preview of what is the ultimate destiny for our weak mortal bodies and what resurrection is all about. Those who are in Christ will be raised and given new bodies that are impervious to death, disease, and destruction. We know this is true because we have seen God’s power to heal, restore, and transform in today’s lessons and ultimately in the resurrection of Jesus. Do you believe this? If so, are you acting like you do?

This is my challenge to us this morning. Are we acting like people who have the healing and transformative power of Jesus the crucified and risen Lord? I say we and us because I include myself in this challenge. Perhaps I need to be challenged more than you do. I have just finished Francis MacNutt’s book on healing and the Spirit is using that to stir up my own faith in quite a vigorous manner. Dr. MacNutt, a former Roman Catholic priest, believes (and I wholeheartedly concur) that Christianity is more than a doctrine. It is the power to transform lives and destroy the evil that prevents us from loving God and each other, the kind of power demonstrated explicitly and implicitly in all our lessons this morning and throughout the Bible in general. If we do not treat our faith as such, we turn the Good News into good advice on how to live properly so we can limp along as best we can through life on our own power.

So here are some things to consider this week as you look at your relationship with Jesus. When you pray for healing, do you expect it to occur, especially the big stuff? If you don’t (or you don’t pray at all) what does that say about your faith in the power of Jesus to heal and redeem? If you believe Jesus is alive, and you believe the stories in our lessons, why wouldn’t you immediately go to Jesus in prayer, especially with the seemingly impossible things in your life? Think about it. If you had been a witness that day at Nain, would you doubt that Jesus has the power to heal? So what’s changed? And please. Don’t say these stories happened long ago and things were different back then. Times and cultures may change but God’s power never does.

Likewise, do you come to communion each week expecting to be healed if you need it? After all, what better opportunity for healing to occur than to literally consume Jesus’ body and blood? When you need healing, do you avail yourself of prayer, the laying on of hands, and anointing that we offer on Sunday and at other times? Many Christians are reluctant to partake in this sacrament because they think it is weird or they don’t think it will help or that it will make them appear to be weak to others (how arrogant is that?). But just like the widow of Zarephath, we have to admit we are in over our heads at times and take the plunge of faith. And when I speak of healing, I mean it in the broadest possible sense. We all need healing of different kinds, and not just physical healing, and often repenting of unforgiving behavior is involved. Are you acting as if you know and trust the God who acts with mercy, love, and power in your life?

One way to help you answer this question is to ask the cognate question of whether you are eager to tell folks about your relationship with the risen Jesus and all that he has done and is doing for you in your life. If he has touched you in a way similar to how he touched the folks in our lessons, how could you possibly keep quiet about something so wonderful, especially if you love others? To be certain, prayers are not always answered in the way we ask or hope for. And yes, we still die because God has not yet consummated his rescue plan launched with Abraham and culminated in Jesus. But we are not left to our own devices because we worship the same God that we read about in our lessons today and have his Spirit living in us. When you decide to avail yourself of God’s loving and healing power, you will certainly be met with challenges, not least from the dark powers. But you will also be tapping into the only source that can really heal and transform so that you can be changed by God to make a difference for God. And as that happens you will surely know that you really do possess Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

A Cure for Your Limping

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, June 2, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 18.20-39; Psalm 96.1-13; Galatians 1.1-12; Luke 7.1-10.

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

There are few stories more compelling in the Bible than today’s from 1 Kings and it is worth our careful consideration because it has the same elements in it that make us want to go limping along in our relationship with God in our own day and age. So this morning as we celebrate and give thanks for the institution of holy communion, I want us to look briefly at some of the reasons that make us want to limp along in our relationship with God and what our texts say can be done to correct our limping so that we can reach full stride.

The dynamics of today’s OT lesson are gripping. We have our hero, the prophet Elijah, facing seemingly hopeless odds as he challenges King Ahab and the people of the northern kingdom of Israel over their syncretism (the combining of different religious practices). Elijah’s challenge has to do with fire but the real issue is water, or more precisely, a lack of water. Old King Ahab has married Jezebel, a Sidonian princess who turns out to be a really nasty person, and Jezebel has caused Ahab and many in the northern kingdom of Israel (not to be confused in this instance with the southern kingdom of Judah) to take up Baal worship. This, of course, has aroused God’s anger because God is jealous for his people and demands our complete loyalty. After all, because God loves us, God wants the best for us and worshiping any other god than the one true living God must inevitably diminish and kill us because we have life only in God.

But it is part of the sad legacy of both Israel and Judah (not to mention the Church at times) that they often strayed from obeying the Great Commandment and fell into idolatry, and in this story we have the latest installment of that legacy. Because the Israelites have turned to Baal worship in addition to worshiping God, God has inflicted the land and its wayward people with a severe draught to show his displeasure. Now at the beginning of chapter 18, God sends his lonely prophet to confront God’s wayward king and people by a spectacular demonstration of God’s power. This was no small request on God’s part because apparently Ahab had been wanting to see Elijah for a long time, and not to have a beer with him. As is so typical of humans, instead of looking at his own behavior first, Ahab had accused Elijah of causing all of Israel’s problems and had actually given him the moniker, “Troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18.17). To make matters worse for Elijah, he now confronted not only a hostile king and his people, he also had to confront 850 prophets of Baal. Talk about feeling all alone in a hostile environment!

But of course Elijah wasn’t alone. Yahweh was with him and both had come to challenge the prophets of Baal to a contest of power. Whichever god could rain down fire and consume the two bulls would demonstrate without a doubt who was for real. Elijah’s challenge is quite ironic because Baal was the god of rain and fertility who specialized in sending down fire in the form of lightning. Now here is Elijah challenging this false god’s prophets to a duel that is apparently right up Baal’s alley. Not only that, Elijah lets his adversaries go first. If fire consumed the bulls, Elijah would not get a chance to prove he was the real prophet of the real God.

As the story progresses, it gets almost comical. The false prophets whip themselves up in a frenzy and become panic-stricken over Baal’s apparent absence. And because we are openly (or secretly) rooting for Elijah, we take great delight in seeing him taunt his adversaries and making fun of their impotent god. Yes! Then when it’s Elijah’s turn, we really begin to anticipate what’s going to happen and God doesn’t disappoint. To eliminate any doubt as to whether he is engaging in trickeration or that Yahweh is the one true God, Elijah orders the altar drenched with water before he makes a thank offering to God and calls down God’s fire on it. Of course the response is immediate and dramatic. Everything on the altar is consumed. Everything. Shock and awe at its best, baby, and a demonstration of the terrible power of the Lord God. Elijah and his God are totally vindicated and people see a convincing demonstration of God’s power and truth. The good guy wins after all, even in the face of immense odds against him. Who among us (except the truly bad guys) doesn’t like a story like this?

And of course if we are honest with ourselves, we want our God to be this kind of God, a God whose immense power can be called upon suddenly and dramatically to save his world and rescue us from all our problems. I think this is especially true for Christians living in this country today because there is little doubt that our culture is becoming increasingly godless and hostile toward Jesus and his people. All this makes us understand how Elijah must have felt coming into today’s story and this is a major reason why we can relate to this story. Not only does the good guy win, there is no doubt that God is God and firmly in control of things. We tell ourselves how much easier it would be for us to remain faithful to a God like the God in this story! There would be no doubt that God is in charge and able to protect us from all that is wrong in his good but fallen world. Like the psalmist, we want a God who is bigger than us and who can whack evil and evildoers whenever he wants so that he can put his broken world to rights. This kind of God makes us feel secure. This is a God we can worship and celebrate.

And if we read between the lines in today’s sharp epistle lesson, we see that apparently the Galatians were just like us, and that Paul had to take them to task over it. Dispensing with the usual niceties of praise and thanksgiving for his audience, Paul cuts to the chase and asks them incredulously why they are deserting the gospel of Jesus Christ he had preached to them? You know that gospel, the one of Jesus and him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.18-31). But where’s the shock and awe in that?? While Paul’s gospel surely was about the sovereignty and power of God, it was a power demonstrated in apparent weakness. Whoever heard of a crucified God? How could God possibly defeat sin and evil on the cross as Paul had proclaimed? And if we are really cynical, we remind ourselves that Paul himself was the recipient of a mighty act of power when he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, an event that Paul himself refers to at the end of our lesson! We want to say, “Sure Paul. You’ve seen the risen Lord and have been clearly changed by him. Us? Not so much. Why can’t our interactions with Jesus be more spectacular like yours instead of the mundane most of us experience?”

All this reminds us that we are not the first people who prefer the God who manifested himself in today’s OT lesson over the God who manifested himself as Jesus of Nazareth, and him crucified. The latter takes a whole lot more faith to believe in and trust because the results of the cross are not so dramatic and in-your-face as the God who sends down a consuming fire from heaven. But of course this is how God has chosen to reveal himself to us and Jesus’ atoning death and vindicating resurrection are the ways God has chosen to deal ultimately with evil, sin, and death. Shock and awe, while fantastic and spectacular (provided you are not its target), is temporary at best. Think of how God’s people grumbled in the wilderness after witnessing God delivering them from their slavery in Egypt or his great power manifested at Mt. Horeb. This same dynamic was apparently true even for Elijah, because after this episode he ordered the slaughter of the 850 prophets of Baal so that Jezebel swore to do likewise to him. Shortly thereafter, Elijah fled for his life and became quite discouraged. He wondered why God had abandoned him (cf. 1 Kings 19.1-18). Shock and awe may take our breath away but it tends to not stick with us, in part, because of the human condition that makes us so easily distractible.

So what’s the solution? How can we as Christians living in an increasingly hostile environment in the 21st century walk full stride in our relationship with God so that we do not limp along and become enticed to worship other gods in addition to the God who has made himself known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

We find the answer in the Centurion’s faith reported in today’s gospel lesson. It was a faith that transcends our natural desire to gravitate toward shock and awe demonstrations of power to one that recognized in Jesus the inherent authority to perform spectacular acts of power, but of a different kind. The Centurion clearly had heard of all that Jesus did and on the basis of that testimony, he developed a deep faith, mixed with humility, that led him to believe Jesus could exert is healing power and authority without spatial limitations, i.e., Jesus did not have to be physically present to heal the Centurion’s servant; he could do his acts of power over a distance because he has the authority to do so. This explains Jesus’ astonishment because he had not encountered this kind of faith among the very people God had called to be his own. Instead, here was a Gentile soldier, a goyim, who had the kind of faith that ensured he wouldn’t limp along in his relationship with God. Luke wants us to see that this very fact was itself a preview of the real power of the gospel to win the hearts and minds of all and sundry.

Do you have this kind of faith? If you do, be gracious to others and share with them how you have helped cultivate it. You surely didn’t get this kind of deep faith and the needed accompanying humility overnight because we are all too profoundly broken without God’s help. So what did you have to do to allow God to let your faith bubble up and develop in you (for all faith comes from God and is a free gift to his human creatures)?

If you don’t have this kind of faith, then consider what we can learn from today’s texts. First, our lessons, especially the gospel, suggest that deep faith is never blind. There is always an empirical and/or historical basis to it. Do you know the stories of the Bible well enough that you can recall immediately the demonstrable acts of the love, power, and faithfulness of God manifested in his world, especially through Jesus? If not, it is unlikely that you will ever have a faith that believes in the power of Jesus to work for good in your life, the lives of his people, and in his broken and hurting world without him being physically present. And without that kind of faith you are destined to limp along looking for the next best thing to get you through the day.

And of course given that we are celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi today, we believe that we have the power and presence of Jesus available to us in the sacraments each and every week. In a few minutes I will be doing a brief instructed eucharist with you to help you understand what goes on during the eucharist and why you can have a faith-driven confidence that Jesus really is present in the bread and wine so that he can work in your life in the manner he did with the Centurion. We don’t know if that Centurion ever eventually met Jesus face-to-face. But we do know that his faith invoked the power of Jesus to work dramatically in his life and that same power is available to you by faith in the eucharist as well.

In saying this I run the risk of having you think that if you pray for Jesus’ intervention in your life and your prayers go unanswered, you lack the necessary faith. That would take a whole separate sermon to address. So the short answer here is don’t fall into that trap. When Jesus’ power breaks out in your life it is always because of your faith. The opposite, however, is not true. No action on Jesus’ part does not translate into little or no faith on yours. And if you don’t believe me, ask Job (and countless other saints whose faith was lively and powerful)!

Last, if we are going to have the faith that keeps us in full stride, we have to know how to look for signs of Jesus’ authority and power in his world today. God’s love and power was poured out on the cross for us. It was embodied in Jesus’ mighty resurrection so that new life sprang out of hopelessness, death, and despair. Do you see signs of resurrection and crucified love in your own life and the lives of others? For example, have you witnessed, or can you recall acts of Jesus’ power in your own life where healing occurred or forgiveness was offered or reconciliation achieved against all odds? Have you stopped to consider how the fruit of the Spirit has manifested itself in your life and the lives of others? Any of these signs is a tangible reminder that Jesus’ authority and power is the real basis for their existence. That is why it is so critical to be in fellowship with each other because we are the body of Christ and his Spirit lives in us, individually and collectively. We can therefore serve as witnesses to encourage each other.

There’s plenty more to be said but you get the idea. So this week look carefully at your faith, preferably with a trusted Christian friend or spouse, and see if it’s causing you to limp along or hit your stride. This is a work in progress but we all have to start somewhere. So start doing the things the Centurion did to help God grow your faith. Faith is God’s gift. But as with any of God’s gifts, we have to put in our sweat equity and be diligent and patient. As you do your part to develop the Centurion’s faith, you will surely learn to see more clearly Jesus’ power and authority in your life and his world, even in his physical absence. That’s because he is our Risen and Ascended Savior, the Lord of all creation. When by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit you really come to believe this, you won’t need shock and awe from God nor will you be limping anymore because you know that you have Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

Columbus Dispatch: Forge Good from Chardon Tragedy, Kasich Urges Graduates

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m really, really glad we have a Governor like this. Really glad.

john-kasich-portraitGov. John Kasich told the graduating class of 2013 at Chardon High School that their community “is stronger today because of what you have been through.”

“You carry a little piece of all of this, the high and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, and set yourself free,” Kasich said in his commencement address to 273 seniors who suffered an unspeakable tragedy last year when three of their classmates were gunned down at school. Today’s graduation was held at the Mentor Fine Arts Center.

“Find those gifts, use them, join with others, and heal the world,” Kasich said.

On Feb. 27, 2012, classmates Daniel Parmertor, Russell King Jr. and Demetrius Hewlin died in a shooting in the Chardon High cafeteria. The three were remembered throughout today’s ceremony, and three vases, each containing a rose, were placed on the same stage where their classmates walked to accept diplomas.

“Today is bittersweet because if we ignored what we saw and what we experienced and what will inevitably shape us …” Kasich said before mentioning the three vases.

Kasich then recalled a brief conversation he had earlier today with Nick Walczak, a graduating senior who was paralyzed in the shooting.

“I never knew that I could be so strong, governor,” Kasich said Walczak told him.

Read it all.