By Whose Authority Do We Work Out Our Salvation?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15A, Sunday, September 28, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 78.1-4 12-16; Philippians 2.1-13; Matthew 21.23-32.

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

Right after worship we will meet to hear next year’s budget proposal. But what does that have to do with our lessons this morning? It is this question that I want us to look at briefly this morning.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus is confronted by the Temple authorities, who demand that Jesus explain the basis for his recent deeds, clearing the Temple being the thing that was most likely on their minds because this was one of the things the Messiah would do when he appeared. Jesus responded by asking if John’s ministry got its authority from heaven (from God) or from humans (was his ministry simply self-proclaimed)? Far from being a cryptic response, if we listen carefully, we see Jesus brilliantly answering his opponents’ question. Think it through. What happened when John baptized Jesus? As Jesus came out of the waters, the Spirit rested on him and he heard a voice from heaven affirming that he was indeed God’s beloved Son or Messiah. So in posing the counter question to the authorities, Jesus was effectively telling them that he was indeed God’s promised Messiah who would liberate his people from their oppression. But his opponents unsurprisingly did not have ears to hear.

And in the following parable Jesus told them, our Lord was telling the authorities that they were like the son who told his father he would obey his commands but then didn’t. But here too if we scratch below the surface, we see Jesus offering them a chance to change their minds and get with the program by following him. But of course his opponents never did. Yet the point is that even here Jesus is offering his enemies a chance at new life and a fresh, revitalized relationship with God by putting their hope and trust in Jesus and following him. Just so with us.

Paul also affirms the authority of Jesus as God’s Messiah in our epistle lesson this morning. But Paul takes his confession dramatically further by declaring that not only is Jesus God’s Messiah but that Jesus is Lord and one day every knee shall bend at his name and every tongue confess him as such. And according to Paul, by what authority is Jesus Lord? It is the authority derived from the humility of Jesus in which he refused to exploit his equality with God, instead dying for the sake of the world, for your sake and mine, so that we might be reconciled to God and have our relationship with God restored in a way that God always intended. And in doing so we find forgiveness and release from our slavery to sin and death, thanks be to God! We did not deserve this pardon and forgiveness but it is ours for the taking if we are willing to put our whole hope and trust in Jesus and to follow the path that he took—that is to deny ourselves and take up our cross as we follow him in his healing and redemptive work.

Paul then makes a rather strange statement. He tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. What did he mean by that? Paul is not being blatantly self-contradictory as some have asserted because he is not suggesting that we have to earn our salvation by doing some specified number of good works. No, Paul is telling us to work out the implications of our salvation. If we really believe that our sins have been forgiven by the blood of the Lamb shed for us so that we have new life and hope right now, it cannot help but change us profoundly. Not all at once, of course, but over our lifetime because each new day brings new opportunities to love and serve the Lord in grateful response for the gift of salvation and healing he has given us in Jesus. And of course we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us to be the people of God who imitate our Lord Jesus in the way we live. So what does that look like? Whatever it looks like, Paul is telling us here to think it through and then get to work because what we do as Christians matters.

One of the ways our salvation manifests itself is in how we treat each other as members of Jesus’ body, the Church. We are to display the same humility toward each other that Jesus displayed when he voluntarily went to the cross to bear our sins for us. Paul is not so much telling us that we have to abuse ourselves psychologically when it comes to seeing ourselves in relationship with other Christians. Instead the Greek Paul uses suggests that he is telling us that since we are called to live life together, we should develop a habit of letting our fellow Christians in line ahead of us. This of course requires great humility on our part, not unlike when we let someone pull into traffic ahead of us. In allowing them to cut in front of us we are effectively saying to them and to ourselves that our needs and schedule are not more important than theirs. Think what this kind of attitude can do for the unity and mutual affection of a local parish like ours and I am thankful that most of us have this very attitude toward each other!

Another way we work out our salvation and declare that Jesus is Lord is by offering him thanks and praise in gratitude for rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transferring us to God’s kingdom of light. Accordingly, we offer our time, our talents, and our very lives in humble, obedient service to the Lord so that he can use us to proclaim boldly his gospel and help build on the foundations of the kingdom that he established in his death and resurrection. And yes, this includes offering our money to the Lord because we believe that all things belong to him.

Right after worship, we are going to present a budget to you that will allow us to rent a building that we can call our own. For us to be able to do so is going to require a significant increase in our giving. But we miss the point if we focus on the building and the budget it will require because the building is only a means to a greater end, which is to be changed by God to make a difference for God. Having our own building will allow us to have our own dedicated worship space, which is important because worship is something we as Christians are called to do. Among other things, we worship God because he is our Creator, Redeemer, and giver of life. He is therefore worthy of our worship and praise. Having our own building will also allow us to have a base of operations in which we do our various ministries to make a difference for God. In addition, it will allow us to do things we need to do as Christians to be changed by God, things we cannot currently do in this space, like offering daily prayer and fellowship opportunities.

I don’t have time to outline everything we could do if we have our own building. In fact, I’m sure we haven’t even begun to think about all the ways we might use our own space to be changed by God to make a difference for God. But the point is this. Having our own building is one of the ways we work out our salvation because it is an extension of who we are. The Church of course is more than a building. It is the family of God the Father. We are given life by Jesus our head and powered by his Holy Spirit. And like all families, we need a place where we can come together to be Jesus’ people and to extend his love out into our community. But it will only become a reality if you are willing to commit the needed resources to make it happen.

Think on these things this week as you consider your pledge for next year’s operating budget. Remember to think about your giving in the context of working out your salvation, not that you must give to be saved, but that you are willing to give because you have been given an inestimable gift from the God who loves you and has claimed you from all eternity. And yes, folks, that means you have Good News, now and for all eternity. Will you let our Lord know that you really believe this by giving generously to help us advance his kingdom? I pray you will. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

From the Pen of Lancelot Andrewes

I have selected two short excerpts from his Personal Devotions. The first is an excerpt from an intercessory prayer he wrote and the second is an excerpt from evening prayers. Don’t get hung up on the historical situations of the intercessory prayer. Instead, look for the intent behind the language and use them to pray, for example, for folks in the finance industry or IT industries. Enjoy and be edified by them.


Grant to our population to be subject unto the higher powers,
not only for wrath, but also for conscience-sake.
Grant to farmers and graziers good seasons;
to the fleet and fishers fair weather;
to tradesmen, not to overreach one another;
to mechanics, to pursue their business lawfully,
down to the meanest workman,
down to the poor.
O God, not of us only but of our seed,
bless our children among us,
to advance in wisdom as in stature,
and in favor with thee and with humans.

I commend to thee, O Lord,
my soul, and my body,
my mind, and my thoughts,
my prayers, and my vows,
my senses, and my limbs,
my words, and my works,
my life, and my death;
my brothers, and my sisters,
and all their children;
my friends, my benefactors, my well wishers,
those who have a claim on me;
my kindred, and my neighbors,
my country, and all Christendom.
I commend to thee, Lord,
my impulses, and my startings,
my intentions, and my attempts,
my going out, and my coming in,
my sitting down, and my rising up.


An Evening Prayer

The day is gone, and I give thee thanks, O Lord.
Evening is at hand, make it bright unto us.
As day has its evening so also has life;
the even of life is age,
age has overtaken me, make it bright unto us.
Cast me not away in time of age;
forsake me not when my strength fails me.
Abide with me, Lord,
for it is toward evening,
and the day is far spent of this fretful life.
Let your strength be made perfect in my weakness.


More From Lancelot Andrewes

Here is another excerpt from Lancelot Andrewes’ major work, Private Devotions. Enjoy and meditate on his writing below.

A Profession of Faith

Godhead, paternal love, power,
salvation, anointing, adoption,
conception, birth, passion,
cross, death, burial,
descent, resurrection, ascent,
sitting, return, judgment;
Breath and Holiness,
calling from the Universal,
hallowing in the Universal,
communion of saints, and of saintly things,
life eternal.


Lancelot Andrewes

In celebration of Lancelot Andrewes’ feast day today, I quote from Richard Schmidt’s book, Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality.

Andrewes’  life, theology, sermons, and devotions all reveal balance, order, and planning. Andrewes was catholic. He believed in “One canon [the Bible] reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period–the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.” That has been the norm for Anglican theologizing ever since. Andrewes’ chief legacy, however, is his Private Devotions. The heart of the Devotions [from which all excerpts will come this week] is a set of seven exercises, one for each day of the week. The themes follow the six days of Creation. All seven daily devotions are structured identically, with six sections…These are, clearly, the prayers of a man who prayed regularly and methodically. pp.36-37

I find in Andrewes writing a sense of beauty and wonder toward God, and a deep spirituality and humility. I hope you will find his writings to be likewise and edifying for you.

Teach me to do the thing that pleases thee, for you are my God;Let your loving Spirit lead me into the land of righteousness. Quicken me, O Lord, for your name’s sake, and for your righteousness sake bring my soul out of trouble; remove from me foolish imaginations, inspire those which are good and pleasing in your sight. Turn away my eyes lest they behold vanity; let my eyes look right on, and let my eyelids look straight before me. Hedge up my ears with thorns lest they incline to undisciplined words. Give me early the ear to hear, and open my ears to the instruction of your oracles. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips. Let my word be seasoned with salt, that it may minister grace to the hearers.


Lancelot Andrewes: A Prayer for Grace (2)

Here is another excerpt from Lancelot Andrewes’ book, Private Devotions.

Two things have I required of you, O Lord,
deny me not before I die;
remove far from me vanity and lies;
give me neither poverty or riches,
feed me with food convenient for me;
lest I be full and deny you and say, who is the Lord?
Or lest I be poor and steal,
and take the name of my God in vain.
Let me learn to abound, let me learn to suffer need,
in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
For nothing earthly, temporal, mortal, to long nor to wait.
Grant me a happy life, in piety, gravity, purity,
in cheerfulness, in health, in credit,
in competency, in safety, in gentle estate, in quiet;
a happy death,
a deathless happiness.


Lancelot Andrewes: A Prayer for Grace (1)

Let me learn to abound, let me learn to suffer need,
in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
For nothing earthly, temporal, mortal, to long nor to wait.
Grant me a happy life, in piety, gravity, purity,
in all things good and fair,
in cheerfulness, in health, in credit,
in competency, in safety, in gentle estate, in quiet;
a happy death,
a deathless happiness.

May thy strong hand, O Lord, be ever my defense;
thy mercy in Christ, my salvation;
thy all-veritable word, my instructor;
the grace of thy life-bringing Spirit, my consolation
all along, and at last.


Another Prayer for the Feast Day of Lancelot Andrewes

O Lord and Father, our King and God, by whose grace the Church was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of your servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love you, our minds serve you, and our lips proclaim the greatness of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Lancelot Andrewes, Anglican Bishop and Divine

Andrewes is one of my favorite Anglicans.

Lord God,
who gave to Lancelot Andrewes many gifts of your Holy Spirit,
making him a man of prayer and a pastor of your people:
perfect in us that which is lacking in your gifts,
of faith, to increase it,
of hope, to establish it,
of love, to kindle it,
that we may live in the light of your grace and glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

From here.

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), Bishop of Winchester, was on the committee of scholars that produced the King James Translation of the Bible, and probably contributed more to that work than any other single person. It is accordingly no surprise to find him not only a devout writer but a learned and eloquent one, a master of English prose, and learned in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and eighteen other languages. His sermons were popular in his own day, but are perhaps too academic for most modern readers. He prepared for his own use a manuscript notebook of Private Prayers, which was published after his death. The material was apparently intended, not to be read aloud, but to serve as a guide and stimulus to devout meditation.

Getting Your Mind Right for Wilderness Wandering

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14A, Sunday, September 21, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 16.2-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1.21-30; Matthew 20.1-16.

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

How many of you, when you became a Christian or when you first started to consider what being a Christian is all about, expected to receive some kind of benefit or reward for being one? I’m not talking about the reward of eternal life promised to those of us who are in Christ. I’m talking about an expectation that being a Christian would somehow make life go better or easier for you. Many of us do have that expectation, but as our readings this morning indicate, we may have to tweak those expectations, at least as they pertain to being rewarded in this world for being a Christian, and that is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

In recent weeks our OT lessons have focused on God’s mighty deliverance of his people from their slavery in Egypt. Recall the great signs and wonders God performed in Egypt on behalf of his people, signs and wonders that culminated in the Passover and God’s dramatic rescue of his enslaved people through the Red Sea. As the psalmist rejoiced in our psalm reading, God brought his people out of Egypt with gold and silver, sure signs that God had plundered Israel’s former captors. We could almost sense the eager anticipation of the Israelites as they watched the Lord destroy their pursuers. After all, God had promised them a land filled with milk and honey. Life was going to be just fine, thank you very much.

And now in today’s OT lesson, we see the reality of their freedom finally starting to sink in for God’s people Israel and they are not too wild about it. Moses’ travel brochures apparently hadn’t mentioned a thing about having to wander through the wilderness before arriving in the promised land. And so the Israelites did exactly what most of us would do as red-blooded 21st century Americans. They started to grumble to and about their God. “You never told us we would have to spend time wandering around in the desert without food or water! Not fair!”

And as they grumbled, the strangest thing happened. God’s people started to look back on their days of enslavement and captivity with longing as if Egypt were some kind of exotic resort! Oh that we were slaves again in Egypt! At least we had enough food to eat and water to drink! Say what? Israel was learning an unhappy lesson about putting its faith in God. Being rescued from slavery and captivity does not necessarily mean that all difficulty evaporates. God did indeed rescue his people from their slavery, but even then his people still had to live in a broken world just like we do. Indeed, as Tom Wright observes, wandering in the wilderness is a regular NT metaphor for the life of the Christian family between Easter and God’s final victory. Like Israel, even though we have been rescued from sin and death in and through the cross of Jesus, we too must live in a world still badly corrupted. God’s rescue of us from our slavery does not make us immune to all that can go wrong in God’s world. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t because Scripture reminds us again and again that God never promised us a rose garden, despite the claims made by some today that God wants us to be prosperous and happy. That may be true, but it fails to address the fact that we all must live in a badly broken world where things often do not go as God wants or desires.

Instead, as our lessons remind us, the path to the promised land, whether it be Israel or the new creation, leads through the desert, whether literally as in the case of our OT lesson or metaphorically as in our case as Christians who must navigate through an often dangerous and hostile world. But this is exactly what we do not want! I suspect that deep down most of us who claim to submit to God’s rule or kingdom would like to live in a world not unlike some kind of Magic Kingdom where nothing ever goes wrong and there is nary a hint of ugliness or sadness or brokenness or violence. But life is not that way, even for those of us who live faithfully to Christ. Instead, as we walk with him, there can still be a wilderness of depression or the scorching heat of cancer to afflict us, among other things.

But we are bearers of Good News, not purveyors of doom and gloom. We must therefore pay careful attention to what our lessons are telling us and as usual, think through the implications of these stories so that we are equipped to live our time in the wilderness with courage, joy, and hope so that we too can proclaim the gospel boldly. As our OT lesson reminds us, God’s people looked at their hard times in the wilderness and found God. They saw the glory of the Lord as he appeared to them in a cloud. On one level this should not have surprised the Israelites. After all, God had been with them during their slavery in Egypt and had rescued them from that slavery in a very dramatic fashion. So why would God abandon them now? But this was their first time in the wilderness and as we all know, the things of this world can overwhelm us, and pretty rapidly too. And so they cried out and grumbled against God just like we do.

But notice God’s response. He did not get angry with them (at least this time). His glory appeared to his people so that they knew without a doubt that God was there with them in the wilderness to lead and guide and protect them, i.e., to be true to his word to deliver them to the land he promised to give Abraham hundreds of years earlier. God also gave them manna, the bread of angels (Psalm 78.25), to satisfy their basic needs. Manna means literally, “What is it?”, which indicates the highly unusual nature of this food that was God’s gift to his people. (My beloved regularly puts manna on our table, although I suspect this is not the same thing that the writer of Exodus was talking about, but that is a different topic for a different day.).

As we think through the implications of this story, surely one of the things it is telling us is to adjust our expectations for living in the wilderness (a world ravaged by sin and evil) so that we can see God’s presence with us clearly and take full advantage of it by drawing our strength from him. Our OT lesson powerfully reminds us that life after salvation, whether it be from Egypt or our own sin, is still going to have its share of hardships and heartaches. But the difference is that we do not have to face them alone. The glory of God is here among us in the person and presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us so that we learn to develop a profound hope that will carry us through all the trials and tribulations of life. The hope I am talking about is not the simple or naive hope that our faith guarantees us smooth sailing or a pie-in-the-sky optimism that asserts things will get better quickly. Neither is it a hope derived from a health and wealth theology that asserts successful living is the result of a robust faith. Instead, it is a hope that is at once realistic and deep: that God is with us, even (or especially) in places of danger and death.

Sadly, most of God’s people who wandered in the wilderness did not seem to learn this lesson because later on they continued to grumble against God. Despite God’s continued visible presence among them and the fact that God continued to provide for the material needs of his people, they still grumbled against him and still wanted to return to their former slavery. God eventually punished his people for their unbelief, not because God is an ogre who desires to spank us every time we misbehave, but because the people’s grumbling in effect called God a liar in terms of his ability to rescue them from their slavery and make good on his promise to deliver them to their desired destination. Instead of embracing God’s promises and learning to develop a real hope that was based on God’s presence and ability to deliver his people from both their slavery and the dangers of the wilderness in which they wandered, God’s people rebelled and focused on temporary things like food and water that would inevitably disappoint. How then could they be God’s people who were called to bring his blessings to a hurting world?

And many of us do the same thing today in our wilderness wanderings. We don’t grumble about food and water because none of us here lack those basic provisions. But neither do we focus on developing our relationship with God to help us weather the storms of life. Instead as we wander through the wilderness of our lives we tend to dismiss God as being absent or not caring about us. We consequently put our hope and trust in things that must ultimately fail us: money, health, power, sex, security, fame, privilege, et al. But when these things are taken away from us we panic or become afraid or rage against God, just like the Israelites did in the wilderness.

But notice what happens if we learn the lesson from our story from Exodus. As the things that we desire and put our hope and trust in are stripped away in the wilderness of life, we have the opportunity to learn to put our hope and trust in God who is eternal and who cannot be taken away from us under any circumstance, not even in death. God is the one and only constant we have in this world and only God has the strength, wisdom, and grace to help us navigate through our own deserts, no matter how terrible they are. That’s part of the point of Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel lesson.

This is the secret of Paul’s hope and joy that comes through so clearly in our epistle lesson. Remember that Paul wrote this letter while in prison, probably in Rome. But even in that awful condition he had praised God that his imprisonment would help him spread the gospel because it gave him a chance to witness to his captors, a chance Paul otherwise would not have had (Philippians 1.12ff). And let’s make sure as we read what Paul says here about suffering and his almost cheerful manner in regard to it, that we read 2 Corinthians 1.8-11 along with it. There Paul tells us that he suffered so badly he despaired of even life itself! Reading both passages will remind us that in suffering, our belief that Jesus is Lord, i.e., that Jesus is with us in all circumstances, especially those in which we suffer, may or may not correspond to our feelings about our suffering. Learning to distinguish the difference between the two is a sure sign that we are becoming mature Christians.

So what should we take from our lessons today? We are first and foremost reminded that God is always present with us, especially in our suffering, and has the capacity to really help us so that we have the basis to develop a real hope that will sustain us. As Christians, we do not believe God is with us in the pillars of cloud and fire but in the presence of his Holy Spirit who lives in us individually and together. As Paul reminds us, we are to stand firm in the Spirit and strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel. In other words, we are to encourage each other to remain true to our hope of being rescued from evil, sin, and death in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus so that when we are required to wander in the wilderness, we do not develop unChristian or even anti-Christian thoughts and beliefs. And if you don’t think this can happen, consider how many denominations have abandoned a saving theology of the cross and a belief in bodily resurrection and the new creation, and how this has ruined them as a result. Without a firm belief in the saving work of Jesus on the cross that has rescued us from our sins and allowed us to be reconciled to God the Father, without a firm belief in our hope and future of living as resurrection people in God’s new creation with all of its hope and promise, and without the firm belief that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in his people to shape and guide us, we will quickly lose hope just like God’s people did as they wandered through the wilderness.

So as we think about the implications of Jesus’ saving death on the cross and how without it God would have to destroy us if he were to destroy evil entirely, we are reminded that our grumbling about God being indifferent to our suffering is without basis. A God who acts on our behalf like that and who suffers more than we ever could to rescue us from sin and death is hardly indifferent to our needs and suffering. And as we think about God with us in the power of the Spirit and the fellowship of his people, we are reminded that our grumbling about God being an absent God is also without basis. God often uses human agency to minister to us in our suffering if we have the faith to see it. Without this knowledge and faith, we will never see or experience the radical and deep love God has for each of us and how he can use our suffering to draw us closer to him, and for our good, as we wander through the wilderness of life.

But when we do have the knowledge and faith to see the glory of God in our midst, we are equipped to see life in this world for what it is: a mixture of joy and sorrow, life and death, peace and suffering, brokenness and healing. We will also realize that the God whom we worship is bigger than all our hurts and is actively inviting us to give ourselves to him so that he can show us he has the character and the ability to rescue us from all that besets us. When by the grace of God we are able to rejoice even in our suffering because we understand that this is one of the primary ways God draws us to him, we will have the needed power and perspective to help us navigate safely through the wilderness of this life. And we will also know we have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

How to be the Church with so Many Broken Vessels

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13A, Sunday, September 14, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 14.19-31; Psalm 114.1-8; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35.

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

Last week we looked briefly at Jesus’ model for handling conflict within the Church and imposing discipline when necessary. It’s not for the faint of heart because it requires that we confront each other when we offend each other. That’s hard because we would much rather talk about the offender behind his/her back instead of dealing with the problem at hand. But confront the offender we must, as much for his sake as ours. Jesus also told us what to do in the case of an unrepentant offender. Cast the person out in the hope that he repents. But what do we do with a repentant offender? Jesus tells us what to do about that person too. Forgive him. Now in today’s lesson Peter asks our Lord about how often we should forgive one who offends us. After all, if we keep forgiving those who offend us, don’t we open up the door for continued offenses and/or abuse? Jesus’ answer to Peter is shocking to say the least and this is what I want us to look at this morning because in his answer, his body, the Church is defined.

At first blush, Jesus’ answer to Peter is pretty straightforward. He tells Peter and us that we can’t just forgive a limited number of times. There’s no limit to how often we must forgive! But if we listen carefully to the parable Jesus told Peter right after he said that, we, like Peter, will discover that Jesus’ answer is not at all about bean-counting, about how many times we must forgive someone who wrongs us. Instead, the parable makes us look at who and what we are. It shifts us from the safe and comfortable position as outsider and judge who must decide whether to forgive the offender to the very uncomfortable and vulnerable position of being the one who is judged, but who has received mercy beyond all possible deserving.

The parable itself is straightforward enough. One of the king’s slaves has amassed an enormous debt, owing his king over 10,000 talents. In Jesus’ day, a talent was worth about 6000 denarii and a laborer was paid a denarius a day. So to earn 10,000 talents a person would have had to work 60,000,000 days or approximately 193,000 years. Since this is even longer than most of my sermons it is safe to say that the picture Jesus wants us to see is a man who cannot possibly repay his debt to the king. For the slave to plead for the king to be patient and give him time to pay off his debt exemplifies the unrealistic thinking that often accompanies desperation. Simply put, without the king’s mercy, this slave was toast.

Thankfully for the slave, he did receive mercy from the king because the king forgave his  entire debt (Lord’s Prayer anyone?) unconditionally. But then Jesus shows us the breathtaking hardness of the human heart that prevents us from seeing that the needs, motives, and circumstances of others are fundamentally like our own. Instead, we tend to see ourselves as being different and superior to others and our own needs and circumstances as being somehow fundamentally more deserving than those of others so that we needn’t be merciful to them.

We see this illustrated in the parable when this slave who had his impossible debt forgiven turned around and refused to forgive a fellow slave who owed him money. Unlike the debt of 10,000 talents, this second slave only owed the first slave 100 denarii, or about four months work for a laborer, a debt that was easily manageable. But the first slave with the impossible debt to repay refused to forgive his fellow slave who owed him a much smaller debt and here we see the the fundamental ugliness of the human condition in all its awful glory.

When the king caught wind of the whole sordid affair, retribution was swift and terrible for the wicked slave, and it takes our breath away when we stop and think that Jesus himself was  suggesting there is everlasting torment for those who fail to forgive. The slave was handed over to be tortured until he paid his entire debt, i.e., for an eternity, because the debt was impossible to repay. As we look at this story and start to apply it to ourselves, we cannot help but become increasingly uncomfortable because all of us at one time or another have been the unforgiving slave. And this is the point of the parable. Jesus doesn’t want us to focus on forgiveness as something to be dispensed on demand. Seeing forgiveness like that essentially puts us in the position of being a judge over others while ignoring the fact that we need to forgive the smaller sins of others against us because God has forgiven the impossibly high debt of our own sins. The God who rescued his people from the evil and darkness of their slavery in Egypt in our OT lesson this morning is the same God who has rescued us from the evil and darkness of our slavery to sin by judging and condemning it (instead of us) on the cross of Jesus. So when we refuse to forgive others for the wrongs they do, like the wicked slave in Jesus’ parable, we are effectively bringing judgment on ourselves because no one is sinless and all desperately need the forgiveness of God if we wish to live in his presence. Those who don’t believe in the seriousness of sin will scoff at this. But if we believe Jesus is the embodiment of God and therefore authorized to speak for God, we’d best pay attention to what he’s telling us here in this parable.

It is only when we truly understand the enormity of our own sins in the eyes of God and how costly it was for him to forgive us on the cross that we will learn to develop the needed humility and wisdom to forgive others because we realize what a massive gift we have been given. This also helps us abandon all our delusional thinking that we can somehow earn favor in God’s eyes by how we act. To be sure, we are called to act in ways that are pleasing to God. But this is fundamentally different than trying to earn God’s forgiveness for the impossible debt of our sins.

Like the wicked slave, none of us deserve the King’s unconditional pardon. But it is ours by the grace of God if we have eyes to see and hearts and minds open to his Spirit so that we accept the gift offered us. This is why a rock-solid theology of the cross is so critical for our lives as Christians. If we do not understand the seriousness of our sins in God’s eyes and that we’ve been relieved of an impossible debt and burden, we will likely remain hard-hearted and unforgiving, not to mention guilt-ridden and anxious if we care at all about our relationship with God.

And this is where we turn to Paul in our epistle lesson because if you have followed this line of thinking, you will immediately recognize why Paul says what he does. Whenever we are dealing with things adiaphora, with things that are not essential to the faith, we are guilty of putting ourselves in unjust judgment over our brothers and sisters in Christ when we look down our noses at their beliefs and practices with which we do not agree. Paul is adamant that things must be different because our very existence is intricately and forever tied to the Lord because of what he has done to rescue us from evil, sin, and death. Only in God do we find life because only God is our Creator. We die because we have sinned. But we as Christians live because we believe that in Jesus God has overcome sin and death and promised us a new creation that will be free of evil, sin, and death. God has rescued us so that we can work toward building the kingdom on earth as in heaven, a kingdom whose foundation is established on the saving death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus, unbelievable and incomprehensible as that seems to us at times. But this is the same God who has always acted in unbelievable ways to rescue us from evil and death. Just ask the Israelites as they faced the Red Sea on one side of them and an impossibly strong enemy on the other. Or just ask the apostles after Easter.

And so Paul would have us act toward each other as people who are yoked to Christ and grateful in their knowledge that our impossibly high debt has been forgiven so that we in turn treat each other in a similar manner. This is the secret of being part of Christ’s Church with all of its broken vessels because we realize that we are one of those vessels, and so we learn to cut each other a lot of slack in non-essential things. And let’s be clear about this. Paul is talking about non-essential things like diet and other habits, not essentials of the faith. Think for example how he exhorted the Corinthian church to expel the man who was having sex with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5.1-5). There was no live-and-let-live attitude there because sexual fidelity is not open for debate. But even then, Paul’s hope was that in punishing the offender, the offender would be brought to repentance so that he could be restored to the community of saints in Corinth and therefore to his relationship with Jesus who is Lord of both the living and the dead.

And think how radically different this lifestyle is from the world’s. How we treat each other within the Church is a powerful witness of our love of Jesus and the power of his Spirit working in us. Take, for example, Ray Rice, and the firestorm surrounding his actions. There are voices out there clamoring for his head with no hope of forgiveness and/or restoration. Nobody can condone the violence he committed. But shine the light of Jesus’ parable on this sad story. What if Rice were to repent? The world would still say to hell with him, there is no forgiveness for the evil he perpetrated against his then fiancee. And Rice did indeed perpetrate evil. But our Lord would remind us that those who are clamoring loudest for his condemnation with no hope of mercy are forgetting that they have an even greater basis for condemnation in God’s eyes because no one is sinless and they are unwilling to extend his love to others. And lest we get all self-righteous and say of Rice’s enemies that we are better than they are because we would forgive Rice if he repents, let us remember that we would be acting just like the wicked slave.

Or consider this radical act of forgiveness that was posted on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog:

Over 100 [Boko Haram] militants dressed in military uniforms swarmed the predominantly Christian village just as Sunday church services were beginning on June 1….After decimating the village and sending residents fleeing, Boko Haram returned two days later in a second series of attacks on several other villages in the Gwoza district. The back to back attacks left an estimated 200 people, including small children, dead. John Yakubu and his family were among those who fled across the border into neighboring Cameroon.

With his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belong-ings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a [Voice of the Martyrs]  worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.” Please do read the whole blog post.

Cranmer remarks, “The words are liberating; they tell of an appalling horror over which love triumphs.” This is the kind of radical forgiveness Christ demands of us because this the kind of radical forgiveness extended to us on the cross. This is also how Christ uses us to help bring in the kingdom on earth as in heaven. It would be easy to react to this kind of hatred and violence by responding in kind. And in doing so the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence will continue unabated. But when we are willing to forgive even the most vile acts as John did, we are making a statement that we believe there is a better way of doing things than the ways of the world. Of course, our belief in a sovereign God is an essential part of offering forgiveness because we never know how God will use the forgiveness we offer others to change hearts and the world, even the hearts of our most vicious enemies. And Scripture is adamant that God does do exactly that, even when it is not obvious to us. Are you capable of this kind of forgiveness?

As we have seen, this forgiveness business is hard work and I have only touched briefly on what real forgiveness entails. Given the hardness of our hearts and the extremely difficult nature of the acts of forgiving and accepting forgiveness, we certainly cannot do any of it on our own. But fear not. We do not have to learn to love and forgive on our own because we believe we have God’s Holy Spirit living in us to transform us to become like our crucified Lord so that we can learn to forgive and accept forgiveness. Who or what are you struggling with in terms of forgiveness? Whatever it is, bring it to God in prayer and come to our intercessions station to seek Christ’s power to heal and transform you so that you can forgive. To help you with this, consider that you have had the terrible burden of your own sins forgiven by Jesus the Son so that you are now fully reconciled to God the Father in the power of the Spirit. Give thanks for that because you know you have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Ron Feister: Following Directions

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, September 7, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149.1-9; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20.

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

I must admit that I struggled long and hard to see how these readings that we have heard today are related to one another. It slowly came to me that they all deal with some type or aspect of God’s giving directions. Now there are all kinds of ways that we are familiar with in which we deal everyday with directions. To reflect on just a few. There are of course those that come in the form of Laws. Travel 35 miles per hour. Slow down in school zones. Pay your get the picture. For God’s people we have a set of directions that fall within this category – we call them the 10 Commandments. Have no false gods, do not steal, honor you parents, do not covet. We are all familiar with these and the Church periodically reminds us should we happen to forget.

There are travel directions. Today many of us have GPS devices that talk to us giving specific directions when to turn or even change lanes. My particular GPS also has a feature that should I miss a turn or chose a different route will complain that I need to turn around and take the right course. Before GPS devices were so common and in some case where we choose to drive without them, it is said that some people, mostly men I am told, have a tendency to resist taking directions from others or to charge even when we are not sure of the direction that we should go.

We today have the Bible as a set of directions to help us travel though this life. Like following the directions of a map, it does require that we spend some time with it and that we become familiar with some of the tools that make the Scriptural map easier to understand. Unlike my GPS, it will not speak out loud to you if you chose not to follow the right direction, but if you open your heart you will still find it speaking to you and leading you back in the right direction.

As most of you know, I enjoy baking, which of necessity requires that you at least start with a recipe. A specific list of ingredients and at some order of their combining and baking. I must admit that there is probably not a recipe that I have used that I have not from time to time modified. Sometime with great success and sometimes, let us say, not such a great success. Recipes are also a form of direction which also tend to expand and change. A simple bread dough becomes a marvelous dessert roll. But both simple and the new version look back to the early direction or recipe.

Then there are the directions that come with assembling some item. It might be a piece of put together furniture, or a bike or a computer. The directions are to be followed if we want to successfully achieve our goal. Sadly some to these directions seem to be written in a form of English that is challenging to say the least. Again it this case some of us have been known to try to find our own way to do something. Often with interesting if not regrettable results.

In the first reading from Exodus, the Lord is seen as instructing, that is giving directions to Moses and Aaron on how to prepare for the Passover. The directions are detailed. There is to be a Lamb for each family or group of families. It is to be free of blemish. It is to be slaughtered at a specific time and specific way by the head of the household. Then the head of the household is to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts and beam on the top of the door. The Lamb is to be roasted and fully consumed and any remnants totally burned. The first Passover Meal was a singular even in which the Angel of Death passed over the households of God’s people sparing their first born; however, it is also a feast that is to be kept as a festival celebration as a continuing Ordinance – that last work meant that it was to be binding like a law on the people of Israel and it is a feast that although changed in detail like a recipe changed due to changes in circumstances, remains as a centerpiece of the Jewish religion.

The Passover feast served as a preparation for deliverance from oppression and death and looked forward to the development of a homeland for God’s people. It was seen as showing God’s nature as gracious, merciful and as one who provides deliverance for the oppressed. Jesus as He gathers with his disciples as the meal we call the Last Supper, a meal held within the Passover tradition, takes this recipe -this direction, and applies it to a new level. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb and also the head of the household, it is his Blood that will be shed over the door posts and head boards of the hearts of God’s people.

Through Jesus’ transformation of the Passover directions we are promised that God truly shows his compassion to His people and frees them from the oppression of sin. As we now celebrate this new Passover meal we do so at the direction of the One who invites us to share in His very Body and Blood. Like the direction to Moses that the people of Israel celebrate the Passover Feast for all times with the seriousness of a Law so Jesus directs us to celebrate his Passover gift of the Eucharist as a perpetual ordinance.

Turning now to the Gospel of Matthew we are given fairly detailed directions on how we should deal with difference and disputes within the Church community. We are directed to first initiate an individual, one on one effort at reconciling with the one with whom we feel has sinned against us, the one with whom we are in dispute and only after that fails we are to have two or three others go with us -these others are not there to gang-up on the person with whom we are in dispute but to act as mediators, arbitrators, witnesses or perhaps even as teachers to all who are in dispute. If this to fails to bring reconciliation or the correction of error, then the matter is to be set before the Church for guidance and correction.

Finally if the person is found to still be sinning then that person is to be treated as one outside of the Church community. For the continuing sinner, this could mean total expulsion from the community permanently or for a set time or simply denial of the sacraments. For the early Church, it was often understood, that what was needed was to treat that person as Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors. Jesus would heal them, care for them, and continually invite them to be his disciples. Jesus would offer them a fresh start. Even though they were outside of God’s chosen people, Jesus would call them to be reconciled to the Father. So then we are called by the example of Jesus to heal, to care for, to pray for, those who sin against us and to encourage them to reconcile both to us and to our Heavenly Father. In giving these directions, on how to deal with such matters, it seems clear that Jesus knew and wanted that Church to expect that from time to time that there would be conflict, but He also wanted the Church to know that through the Spirit and in love that reconciliation is possible and necessary. It s in this way, the Church gives a witness to the whole of the world of how God desires to reconcile all of creation to Himself and to bring lasting peace.

Finally we turn our attention to the Epistle reading from Romans which starts out with those directions that we earlier described as being God’s laws – here again some are listed – you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet. Remember earlier when I talked about directions on how to assemble something. Businesses have become aware that most people want to get to the point, they want to start using the new item as soon as possible, so they have started placing simplified, short and direct instructions with their products that allow for immediate use. Paul now uses a similar approach. He points out that all of these Commandments can be summed up in the words “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”. In doing so, Paul is not referring to a physical neighbor or a person to whom we owe some duty or have some relationship, but rather we are to understand “Neighbor” as Jesus did in the story of the Good Samaritan as one whose has a need and one to whom we can give help. Paul is not devaluing the study of the Ten Commandments. As the full set of instructions for a product allow for it fuller use; the study of all Scripture and the Ten Commandments will give deeper and fuller guidance to the follower of Jesus, but here Paul wants to drive home the point that these Laws are not just some formal rule, but our based on an attitude of love and caring.

Paul also directs the members of the Church at Rome to be especially aware of certain practices which are harmful, not unlike the warning notice or directions on certain products – for example avoid drunkenness, quarreling and jealousy. Paul does not stop with the negatives, but encourages, directs, the Believers to put on the armor of Light and more specifically to put on Jesus. This expression means actually to become as Christ. To live in the World as Christ did – healing, encouraging, and reconciling.

God gives his direction to us in many different forms. Like many other types of directions we are free to follow them or ignore them at our own peril. Following them we may be assured that we will travel the path that leads to our Lord and his Peace.

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