Taking the Advent Challenge

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday A, November 30, 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: Isaiah 64.1-9; Psalm 80.1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37.

Happy new year, St. Augustine’s! Today is Advent Sunday. We begin a new calendar year for the Church and have lighted the first purple candle on our wreath that represents the patriarchs. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus (parousia in Greek), and means coming or arrival. Advent is a season of expectation and preparation in which the Church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation and also looks forward to his final advent as judge at the end of time. Advent is not part of the Christmas season but rather a preparation for it. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the Four Last Things—death, judgment, heaven, and hell, always popular things to talk about, especially in our culture today—and the related themes of yearning and judgment are prominent in our lectionary readings today. Therefore I want us to look at how these themes might affect the way we observe this Advent season.

Did you sense the themes of yearning and judgment that are intrinsic in all our lessons today? The prophet Isaiah begs the Lord to show himself so that all the world’s wrongs will be put to rights. The psalmist laments God’s seeming absence as he contemplates the defeat of God’s people. How else to explain why God’s people have been overrun by their enemies? Implicit in our epistle lesson is the notion that all is not right with God’s world. Otherwise, why would Paul assure us that God is faithful and will strengthen us so that we will be blameless when the Lord returns to judge the world who crucified him? And in our gospel lesson we see Jesus warning his disciples to be prepared for the unthinkable—the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s temple against which Jesus had earlier prophesied—so as not to be consumed by it.

Our experience as Christians living almost 2000 years later confirms that not much has changed with the world. We see our Christian brothers and sisters being slaughtered in the Middle East, our towns set afire, and closer to home we must endure as our loved ones suffer from various physical, emotional, and spiritual maladies. If you or a loved one have ever suffered from a potentially mortal disease or struggled with various kinds of addictions that corrupt and ultimately destroy if left unchecked, if you have been alienated from family or friends or have experienced financial ruin, to name just a few, you know instinctively why the prophet and psalmist cry out to God. When we are forced to walk through life’s darkest valleys, we cry out to God, begging him to make himself known to us so as to rescue us from our dark situations in dramatic fashion. After all, if God is loving and omnipotent isn’t this what God is supposed to do? And so we pray to God as Isaiah and the psalmist did. In other words, when we are walking in the darkest valleys it feels like God is either absent or has abandoned us, especially when our prayers go unanswered. This is a real dilemma and danger for God’s people in Christ because having to walk through dark valleys and having some of our prayers go unanswered can shake our faith to the core and make us wonder if God really does love us. We simultaneously yearn for God’s love and rescue while wondering why God would allow us and our loved ones to experience such darkness in the first place.

I can hear you now. Ah, Father Maney! We’re so glad you’re back after a week’s hiatus. We missed your feel-good sermons and are delighted to hear you delivering yet another one! Do you happen to have an ice-pick we can put to our head? Bear with me, please. I would much rather be talking about Santa Claus coming to town, etc., at this time of year but that is not the way the world works and I have rehearsed this grim picture to help us all see (or begin to see) why this season of Advent is so important to us.

The yearning for God that we experience comes from the fact that we live in a good world gone bad and we as Americans have have lost sight of this fact. Please don’t misunder-stand. There is much beauty and grace in this world. We cannot look into the eyes of our beloved or a new-born baby or gaze on a breathtaking sunset and not understand this truth. But the fact is that as Genesis 3.1-19 starkly reminds us, human sin entered God’s good creation to corrupt and defile it and to allow evil an opening in which to operate. But many of us have not come to grips with this awful truth. Because of our wealth and power, we see bouts of evil that confront us regularly as anomalies, not as an inherent part of life. So, for example, we see health and wealth and happiness and a struggle-free life as the norm and expect these things.

But this is not the biblical view of the world. Rather, the writers of Scripture were realists and they understood that human sin and the evil it helped unleash are not anomalies but rather part and parcel of daily life. Again, this is not to say that there are not moments of happiness and joy and love and success. Of course there are. But these are a result of God’s love and grace, not something that comes automatically. And so when evil smacks us in the face, we don’t know what to do with it and this is why we yearn for God to show himself so that he will put to rights all the evil and injustice and suffering and death that goes on in his world and our lives.

And here is where the season of Advent becomes so important because it is an oppor-tunity for us to begin to lose our delusional thinking about what living in a fallen world looks like. Often times it is not pretty so that perhaps, for example, we ought to look at our health not as something that is the norm but rather as a product of God’s grace, love, and mercy toward us. When we start to think realistically (not pessimistically as we shall see in a minute) about living in a sin-sick world, we are on the road to understanding why we need a season like Advent.

Having a realistic worldview will also help us as Christians understand the true nature and purpose of God’s judgment that is pronounced in our lessons today. Yes, we should have a healthy fear of God’s judgment on our sins because our sins are a huge reason why we live in a broken and corrupted world. But if we think it through for a moment, we realize that God’s judgment has a positive dimension to it because when God finally judges our sins and all the world’s wrongs, God will put everything to rights so that his curse will be removed along with all that is wrong with God’s world. No wonder the psalmist tells us that when God finally judges the world the heavens will sing, the earth will rejoice, and even the trees of the forest will sing (Psalm 96.10-13)! No wonder Paul tells us that all creation waits with eager longing for Jesus’ people to be raised and redeemed at the final judgment because only then will the bondage and decay to which it has been subjected finally be removed forever (Romans 8.18-23). So the first thing that we must note about God’s final judgment of the world is that it is for our good. As Christians, we are to stand in sorrow and reverent awe of God’s terrible judgment but not fear it.

Why? Because we believe that God has answered the yearning of our hearts to come and live with his people. But unlike the mighty act of deliverance God worked for his people Israel as he rescued them from their slavery in Egypt, God ultimately answered our yearning hearts for his good presence and justice by coming to us as a human being that we celebrate at Christmas. And as we reflect on this awesome mystery, we begin to realize that God has answered our prayers in a totally unexpected way.

Instead of rendering a final judgment on us all, a judgment that must sweep us all away because all of us are stained with sin, God came to us first in Jesus of Nazareth to confront and defeat sin and evil by dying on a cross (Colossians 2.14-15). God has answered our prayers of yearning for his good justice and love by dying on a cross so as to condemn our sin in the flesh by taking it on himself so that we do not have to suffer God’s righteous condemnation. That is why Paul could make the remarkable statement that there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1-4). And that is why we no longer need to fear God’s right judgment because we are reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross and transferred from the dominion of evil into the kingdom and light of his beloved Son (Colossians 1.13-14, 19-20). We know this is true because God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate him and to usher in the end time in which we live.

Now most of us want to shout at this point, “But nothing apparently has changed!” That’s right. But the key word is apparently because the fact is we do not have God’s knowledge, eternal perspective, or wisdom. There is lots going on that we cannot see or comprehend. But unless we are willing to call God a liar, we had better develop the needed humility to trust God’s promises because all of our lessons today in one way or another affirm God’s faithfulness.

Not only do we have the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, which were one-off events, we also have our Lord Jesus’ continuing presence with us in the person of the Holy Spirit to remind us that God is faithful so we can believe his promise to equip us to live as his people and to be with us so that we have assurance that we do not have to navigate through our dark valleys alone. This is what Paul was talking about in our epistle lesson. God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus and gives us his Spirit so that we will be found blameless at the final judgment and in the meantime find the strength to live faithfully and navigate through our dark valleys confident that the Lord loves us and has not abandoned us.

Now of course on one level God’s rescue plan in Jesus is bound to disappoint because it is not always obvious to us that God is at work to rescue us nor do we not get to see God face-to-face as we will one day in the new creation. That is the main reason why our hearts will always yearn for God and his goodness while we live in this mortal body of ours. But our yearning is not a bad thing because its very existence indicates that God is present to us in the power of the Spirit! And this is why the season of Advent is so important to us because it gives us a chance to ponder these mysteries and bolster our faith and response to God’s love for us.

One day God will indeed tear open the heavens and appear. This is a promise that runs through both the OT and NT. But we can take heart and hope because we believe that God has done all that is necessary for us to be found blameless on that day when he restores his good creation to its original goodness beyond our imagining and our yearning hearts will be no more.

In the meantime, let us use this Advent season to ponder and embrace God’s promise to us through a renewed focus on prayer, the study of Scripture, worship, self-reflection, and repentance. Let us come weekly to his Table to feed on our risen Lord’s body and blood and so be reminded that we are not abandoned and that God really has defeated evil and sin. And from this, let us find the strength to embody God’s love for us to the world in our daily lives so that we can be living signs to the world that God’s victory over evil is won in the life and death of Jesus, whose birth we eagerly await to celebrate this Christmas. Doing so may not remove us from our dark valley, but it will remind us our longing for God’s goodness has been answered and that he is always available to us to strengthen and encourage us in the midst of our trials in ways we do not always expect.

This then is the challenge of Advent. As we live in a fallen world that is full of heartache and wrongs, do we really believe with Paul that in all things God works for good for those who love him (Romans 8.28)? This takes great faith because as we have seen, the outworking of God’s good purposes is not always obvious or evident to us. But it is the consistent promise of Scripture and the witness of countless Christians that God really is present and working for his good, even when we cannot see or comprehend it. This Advent may God use the yearning of our hearts to renew our faith, hope, and love so that we will know and act like we really do 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.

Bishop Roger Ames’ Advent Letter

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Greetings in the name of the Lord who is coming into our midst!

Is There Any Room at the Inn?

How will you welcome Jesus this Christmas?

So many voices and images compete for our attention, our time, and our energy. There are literally thousands of advertisements and applications out there promising to make us happy, to help us get ahead, or to solve our problems.

Now, all of these devices keep us plugged in, and that has some real benefits. But at the same time, the more plugged in we are, the less reflective we can become. We are less apt to stand back and ask, “What is my life really about?”

This is one reason why the season of Advent is such a blessing. During these four weeks, we are invited to cut back on the noise—and at just the right time. As the world tends to get noisier, God asks us to spend a little more time in quiet prayer, reflecting on the greatest gift ever given to us.

Too Busy for God? It’s not only the noise that threatens to overwhelm us. Our many priorities and responsibilities consume our energy as well. Work can be demanding. Family obligations and activities, while good and upbuilding, can drain us—not to mention any community activities, schoolwork, and exercise commitments we have made.

Life can become so very busy—to the point where we can feel overcommitted, worn down, and stressed out. It’s ironic, but the faster we move, the less time we seem to have. The more we accomplish, the less fulfilled we feel. And when we finally do decide to get a better handle on our lives, we can’t seem to find the time to reflect on our lives or make any significant changes.

Read it all.

GAFCON Chairman, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala’s, Advent Letter

We look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

My dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’.

During this Advent Season we shall be preparing for the joyful celebration of the first coming of our Lord Jesus, but let us also rejoice that we have the promise of his second coming in glorious majesty as Lord, Saviour and Judge, and be willing to stake our lives on what we do not yet see, the fulfilment of the promises of God.

It was this confidence that kept the Apostle Paul from despair despite all the setbacks and suffering of his apostolic ministry and with deep insight he cuts right through earth bound ways of thinking when he writes ‘For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18).

This is a truly radical perspective. It brings our lives into line with what is ultimately real and gives us a hope that is not defeated by immediate challenges and loss. This is true whatever the crisis that confronts us and we must continue to pray for those whose lives have been devastated by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but the difference biblical hope makes is seen most clearly when persecution and violence are unleashed.

As I write these letters, I find that very often I need to emphasise the need to pray for and stand with our bothers and sisters who are experiencing heart-rending suffering as radical Islamic influence grows in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Here in Kenya, al-Shabab gunmen have just murdered twenty-eight non-Muslim passengers from a bus they ambushed in northern Kenya. In some parts of the world Christian communities now live with the constant threat of violent death. One of the most shocking attacks in recent weeks was the burning alive of a young Pakistani Christian man Sajjeed Mashah and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi in a brick kiln near Lahore. How do Christian communities manage to carry on in such circumstances unless they look to ‘the things that are unseen’? As we pray for those who suffer, let us resolve to be of the same mind and to be faithful to Christ wherever he has placed us.

The threat of atrocity is now truly global. Following the jihadist killing of a young soldier on duty at Canada’s national war memorial in Ottawa, I was moved by the gentle yet bold response of Bishop Charlie Masters, recently appointed Moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). He spoke of shock and grief, but also how the founding fathers had named the country and he said  “they called it the Dominion of Canada, based on Psalm 72:8 ‘he shall have dominion from sea to sea…’ and that was speaking about the Lord Jesus, that he has dominion in this country”. For Bishop Charlie, part of the response to this murder was national repentance to bring the country back to its founders’ vision. The dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ is a reality unrecognized by many, but one day all creation will bow the knee and the greatest service we can do for our nations is to win them for Jesus Christ by the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the Prince of Peace.

Read it all.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the country in which we live, warts and all.

Rick Warren: Marriage Must be Honored by All: 6 Reasons Why Marriage Matters

Spot-on analysis by Pastor Warren.

Marriage-740x493Whatever state you’re in – married, single, divorced, or widowed – the Bible commands everyone to honor marriage. The Bible says in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by everyone.” Everyone, married or not, should honor earth’s oldest institution.

Sadly marriage is no longer honored by everyone in our society. Today, marriage is dismissed as irrelevant by many people. It’s demeaned by many people. People are delaying marriage more and more – many times for the wrong reasons. And marriage is being redefined. It’s being ridiculed. It’s being demeaned. It’s being denounced. It’s being discouraged. Marriage is disrespected.

Part of the problem is that nobody knows the basics of marriage any more. God gave us marriage and He expects the church to stand for it and to support it. Most people don’t know why marriage matters. As we teach from the Scriptures about marriage, there are at least six divine purposes for marriage to communicate.

Read and reflect on it all.

Living for the King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday A, November 23, 2014, at First United Methodist Church, Van Wert, OH.

There is no audio podcast of this sermon.

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel  34.11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100.1-4; Ephesians 1.15-23; Matthew 25.31-46.

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

I am Fr. Kevin Maney, rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus OH. I grew up in this church and some of you will remember my parents, John and Margaret Maney, who loved this church and were active in it. To say that I am honored and thrilled to be invited to preach here today would be a massive understatement and I want to thank Pastor Gus for the trust he put in me to preach the gospel to you faithfully. But I am also mindful of what happened to Jesus when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth to preach. He angered the folks there so badly that they sought to throw him off a nearby cliff. Not wanting this to happen to me when I returned to my home church, I sought the highest authority in the land on preaching, my wife, and asked her sage advice about preaching this sermon. She mused for a moment and then reminded me that a well-received sermon should have a good beginning, a good ending, and the two should be as close together as possible.

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we celebrate Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. So this morning I want us to look briefly at what we can learn about living as faithful subjects under King Jesus’ sovereign rule.

In our gospel lesson this morning we as Jesus’ followers are given both a word of encouragement and a word of warning. The encouragement is not so obvious so we need to have a little background because the judgment scene Jesus describes is part of the overall biblical narrative. The entire story of Scripture is about how God is putting to rights his good creation and creatures corrupted by human sin and the evil that accompanied it. God has chosen to do this by calling Abraham and his descendants, the people of Israel, to bring God’s healing love and blessing to the nations. Those nations who embraced God’s people Israel would be blessed by God while those who did not would be cursed (Genesis 12.1-3). There’s more to the story but this is what we need to help us make sense of our gospel lesson.

With this in mind, then, the first thing we note is the startling fact that instead of the nations being judged based on how they treated Israel, Jesus is declaring that he will judge the world based on how it has treated the least of his brothers and sisters (his followers), the reconstituted Israel. So much for the old canard that Jesus had no self-awareness of who he was or that he was just an extraordinary teacher. Teachers don’t get to judge the world, not even extraordinary ones. Only God gets to do that and here we see Jesus telling us that he will judge the world!

But how do we know that Jesus is talking about his followers and not all people? Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had warned that not everyone who called him Lord would enter God’s kingdom, but only those who do the will of his Father. Lip service alone will not cut it. All true love and faith is manifested in action (Matthew 7.21-23). And then in a scene that would have shocked those who witnessed it, in response to his mother and brothers coming to speak to him, Jesus declared that his mother and brothers (and sisters) were those who do the will of his Father (Matthew 12.47-50). So the likely meaning of this judgment scene is that those who have not followed Jesus will be judged based on how they have treated those of us whom Jesus counts as family, his brothers and sisters, you and me, even (or perhaps especially) the least of us. Here we see our Lord who sends us out into his world to be his salt and light reassuring us he understands all too well that he is sending us out on a dangerous mission but that he is taking note of what we suffer and that we will be rewarded for our faithfulness.

Now of course we as Americans are rarely called to suffer and die for the faith the way many Christians around the world are suffering and dying for Jesus’ sake. But our lesson warns us not to neglect their suffering. So, for example, we are called to support our family members in Jesus around the world, both tangibly and through our prayers. And we are to offer encouragement and hope to those we might know personally by reminding them of passages like these (cf. Romans 8.31-39). Charity, of course, starts at home.

And while we may not be suffering as some of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are, we are under increasing pressure to sit down and shut up. Our culture is becoming more hostile to Christian perspectives and morals and the net effect is that we are increasingly silenced because we don’t want to offend anyone or be found to be politically incorrect or be subject to name calling or job loss or worse. None of this should surprise us because our Lord himself warned that this would happen to us and that many of his followers would fall away as a result (Matthew 10.16-24; 24.9-10).

So if we have lost our voice in proclaiming the gospel to those in our world through word and deed, or if we hide Jesus’ light by failing to tell others in whose Name we do our good deeds because we are afraid of how others might react, then let passages like our gospel lesson be an encouragement to us so that we recover our voice and embody Jesus’ great love for all people as he commanded us to do in this judgment scene and elsewhere. And in doing the hard work of being Jesus’ salt and light to the world, we can take further encouragement by remembering that we are doing something else Jesus commanded us to do. We are taking up our cross, i.e., we are willing to suffer for our Lord, and denying our selfish ways for the sake of others, as we follow our Lord Jesus, who will not only judge the world at the end of time but who is also alive and reigns as king right now, judging it and us, deeply ambiguous as that may be.

But if this is the only thing we draw from today’s lesson, we will miss its warning to us as God’s people in Christ. When Scripture offers us encouragement as it regularly does and as we have seen in the judgment of the sheep and goats, our appropriate response is not to sit back, prop up our feet and get all uppity and self-righteous because we are on the winning side. The warning in the judgment scene pertains to us as well. And here it is good for us to remember what we have been given as Christians and why we do what we do in the power of the Spirit.

As we have seen, the biblical narrative is about how God is rescuing his good world from the ravages of evil, sin, and death. God has ultimately accomplished this by becoming human in Jesus of Nazareth to confront and defeat sin and evil by dying on a cross for us (cf. Colossians 2.14-15), shocking and unexpected as that is. As Paul put it, there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh so that he would not have to condemn us. By Jesus’ blood we are reconciled to God who has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 8.1-4; Col 1.13-14, 19-20).

We know this is true because God raised Jesus from the dead in a mighty act of new creation that would be a preview of the day when God would finally put to rights forever all that is wrong with this present world so that resurrection and new bodily life, eternal life, is our destiny. As Paul reminds us in Romans, those of us who are united to Jesus in faith share in a baptism like his so that we share in his death and resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And until we see the Lord face-to-face, he is alive and available to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. None of us deserve this gracious gift but it is ours through repentance and faith, thanks be to God!

I can hear some of you right now. What’s this got to do with our gospel lesson? Get to the point, dude. Balyeat’s is filling up as you speak! Here’s the point. Contrary to a superficial reading of this story of judgment which seems to advocate a works-righteousness, it is anything but that because we must fit it squarely within the broader story of the gospel, which is the story of how God has rescued us through Jesus the Messiah, the one true and faithful Israelite. We have been given a wondrous gift, a gift that reflects the very heart of God, and we who have embraced this gift through faith are expected to imitate our Lord in doing the will of his Father. As we have seen, real faith must always show itself in what we do because what we do is always a product of what we think and believe. In the story of the sheep and goats, Jesus is holding up for us a pattern of practical, Calvary-like love lived out in faith for us to follow in our own little neck of the woods and warning us that we too will be judged by how we treat the poor, the least, and the lost, just like those not of the faith will be judged for their treatment of us. This is how we are Jesus’ salt and light to the world. This is how we are called to embody his love and presence in our lives, to respond with compassion to human despair. And of course we find one of the best examples of this kind of faithful, sacrificial love in John Wesley, an Anglican priest whose Methodist movement arguably saved 18th-century England from social revolution.

So how is Jesus calling you to respond to his command to bring his healing love to the world, both as individuals and as part of his body, the Church here at FUMC? What we do with this question will be determined in large part by whether we really do believe that we are loved and claimed by Jesus from all eternity and whether we think he is both present to us in the power of the Spirit and is Lord of all creation, both now and in the future. To believe this takes great faith and trust, a faith and trust that can only come from having a lively and intimate relationship with the living Lord through prayer, worship, study of Scripture, and fellowship. This knowledge produces godly wisdom and a deep desire to please this God who has rescued us from the gates of hell itself, and this in turn will produce sheep-like behavior (in the best sense of our gospel lesson) in response to our knowledge that we really do 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: What Kind of King?

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday A, November 23, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

There is no audio podcast for this sermon.

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel  34.11-1620-24Psalm 100.1-4Ephesians 1.15-23Matthew 25.31-46.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to you our Lord and King.

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

The Feast we celebrate today is fairly new to the Church. It originated in the 1900’s in Roman Catholic Church as a way of remind the people of God that it was Christ who was the ultimate authority not the secular governments. This was a time in which many secular governments were claiming that they were the ultimate authority even over matters of church and faith. That is not to say that the Christian church ever doubted that Christ was King, but the feast brought a new emphasis to counter-balance this secular trend. Over a fairly short time the feast began to be celebrated and Christ royal role reflected upon by many other denominations including our own. America with the exception of its rebellion from the British Crown has no history of a King providing either actual leadership or even a ceremonial role. Yet Americans are as a group entranced by the concept of royalty. Great news coverage occurs over the latest rumors or announcements concerning new heirs to the British thrown. We run mini-series on our televisions concerning actual or fictional Kings and Queens. Many of the computer and console games deal with one form or another of royalty. It should come as no surprise. Kings are seen as people or instruments of great power.

Kings command people. Kings wield armies. Kings make laws on their own. Kings have the power to preserve life or to destroy it. Kings have the power to pardon. Kings wear expensive jewelry and crowns. Kings take care of their friends. The children of the King can look forward to one day exercising that royal role. It is no wonder that the idea of a King to lead the people is so attractive and it was so to the people of Israel.

Originally God’s chosen people were lead by individuals who were more prophets than rulers. They spoke for God providing the leadership that would take them from Egypt into the promised land. Once settled there, the people did not originally feel the need for an individual leader. There were individuals who were called Judges. These were individuals of faith and learning who would provide guidance to both individuals and to the whole community. There were not, however, political leaders in any true sense. The last of these Judges was Samuel. It was during his life, that he people began to notice that the countries around them were lead by Kings and they started to pester the Lord to have one of their own. The Lord God resisted this call and through his prophets let them know that this would not be good move. Finally God gave in. If they wanted a King, then a King they shall have. He instructed Samuel to anoint Saul to be the first King of Israel. Saul was an obvious choice. A member of the tribe of Benjamin, he was tall, handsome, and humble. He seemed like the perfect person for the job. (Probably would have done very well in today’s TV based politics.) While he started off well, the power and role of King soon went to his head and his humility was replaced by excessive pride. He soon deliberately failed to follow God’s direction. Eventually his life came to an end by his own hand. Saul was followed as King by David. David was anointed for his royal role while still a young boy. He was first and foremost a shepherd. He was short of stature and ruddy in appearance, but still had many of the physical characteristics that made him attractive as a leader. He was skilled at war, he was handsome, strong, and brave. He was a musician and poet. Though he suffered some human frailties, he was said to be a person after God’s own heart and provided faithful leadership for Israel. It was because of this that he was promised that David’s family should rule forever. This now leads us to consider the Firs Reading from Ezekiel. The Leadership of people has broken down under Saul and many of the people have been scattered physically and even more importantly have been separate from God by false teaching of those leaders described as false shepherds or even more dramatically as the fat sheep. Leaders who have become fat by denying the people of God from what truly belongs to them. God makes it clear, that He God will rescue the people.

God will see that they are fed and nurtured. God will shepherd his flock. God will be the judge who rewards and who punishes those who have been faithful and those who have not been faithful. God will do this though David the Shepherd King. In this role, David is not only God’s chosen Instrument but King David becomes the symbol and foreshadowing of the Messianic King – Jesus the Christ. In the Gospel from Matthew, we are given a picture of Christ the King coming in great glory accompanied by the royal court of angels to bring final judgment on the peoples of the nations. Again the symbolism is that of the shepherd who separates the people as a shepherd who separate the sheep from the goats. The faithful are invited to enter into the kingdom prepared for them.

Jesus continues for I has hungry and you feed me, thirsty and you gave me drink. stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you gave me clothes, in prison and you visited me. Perhaps surprisingly the faithful respond when did we do these things for you. Jesus responds when you did it for he least. Why one may ask would they be surprised. Is this not what Jesus asked them to do? I think the answer may be that the faithful want so much to serve their King that they can hardly believe that their simple acts of love and service would be worthy return for the love He has already shown them. They have committed themselves to be faithful subjects of the King and every thing else that flows from that relationship seems insignificant to them – but not to God. Caring for the least is just a normal result of the love that they are experiencing from their Lord and King. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he captures this thought in the first sentence when he says ” I have heard of your faith and your love toward the saints.” Faith in Jesus Christ naturally leads to Love, we can translate in this situation into care, for the saints, that is our brothers and sisters in the Lord, who are in need.

But how do we see Jesus as King? Let us look again as those aspects that we attribute to a King. Kings are persons with great power. There is no doubt that Jesus had great power. He healed the sick, He raised the dead, He turned water into wine. He lead a revolution in religious thought. Kings wield armies. Jesus wields a Church militant committed to conquering the world not with force but with love (not to mention a couple of legions of angels when needed). Kings make laws. Jesus gave us as law to Love our neighbor, those who need us most, as we do ourselves. Kings have the power to preserve life or destroy it. Jesus has given us the means to obtain to obtain eternal life. Kings have the power to pardon. Jesus has pardon us of our sins. Kings wears crowns. Jesus will one day come in great glory but as the servant King, he was willing to wear a crown of thorns. The children and friends of the King can look forward to one day sharing in the royal rule. Though Christ we are called to be co-heirs with Christ, and children of the Father to abide in his Kingdom forever. It is thus that we can acknowledge as we did in the opening Prayer that Jesus Christ, the only and well-beloved Son of the Father, is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords through whom the peoples of the earth, now divided and enslaved by sin, will one day be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule.

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

Robert McKenzie: A First Thanksgiving Hoax

mayflower-compact-iiI first encountered William Bradford’s supposed First Thanksgiving Proclamation when my family and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some dear friends from our church.  Knowing that I was a historian, the host pulled me aside before the meal to tell me that he had found the text of Governor Bradford’s proclamation calling for the First Thanksgiving, and that he planned to read it before asking the blessing.  Here is what he had found:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

 William Bradford

Ye Governor of Ye Colony

Although I was uncomfortable contradicting my host, I felt compelled to tell him that this was a hoax.  Can you figure out why?

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CT: Why You Can’t Read Scripture Alone

No person is an island. Listen if you have ears to hear!

48905You are a new Christian. You want to learn all you can about the Bible, for you know it is the Word of God, and somewhere you heard that you can know God only to the extent that you know his Word. You know a woman down the street who has walked with God for more than 60 years and has studied Scripture all that time. She has read commentaries, enjoyed attending churches within different denominations, and discussed the deep things of God with other mature believers and pastors.

You consider reading Scripture with her, to glean her wisdom. But you choose to read the Bible for yourself by yourself. You don’t visit the woman because you don’t want her beliefs to influence your own reading. And you want to listen to the Holy Spirit yourself, so you can get to the purity of God’s message untainted by outside influence.

Some Christians, and not just new believers among them, take this “me and God” approach to reading Scripture. They have learned from Matthew 15 not to be like the Pharisees, whom Jesus said exalted human tradition over God’s Word. They also try to heed Paul’s warning not to succumb to “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col. 2:8, ESV used throughout). They have concluded, therefore, that Scripture teaches that church tradition—and all the perspectives and human-derived interpretations that it carries with it—should not color our reading of God’s Word.

Is that what the Bible itself teaches?

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Fox: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Pilgrims

Don’t be an ignoramus about Thanksgiving, pilgrim!

mayflowerWe usually think of the Pilgrims as British exiles who sailed to the North America and settled in Massachusetts. But the truth is a bit more complicated than that; the original Pilgrims were 35 members of the radical Puritan faction of the Church of England called the English Separatist Church, which illegally broke away from the rest of the Church in 1607. The group originally settled in the Netherlands, where the laws were much more lenient.

There, the Separatists suffered economic difficulties and feared the loss of their English language and culture. This inspired their voyage to the New World, a new home where they would be free to practice their religion and way of life.

In September of 1620, they joined a London stock company to finance their trip aboard the Mayflower, a three-masted merchant ship headed across the Atlantic. They intended to settle in an area near the Hudson River, part of the Virginia colony, but because of stormy seas, the Mayflower eventually anchored over two months later in what would soon be called Plymouth Harbor, in what is now Massachusetts.

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