God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday B, May 31, 2015, 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 6.1-8; Psalm 29.1-11; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17.

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

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we stop and reflect on the one holy and indivisible God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God in three persons is frankly a mystery and greater minds than my peabrain have been tripped up trying to explain it (watch the video below before proceeding).

Yet it is important for us to know and love our triune God (God in three persons) because this is how the one true and living God has chosen to reveal himself to us (and it also puts to rest the lie that we all worship the same God because other religions emphatically do not worship God in three persons). So rather than try to explain the unexplainable, I want us to look at how we interact with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all the while keeping in mind that we are talking about one God, not three. Confused? Good. Then I’m off to a great start.

We must, of course, begin with God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, and the author and source of all life. As the creation narratives in Genesis affirm, God created our world and this vast cosmos out of nothing and declared it all to be good. And then God in his wise providence chose to create image-bearing creatures, humans, to be stewards over his good creation. We must understand this very clearly. God created all things to be good and God loves his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing ones, you and me (Genesis 1.1-2.25).

But as Genesis 3.1-24 sadly narrates, we humans did not get the memo about being God’s image-bearers whom God created to be his wise stewards. No, we wanted to be God’s equals instead of God’s creatures (cf. Philippians 2.6). Our resulting sin brought about God’s curse on both us and creation so that the goodness of God’s creation became corrupted. Our sin also allowed evil to establish a beachhead in God’s good world and our lives to further corrupt and destroy what God had originally created as good.

But here’s the thing about God the Father. While God did pronounce a curse on our sin and rebellion so that death entered into God’s good world and we humans found ourselves expelled from paradise, God did not choose to destroy his good creation gone bad and start over from scratch. Instead, God chose to redeem and restore it and us, and here we are given the first glimpse of the Father’s loving heart and faithfulness. We see God’s love and faithfulness for his sinful and rebellious creatures poignantly illustrated in the story of the Fall. After Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge and had their eyes opened to their altered relationship with God, they hid from him in the garden, just like we do when we sin. And what was God’s reaction? He searched the garden for his wayward creatures just like he searches for us when we go astray because God created them and us to have a living relationship with him as a Father would with his children. We should not take offense at this analogy because it does not mean God does not want us to grow up. Rather, it means that God is Creator and all-knowing while we are not, and we must act accordingly. It also means that God never intended to create us so that he could destroy us later after we failed the test by trying to be God’s equals.

The point for us to remember here about God the Father is that God is a good, faithful, and loving God (among other attributes) who created his world and us to be good and to reflect God’s goodness and glory out into the world. This is the world that our sin corrupted and open-ed the door for evil to operate. This is the world God intends to redeem and restore because God loves us and is faithful to himself and us. Why then do so many of us see God as an ogre?

The rest of the biblical narrative is about how God the Father is going about rescuing his good creation from the ravages of evil, sin, and death, first through his people Israel and then through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I don’t have time to review God’s calling of his people Israel other than to say that it was part of God’s eternal plan to rescue his world through human agency, a fitting strategy considering the role for which God created humans in the first place. But Israel failed to live up to her calling and as we know all too well, human sin separates us from God and interferes with us coming to know God and having the kind of relationship with God we were created to have. We see this manifested in our OT and psalm lessons. Notice Isaiah’s reaction when he comes into the presence of God. He is acutely aware of his sinful nature in the presence of God’s holy perfection. Notice too that neither Isaiah nor the psalmist attempt to describe God because God is indescribable and unknowable unless God chooses to make himself known to us. This makes it pretty hard, if not impossible, to know God and to develop any kind of meaningful relationship with him without some outside help.

But God in his tender mercy and love for his sin-sick creatures and good world, came to do what Israel could not. God became human for the purpose of rescuing his world from evil, sin, and death as well as to make himself more fully known to us. What better way for God to condemn sin and evil without destroying all of creation than to become human and take the full weight of human sin and evil on himself? This is exactly what Jesus told Nicodemus he had come to do in our gospel lesson and what Paul and the other NT writers affirm in their various letters (see, e.g., Romans 8.1-4; Colossians 1.19-20; 1 John 2.2, 3.8). God does this, of course, because God loves the world and wants no one to perish. In Christ crucified we see the heart of the Father for his image-bearing creatures being made fully known to us. As Paul made clear in his letter to the Romans, in Christ God did for us what God’s Law could not do. God rescued us from evil, sin, and death and without Jesus’ atoning death, we are still dead people walking who have no hope. But if God intends to redeem and restore his good world corrupted by human sin, the first thing God had to do was to reconcile his image-bearing creatures with himself so that we would be made ready to reassume our rightful role as God’s wise stewards over his promised new world, a world that we were given a glimpse of in Jesus’ resurrection.

The NT writers speak boldly about this new world, especially Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.1-58 and John in Revelation 21.1-22.21. It is a world in which evil and sin have been conquered by God the Son’s blood shed for us and in which we will get to live directly in God the Father’s presence. And let’s be clear. We are talking about new creation, not some ethereal or disembodied existence. The promised new creation is consistent with the love and faithfulness of God the Father and could very well signal the beginning of a new project, just like the original creation signaled the beginning of God’s current creative project.

But what about the interim? We obviously do not live in that new world yet. Does that mean we are still without hope? Are God’s promises really true? And what about our relationship with God? Are we still in the dark? How do we know that in Jesus we see the perfect revelation of God the Father so that the unknowable becomes knowable to us, at least as much as we can bear in this mortal existence of ours? Answer. God the Holy Spirit.

As both Jesus and Paul remind us in our lessons this morning, it is not possible to be God’s adopted children without the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us and testifying to us that Jesus is indeed God the Son who has taken away the sins of the world by his blood shed for us. Among other things, God the Spirit makes his truth revealed in Scripture known to us by opening our hearts and minds to his word. God the Spirit also brings healing of all sorts to us to repair the ravages that sin and evil have brought upon us. And it is in and through the Spirit that Jesus continues to make himself and his presence known to us.

Moreover, as Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, it is in the power of the Spirit we are enabled to act as truly human beings who are done with sin and who have in faith said yes to God’s invitation to us to live as the fully human beings he created us to be, i.e., to pattern our lives after Jesus. This creates a sense of debt in us. Now normally debt creates in us all kinds of anxiety and distraction. When we are heavily in debt, we tend to fixate on it and worry about our ability to pay it off. But this is not the kind of debt Paul is talking about. We have been freed from the power of evil, sin, and death by God the Son’s blood shed for us. And by God’s grace in and through the power of God the Spirit, we are given hearts and minds to see this is really true, that God really does love us enough to die on our behalf so that we are spared death and eternal separation from him, a state that utterly goes against the original creative intent of God the Father. And because by the power of the Spirit we believe this to be true, we no longer are slaves to our sin or have any good reason to fear death. We don’t fear death because in Jesus’ resurrection, we know that God has conquered death and when our mortal bodies are raised from the dead on the last day, death will be abolished forever, thanks be to God!

When by faith we appropriate this great truth, our awareness of the debt we owe God for what God has done for us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must create in us a sense of release and relief, not anxiety. We no longer have to fear for our eternal future or the future of those we love who are in Christ. And while we do not automatically stop sinning, our sin and rebellion no longer form a pattern of living. Indeed, because we are profoundly grateful for God rescuing us from all that is evil and corrupt, the Spirit sets our hearts on fire so that we can love and serve God as his fully human creatures in the manner he always intended. This can sometimes be messy, in part because we are still weighed down by our mortal bodies and in part because the Holy Spirit does not take us over and make us robots who slavishly follow God’s commands. How can love exist in a relationship like that? No, the Spirit’s presence is God’s assurance that he is real and his promises to us made supremely known in and through Jesus are true.

So what does this all mean for us as we live our lives in the midst of a fallen world? What does it mean for those who have major health or economic or family problems? What does it mean for those who are suffering from loss of any kind? It means first and foremost we have real hope and power because we worship our Creator, God the Father, who created us in his image and is working in ways we cannot always see or comprehend to restore his glory in us (cf. Romans 3.21-26). When things go south, we are naturally inclined to think God is punishing us. Perhaps sometimes God is, but we must be very circumspect about drawing such conclusions because as we have seen, we worship God the Father who loves us and is faithful to us, and who wants to restore us to a right relationship with him, a relationship that our sin took from us. When by grace we have the faith to know that God is always for us and wants the best for us and will use even the hard times to help us grow in our faith, it gives us a new-found strength and power to persevere, and even to find joy in the midst of our suffering (cf. Romans 5.1-5) because we believe God is powerful enough to even make good come out of the brokenness of our lives.

Worshiping God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit also reminds us that we are freed from the terrible slavery to our sins and promised an inheritance in God’s new world, a world that will be so fantastically beautiful, right, and good that we cannot comprehend it fully. It means that sin and death and evil have been conquered and will one day be vanquished forever. And the Spirit’s presence in and among us means that we will always have the fellowship of God and his people. This means that we never have to fear being alone or abandoned or unremembered. The world may treat us in this way but God the Holy Trinity never will because it is the testimony of both the OT and NT that God is always with his people and always remains faithful to us.

Last, as we worship our triune God and attempt to pattern our lives after God the Son, we realize that it really is good and right to be fully human beings because Jesus was and is the perfect human being, and our humanity is good and right in God’s eyes because we are his image-bearing creatures. When we repent of our trying to be equal with God and learn the humble obedience that our Lord Jesus displayed in his life, we will learn what true joy is all about as well as discover purpose for living. Don’t ever dismiss this latter gift. It’s what helps keep us ticking. Without hope, without purpose for living, we shrivel and die a gradual and terrible death. Worshiping God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is the only real antidote against falling into this dehumanizing hell because we are assured that God has done what it takes to give us the needed power to live as he created and desires us to live.

In closing, I have not attempted to offer you any theory about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Instead, I have tried to lay out how God has chosen to reveal himself to us in and through Scripture, in and through Jesus, and in and through the Holy Spirit. This is how we meet and come to know and love our triune God because this is how God has chosen to reveal himself to us. May that be sufficient for us and serve to remind us 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.

Traditional Memorial Day

iuToday is the traditional day for Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day.” Up until the 1971 it was always celebrated today. But afterward it has become a movable federal holiday. You can read about its history here, and I hope you will take the time to do so. On a personal note, my grandparents Shaffer were married on this day in 1917. Cool.

Take a moment today to remember again those who have given their lives so that we might enjoy the freedom we have. Take time to remember the current members of our armed forces as well and give thanks that God continues to raise up brave men and women to serve our country in a very dangerous world.

Thank you veterans, past and present, for your service to our country. May God bless you and yours.

Participate in the LOC’s Veteran’s History Project

This is a great way to honor the veterans in your family, living or dead, and preserve their memory in our national record. Both my mom and dad are part of this project and it was a wonderful way to connect with them. Check it out and get to work.

From the Veterans’ Project page at the Library of Congress:

The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Stories can be told through personal narrative, correspondence, and visual materials
The Project collects first-hand accounts of
U.S. Veterans from the following wars:

  • World War I (1914-1920)
  • World War II (1939-1946)
  • Korean War (1950-1955)
  • Vietnam War (1961-1975)
  • Persian Gulf War (1990-1995)
  • Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present)

In addition, those U.S. citizen civilians who were actively involved in supporting war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc.) are also invited to share their valuable stories.

Remembering on Memorial Day

Our nation observes Memorial Day today, although traditionally it was observed on May 30 until 1971. Thankfully our family did not lose anybody to war, although my grandfathers and dad fought in World War I and II respectively. So in addition to remembering those brave men and women who fought and died to preserve our country’s freedom, I have made this weekend a time for both remembering those in my family who have died and honoring them.

Since they are no longer living, I have decided that on my watch their graves will be well kept and in good repair. So my wife and I go out and trim around the tombstones, rake the graves, clean them up, and put flowers on them for the summer. Doing so is a way for me to continue to honor them, both for being such a good family and for their service to our country.

IMG_6312It also reminds me of how fleeting and transient this mortal life is. When I was a kid, we’d spend Memorial Day at the lake at my grandparents Shaffer’s cottage with my extended family. It was a grand time and I have great memories of those halcyon days. Now I only have their graves to visit and I confess I liked it a whole lot better when I was able to be with them at the lake. In fact, for whatever reason I miss them more keenly this year than I ever have. It seems grief never takes a holiday.

So Memorial Day is a bittersweet time for me and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling this way about it. Honestly, if I did not have the hope of God’s promised new creation with its promise of newly embodied life, the total restoration of God’s beautiful creation, and the abolition of evil and death, I don’t think I could visit the cemetery, let alone maintain my family’s graves, because it would just be too painful. But thankfully I do have the hope of new creation, and when it comes I won’t have to be separated from my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles ever again. Who knows? There might even be a lake where we can gather to celebrate all that God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I look forward to that day more than I can tell you. But in the meantime, as long as I am able, I will continue to honor my family, in part, by caring for their grave sites. It is the least I can do considering all they did and sacrificed for me.

May you too find ways to honor and love your loved ones, especially if you are blessed enough to have them still be living.

General Orders Number 11, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

From here.

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. 


Adjutant General


Read the entire order that started Memorial Day.

A Prayer for Memorial Day

Adapted from here:

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your loving-kindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
(though we sometimes feel that low)
and without fear
(though we are often anxious).
We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion and thanksgiving those who have died
serving this country in times of war.

We all must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
But we believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
because we believe that you have raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
and conquered death itself,
and that you have given us the privilege
of sharing in his risen life as his followers,
both now and for all eternity.
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving
in Jesus our risen Lord’s name. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: Dry Bones No More

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday B, May 24, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel 37.1-14; Canticle based on Ezekiel 36.24-26, 28b; Acts 2.1-21; John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15.

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

The story from Ezekiel has always been one of my favorites. Perhaps this stems from an old song I learned in my childhood but probably because it is so rich in images. The prophet is in the middle of a valley that is just full of bones – he is walking around through these bone and they are not just any bones but the bones of fallen warriors. It is a desert place, a place with little if any life. The bones are dried out and picked clean by the scavengers. God asks the question, can these bones live? The obvious answer is No, but the prophet being a prophet is wise enough to turn the question back to God as he says only you O God know. The Lord then commands the prophet to speak for Him, to prophesy in God’s name. At first the bones start to knit together and then muscle and flesh attach to the bones. Still the bones do not have life. They have no breath within them. Once again the prophet is commanded to speak forth for the Lord this time calling forth the “breath” from the four winds. As the breath came into the bones, they stood up and lived. God then instructs the prophet that this was vision for the prophet of how God’s people, the House of Israel, who had been decimated by war and had many taken into exile, would again be restored. They will be a people in whom God’s spirit dwells.

This story assures me that no matter how bleak our situation, the “breath of God” is there to renew us, to strengthen us, and if necessary, bring us to new life. But why might, you ask, do we have this story in our readings for Pentecost? The answer is to be found in our reading from the Book of Acts. The disciples have just a short while ago seen their master and friend crucified. Then they experienced the Risen Lord, only to have him depart from them. They are in many ways like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. They have knitted together, they have put on some muscle or courage and yet they do not have any real life in them. They are as powerless as the dry bones until the very “breath of God” —we know it better as the Holy Spirit comes upon then with such power that it can be compared to the rush of a violent wind. With this in—filling of the Holy Spirit, they, like the dry bones, are able to stand up. They are strengthened in their faith. These disciples cannot and will not restrain themselves in sharing the message and person of Jesus Christ.

So strong is the power of the Spirit that the human limitation of language is for a time no longer a hindrance to the spread of the Good News. People from all over the world would pass through Jerusalem, with many different languages, and yet all heard the message in their own language. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit there is life. With the Spirit there is Power and even miracles.

As we become part of the Church though the Sacrament of Baptism and later are strengthened by the Confirmation we each receive this in-filling of the Holy Spirit. This means that we also have the fullness of life. Not just the ability to exist but the power to live a full life in Christ.

As I have often pointed out and will continue to point out it is obvious that this is a community that is not made up of dry bones. Where the Holy Spirit is there are found the fruit of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This fruit grows very well in the rich soil of this Church. It can be seen in its many ministries and the way that it takes care of both its members and those outside its doors. But the Holy Spirit does not want to only see the fruit blossoming forth but wants the members of this Church to experience, to enjoy, the many Gifts of the Spirit. Some of these Gifts are ones that we are all familiar with, not the least of which is the sacrament of Holy Eucharist by which are spiritual bones and flesh are being continually renewed and energized. The Scriptures and the Bible studies through which we grow into a closer relationship with God through understanding the journey of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments and in a sense have the chance to walk along with Jesus and are thus able to better travel through our own faith journey.

Another wonderful gift for which with which we are blessed is the gift of songs, hymns, and inspired music that help us turn our hearts and minds to the Lord. What set of bones can remain unmoved when touched by such joyous sound.

There are other gifts that we hear about in the Scriptures that we are familiar with although the form of them may have changed from time to time. There is the gift of apostleship seen most clearly in the Office of the Bishop whose duty it is to insure that the apostolic faith is held firm, there are those called to be prophets, members of the faithful, who not unlike Ezekiel, are called to speak the Word of God to both call to repentance and to encourage in times of despair. There are numerous Christian writers who have and are using this gift for the betterment of the Church. There is the gift of pastoral care. This gift is primarily found in the service provided by the clergy but it is also a gift shared by those in lay church leadership. The gift of teaching, not just doing it because it has to be done by someone, but because the teachers have hearts for sharing a knowledge of God especially to the young.

All these are gifts of the Holy Spirit with which we are comfortable and accustomed, but there are other gifts which the Holy Spirit has made present to the Church which are not part of our usual experience. One of those is the gift of Tongues – a strange name for a spiritual gift if you ask me. One form of Tongues is the speaking or praying in a foreign language not known by the speaker but understood by the listener. An example of this is found in the reading from Acts. This appears to be a special gift that occurs only sporadically. Another form of Tongues is the praying with various sounds that do not make up normal words. The Spirit prompts the one using this gift to pray either quietly or out loud – sometimes in a form of singing, depending on how the gift is being used. Many believers who have experienced this gift will use this as a form or type of personal prayer. Many of us who do intercessory prayer will find ourselves praying this way. There is also the occasion when someone will pray in such sounds for the purpose of prompting another to be free to share a word of the Lord. (Share my personal experience with Tongues.)

There are other word Gifts as well. Among these are Words of Wisdom which are spoken to give a revelation of Divine purpose – they may concern a person or thing. The Word so spoken often makes known God’s purpose to the one he is going to use and brings as assurance. There is the giving of a Word of Knowledge. Words of Knowledge are words spoken by someone that share some small portion of God’s knowledge in order to meet a human need.

Some of the purposes of such a Word of Knowledge are to reveal a persons true identity, help overcome some doubt in another’s mind or to reveal a person’s need for Christ or maybe simply to reveal a lost item.

There is the gift of Prophesy. It is a gift that is as real today as it was in the time of Ezekiel. Prophesy, in the Holy Spirit sense is not fortune telling or the fore telling of the future. It is God’s way of speaking through a person in a particular situation. In some cases the person will say something like : “I feel that God would say” and other times the person, like Ezekiel, will be lead to say “I the Lord…” This may seem strange at first, but it is not much different than the hymn or song writer who speaks for God through the lyrics of the song like “Here I am Lord” in which the composer first talk about directly hearing God and then voices God’s word or direction and encouragement.

A gift given to whole church, but exercised in a specially powerful way by some, is the gift of healing of diseases and injuries. The Church has always been encouraged to pray for healing the elders of the church are even commanded to anoint the sick and pray for the forgiveness of any sin. In the gift of Healing an individual or group is blessed one to make present God’s healing touch in a very powerful and effective way. ( Personal Sharing)

This Gift has the effect of bringing deliverance to the sick and oppressed, causing people to see that Jesus has both the power to forgive sin and to heal and in a very human way to show that Jesus is still alive.

There is the Gift of Miracles, which while rare, allows a person to manifest God’s glory in a supernatural way. There is the Gift of Faith in which some one has the ability to demonstrate in their lives a faith that exceeds and human expectation.

There is the Gift of Tears and Gift of Holy Laughter (or Giggles). By now you an see the picture. At Pentecost, God gave his gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit continues to give an almost endless supply of gifts to both the Church collectively and to individuals, but why now do we reflect on these and other gifts. It is because like Ezekiel we are walking around in a desert. A society in which many people, some of whom even attend church, have been stripped of all of their hope and many of their values. They are like dry bones. The Lord gives to the Church these gifts so that it, giving witness to the presence of the Risen Lord, can speak for the Lord and say to those who will listen: “I will put my Spirit in You and you shall live.” No longer will you be dry bones. Amen

Christ is Risen, Alleluia. In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remembering John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience

John WesleyToday marks the 277th anniversary of Fr. John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, in which his heart was “strangely warmed” and which changed the course of the Methodist movement forever. Appropriately it falls on Pentecost Sunday this year. I was a Methodist for the first 50 years of my life and am proud of that heritage. It is a sad testimony to the human condition that Wesley’s followers eventually split from the Church of England. But that does not take away the fact that Wesley and his movement came from the great umbrella that is the Anglican Tradition and we are the better for it.

Wednesday, May 24, [1738]. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.” ( 2 Peter 1:4.) Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught, that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation: But that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth them, according to the counsels of his own will. After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

—John Wesley, Journal

An Account of How Pentecost Was Celebrated in the 4th Century

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour.

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour.”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour, and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90

Ross Douthat: Churches Need to do a Better Job by the Poor

Spot on. See what you think.

“Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

President Barack Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”

It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous. Not only because (as Putnam acknowledged) believers give abundantly to charity, but because institutionally the churches of America use “all their resources” in ways that completely belie the idea that they’re obsessed with culture war.

As Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard pointed out, “Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars.” Whereas the budgets of American religious charities and schools and hospitals and other nonprofits are tabulated in the tens of billions.

…No, to actually save the critique, you have to transform it completely. There is a case that churches are failing poorer Americans. But the problem isn’t how they spend money or play politics. It’s a more basic failure to reach out, integrate and keep them in the pews.

Read it all.

Never Deserted

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday, Easter 7B, May 17, 2015, 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: Acts 1.15-26; Psalm 1.1-6; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-19.

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

Today is Ascension Sunday, the Sunday after Ascension Day when we celebrate our Lord’s return to heaven or God’s space. Hear Luke describe it now in his gospel account:

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. —Luke 24.44-51

So what is the Ascension all about? Why would the eleven surviving apostles return to Jerusalem rejoicing and praising God in the Temple every day? After all, this event signaled to them that Jesus’ appearances were going to stop permanently. Why wouldn’t they be sad over this? And why should we who live almost two thousand years later care if Jesus ascended into heaven? It is these questions that I want us to look at this morning.

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus expressing concern for his disciples’ future and welfare. This passage is part of his so-called high priestly prayer in which Jesus acknowledged that his disciples would need his continuing help once he left them. They had work to do, just like we as Jesus’ disciples today have work to do, and given that the world was fundamentally opposed to the gospel message Jesus commanded them and us to proclaim, Jesus knew this work could be dangerous. Like the Good Shepherd that Jesus proclaimed himself to be (John 10.1-18), or like a good parent who watches over his children as they grow up, Jesus knew they were going to need his help and protection, even in his absence, if they were to get the job done.

Jesus also knew that his impending death would be devastating to his disciples. Just like we feel lost when we lose a loved one to death, so Jesus understood that his disciples would likewise feel lost and despondent, something to which all the gospel accounts bear witness. Of course, Jesus’ resurrection would turn their sorrow into joy, just as it has the power to turn our sorrow into joy, but what about afterwards? What would happen after Jesus’ resurrection appearances stopped?

If we think this through carefully, we realize how high the stakes were (and are). Without the right care and support, without the Lord really being present to his disciples, like us, they were in danger of losing all hope and faith. Sure, Jesus’ resurrection had convinced them he had not only survived death but had come out through the other side. But Jesus also made it clear to them that his resurrection appearances were temporary. That is why he spent so much time teaching them about himself after he appeared to them and that is why he prayed his prayer for them and us on the night before he was crucified. He wanted his disciples, both then and now, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was alive and that he would be with them always (cf. Matthew 28.20b), but in a fundamentally different way. And so Jesus prayed that his followers would not be taken out of the world, but rather that God would protect us from the evil one. When Jesus talks about the world in this context, he is not talking about the created order. After all, he had come to rescue the created order (including us) from the ravages of evil, sin, and death. Instead, the world Jesus was referring to is the realm of the dark powers and principalities who have usurped God’s rightful rule over his created order and who remain violently opposed to Jesus’ rule and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. If the disciples were convinced that Jesus was good to his prayer, if they were convinced that he would be with them even after his resurrection appearances stopped, they would have the needed power to do their work and their joy would be complete as they did so on his behalf.

Why? Because as John reminds us in our epistle lesson, Jesus is the key to having eternal life as well as to the creation being reclaimed and restored. This is what makes our work as Christians so vitally important. Contrary to the popular belief today that all religions are basically alike and that there are many paths to God, our epistle lesson, along with the rest of the NT, is adamant that eternal life and access to God the Father is available to us only in and through Jesus. We don’t have just the testimony of the apostles that this is true. We have the testimony of God himself. As Jesus said at the beginning of his high priestly prayer:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17.1-3).

Again, if we think about it, this should make sense to us. When human sin entered the world it brought about God’s curse and death (Genesis 3.1-19). And as the history of the OT makes clear, sinful mortals (you and me) cannot come into the presence of the holy and perfect God and expect to live (see, e.g., Exodus 19.21, 33.20). That is why God gave Moses the sacrificial system that would allow God to dwell with his sinful people Israel as God led them out of Egypt to the promised land. You can read more about this in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

And of course Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29) by his blood shed for us on the cross. Whereas the OT sacrifices were temporary and had to be repeated because those who offered them were sinful just like the people on whose behalf they were offered, Jesus was sinless and so his sacrifice was perfect and once for all (Hebrews 9.12-15, 10.10-14). Jesus’ death on our behalf thus made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence and live. This is why Jesus is the only way to the Father. And as we have seen, when God raised Jesus from the dead, God ushered in the birth of his promised new world, the new heavens and earth, giving us a foretaste of the day when we too will be raised from the dead and given the privilege to live in God’s direct presence when heaven and earth are fused together in a new creation, all because of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. This is the Good News of Easter that we have been celebrating these past seven weeks, and this is why only in Jesus do we have eternal life. We can stake our very lives and future on it because we have God’s word that it is true. This is why Jesus needed to open his disciples’ minds to the Scriptures. If they were going to proclaim the gospel, they had to understand that the whole OT had been pointing to the reality of his saving death and resurrection. Without that knowledge there could be no real gospel, no real hope, no real joy, because as we all know, we live in a world that is simultaneously beautiful and ugly, marred by human sin and the power of evil.

All this, of course, applies to us who live as Jesus’ disciples two thousand years later. If we claim to love God at all, we must love all God’s human creatures and want them to share in the gift of eternal life that is ours by God’s love and grace in and through Jesus. This gift should never puff us up and make us want to think we are somehow more deserving or morally better than those who do not know or believe in Jesus. That is pride, the very antithesis of love, and if that is our reaction we must repent of this wickedness and ask God to both forgive and humble us, even as we ask him to set our hearts on fire for others so that we dare love them enough to proclaim the gospel to them, risking scorn and opposition or worse. And like the first disciples, if we are not convinced that Jesus is alive and available to us, if we are not convinced Jesus has the power to finish the job he started with his death and resurrection, we will have no hope, no joy, and no power.

All this brings us back to the Ascension. The Ascension promises us that the fully human Jesus is in the very presence of God the Father, foreshadowing the day when we too will get the privilege of living in God’s direct presence. Humanity has been exalted and restored and we dare have the audacious hope that where our Lord is, so will we be (cf. Philippians 1.23). But the Ascension is more than this because as the NT writers all proclaimed, when Jesus ascended into heaven or God’s space, he sat down at God’s right hand, NT code that proclaims God has made Jesus Lord over all creation to rule until the victory over evil that God won on the cross is consummated and all God’s enemies have been fully vanquished (Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3, 8.1, 10.12, 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22). That, BTW, is what the punchline of the book of Revelation is all about.

This is a tall order for us to believe at times because we see so many things go desperately wrong in our world. Loved ones die, sickness interrupts and sometimes destroys our lives, wars are incessant, injustice seems to rule the day rather than justice, and suffering goes on, apparently unabated. We see this and wonder where God is in it all and what kind of Lord Jesus really is. When we get to this point—and all of us will—we must pay attention to our NT lesson where Luke tells us how the eleven chose Judas’ replacement. Think about it. Jesus’ disciples had come to believe that he really was God’s promised anointed one, the Messiah, who would rescue Israel and the world from all that bedevils it. They believed this based on the mighty acts of power Jesus demonstrated during his earthly ministry as well as his teaching. But then it all came crashing down. Not only was Jesus executed as a criminal by the hated Romans, the very people Jesus was supposed to vanquish, but now there were no longer twelve apostles to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, a theme I do not have time to develop. Long story short: God’s will had apparently been thwarted.

But the operative word is apparently. Based on their limited power of discernment and incomplete human knowledge, the disciples initially thought that they were wrong about Jesus and that evil had won the day. Not so, says the story of Acts, because after Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the disciples and his instructions for them to stay in the city while they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples realized that things aren’t always as they appear to be. Yes, Judas had betrayed Jesus and had subsequently committed suicide. But not even his treachery nor the power of the corrupt religious establishment in Jerusalem nor the power of the Romans could sidetrack God’s plan to redeem and heal his world through Jesus his Messiah. God had used Jesus’ crucifixion to defeat the dark powers and atone for the sins of Israel and the world, thus laying the foundation for the coming of God’s promised new world. In fact, part of Jesus’ teaching about himself in the Scriptures was meant to show the disciples that this was precisely how God’s redemption and the defeat of evil was supposed to happen, unexpected and shocking as that was for his disciples (and remains for many of us today).

This is why we are to take hope, even in Jesus’ ostensible absence, because God knows the hearts of everyone and has the power to use even our brokenness to accomplish his will. What appears to be hopeless situations or the triumph of evil is not what it appears because Jesus is Lord and the dark powers are not. God knows how to use even the evil we commit, intentionally or otherwise, to bring about his kingdom on earth as in heaven. And astonishing as it may seem, God calls those of us who follow the risen and ascended Jesus, i.e., his Church, to be an integral part of proclaiming God’s love and rescue of the world in and through Jesus, both in word and by how we live our lives, lives that are patterned after our Lord Jesus. Even when we get it wrong or it looks like we have failed, even when it looks like the Christian faith is in full retreat and we are defeated, we must never lose heart or hope because God knows the hearts of all people and transcends even our mistakes and failures, as well as the evil of his enemies, to bring about the kingdom. Judas had betrayed his Lord, but God knew who the disciples should pick as his replacement. Peter had denied his Lord on the night of his arrest and acted like a coward. But God knew Peter’s heart and so Jesus reinstated Peter and Peter did not disappoint. Likewise with us. Whatever it is in your life right now that brings you disappointment, grief, hurt, or sorrow, remember this lesson from Acts. And remember that Jesus is Lord.

But why did Jesus have to ascend to the Father to do all this? Why couldn’t he just remain with us in his resurrected state? After all, that would be much more comforting to us. The Bible does not give us the answer to these questions but there are a couple of reasonable explanations. First, if Jesus remained in this world in his resurrected body, he could not be with all of his people everywhere at the same time in the way he can be with us in the power of the Spirit whom he promised to send. Just like we ascend into heaven each week in sacramental time and space to be with Jesus at the eucharist, so Jesus must be with all his people as we live out our lives, and he can only do that in the power of the Spirit as long as heaven and earth remain essentially separate dimensions. To be sure, Jesus remains powerfully present with us in the eucharist, but the fact is we cannot partake of the eucharist 24/7. For Jesus to be with his entire body always to the end of the age, he must be present with us in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Jesus had to ascend into heaven so that we could learn to grow up. As we have seen, Jesus calls us to be his kingdom workers and if we are to do that to the best of our ability, we must learn to grow up in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4.9-16). Any good parent knows that the job of raising children is to make them independent, and as parents we cannot help our kids learn to be independent and make good decisions if we hover over them all the time and make their decisions for them. We have to teach them when they are young and then gradually give them the freedom to make their own choices, even when we disagree with what they choose. Otherwise, our kids will never learn to grow up and we will never know if they truly have learned the core values we taught them while they were young. Is this messy? You bet it is. But love must allow the beloved the freedom necessary to make their own choices and to love freely in return. To do otherwise takes away the very basis that makes love possible in the first place.

Just so with God and us as Christians. God in his wisdom wants us to grow up so that we can learn to truly love him. God wants us to grow up so that we can use our minds to learn how to search the Scriptures diligently and become mature Christians so that God can use us even more effectively as his faithful kingdom workers. Is this messy and hard? Of course it is. Will we make mistakes? Of course we will. But nothing worthwhile in this life ever comes easy, our faith and Christian maturity included. But because God knows our hearts and we know that God loves us and wants the best for us because of what he has done for us in and through Jesus, we can have the confidence that despite the messiness in learning to grow up as Christians, we can proclaim the Good News of his Son Jesus Christ in word and deed to a world that desperately needs to hear it, all the while trusting that God’s will be done, sometimes in spite of us.

To be sure, there will be uncertainty and ambiguity as we live out our lives for Christ. But uncertainty and ambiguity should never translate into powerlessness and joylessness. To the contrary. We have the power of our Lord Jesus available to us at all times in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why we are never abandoned. So let us never lose heart or hope or wring our hands in despair as Christians because we know that Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord who has defeated the dark powers, even the power of death, and who now rules over the cosmos. And during those times when Jesus’ lordship is not obvious to us, let us remember that it is obvious to God the Father who knows our hearts and who by his love has retaken his world in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son. We have God’s very testimony that this is true, which means that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen and ascended! The Lord is risen and ascended indeed! Alleluia!

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

Washington Times: Is John Kasich the Next Reagan?

Overall, the writer gets the historical patterns. See what you think.

The so-called “establishment Republicans” (called derisively, “Rinos” (Republicans in name only) have been targeted by the tea partyers as soft on budget discipline and ineffective in their opposition to the Obama Democrats.

The resulting tension between the tea partyers and the Rinos has left the Republican Party in turmoil and confusion, and potential presidential candidates are already being identified with one or the other wing of the party. This lack of a unified Republican voice cost the party a loss to an unpopular president in the last presidential election, and threatens to do so again in 2016. The survival of the Republican Party as a national force depends on a new definition of the party, in the mode of the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

So, what are the differences? Primarily, the deficiency of the tea party is its lack of answers to any other problems than the national debt and deficits. It is a single issue movement rather than an organized political entity. The problem with the Rinos is that they can’t solve the fiscal problems because of their preoccupation with all the other problems of the country. What is needed is a bigger tent.

Enter Mr. Kasich, the hugely successful Republican governor of Ohio.

Read it all.