Don’t Follow Your Heart

Sermon delivered at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church’s annual parish dedication festival, Trinity 13B, Sunday, August 30, 2015.

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

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2.8-13; Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10; James 1.17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

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

On this day when we celebrate the founding of our parish, now well into its fourth year, and our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day was this past Friday (August 28), the anniversary of his death, how appropriate for us to consider the question, what makes a person righteous? In other words, how can we live our lives in ways that are faithful to God’s good will and purposes for us as his image-bearing creatures who are charged with being stewards over his good creation? The short answer is this: It’s a matter of transformation, and this topic was near and dear to Augustine of Hippo. This is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus again being confronted by his adversaries, this time over the matter of cleanness and uncleanness. Not being first-century Jews, these terms can seem strange to us, so let’s use the terms we are better acquainted with, righteous (or right) and unrighteous (or wrong). Yes folks. your heard me correctly. Despite what some would have us believe, there still are ways of thinking and acting in this world that constitute right and wrong. At the heart of the matter, Jesus’ adversaries are arguing that external things we do can make us right in God’s eyes. The immediate context in our gospel lesson was ceremonial (not hygienic) washing. Do this, say Jesus’ opponents, and you will distinguish yourself from the hated pagans who surround and control us, and make yourself right in God’s eyes at the same time. Sweet.

Nonsense, replies Jesus. It’s not the ceremonial things you do that make you right in God’s eyes, things like attending worship or praying or reading the Bible regularly or doing acts of charity (you know, stuff we Christians are called to do). You are focusing on the wrong things. What defiles you is what originates within you, within your heart. For it is out of the heart that all kinds of nasty things come. This is what alienates you from God and destroys your relationship with him. In other words, this is what makes you unclean and not right with God. Your corrupt heart is what makes external, ceremonial stuff necessary in the first place. It’s possible to do all those things well and still have a bad heart. For Jesus, the heart was not just the center of our emotions, but the center of our will.

This, of course, runs against our current thinking. Listen to your heart, we are told, and be true to it. Doing so is the key to success or happiness or whatever. But if we take Jesus’ claim here seriously, we can see the folly of that advise. We dare not listen to our heart, at least until it has been healed and transformed by Jesus in and through the power of the Spirit, because our heart is corrupt. Fixing this problem is not a matter of superficial window dressing (external acts), but of tearing down and rebuilding the very structure of the building (internal transformation)!

Jesus’ teaching also refutes an argument we hear a lot these days, that “God made me this way.” God did not create us with corrupt hearts that lead us to follow our own proud and selfish desires. God did not create babies with birth defects, etc. This is the result of human sin in the garden and God’s subsequent curse on it. Anyone with a realistic and biblical perspective understands that while there are many things in this world that are good, right, and beautiful, there is also something terribly wrong with the world, and here Jesus tells us what part of the problem is. We have corrupted hearts that make us act in unwise, unhealthy, and outright sinful ways. Fix the heart and the behavior corrects itself. Jesus wasn’t railing against human tradition. He was railing against human tradition that sets aside God’s teaching about how we are to conduct our lives. He didn’t say stop washing or tithing or doing the things we do here at St. Augustine’s as the Lord’s people. He said stop thinking that doing those things make you right in God’s eyes because they may simply be covering a corrupt heart. Augustine himself saw the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching when he said that, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you,” i.e., until our corrupt hearts are healed and regenerated by Jesus.

Now at this point, I can hear some of you grumbling to yourselves. “I hear what Jesus is saying, but surely that doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a murderer or a rapist or a terrorist. I don’t preach long sermons like Fr. Maney. I’m basically a good person.” Well, you may be a good person at some level, says Jesus, because I created you good. But you are no longer pure. Every time you say a hurtful word to others out of anger, every time you tell a lie or gossip or speak evilly about someone else or are indifferent to the plight of another, you are bearing the fruit of your corrupted heart because none of these things is from God. None of these things are after my example. And until your corrupt heart gets healed, you have a fundamental problem with God, the source and author of all life, because your corrupt heart inevitably alienates you from God.

Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed you and made you feel all uncomfortable and stuff, let me tell you that a corrupt heart is not the end of the story. While we must certainly acknowledge our brokenness as humans and the estrangement our hard heart causes between God and humans and between humans, it is a testimony to the love and faithfulness of God that he would move to heal our corrupt hearts by becoming human and dying on a cross to end our alienation from him and each other. No matter who we are or what we have done, there is nothing too great for the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ to overcome or heal. Nothing. God wants us to live rightly so we can finally begin to enjoy real happiness and purpose of living, something that is only possible when he replaces our hard hearts with human ones. So in addition to addressing the basis of our alienation with him by dying for us, God poured out his Spirit in our hearts to heal us and give us hearts of flesh, human hearts, that will help us to live in the manner pleasing to God and us. Contrast this response to our own when we are the victims of someone’s hard heart. Our own hard heart doesn’t tell us to forgive the offender and be reconciled to him. Our unhealed hearts make us want to lash out and seek revenge on the offender, inevitably escalating the conflict and alienation we feel. This is not what we are hardwired for. We are hardwired for relationship and goodness and peace. But our sin changed us and gives us just the opposite. That is why God’s mighty acts of justice and mercy on the cross and his giving us the Holy Spirit are such wonderful, life-changing things, thanks be to God!

Jesus hints at this in our gospel lesson. Don’t replace God’s teaching found in the broader story of God’s redemption contained in Scripture with your own human traditions. Instead, examine your motives and seek a pure heart, a heart that can only be healed and changed by me. I am available to you in the power of the Spirit and in God’s word contained in Scripture. This means that until our consistent desire is for God to cleanse and purify us by healing our hard hearts, we will never know the real transformative power of God. Failing to desire purity and then not doing the things on our end that must accompany a real desire to be healed, e.g., obeying Scripture, praying for purity, etc., is simply another manifestation of our corrupt heart.

This is why James urges us to take our human condition and the resulting sin seriously. Don’t be deceived, he tells us. Sin is deadly and will ruin you if you do not embrace the gift you’ve been given in Jesus. To be sure, your sins are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb shed for you. To be sure, you have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom of light because of what God has done for you in Jesus. But if you really believe God has done this for you, you must respond to the gift you’ve been given. For starters, you will begin to see your utter inability to change and heal your corrupted heart and understand that only Jesus can do that for you (humility anyone?). Faith in Jesus will also open your eyes to the utter deadliness and horror of your sin and cause you to seek to pattern your own lives after Jesus so that you can be freed from the sin that will destroy you. And how does James think we do this? Through accepting the word of God in our lives, i.e., by obeying the clear teachings of Scripture found in the broader narrative of God’s rescue plan of his creation and creatures, not just the parts we happen to agree with. When we are cafeteria Christians, picking and choosing what we will obey in Scripture and what we will ignore, we are demonstrating that we prefer to follow our corrupt heart rather than submit to God’s word. This is fundamentally self-defeating because all Scripture points us to Jesus our Lord and Savior, and only Jesus can truly change us for the good for which we were created. This is why we must obey all of Scripture, not just the parts we happen to like.

As our hearts get healed by Jesus so that we become more consistently like him, it will inevitably lead us to work for God’s justice to protect society’s weakest and poorest and those least able to defend themselves, i.e., we will begin to practice our faith. Why? Because our healed hearts lead us to have real compassion for the least and the lost, folks just like us before we were touched by the love of God. But our healed hearts will do more than this. Our heart of flesh will cause us to recognize that we must consistently work to develop new behavior patterns to replace our old corrupt ones. This is what Paul meant by putting on Christ. So, e.g., we must learn to put aside our anger, our evil speaking, our gossip, our pride, our selfishness, and all the other manifestations of our corrupt hearts. We don’t do this on our own, of course. We do it in the power of the Spirit. That’s why our urgent pleas for purity must inevitably lead to our transformation, maddeningly slow and idiosyncratic as that seems to us at times. But this is what James is talking about when he talks about us being the firstfruits of God’s good and generous gift to us made known in and through Jesus and the presence of his Spirit in and through his people. Thanks be to God! Our healed hearts cause us to bear good fruit and give the world a preview of what will be standard operating procedure in the new creation. Right now, healed hearts are an exception to the rule. When the kingdom comes in full, it will be the rule, no exceptions. I can assure you, Augustine would be all about healing and transformation that leads to action!

As I look at the fruit we bear as a parish, it is evident to me that the Spirit is at work in and through us and our hearts are being healed. I see how we care for each other and those who are not part of our family. I sense the spirit of goodwill and charity when we gather together and I rejoice at seeing us work tirelessly for our Lord who loved us and has claimed us. This isn’t an invitation for complacency and self-congratulations. Our healed hearts cause us to know better. But it is a sin not to celebrate our Lord’s good gifts to us as we resolve to continue to work tirelessly and joyfully on his behalf. Doing so is the best way we can witness to the world that God really does heal corrupt hearts and that we really do have Good News to offer others and ourselves, 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.

Frank Bruni: The Real Threat to Hillary Clinton

Bruni is not one of my favorites. But he sure gets it on this particular issue. Good for him. Let’s hope the Repubs wake up. See what you think.

In the eyes of many disapproving conservatives, “[Kasich’s] the one Republican in the field that not only embraced Obamacare, but took it out in his dad’s station wagon and made out with it,” as the Republican strategist Rick Wilson told Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics.

There’s no reason to think he’ll do well in early primary contests in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. That puts do-or-die pressure on New Hampshire.

He’s known to have attention problems and a mean streak. His congressional career links him to the disastrous mid-1990s effort to shut down the government. And after Congress, he worked as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street firm. That’s a résumé line out of sync with the electorate’s mood.

But he has made the best of it, portraying it as an inside look at a vital part of the economy, a fruitful research mission. He’s dexterous that way. And Democrats, trust me, have noticed, enough to hope that Republican primary voters don’t wake up to the same realization.

Read it all.

From St. Augustine’s Confessions

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.


CT: When Jesus Got the Bible Wrong

Very nice. See what you think.

All of us are tempted on occasion to approach biblical tensions—texts that seem to contradict each other—in flippant or offhand ways. At one end of the spectrum are skeptics who reduce tensions to textual incoherence and human invention. On the other are those with more evangelical commitments, who desperately trawl books and websites to harmonize mismatching texts. Once they find one, they sigh and move on as if the tension has nothing to teach us. The “problem” has been “resolved.”

But if we want to take Scripture seriously, we must ask why tensions exist in the first place. Why did the Holy Spirit—who inspired Scripture—cause these discrepant texts to be written? What do they reveal? And what might we lose if we “resolve” the problem? We are, after all, listening for the voice of God, not solving a puzzle.

Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: Trusting by Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12B, August 23, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 8.1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84.1-12; Ephesians 6.10-20; John 6.56-69.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your oh Lord our rock and our Redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.

In today’s gospel, we learn of how, after listening to Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, many of his disciples found his words difficult to the extent where they could no longer be Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was teaching them about the sacrament of Holy Communion; of eating and drinking his flesh and blood. To many, this was going too far. How could they, being faithful Jews, participate in the most offensive act of cannibalism? Such a teaching went beyond sound reasoning and common understanding. However, Jesus was not teaching or advocating that his disciples practice cannibalism. Rather, he was speaking of living in relationship with him as God’s Holy One who would open the door to the Father. He was their true Master Key; he would be able to open the door and bring them into the Father’s kingdom.

As this gospel story unfolds, the people, who were disciples, we are told, are abandoning Jesus, so he asks the twelve disciples if they too wished to go away from him. Peter, being the spokesperson for the other disciples then responds with this confession, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

One wonders, how could Peter and the other eleven, of course with Judas being the exception, remain with Jesus and make this confession, while, on the other hand many others, who were also his disciples, abandoned him? Well, apart from the deep mysteries of God, the main reason seems to be that the ones who left placed their own understanding; their own knowing; over and above faith; of being able and willing to trust in Jesus even if they did not completely understand his teachings.

Men and women have come to God, not to find prove to bread or curious to analyze it; they have come as hungry people, needing to eat if they would live. And they have found life glorified by faith in him. It was with Peter and his companions as it is with us too; that faith and believing take precedent over and prior to knowledge and understanding. We do not know and understand in order to have faith and believe. Rather, it is the other way round, we have faith and believe in order to know and understand. This we see in the words of Peter’s confession as well, when he says: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Belief comes first, then the knowing. This truth is born out further as we read the whole story of Christ and his disciples in the gospels. Overall, we notice that it is not until after Christ’s resurrection that the disciples really knew and understood what Jesus was talking about before he died and predicted his Passion and resurrection. So it is with us too, we believe and have faith in Jesus long before we completely know and understand him. In fact, our knowledge and understanding of him is always growing and maturing as we take practical steps of faith in our daily living.

Another reality and truth to which Peter’s confession points us is the importance of commitment to Christ. Here we have people giving up their commitment to Jesus. In this context, when the going gets tough we see the tough gets going, it is Peter and his companions who stay put and remain committed to Jesus.

By following Jesus and being committed to him like Peter and his companions, we are able to make our life count. A committed life can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary this happens by us investing our time, talents, gifts and resources to work for the good of one another and for all. When we are committed to Jesus, we can leave a legacy of faith, a legacy of hope and a legacy of love for others that will last not only a lifetime, but into all eternity. Peter’s confession then reminds us all that by being committed to Christ our lives can make a tremendous difference in the church and in the world. Of course that is what we stand for; saved by God to make a difference for God

Most of us who have “fallen in love” with someone often say things like: “she/he is the only one for me;” or “she/he is the best man/woman in the whole wide world.” For us, the love relationship that we are involved in is so intense that there is no room for any other person to meet our needs or share our life with than that particular person whom we love.

So it was with Peter and his companions, when he made his confession to Christ. Notice the words he employs to communicate this exclusive loyalty and love towards Jesus: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The question here might be translated something like this: “Jesus, you alone are the only one for us; there is no one in the whole wide world like you; you are the best; you are the greatest; you are number one!” Then Peter adds: “You have the words of Eternal life.” In other words, Jesus in his person now is the word become flesh, living and dwelling among us. His flesh present word along with the words that he spoke gives life. It is difficult to understand, how is this so? Well, it is this way because of the content in his word: his incarnate word-become-flesh and his spoken word both are life-giving because they are full to overflowing with promises. Promises like: “your sins are forgiven, I am with you always till the end of time, I love you, you are a precious member of my family, you are created in the very image of God, in me you are given everything you need to live an abundant life, I accept you unconditionally, I love you so much that I have suffered and died for you, I am the Holy One of God who through my resurrection, have defeated the powers of sin, death, and evil, and can save you and offer you eternal life.”

Peter and his companions trusted and later came to know that such words of Jesus were full-to-overflowing with promises that no other human being could live up to or match or improve upon. That is why they could go to no one else but Jesus. So it is with us too. Yes, at times we face many tests and hardships in life. Yes, at times we pray and pray; yet it seems to no avail and we feel that God doesn’t answer us. Yes, at times we are tempted to turn away from Jesus and go looking for “better things.” However, our God does not reject us or punish us for all of this. Instead, God hears us through Jesus and he invites us back from our wonder-lust, back to him. So we too, like the twelve, are invited to stay with him; he will give us all and so much more that we need to live a life of abundance, since there is no one else who can ever take his place.

Paul writing to the church of Ephesus and to us today warns that there will be struggle against the evil one and he encourages the church to be strong in the Lord and put on the spiritual armor of God to be able to stand against the methods of Satan. The struggle is not physical in nature but spiritual. Thus Paul mentions the spiritual weapons that we ought to have to face the battle, gird your waist with truth, put on breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, and shield of faith; As somebody puts it, the head of a Baptist, the heart of an Anglican, and the feet of a Pentecostal.  These are required to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. The presence of these weapons in our lives means the presence of Jesus in our lives. People of God our strength is not in ourselves but in the Lord.

The psalmist has perfectly described the true meaning of putting one’s trust in the Lord. Putting our trust in the Lord is not simply confessing that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God or is the Lord of our life. We truly trust in the Lord when our desire is to be in the presence of the Lord above all else. We would rather serve God and worship God than enjoy the comforts of life. We must desire to ever sing God’s praises. When our hearts are on the highway to God, we will go through the valley of wailing, but enduring from strength to strength. God is our shield who hears our prayers and helps us through our difficult times. But we need to truly put our trust in the Lord. It is time to stop making excuses that we think justify us before God. Give God your time and full effort and you will find these things to be worth the effort.

Solomon and Israelites understood what it means to trust in the Lord and the presence of the Lord among them. The psalmist understood how blessed it is to trust in the Lord, Paul acknowledged trusting in the Lord who is the source of the strength to fight the enemy, the disciples resolved to trust and stick to the Lord who has life and none other. It is my prayer today that we will make a resolution to trust in the Lord Jesus who is our life and all in all. To Him be all Glory forever and ever

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

Wisdom and Foolishness

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11B, Sunday, August 16, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 2.10-12; 3.3-14; Psalm 111.1-10; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58.

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

Our lessons today tackle the biblical ideas of wisdom and foolishness, always a crowd pleaser. What does Scripture mean when it talks about wisdom and foolishness? What does that look like? Why should we give a fig about either? It is these questions I want us to look at briefly this morning.

Before we look at our lessons, it is helpful for us to have the Big Picture view in mind when it comes to the biblical notions of wisdom and foolishness. In general, as the psalmist proclaims (quoting Proverbs 1.7) the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. Those who have good understanding live by this. And as Proverbs adds, fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Scripture further distinguishes between godly wisdom and human wisdom. Godly wisdom produces a healthy fear of the Lord, not where we are terrified of God but where we realize God is God and we are not. Such wisdom produces a pattern of living that is consistent with living life fully in the manner God intends for us to live as his image-bearing creatures charged with caring for God’s good creation. Among others, it helps us discern evil from good and ultimately allows us to conduct our lives in the manner of Jesus. It is emphatically not about our ability to follow a set of arbitrary rules. Keep this in mind as we talk about what godly wisdom looks like on the ground, especially when we look at our epistle lesson.

Human wisdom, on the other hand, is based on our desire to play God. It is typically rooted in our pride and self-centeredness. We see it emerge in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve listen to the tempter: “Did God really say…?”. And so our spiritual ancestors ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge in a futile attempt to determine their own happiness. They weren’t content to follow God’s good and wise instructions and the ensuing freedom that always produce contentment, wholeness, peace, meaning, purpose, and happiness when followed. The folly of human wisdom is best seen in its failure to recognize our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, the very embodiment of the living God, for who he is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.20-25). Think how many today scoff at the notion that a meaningful and happy life, as well as salvation, can be found only in a real and living relationship with our risen Lord, vainly searching for all kinds of human-devised solutions that are bound to fail because they are not anchored in God, our only source of happiness and real life. It is enough to break the heart, especially when we consider the words of Jesus in our gospel lesson this morning: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

No, as the columnist Michael Cohen brilliantly argued in a recent piece, we in the west have spent the last 250 years or so trying to find happiness by tearing down all the old constraints and guidelines of religious morality in a misguided effort to become more “free” (a top priority of enlightened thinking), and we are utterly confounded when some of our youth reject their newly-won freedoms for the tyranny of ISIS.

But as Scripture reminds us, there is a problem with notions of freedom rooted in human wisdom. We are so inherently flawed that we really don’t know what is good for us. But being the wise fools we are, we don’t believe this and have rejected the godly wisdom of Paul, who correctly understood that only when we are free from our slavery to sin—something that is possible only in and through Jesus Christ, so that we are free to follow his pattern of living—will we ever be truly free and happy (cf. Galatians 5.1). And the result of our increasingly “free” society based on human wisdom? More alienation, more meaninglessness, more loneliness, more strife and enmity, more desperate searching for new meaning and purpose of living. We know in our bones (if we are honest with ourselves) there is more to life than the unfettered freedom to pursue our own fallen desires. And yet we continue to pursue those desires relentlessly.

With this in mind, we are now ready to see what light our lessons can shed on the twin notions of wisdom and foolishness. In our OT lesson, we see young King Solomon praying for God’s wisdom. Solomon’s ascent to the throne was anything but routine and peaceful (1 Kings 1.1-2-46). He emerged only after a deadly struggle with his own family, part of God’s curse on his father David’s sin of adultery and murder that we looked at a few weeks ago. Solomon had relied largely on his own wisdom to gain the throne, not God’s, but now apparently the young king is humble enough to know that he’s in over his head and needs the help, guidance, wisdom, and power of One greater than him if he is to rule God’s people wisely. In effect, Solomon asked God for the ability to live his life patterned after God’s own life so that God’s thoughts permeated Solomon’s thoughts, decision-making, and leadership. Is it any wonder God granted Solomon his request? Should we wonder any less that God would answer our own sincere requests to live wisely by being transformed in our minds and thinking (cf. Romans 12.2)? As Solomon demonstrated, once his mind was transformed by God, his behavior followed. But once Solomon decided to rely on his own wisdom, well, not so much. Apostasy and idolatry followed. Read the sad tale in 1 Kings 11.1-13.

From this story we see that if we are to pursue godly wisdom so that we live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God, you know, by practicing justice, loving mercy (i.e., loving others as ourselves), and walking humbly with our God (i.e., loving God with our whole being) (Micah 6.8), humility is the essential prerequisite. We have to be humble enough to recognize our own condition as being fatally flawed, and that we are not in the position to fix ourselves so that we reach out to the One who can fix and heal us. Life is complicated and we are mortal and finite. Despite what we might think, we are in it over our heads and need help from our Creator who really does know us and knows what is best for us. This realization comes only through humility.

Paul likewise urges us to practice godly wisdom in our epistle lesson. Be careful how you live, he says, because the times are evil. Live wisely and make the most of your time. The Greek he uses means literally to buy back your time. Here Paul is reminding us that life is not what God intended for us originally. It has been hijacked and snatched away from us by the dark powers and our own fallen nature, and he urges us to get the time we have back under our control. Why? So we can find real meaning, purpose of living, and contentment in our lives.

So how do we take back our time so that we find meaning, purpose, and joy? As we have seen the past two weeks, Paul has already told us how: cultivate the Spirit’s presence in you and let him heal and transform you so that you can live as God’s people. In today’s lesson, Paul expands on this, adding another dimension to his teaching. He tells us to embrace God’s wisdom. The Greek Paul uses here indicates that he sees this as an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Before we look specifically at what Paul says, we need a word of caution. I know that when I was a young man, I would read passages like this and roll my eyes. Don’t get drunk, don’t be sexually immoral, don’t party as the pagans do. In other words, I read passages like these with the understanding that Paul definitely didn’t want me to have a good time! All these dos and dont’s. All these rules to follow. But I knew better. Oh wait…! My point is this. If we read passages like today’s and see them as nothing more than rules to be followed, and not very fun ones at that, we are applying human wisdom and completely miss what Paul is telling us.

Paul and the other NT writers want Jesus’ body parts, you and me, to learn to take back the time that’s been hijacked from us so that we can learn to live in ways that are not only pleasing to God but pleasing to us. To do that, we must learn to live wisely, by God’s wisdom, not ours. And so here Paul tells us not to get drunk but to be filled by the Spirit. The Greek Paul uses indicates that while this is a command he wants us to follow, it isn’t something we can do in our own power. As we have seen, we do not have access to the Spirit until the Spirit chooses to live in us, and that is always God’s initiative. So here Paul is telling us that once we have been blessed with the Spirit, we are to do the things we need to do to allow the Spirit to do his healing and transforming work in us. In other words, what Paul is telling us to do is to cooperate with God so that God can do his thing in and for us. Paul understands that the spiritual world, like the physical world, abhors a vacuum. We must be filled with something, either good or bad (cf. Luke 11.24-26). Paul has nothing against wine or drinking. Neither does the Bible. What Paul (and Scripture in general) is adamantly against is drunkenness. Why? Because alcohol controls us, and usually not in good ways when we are drunk. It controls us indirectly by lowering our inhibitions so that we might say and do things we would never dream of saying or doing when sober. I know in my own experience, some of the things I have done about which I am most ashamed, I’ve done while being under the influence of alcohol: fighting, sexual immorality, evil speaking about others, boasting, selfish acts, and the like (cf. Galatians 5.19-21). By contrast, I’ve never done anything under the influence of the Holy Spirit about which I have been ashamed. Or consider the two daughters of Lot, who by using worldly wisdom, decided they needed to ensure their family line’s continuity after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and so devised a plan to get their father Lot drunk so that they achieved their goal by committing incest with him. Do you think Lot in his sober mind would have entertained such a scheme? If so, why the need to get him drunk? The writer of Genesis reports this, but certainly does not approve of this behavior (Genesis 19.30-36)! So Paul is warning us that if we want to be under the Spirit’s influence so that we can live wisely and take back our time, living in ways pleasing to God and building godly contentment in us, we must do things to cultivate the Spirit’s presence. This is a far cry from counseling us to follow the rules!

What are some of those things that can cultivate the Spirit’s presence? Prayer, as our OT lesson teaches. Reading and appropriating Scripture, as Paul teaches. Worship, praise and singing, along with partaking in the eucharistic feast each week, as our epistle and gospel lessons teach. Doing these things help the Spirit to do his transforming work in us so that we can build each other up instead of engaging in thinking and behaviors that tear each other down.

To summarize, the world, full of, um, its human wisdom, tells us to seek happiness by following our own desires and giving us the requisite freedom to do so. And so we seek to find happiness in booze, sex, greed, ambition and the rest. The result? We fail to develop meaningful relationships with God and others. Our drunken euphoria is replaced by a raging hangover in the morning. Our satiated libidos are counteracted by the loneliness and isolation we feel as the result of affairs or watching porn or one night stands. We seek to satisfy our desire for the perfect spouse by marrying, divorcing, and remarrying in an endless cycle instead of finding the joy and fulfillment that comes from a husband and wife working through married life for 30 years, like the Collins’s have, and overcoming all kinds of obstacles, things which while difficult and unpleasant at times, help us develop the kind of true and meaningful relationships we crave.

By contrast, godly wisdom recognizes that God created us to be his wise stewards and reflectors of his image and glory out into creation. It sees the massive importance of relationships, both with God and others, and understands that this takes hard work, humility, discipline, and commitment. The world’s wisdom will scoff at all this. In fact, they will hate it and us. They will call us fools and worse, and that is why we must be prepared to suffer for the Name. But who knows better about what it takes to make us happy than our good, wise, and all-knowing Creator? Augustine recognized this when he made his famous statement that, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find rest in you” (Confessions 1.1).

The choice is ours. Living our lives consistently after Jesus (notice I did not say in a mistake-free manner) will produce godly contentment and purpose of living that will surely satisfy us forever. We do that whenever we embody God’s love for all people, pursue justice, work for peace, resolve to be a servant to others rather than try to lord ourselves over them, and whenever we are kind, tenderhearted, generous, forgiving, and the rest (cf. Galatians 5.22-25). Learning to live our lives after God’s own life in which God’s wisdom leads, guides, and counsels us, so that we become Christ’s beacons of light to a world darkened by sin and confusion is surely the hardest thing we will ever do. But nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. Following Jesus is the only way we will ever learn to know real meaning and purpose for living.

As a parish, then, let us resolve afresh today to live as God’s wise image-bearing stewards, faithfully imitating our Lord Jesus Christ and relying confidently on his power to form us into the fully human beings he created us to be. And as Jesus does his healing and transformative work in and through us in the power of the Spirit, let us confidently, boldly, and joyfully proclaim to the world and each other, that we are wise enough to know 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.

Richard Cohen: Why ISIS Trumps Freedom

A brilliant and spot-on analysis worthy of your serious reflection. Human history is littered with failed attempts to provide for our own meaning, purpose, and happiness. Look around. How’s that working out? See what you think.

Western societies have been going ever further in freeing their citizens’ choices — in releasing them from ties of tradition or religion, in allowing people to marry whom they want and divorce as often as they want, have sex with whom they want, die when they want and generally do what they want. There are few, if any, moral boundaries left.

In this context, radical Islam offers salvation, or at least purpose, in the form of a life whose moral parameters are strictly set, whose daily habits are prescribed, whose satisfaction of everyday needs is assured and whose rejection of freedom is unequivocal. By taking away freedom, the Islamic State lifts a psychological weight on its young followers adrift on the margins of European society.

Read and reflect on it all.

70 Years Ago Today: Honolulu Celebrates V-J Day

From Vimeo.

[In 1945] my Dad shot this film along Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki capturing spontaneous celebrations that broke out upon first hearing news of the Japanese surrender. Kodachrome 16mm film: God Bless Kodachrome, right? I was able to find an outfit ( to do a much superior scan of this footage to what I had previously posted, so I re-did this film and replaced the older version There are more still images from this amazing day, in color, at

On this, the 70th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory Over Japan Day), a wonderful snippet from time. Watch it all and remember. Give thanks as you do for the greatest generation who have largely passed from our view.

Remembering V-J Day

Today marks 70th anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). vj-day pictStop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.

Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.

From the History Channel.

On this day in 1945, an official announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies is made public to the Japanese people.

Read it all.

Also read the text of President Truman’s radio message broadcast to the American people on September 1, 1945.

From here:

My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:

The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.

Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.

Read it all as well.

The Church: It’s Not Just Any Old Body

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, August 9, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130.1-7; Ephesians 4.25-5.2; John 6.35, 41-51.

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

Over the last several weeks we have looked at the astonishing claims Paul has made about the body of Christ, the Church. We have seen that in Christ, the barriers between Jew and Gentile have been broken down so that we as his body are given the task of promoting the gospel to not only the world but to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, both good and bad (Ephesians 2.11-22, 3.10). This morning I want us to look at the basis for that unity and power, as well as how the power of Jesus should be properly manifested in us as his body.

We find the basis for the Church’s life and existence in our gospel lesson this morning. Last week we heard Jesus proclaim that he is the bread of life so that anyone who comes to him will neither hunger nor thirst. This provoked quite an uproar in the crowd so that they challenge the basis of his claim in today’s lesson. You are not someone special, they tell our Lord. We know whence you come. We know your family. How can you claim to come from heaven? Familiarity sometimes does breed contempt. As we listen to the crowd’s complaints (the same crowd, BTW, that had made a great effort to follow Jesus after he fed the five thousand and wanted to make him king), we can’t help but recall Nathaniel’s caustic rejoinder when hearing that Jesus came from Nazareth: Can anything good come from there (John 1.46)? No wonder Jesus would tell his hometown folks that a prophet is never welcomed by his own (Mark 6.4)!

But Jesus goes on to make an even more astonishing claim. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, i.e., who has read Scripture and submitted themselves to its authority, will know that I come from the Father because I have seen the Father and the Father has sent me. In other words, Jesus is telling us that he is the living embodiment of God himself. People who know God’s true character, his righteous and merciful heart, will recognize that in Jesus, they are indeed seeing the embodiment of the living God. But no one does this except if the Father wills it (I see Fr. Bowser twitching nervously at this point). Here we are confronted with one of the most perplexing enigmas in all the Bible. On the one hand, Scripture makes clear that there is an element of human responsibility in faith. We have the freedom to choose (or not) to seek after God. On the other hand, Scripture makes clear that we are only drawn to Jesus by the will of the Father. Nowhere does Scripture attempt to resolve this enigma. It simply insists that the two apparently contradictory positions can and do coexist, and this is a place where we must humbly submit to Scripture’s authority and acknowledge it is true, even when we do not fully understand or comprehend it. Yet at the same time, Jesus’ claim should be tremendously comforting to us because it reminds us that no one who is truly open to God will be left out. They will find Jesus if they are willing to listen to and learn from God because Jesus is God.

All this is the basis for the mind-boggling claim our Lord makes next. Because I am the very embodiment of God, he says, the source and author of all life, anyone who believes in me has eternal life because I am the bread of life who came down from heaven, i.e., who is the living embodiment of God. You have this life because I will give my body to be broken on the cross for you. I will bear your just punishment so that you do not have to bear it. And after I have gone back to heaven to assume my rightful place as Lord of all creation, I am available to you whenever you eat my flesh (and drink his blood as we shall see next week) so that you will never die (cf. John 11.25-26). As John has pointed out to us in his wonderful prologue, the Word that became flesh is now promising to give himself so that those who believe in him may find radical healing, complete forgiveness, and new life, life that never, ever ends.

This is why eternal life is available to us right now, because Jesus is available to us right now in the power of the Spirit and every time we partake in the eucharistic feast. We don’t have to wait to die to inherit eternal life. We are given it freely, if we firmly believe that in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has overcome evil, sin, and death. Here is the logic behind Jesus’ promise to us in this passage. Jesus is the embodiment of God, life himself, who has borne our sins on the cross and who was raised to new bodily life in the resurrection. And because God is the source and author behind the act and subsequent invitation, that new life, that eternal life, is available to anyone who attaches himself or herself to Jesus. And even though Jesus is currently hidden from us, he is available to us, among others, in the power of the Spirit and in the eucharist. This is a free gift from God because God is a lover and uniter, not a hater and divider.

Here then is the only remedy to our guilt and fears. How many of you have worried or wondered at times if God really does love you and/or has forgiven your sins? How many of you have feared (or fear) the awful judgment of God? I know I have. Like David in our psalm last week, I know my transgressions and my sins are ever before me, and I hate it. I sometimes have trouble forgiving myself and if I cannot forgive myself, I wonder how God can ever forgive me. Like the psalmist in our lesson today, many of us cry out in despair and despondency over our sins and the damage we have done, and fear that God really cannot or will not forgive us.

If you are like that, then spend some time with John 6 in the coming days and weeks. Read and learn from God because here we are promised by the Lord himself that we are so loved by God that on the cross God took care of all that separates and alienates us from him. He didn’t do that because we are particularly lovable. God did that because God is the ultimate lover who wants us to enjoy life with him forever, starting right now. And so Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world. Or as Paul put it, in Jesus, God condemned our sin in the flesh so that God would not have to condemn us (Romans 8.3-4). And in doing so, Jesus would ironically fulfill his ancestor David’s desire to die in place of his son, except that Jesus died for all of us, not just a select few. That is why Paul would proclaim with joy and thanksgiving that there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1)! Paul could make that astonishing claim because he knew the heart of the Father as revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. He knew he was certainly unworthy of such forgiveness and rescue, primarily because he had persecuted Jesus’ body, the Church. But Paul had listened and learned from the Father so that by faith he recognized he was well-loved and forgiven in Jesus Christ our Lord. That same love and forgiveness is available to each of us, along with the promise of no condemnation, because we too put our whole hope and trust in Jesus. We too have listened to the Scriptures and learned from them. And we too feed on our Lord each week when we come to Table to receive his body and blood broken and shed for us. Despite all that we might have done, despite all that we may be (or not be), despite us not deserving such love and forgiveness from God, we have it anyhow through faith. If we really believe this, we are released from the crushing guilt of our transgressions and have real hope along with a thankful heart because we know our present and future are secure in God’s love. And yes, we are truly humbled by it all because we know in our heart of hearts we did nothing to deserve God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is the basis for Paul’s astonishing claims about the Church. He’s not talking about our old fallen self that is full of envy, strife, anger, quarrels, factions, sexual immorality, idolatry, and the like (Galatians 5.19-21). These things do not produce unity. They divide and hurt and cause conflict. That is why Paul, in the passage preceding our lesson this morning, had urged us to put away our old character and put on Christ’s character that is always available to us through faith and in the power of the Spirit. We do so, not with teeth clenched and out of some misguided sense that our relationship with God depends ultimately on how well we follow the rules, but rather out of a profound sense of thanksgiving and humility for the gift of life that is given us by virtue of our relationship with Jesus, the bread of life. We realize that in his body, the Church, God has assembled all kinds of misfits to form a new family under Christ our head, from Jew to Gentile, sinner to saint, and everyone in between. God himself has broken down the walls that caused our former hostility and alienation between humans and God and between God’s human creatures. He has done that in and through the body and blood of Jesus our Lord, and has called us together as Jesus’ body to do the work God gives us to do.

And for us to do that work, we have to realize that because we are all one in Christ, we are all equally forgiven in the blood of the Lamb shed for us and all equally undeserving of this gift of life. So our job is to imitate our Lord in the power of the Spirit, and that starts at home in Jesus’ own body despite our different personalities, outlooks, and dispositions. As we saw last week, we enjoy unity of Spirit, which helps us to grow up in his power so that we become more and more like Jesus, the very embodiment of God. Becoming mature Christians is certainly not easy, but it is also not impossible, precisely because we have the Spirit of the living God living in us, transforming us, and giving us power to be the kind of people God calls us to be. This means we have to consciously work at developing a new and second nature that is patterned after the character of God revealed supremely in Jesus until it replaces our first and old nature. But we sometimes balk at this. We want to feel sorry for ourselves and whine about how hard this is to do. But this comes from our fallen nature and the devil, not from the Spirit. We can become like Jesus if we work consciously to develop his habits. Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we will always get it right and never sin again. I am talking instead about developing a pattern of living so that when we act out of character, people notice, e.g., Oh. Sarah honey is not her usual self today. She’s actually not making it all about herself. What’s up with that? Stuff like that.

And so in the power of the Spirit who makes our living Lord available to us each and every day, we learn to treat each other as Jesus treats us. We learn to speak and act kindly toward each other, to put aside our own interests for the sake of the rest of the body, even when it is costly, to stop gossiping and slandering when we disagree with one another (and we will disagree, folks). It means we learn to forgive each other, not by brushing it under the rug and pretending like the hurt didn’t occur, but by acknowledging the hurt and then choosing not to act in retaliation. We do this because we know we have been forgiven by God while being wholly undeserving of such forgiveness. It means we learn to speak truthfully to each other because speaking truthfully simplifies things (we don’t have to keep track of the lies we tell so that we can continue to perpetuate the lie) and shows that we trust and respect each other. This is what builds up unity and gives us power to proclaim the gospel to the powers as God commands us.

Contrast this pattern of living with the ways of the world. When someone is wronged, revenge inevitably follows. People allow pride, selfish ambition, and greed to rule their lives so that other people become pawns and objects to them. This means that as long as things are going well, they are willing to associate with those whom they perceive can help and benefit them. But when it hits the fan, well, not so much. When the world can look at Christ’s body, the Church, and see human business being conducted in a fundamentally different way, it must take notice, even if it rejects our style of living. Our call is not to judge others because they either accept or reject the gospel. Our call is to live our lives as faithfully to Jesus as we know how, trusting that our Lord is firmly active and in charge of our affairs, and will sort it out according to his good will and purposes for us and the rest of creation. When we act in this manner, we do not grieve the Spirit who lives in us and seals us for the day of redemption, a promise made possible only because of the love of God spilled out for us supremely in the blood of the Lamb.

In other words, our faith must be lived out so that inevitably, if not slowly and sometimes painfully, it turns us into faithful imitations of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think on these things. Examine your own life and give thanks where you see evidence of Jesus at work in you in the power of the Spirit. This happens every time your behavior is loving, kind, and generous, among others (cf. Galatians 5.22-25). Examine too that which needs to die in you, the selfishness, anger, enmity, jealousy, pride, etc., and resolve to put those things to death by learning new habits of living. We do this by searching the Scriptures and learning from the Father who gave them to us. We do this by asking the Spirit to give us the power to overcome and to develop new, healthy habits. We do this by asking others in Christ’s body to hold us accountable. We do this by feeding on our Lord each week and imitating others who imitate Jesus well. As we grow slowly but surely to be more like Jesus, we announce not only to ourselves, but to the world, that we really do believe we have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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