While We Watch and Wait During Advent

Christ has
No body now on earth but yours;
No hands but yours;
No feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes
Through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet
With which he is to go about
Doing good;
Yours are the hands
With which he is to bless now.

—St. Teresa of Avila

This is most appropriate watching and waiting behavior! May God bless and help you be the embodiment of Jesus to folks in your world.

Fr. Philip Sang: Advent: A Time of Holy Waiting

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday C, November 29, 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: Jeremiah 33.14-16; Psalm 25.1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36.

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

Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming—yes, his first, but also, and perhaps even more, his second. So the season of Advent is not a time of high festivities; we’re not yet celebrating “The Holidays.” It is a time of sober reflection aimed at growing in holiness; we should treat the days of Advent as “holy days.” At least that seems to be the message of the passages today. After a very brief ministry in Thessalonica, Paul was forced to leave. He’s been gone for several months now and he has been worried about his newly born church. Will they stray from the faith they have so recently embraced? Will they forget about Paul himself, “out of sight, out of mind?” in the previous verse before our reading today, to be precise verse 5 of chapter 3 Paul says, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might be useless.” (Verse 5) To check up on them, Paul sends Timothy for a little informal church visiting. Timothy returns with the good glad tidings that all is well in the little infant church. Not only is their faith intact, but they remember Paul with genuine fondness. Paul is so excited that he feels as though he has been given a new lease on life. “”For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (Verse 8) He doesn’t know how to express his thanks enough, as he prays fervently and constantly for them (verses 9 and 10).

All of this personal correspondence can serve as a reminder to our church that Advent is about the ordinary affairs of our lives. In the midst of life’s loves and loses, Jesus comes to judge and to save. We rarely think of his coming as we live with family and friends, dealing with absence and heartache, reunion and joy in human relationships. This text gives us the opportunity to connect the tangled relationships of our lives to the coming of Christ, both his first and, especially, his second. For many people, us included, Advent is a time for special ceremonies or disciplines, like Advent wreaths or Advent devotionals, which is good. However, here Paul gives us some very practical Advent projects in his three wishes or prayers in verses 11-13, It’s hard to be definite about whether these are merely wishes or actual prayers. It is definitely true that we cannot do these three things in our own strength, so there’s a sense in which these are prayers asking God to help us. But they aren’t exactly addressed to God. Maybe we can think of them as blessings. Here are three wishes or prayers or blessings that should shape our Advent observance. “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.” Clearly, this refers to Paul’s desire to rejoin his friends physically. “Satan stopped us” from coming to you, says 2:18. Paul and his colleagues couldn’t remove the obstacles, so he knows that their re-union will depend on the intervention of the Father and the Son. We could apply this to the relationships in our congregation. The Holidays are often a time of great stress and disappointment as we are reminded of the blocked relationships in our lives. Satan has stopped us from getting past old memories and hurts and grudges and resentments. Our relationships have become rough and crooked. However, in the light of Christ’s coming, Advent should be a time to ask God to “clear the way” for us to come back together with those from whom we have become distanced. Before Christ comes in his Parousia, let us ask him to come into our relationships and “make the crooked straight and the rough places plain.” we can’t do that by ourselves, and Paul says, “the Lord [will] make your love increase and overflow, for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” We live in an age when Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24:12 seems to have been fulfilled. In the last days, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Think of the cold blooded murders perpetrated by ISIS and the cold hearted response of some Eastern European countries to the flood of refugees from ISIS. We can multiply examples from our own country and our own lives, Colorado Springs shooting last Friday and others. In a loveless world, how can we grow in love? Paul knows. In the light of Christ’s return, ask Jesus to make our love increase. This Advent season, rather than focusing on presents and parties, let us focus on the fact that we will appear “in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes….”

Before Jesus comes (Mark 13:18), let us use this season of Advent to focus on loving each other and everyone else, even as God loved us in Christ’s first coming. May Jesus increase our love in order that he may strengthen our hearts, so that we may be holy and blameless in the presence of God at the Parousia. The point of that prayer is that Jesus will make us completely holy, so that we can stand in God’s presence when Jesus comes back. There is much in that sentence that calls for comment. First, the word “strengthen” was used in classical Greek to refer to putting a buttress (reinforcement) on an existing building to strengthen it. As our hearts are attacked by “the world, the flesh and the Devil,” we need to be buttressed, reinforced, or supported, so we will not fall. Second, notice that holiness is the focus of this prayer. It is very important that we be holy, because we will one day be “in the presence of our God and Father.” This reminds us of the words of Hebrews 12:14: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” While we should be careful not to turn such admonitions into a kind of legalistic works righteousness, they remind us that holiness matters to God. Jesus died to save us from sin, so that we would not only be declared righteous (justification), but also become holy (sanctification). Third, Paul asks that our love will increase so that we will be holy. What is the connection between love and holiness? Could it be that love is the essence of holiness? In my growing up, holiness was often interpreted as being separate from the world, that often meant nothing more than not participating in worldly amusements, such as drinking, dancing, card playing and theater attendance. While there was some good wisdom in the call to be careful about getting entangled in sinful pursuits, holiness in the Bible doesn’t seem to be described primarily in those terms.

Rather, holiness is loving the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. So, of course, Paul prays that we should increase in love so that we might be holy, because the essence of holiness is precisely love. In the light of Christ’s coming, let us turn the days of Advent into holy days, days in which we focus not only on enjoying the worldly holidays, but also and primarily on growing in love and holiness. Our Lord Jesus is coming with all his holy ones, says verse 13. That might mean his holy angels, but it certainly means the saints who have died and gone to be with Jesus (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18). When Jesus returns, he “will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in him.” During this holiday season, we feel more keenly the loss of loved ones, lamenting “that empty place at the table,” and looking forward to that day when we are re-united with our dearly departed. Let’s use this season of Advent to focus on holy living, so that we won’t feel out of place when Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Jesus in the Gospel describes the kind of trust with which God calls God’s people to await his return. However, he also alludes to the kind of threats to the kind of godliness for which the psalmist prays in our text. Jesus seems to think of “dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life” as particularly powerful temptations for those who await his return. However, He tells us that the ultimate future really does contain a world of hope.

And Jeremiah reminds us that even in the midst of life’s worst woes, even in a time of collapsing securities and the disorientation that always results, God has a word. God has a plan. God has a gracious set of promises that he will fulfill. Destitution does not have the last word. The tragedies that come do not define us ultimately. God’s ways will not be thwarted by a bad economy, by unemployment, by disease, by outright poverty, by terrorism, by shootings, or even by death itself. These promises will be fulfilled by the promised “righteous Branch” whose name is “the Lord our righteousness” . He will come to do what is “just and right”. Let us wait expectantly being prepared as we pray to God to open our way, to increase our love for Him and others, and May He strengthen our hearts in holiness.

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mom basting the turkey at Thanksgiving

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving today. Please take a few moments and stop to give praise and thanks to God for his bountiful blessings to us as individuals and as a nation.

Among others, I am thankful for God’s gift of himself to us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and for his promise to rescue his good but corrupted creation.

I am thankful for my family and friends, past and present, and for a childhood that was second to none. I am thankful for my family of origin and for the many wonderful memories I have of Thanksgiving growing up in Van Wert. What a blessing it was to have two wonderful parents and my extended family all living in the same town.

What are you thankful for?

A Very Brief History of Thanksgiving

After the first successful harvest in November of 1621, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebration, a festive three-day feast remembered today as America’s first “Thanksgiving.” The Governor gathered together the colonists along with a group of their Native American allies including Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe for the celebration.

The only written account of the festivities comes from Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s journal in which he describes how Governor Bradford sent out a party of four men on a “fowling” expedition prior to the celebration and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer.

Due to the lack of ovens on the Mayflower and the dwindling sugar supply by the fall of 1621 historians suggest that the traditional dinner and deserts we have today may not have been on the menu during the event. Many believe the feast more likely consisted of a variety of traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan along with local fruits and vegetables.

Read it all.

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Almighty and gracious Father,
we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season
and for the labors of those who harvest them.
Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty,
for the provision of our necessities
and the relief of all who are in need,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

A Thanksgiving Litany

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Robert McKenzie: A First Thanksgiving Hoax

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

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

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

William Bradford

Ye Governor of Ye Colony

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

Read it all.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

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

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

A Most Unusual King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 22, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93.1-6; Revelation 1.4-8; John 18.33-37.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we culminate the season of celebration of Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. But Jesus doesn’t fit our concept of kingship so easily, at least not yet. For starters, he’s a crucified king! So this morning I want us to look at exactly what kind of king Jesus is and what that means for those of us who follow him.

Jesus himself answers the question as to what kind of king he is in our gospel lesson. He tells Pilate, the cynical Roman procurator, that he is indeed a king, but not the kind of king the world expects or acknowledges. My kingdom is not from this world, Jesus tells us. But what does that mean? Does it mean that Jesus doesn’t really think this world is very important, that his kingdom is really a spiritual kingdom and more focused on getting to heaven? If that were the case, it makes that inconvenient little clause in the prayer Jesus gave us look pretty nonsensical. You know, the clause that asks for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven? No, when Jesus tells us that his kingdom is not from this world he wants us to understand that his kingdom is from God for the sake of the world and for our sake. Jesus’ kingdom is about bringing truth—God’s truth, the only truth—to reality in God’s good but desperately sick world for the healing of the nations. Despite Pilate’s caustic rejoinder that the lectionary curiously omits from today’s lesson (What is truth?), and despite the fact that many in our own day stand with Pilate, Jesus, who had earlier told his disciples that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14.6), testifies to us as he stands before Pilate, bound and a prisoner, that he has come to make the truth known to people. It is the truth of God’s love for his image-bearing creatures and the consequent rescue plan devised from eternity past for his good but evil-infested creation and creatures. It is God’s good rescue plan that culminates in God sending his only Son, Jesus, (i.e., in God becoming human) to die on a cross so that our alienation from God might be ended forever and we pass from death to life. As John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, God sent his Son so that by his blood we could be freed from our sin and inherit real life. God devised this plan, strange, enigmatic, and improbable as it seems to us at times, because God loves us and wants us to be reconciled to him so that we can be finally and really healed. As we saw last week, without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. And without forgiveness of sins, we remain desperately sick with no real hope of ever being fully and finally healed. This is the truth that Jesus told Pilate he had come to proclaim. This is the truth that Jesus had to live out, mainly by his death and resurrection. We live because Jesus lives. So while Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, it is emphatically for this world, thanks be to God! Amen?

Contrast the nature of Jesus’ kingship to the world’s kings. Earthly kings rule in their brokenness, usually trying to aggregate power, prestige, and wealth, and almost always lording their own desires and whims over those they rule. Not so with King Jesus, who came to serve us by freeing us from sin and death, and inviting us to rule with him in love and service for the sake of others (cf. Mark 10.45). Moreover, earthly kings usually don’t hesitate to use force to ensure they get what they want. Jesus, on the other hand, rules for our sake because he loves us and wants us to live, not die. But like earthly rulers, Jesus insists that we give him our complete loyalty. If you want to follow me, he tells us, you must come and die. In other words, you must work your whole life in the power of the Spirit to put to death all that is in you that causes you to remain hostile and rebellious toward me. It means, for example, you are to speak the truth in love, even to your enemies. It means you are to be merciful and work for peace, rather than be ruthless and create all sorts of conflict. It means you must challenge the injustice and evil in this world, not by conventional means but by following my example of loving those who hate you and inviting them into a real relationship with me because it is only in me that they can find real life and God’s truth. The world will see what you are doing and hate you because you belong to me. They will persecute and treat you evilly. But don’t be afraid. I’ve overcome the world by my death (John 16.33). Therefore, you are not to return their evil with evil. You are to return their evil with goodness and love, just like I did when I let the powers and their human agents nail me to the cross. This is a lifelong work and it is by no means straightforward. But unlike the temporary rewards you work so hard to get, things like money, prestige, and power, the reward you get for following me is eternal life that begins the moment you give your life to me, imperfect as you are and hard as that is for you to do.

These, then, are the main reasons we should follow King Jesus. He offers us real life not death, healing not sickness, peace not anxiety, real hope not hopelessness, eternity not fleetingness and impermanence, among others. But because Jesus’ kingship is so unlike the earthly counterparts we are all used to, we sometimes wonder if he really is a king at all. I mean, who ever heard of a crucified king? Where’s the sense in loving our enemies and forgiving them when we really want to hit them back as hard as we can? Why would we want to put the needs of others before our own? How can we get ahead in this world if we do stupid stuff like that?

And perhaps as importantly, will King Jesus protect us in the face of all the evil that appears to be running rampant? Think about it. Terrorists crucify Christians in the mideast and blow up innocents in our cities. Our families are falling apart, not to mention our culture. We treat each other with less and less respect today. Holding a civil conversation seems to be a thing of the past. Instead we have those who resort to fear-mongering and demagoguery, and they are getting people’s attention because we no longer feel safe, a symptom of our increasing alienation and anxiety. So we want to know if King Jesus, like a good ruler, can protect us from these things. Well yes and no. Can he protect us? Of course he can. I dare say that we in this room enjoy his protection daily. But if we follow Jesus, there is no guarantee that he will protect us from evil, even though he can and does according to his good will and purposes for us. This is one of the mysteries with which we have to live. Why does God appear to let evil run rampant in his world? Nowhere does Scripture answer this question. Instead, we are told what God has done to defeat evil and being good earthly creatures we have a hard time believing the answer. As the NT writers insist, God defeated evil on the cross of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., Colossians 2.15). But we want to protest. Evil still exists! Look it up on the Internet, God! Well, yes it does. But God tells us to look at his track record and consider his rescue plan for us in Christ.

Our lessons all speak to this hope and promise. In Daniel, for example, we are told of one of Daniel’s visions. Daniel was a book written while God’s people Israel were in captivity. God had given them up to their earthly enemies in judgment for their ongoing rebellion against God. In fact, God had used their enemies to carry out his judgment! Now they were captives once again, living in exile. Was there any hope for them? Any future? Had God abandoned them forever? Sound familiar, folks, either on a global level or a personal one?

Back comes the answer. We see the Ancient One or Ancient of Days (God) sitting on his throne, a throne of fire, language that means judgment. Out come the books, presumably the books containing the names of those who will enjoy life and those who will not. The point here is this. God knows there is evil and evildoers out there and they will be judged. And when that day comes, it will not be pretty for the forces of evil and their human minions. Moreover, God knows his people’s exile is evil and God will end it just like God did with the Exodus, when he rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt.

Then we see one like a human (or as some translations have it, one like a son of man) coming on the clouds to be in God’s presence. What’s that all about? The Son of Man, of course, is Jesus, who comes to his Father on behalf of God’s suffering people who are now rescued and vindicated just like Jesus was at his resurrection and ascension. The point is that even if we must suffer for Jesus’ sake and the sake of his kingdom, we are not abandoned in the present and our future is secure. We who follow Jesus are resurrection people because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11.25-26).

John the Elder has a bit different take on this in our epistle. Again we are presented with a vision of God’s heavenly throne room, this time with explicit language about Jesus. We are told that we can have confidence in his kingship because Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, and we who are his will one day enjoy similar new life. It is sad that the Revelation to John is not read widely anymore. Yes, it has strange visions and symbolism, but at its very heart is a message of hope and encouragement. We are reminded that we live in evil times and it is hard for us to remain faithful to King Jesus. But God knows this and he has not left us to our own devices. He has given us his Spirit to live in us and strengthen us to be his people. And like the book of Daniel, we are told in no uncertain terms that God is even now judging the forces of evil and has defeated them. Much of this is invisible to our senses and we are unaware of the battle that rages. That’s why letters like Revelation are in Scripture—to remind us God has not abandoned us and to encourage us to remain faithful even if the gates of hell appear to be swallowing us up. That won’t happen because God is God and evil cannot withstand his power and righteous judgment. Like Daniel, Revelation reminds us that our present and future are secure because of what God has done for us in the past in Christ. He has raised Jesus from the dead and promises to do likewise for us when Jesus returns in his royal power, this time unmistakable, to usher in God’s new creation. It’s a done deal. We needn’t be afraid or anxious.

So in the interim, we are to live and work as people with real hope. Nothing in this world should weigh us down so badly or frighten us so much that we give up our faith in God’s truth made supremely manifest in Jesus. We know what God’s kingdom will look like when it comes in full because we’ve seen signs of it in Jesus’ ministry: healing, wholeness, peace, justice, life, mercy, forgiveness. There will be no trace of evil anywhere. This is the new world that awaits us and is present in our midst when we live faithfully to our Lord who loves us and gave himself for us. If we cannot find real hope and Good News in this, God’s truth made known in Jesus and the power of the Spirit, we are to be pitied the most because we have chosen to call God a liar and to live in this evil age on our own power. Sad. But we are not that kind of people. We are people of faith, love, and hope, and that gives us power to live our lives in ways that result in an eternity of healing and life. And that really is Good News, folks, now and for all eternity. Hail King Jesus! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

152nd Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Today marks the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln’s, Gettysburg address, one of the seminal speeches in American history. Take time to read and reflect on it today and give thanks that God has raised up leaders like President Lincoln to guide our country through difficult times.


doc_036_bigdoc_036b_bigFour score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Places to Go, Things to Do

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent, November 15, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16.1-10; Hebrews 10.11-25; Mark 13.1-8.

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

On this second Sunday before Advent (can you believe it is almost here??) we continue to celebrate the coming of the kingdom and Jesus’ rule over God’s world. But what kind of king is Jesus? We will look at this question in more detail next week. Right now, however, by any reasonable standard it is often hard for us to see God’s kingdom in our midst. Let’s face it. We tend to ignore Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples and us not to be alarmed over wars and rumors of wars because we are so used to hearing about them. The various media stream bad news into our lives on such a regular basis that we wonder where God is in it all and whether Jesus will ever really return to finish his victory over evil won on the cross. But we are people of hope and power and must resist this temptation to become cynical. Despite living in an evil age, we have places to go and things to do, and this is what I want us to look at today.

Before we look at the hope that is ours in Jesus, we need to be clear in our thinking about what exactly is wrong with God’s world and us. Of course, there is much beauty and goodness in God’s world. We see it, for example, in panoramic landscapes and in healthy relationships where two people love each other deeply. We instinctively recognize the beauty in these things because we are God’s image-bearers. And when we recognize real beauty, truth, and goodness, it has an edifying effect on us. But there are also things that are desperately wrong with God’s world: war, disease, natural disasters, birth defects, hatred, madness, addictions, suffering of all kinds, greed, envy, alienation, loneliness, and the like (cf. Galatians 5.19-22). These are the result of human rebellion against God’s good will and purposes for us. After all, God created us in his own image to rule his good world and reflect his glory out into it. But we humans didn’t get that memo. We wanted to play God instead of being his wise and obedient creatures, fantastic as that privilege is. And our rebellion brought about God’s curse and opened the door to all kinds of evil to deface and destroy God’s good creation and creatures.

And bad as that is, our rebellion also created in us a God sickness of sorts, where we are alienated from God and hostile toward him. We seek to pursue our own agendas, not God’s, and when we do this, we cut ourselves off from the very Source of life and health. Without an intimate and proper relationship with God, the kind God created us to have where we are his obedient creatures who rule in his stead, we can never enjoy real health. Our alienation creates in us a sin-sickness that permeates our mind, body, soul, and spirit. Sure, we may enjoy physical health, but we are really dead people walking when we are cut off from our Creator. We don’t like talking about this, of course, in part because we have convinced ourselves in all our modern and post-modern arrogance that we really have outgrown our need for God and can get along just fine by ourselves, thank you very much. And then we look around at our world with all of its alienation and discord and sickness, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know there is something desperately wrong with it and us.

What I have just described, of course, is life without Jesus, God become human, a life that at its heart is a delusion and a lie because it is a life in which we reject God’s sovereign love and good will for our lives. It is a grim picture indeed. But as all our lessons attest, it doesn’t have to be this way. God is much bigger than us and his love far surpasses our love, even for ourselves, let alone for God. The writer of Hebrews clearly believed this because over the last several weeks, he has been reminding us what God has done and is doing for us in Jesus. Today he gets to the heart of the matter. Are you tired of being alienated from God, he essentially asks us? Then listen up because here is what God has done to remedy that problem. God has become human and died on a cross for you. Unlike the priests at the temple—you know, the place where God’s people believed that God came to dwell with them—who must offer sacrifices continually because they are sin-stained themselves, Jesus, the sinless one, only had to sacrifice himself once for your sins.

Let me explain because a lot of this stuff is foreign to our ears and tends to make us whacko. For starters, we wonder what these sacrifices are all about. Are they to placate an angry and capricious God who is bent on punishing us for our sins and rebellion? Sadly, I think some, if not many, Christians actually believe this caricature of God. But that caricature is a lie. We must first and foremost remember that it was God who gave Moses the sacrificial system so that God’s sinful people could come into God’s presence in the tabernacle and later the temple. God in his perfect holiness cannot abide the presence of evil in any form and because we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23), we all carry vestiges of evil in us, some more than others. So how do we come into God’s presence (i.e., connect with God) if this is the case? If we cannot come into God’s presence and receive his forgiveness, how can we ever be reconciled to God and healed? The short answer is that we can’t.

But God knows this and so he gave Moses a way for God’s people to come into God’s presence and find forgiveness. That was the main function of priests among God’s people before Jesus arrived. The priest was to mediate between God and his people, offering sacrifices to atone for sins so that folks could come to the tabernacle and meet with God without fear of being killed. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us elsewhere, without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9.22; cf. Genesis 9.4-6, Leviticus 17.11), thus the need for animal sacrifices. But even then, folks were restricted to certain parts of the tabernacle/temple. For example, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, the space where the ark of the covenant rested, and then only on certain occasions. And because priests had to account for their own sins, they had to make sacrifices daily to atone for those sins so that they and their people could enter into God’s presence and find forgiveness and healing. If we remember this, it is hard to understand why anyone would think of God as angry and capricious. If that were the case, why would God offer us a way to find healing and forgiveness or enter into his holy presence without fear of dying?

Now, says the writer of Hebrews, Jesus has offered himself once and for all for the forgiveness of sins, and to end our hostility and alienation from God. Jesus, the sinless one and the very embodiment of God, did this, not because God hates us and wants to punish or destroy us. Jesus did this so that in and through him we could enter into God’s presence without restrictions and without fear to find the healing and forgiveness we crave. Jesus’ work on our behalf is done. His atoning death does not need to be repeated. Ever. Because it is perfect. This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he tells us that Jesus sat down at God’s right hand after his death. And as a result, our sins are covered and we are really and truly forgiven. It doesn’t matter how big our sins are. It doesn’t matter if we stumble on occasion as we all do. Our sins are forgiven and therefore no further sacrifice is needed. We are freed to love God as he originally created us to love him. This is why it is so important that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus because he is the true and perfect image of the living God. Once again, as we think this through, it is impossible to conclude that God is an angry God or that God hates us. Why would he send his Son (i.e., why would God become human) to die for us so that we can be reconciled to him and be healed of our deadly sin-sickness that alienates us from God and ultimately kills us? And as we saw a couple of weeks ago, Jesus now actively intercedes for us to the Father. Why? Because God loves us and seeks to be reconciled to us, but on his terms, not ours.

Not only that, the writer of Hebrews also reminds us that in fulfillment of prophecy we are given God’s Spirit to help us respond to God in ways that are pleasing to God and consistent with God’s creative purposes for us. To be sure, we don’t get it right all the time. Some of us don’t get it right much of the time. But we are told not to fear because the blood of the Lamb shed for us is bigger than our foibles and flaws and sins, thanks be to God! Amen?

This means, of course, that we are people with places to go. And as our OT lesson reminds us, the place we are promised is God’s new creation where we will live in God’s direct presence because we are resurrection people. As we saw on All Saints’ Sunday, resurrection is not a concept, it is a person, and his name is Jesus. Because we are Jesus’ people, we too are called to share not only in his sufferings but in his resurrection. As we discover God’s healing love and forgiveness in the power of the Spirit, i.e., as we become new creations in the power of God’s love because we are reconciled to God through the blood of the Lamb shed for us, we develop a confidence that our lives are secure, both in this world and the next. Our end game is new life, new creation, eternal life with God, the Source and Author of all life. We can trust this promise because God has a track record that is trustworthy and true.

This is what Jesus was getting at in our gospel lesson. You are going to have to live in a world marred by sin and evil and it’s not going to be pretty. But take heart. I’ve overcome the world by my death. And I am calling you to live as people with a real and lively faith and hope, even in the midst of darkness and hopelessness. To be sure, there will be times when it seems that all is lost and my promises are false. But don’t succumb to that evil. Look at the works I did, the healings and miracles I performed, my power over the forces of darkness. Look at my resurrection. Look at my presence in the lives of my healed and transformed people, warts and all. These are signs of God’s rule that is coming and in your midst. Do you see and believe them?

Of course, left to our own devices, we cannot keep from suffering doubts occasionally. That is why we have to live out our faith together. As the writer of Hebrews urges us, we are to come together regularly to worship God for his gift of life and forgiveness and salvation (healing) in and through Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Every week when we come to Jesus’ table we are reminded of the meaning of his death and the resultant life we receive because of his death. We are also to encourage each other in the faith, and help support each other when we doubt or are in trouble. This is the doing part. Overall, I think we do a wonderful job of these things here at St. Augustine’s. It is one of the best ways for us to shine the light of Christ on each other and the world that desperately needs to bathe itself in his light. Let us therefore continue to remind each other that we are people who have things to do and places to go. Let us encourage each other with these words and in how we love each other so that we may bring glory to our Lord Jesus who died for us so that we might be healed and get to live with him forever in the light of his loving presence. That really is Good News, folks, 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.